I originally met Helen and Josh three years ago somewhere deep in America. If I remember correctly, we were at a conference in Omaha, Nebraska. Helen and I got invited to give a talk there, so we hung out and talked a bit about our work.
I wasn’t too familiar with Fuzzco before I met Helen and Josh but I had certainly seen some of their work, and you might have too. Within the last couple years I’ve fallen in love with everything Fuzzco does. All of their work is beautiful, full of personality and carefully considered.
Fuzzco, based in Charleston and Portland, is easily one of the American design studios I most admire. So naturally, I had to invite them to be part of this interview series.
Helen and Josh, let’s do it!
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?
Right now it’s about 50/50. When we’re looking to fill a role, we start by thinking about folks in our personal network, but finding the right person often comes down to timing and availability. We’ve courted some people for years. Some we’ve hired after just a few interviews.
Say we decide to reach out with a cold email. What kind of message gets a reply? Any secrets for us?
We don’t reply to most cold job/internship emails just because we get so many. For us to reply the email has to have a combination of two things: an outstanding portfolio and a well-written letter, but it’s really more about the letter. The best cold job emails convey that the person is smart and humble, that they have a sense of humor, excitement about Fuzzco and an understanding that we work hard. They should talk about something interesting the person is doing that helps us get to know them and shows they are passionate, curious people.
How important is a complete portfolio for you? Can we get away with not having a portfolio when interviewing at Fuzzco?
A portfolio is critical and step one in the process. We won’t take the candidate seriously without one.
Tell us one thing you never want to see again on a portfolio. Anything you wish you saw more?
We don’t like seeing portfolios that are full of ads. We don’t do a lot of ads and getting a portfolio full of them makes it seem like the person doesn’t really know what we do.
We want to see work that is consistently good. The best portfolios take a well-rounded and curated approach to showing work. Ideally, we’d see a handful of solid logos, examples of web design, examples of illustration and some editorial work.
They should briefly describe the work and the particular role they played. We get a little nervous when someone’s portfolio includes a lot of team projects. We want to clearly understand someone’s strengths and weaknesses before we hire them.
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?
We prefer hiring well-rounded people who bring knowledge and experience from a variety of sources to their work. Community involvement is awesome, as is spearheading dialogues about issues they might be passionate about. We also love the introverted designer who is obsessed with cats. We just want to work with people who are excited about stuff, and motivated to experience and learn new things.
"We also love the introverted designer who is obsessed with cats."
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when applying for a job at Fuzzco? Are there any specific things that keep bothering you? Please complain to us! (:
Haha! The biggest turnoff is when you can tell an application has been sent around to a bunch of places. Maybe they leave some other company’s name at the top or they talk about some project we didn’t do. Or if it’s just really generic. It’s also annoying when people say a bunch of silly stuff and expect us to take them seriously. Finally, so many people promise to make us baked goods if we hire them. Why?? We just want people to be themselves.
Haha, this is the first time I've heard something like this. I have to admit, you both are so nice to talk to, I would also bake you whatever you want. Has anyone's application really stuck out to you in a good way? Any favorite stories to share?
Oh man, we’ve had some good ones! One that stood out was this fellow who put together a video where he had a dance off with sliced bread. IT WAS AMAZING. It was playful, funny, he obviously worked really hard on it and it felt sincere. We didn’t have a role for him at the time but it’s people like that who stick with you.
Baked goods, sliced bread — I think there is a pattern here. Say our muffin-themed application makes the first pass and we get invited to an interview. Can you describe the interview process as briefly as possible?
Depending on the person, role and urgency, the interview process can happen quickly or it can take a while. We do most of our interviews via Google Hangout. We show up with a list of questions that we bat around. The interview process is pretty informal. The first one is just to get a feel for someone’s personality. There are a lot of little things we look for: How quickly do they write us back to confirm the interview? Are they good writers? Are they playful and curious? Are they comfortable in their own skin? Do they seem technically proficient? Are they good communicators? It’s really important that we get a good feeling about these first interactions. They should be punctual, not have trouble getting Google Hangouts set up, they should have questions for us and just be positive, collected and excited about the call.
Then we’ll have a second call or have them chat with other folks on the team to get more perspectives. Sometimes we meet with people in person — the vibe can be night and day from video to real life. In-person meetings really help!
We don’t do any design challenges.
Would you hire someone who is a personality/culture fit over someone who has more industry experience and hard skills?
It really just depends on the person and the role. We have a range of personalities on the team and everyone gets along great despite their different interests and backgrounds. The more diverse our team is, the better everyone seems to get along.
Kindness is so important. Working with people who have bad attitudes, big egos or are just generally condescending is the worst. Those qualities are not welcome at Fuzzco no matter how talented someone is.
Feeling like people have each other's backs on the team is maybe the most important thing. We want to work with people who care about each other, the company and our work as a whole, not just their part in it.
What are the secondary skills you look for in a designer, besides common soft skills? For example, do you prefer business skills over photography skills? Video skills over photography?
Designers must communicate well. We work on a lot of projects and are very hands-on in the design process. We want to have a dialogue about the work along the way; we want our designers to want to engage about the work. Otherwise we like our designers to be comfortable across a variety of areas — web, illustration, identity, animation, editorial. We give our designers a lot of responsibility and opportunities to try new things because we want them to grow and expand their capabilities.
As far as other skill sets, animation is awesome, a significant knowledge of the web is great. Someone can just have great ideas, like ways to bring brands to life via social media, ideas for product offerings or brand interactions, and even how a business might change to become more dynamic. We’re always looking for ways brands can express themselves and it’s often not through traditional formats.
Last question: How do you think Fuzzco is different when hiring new talent compared to other tech companies or design studios?
I don’t know, maybe we tend to hire the weirdos (I mean it in the best way!)? We are definitely drawn to the most talented people in the room, but they are also good people who have good hearts and have our backs.
This is the best closing answer I can imagine. Thank you so much for all these insights, Helen and Josh. There is so much to learn from everything you mentioned. Let’s look at some highlights we should remember when trying to land a job at Fuzzco (or anywhere, really).
Nr. 1 - Be clear about your skills, especially if you're including team projects in your portfolio.
I fully agree with Fuzzco here. It's difficult to understand what you can do when all your work mentions a team of 10 other people. If you include team projects, make it very clear how you contributed so Fuzzco can understand where you might fit in their team.
Nr. 2 - Prepare your own questions for the interview.
Fuzzco wants to get to know you in the first interview. It's not just about answering their questions, but about you engaging with them. Ask thoughtful questions and make it a personal conversation.
Nr. 3 - You have to be good at communicating.
We’ve heard this in a couple recent interviews from this series. A designer is essentially a communicator. This affects your work and how you work with your team, so Fuzzco will be watching to see how you communicate – from your initial emails to your portfolio to the interview process. Writing well is a crucial part of it. Here is an article we wrote recently that will help you get started. You could also read about why I write and how for me, it isn't so much about writing, but about communicating your own ideas to yourself.
P.S. Don't forget to check out Fuzzco's work. You'll soon be as big of a fan as I am.