Flywheel is a WordPress hosting and development platform built to help creatives do their best work.
I proudly host this blog on Flywheel and would recommend it to anyone. Not only is Flywheel fully focused on WordPress websites (which means they're good at it), but they're also the friendliest and most personal company in the business. I talked with Andrea, Flywheel's art director, about how we might land a dream job working on her design team.
First, please tell us a little about yourself and what you do at Flywheel.
Hey, hi, hello! I’m Andrea Trew, the art director at Flywheel. My responsibilities include overseeing all aspects of our in-house design efforts, from the tiniest piece of swag to the most complex creative campaigns. Over the past two years I’ve had the privilege of elevating the Flywheel brand through the creation of a cohesive brand and style guide — influencing everything our company does internally and externally facing. Outside the office, you can typically find me trolling vintage shops, making questionable puns or snuggling with my pug, Leela.
Looking at your current design team, how many of them came through internal referrals or headhunting, and how many came through the traditional application process?
Entering our fifth year as a company, Flywheel has a dedicated design presence within our marketing and product departments. Aside from me, we recently added an additional graphic designer to the marketing team – Bryan North, who was hired internally from our support department. As we’ve grown and continue to scale, we make deliberate efforts to nurture internal referrals, as well as maintaining a presence at career fairs and conferences. Many of our job openings can be found here.
Say we decide to reach out with a cold email. What kind of message gets a reply? Any secrets for us?
As a rule of thumb, I love to help other creatives to achieve their goals, even if it means just setting aside some time to chat and give them pointers on their portfolio. Asking for advice and an opportunity to meet in person (even just 30 minutes for coffee!) is always welcome.
Flywheel HQ in Omaha, Nebraska
How important is a complete portfolio? Can I get away with not having a portfolio when interviewing at Flywheel? And is it enough to show graphic design skills, or do you want to see that I’ve worked on technology and software before?
It’s VERY important to have a complete portfolio. To give some insight, I recently had an interview with a potential design hire who came to our meeting without a portfolio in hand. Because the key focus of being a designer is visual problem-solving, it’s necessary to bring those visuals to the interview. This lack of design representation really impacted my thoughts about using them as a design resource someday. It’s a good idea to have designs in your portfolio that reflect the type of work the company needs. Think about their industry. Think about their target demographic. Think about what work they would have you do. If you’re applying at a tech company and don’t have examples of work in that industry, then include designs that reflect high-level critical thinking, to bridging the gap between your previous work and the work you could do for that company in the future.
Tell us one thing you never want to see again on a portfolio. Anything you wish you saw more?
Magazine cover designs. I see this often with emerging creatives, as it was likely one of the pieces they worked on for a design course. They don’t really relate to the needs most companies are trying to fulfill, and often the designs look cluttered and poorly laid out. More than anything, it’s great to see design work that takes place outside of university/college walls, such as freelance or internship work. Even conceptual work that never saw the light of day has its allure even if it’s simply the result of creative play. This shows that the potential hire can think for themselves and already has experience with creating real world work.
The Flywheel support team at work
Besides having a portfolio, do you like the idea of designers being invested in other interests? For example being active bloggers or otherwise outspoken in their community?
Absolutely! Having other interests allows for a mental break here and there, and prevents creative blocks. As much as I love designing for Flywheel, I couldn’t possibly do my best work if that’s all I did for 24 hours a day. In my free time, I get some mental rejuvenation by restoring vintage trinkets and creating brass jewelry. Both still fall under some form of creativity, but allows for a shift in the way my mind thinks about the process.
Say I make the first pass and get invited to an interview. Can you describe the interview process as briefly as possible?
There is usually a short initial phone interview, a secondary cultural interview (usually a 30-minute lunch) and a final interview with 2-3 internal stakeholders (with a design interview, it would be with myself, our head of marketing and our CEO). The last interview would be about two hours or so. We wouldn’t necessarily ask someone to do any kind of design exercise or test; we should be able to see those examples from your portfolio.
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when applying for a job at Flywheel? Are there any specific things that keep bothering you? Please complain to us!
Egos. It doesn't matter if you're a greenhorn college grad or a creative director with decades of experience, it's incredibly important to be open to advice and suggestions on your work.
"I’ve reviewed quite a few portfolios in my time, and the ones that stand out show a start-to-finish process behind their projects."
Do you remember a specific application that impressed you?
I’ve reviewed quite a few portfolios in my time, and the ones that stand out show a start-to-finish process behind their projects. One designer I recently reviewed had a complete brand guide and explained the thought process behind it all with the forethought, craft and accuracy that I would love to have in a potential design hire at Flywheel.
Would Flywheel hire someone who is a cultural fit over someone who has more industry experience and hard skills?
Across the board, one of the driving forces behind the success of Flywheel is our relentless dedication to preserving our company culture and hiring talented, passionate people that share our values. It’s incredibly important for us to establish and hold tightly to the top traits we look for in a new member of the Flywheel family. We look for curiosity, empathy, optimism, passion and impressiveness. We would absolutely hire a slightly less experienced individual with those five traits over a more experienced one who seemed negative, indifferent and apathetic.
What are the secondary skills Flywheel looks for in a designer, besides common soft skills? Should we know how to code as well as design, for example?
Being a designer for a tech company doesn’t always mean you need to know how to code. Although, understanding the capabilities of code and its constraints has its benefits. Having a solid knowledge base that applies to other parts of the creative process that don’t involve design (like code, copywriting, photography, etc.) allows a designer to better serve their team and create designs that complement needs of their coworkers.
How is Flywheel different than other tech companies when hiring new talent?
We keep our hiring process as open-ended as possible, and want individuals to be able to freely write about their qualifications and feel heard throughout the entire experience. We don’t use a standard application form, we don’t ask people to re-submit all the information that’s on their resume, and we often don’t even have education requirements. We truly seek to find the best talent from whatever background they might come from.
Andrea, thanks for giving us an inside look into the hiring process at Flywheel! And thanks to Kimberly Bailey for the gorgeous photos of the Flywheel space and team. Let's have a look at the key takeaways from Andrea about getting a job at Flywheel.
Nr. 1 - Your portfolio can make or break you.
Not only does Flywheel want to see a complete portfolio with work that relates to the job, they want you to explain the process behind every project. Many companies in the series have said this: Don't just share pretty pictures of your finished work. Create case studies to show how you approached the project from beginning to end. Read this article for more portfolio tips.
Nr. 2 - No ego.
Another piece of advice we've heard from many companies. Nobody wants to work with someone who has a bad attitude or isn't receptive to feedback and growth. This one's not too hard; just be a nice person (and be useful) and people will want to hire you 🙂
Nr. 3 - Ask to chat or get coffee.
Andrea is willing to go out of her way to talk with you, hear what you're looking for and give advice. Don't waste her time (get some tips for your email here) but if you're serious about getting a job at Flywheel, reach out and make the connection.
And that's a wrap! Send me and the Flywheel team a tweet if you enjoyed the interview, and find more advice here for getting a design job at top companies like Pentagram, Shopify, Spotify and more.