How to seduce a web agency

by Darren McSorley on April 10th, 2014

As we start winding our clocks forward and countdown the days to Easter, there is one thing guaranteed each morning at Reflex Studios. A big flooded inbox, as students begin their search for a placement in the Summer.

I've been in the same position myself. I missed out on the Summer sunshine in 2006, after spending every day and night harassing each agency in the country looking for my own placement. It's strange to find myself now on the other side of the fence. While we do welcome CV's and applications, this is the sort of email that angers me every time:

“Hi I'm currently an IMD student on my second year and searching for a placement. Will your company be accepting applicants?”

I open the email, read the email (and heaven knows I'm miserable now), but I never reply. Why?

Firstly, that's a question – not a statement. There is no portfolio, no introduction and the only reason I know what IMD is – is because I am former student. The tone I get this from this is someone who is not interested and just sent me the same email (a whole one sentence), they've sent everybody else they can find from Google. If you really want an agency to take notice – you have to seduce them! So here are my steps on how to seduce a web agency:

Research the Company

Whenever I get a mass leaflet drop in the post, it just ends up in the bin. It is the same with emails, we receive loads every day – and it is mostly junk. By taking the time to get the know the company, research their portfolio - you will stand a better chance of getting noticed. A better introduction would be:

“Hi Reflex Studios, I'm a big fan of your work – I was impressed with the work you did for Time Bar and My Cookstown.... ”.

Already, you've got our attention. Even if you don't mean it, you took the time to personalise an email to us, shown interest in our company and looked through our portfolio. We will acknowledge that and take the same time to write back to you.

Why Us?

Why do you want to work for us? Did you apply to us to get your careers guidance tutor off your back? Or is it because you see the work we design/develop/market and know its the right place for you to grow? Let's continue our cover letter:

“I would like the opportunity to work for you because I want to learn how to develop applications in PHP and sharpen my CSS skills.”

It may not be the above reason, but again – because you personally told us what you want – we know straight away what we can offer you.

Tailor Your Portfolio

If you're applying for a web developer role or designer role – you have to tailor your portfolio towards that. If you want to develop websites/apps for us, don't show examples of your 3D design. Focus on the projects that will help get you the role you're looking for. Don't make us read reams and reams of text (I'm pretty sure Michael can't even read), project samples will grab our attention more. Include some examples of your work on your cover letter.

“I recently helped develop X and took part on Y. For more examples of my work, check here”

You may think it's odd to email us looking for work without including previous samples of your work, but it happens more often than you'd think. By the same token, don't send us a long list of everything you've ever done since your mother took you home from the hospital. Focus on your strongest work. The better links you send through, the more chance you have of impressing us.

Be Flexible

Don't set conditions on salary or travel arrangements. Be ready to go out of your way. If you're not prepared to travel to an office each morning, then we'll just find someone who is. Back to our cover letter:

“I'm from Omagh originally, but am happy to travel to Cookstown each morning to get experience necessary.”

Be Polite

At the start this blog post, I wrote about tone. This is the final touch. A Thank You goes along way when finishing a cover letter. So lets add the final touches:

Dear Reflex Studios, My name is xxx mcxxx and I'm a student of Interactive Multimedia Design, at University of Ulster Jordanstown. I'm currently seeking a placement year from University starting this summer. I came across your portfolio and really admire your work. I was impressed with the work you did for TimeBar, Steelbay, as well as some of the applications you develop. I would like the opportunity to work for you because I want to learn how to develop applications in PHP and sharpen my CSS skills. I'm from Omagh, but am happy to travel to Cookstown each morning to get the experience necessary. I recently helped develop X and took part on Y. For more examples of my work, check here Thank you for taking the time to consider my application. Regards, Darren McSorley

Now that is something we'd reply to andif you're a good enough student- then we'll also find a position for you.

Final Bit of Advice... Stand Out

You'll get lost in the crowd if you're just going to install Bootstrap or use the same WordPress theme as everyone else for your portfolio (although there is nothing wrong with WordPress or Bootstrap). Go that extra mile, and do something special.We are designers/developers - we know the industry. Showing us something creative will make us remember you. When we do look at portfolios – we never look for the finished article – but we look for that something special we think would add to our company. A wise man once said, "It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be".


I'm not preaching from a moral high ground here. When I was a younger lad (with a few less grey hairs), I sent many rash and poorly worded applications. Its a miracle I got placed at all. But now, with the shoe on the other foot – I can easily see where I was going wrong.

This may seem like a lot of effort. However if you really want to cut your teeth in web design – then do take the above advice on board. You can't put a price on the difference a valuable work experience can make on your final year and beyond. It's vital that you get the right agency and don't blow your chances before you even get your first step through the door.

I should point out here, that not all emails we receive are bad. Some of you are very nice, and we will reply every time. This is more pointed towards the ones that make us roll our eyes and put our heads in our hands!

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