Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, as you might guess, creates beauty products for women. The company was founded almost 30 years ago and remains a popular, respected cosmetics brand today.
The Bobbi Brown design team operates here in New York as a part of Estée Lauder Companies. And as we learned in this interview with Tom, design director at Bobbi Brown, designing for a beauty brand can be quite different than other design work. Details like skin tone become more important. Photography skills come into play. As with any industry, the focus and the canvas changes.
So we asked Tom what it takes to get a job on his team, designing for the modern, polished brand that is Bobbi Brown.
Hey Tom, let’s get right to it. First, can you please tell us a little about yourself and what you do at Bobbi Brown?
Hi, Tobias! I’m a creative, originally from Belgium. I oversee a small team at Bobbi Brown that puts their focus on the digital output for the brand. This includes global and regional online campaigns and everything e-commerce related.
Tom, and sticky notes
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?
I came onboard through a referral and I’d say the majority of our creative team did as well.
Say we decide to reach out with a cold email. What kind of message gets a reply? Any secrets for us?
Send it early in the morning! I come into work and the first thing I do is catch up on emails.
Keep it short and straightforward. We get tons of emails every day, so another one on top shouldn’t be too long. Introduce yourself in a couple of lines (in case you got my email address from someone and I don’t know you), state your intent and include a link to your work or a PDF. A resume is nice to have as well so we know who you are without Googling you right away.
If we like what we see, we will probably reach out directly to you, or have HR reach out to set up an interview. If we don’t like what we see we try to get back to you as well, but unfortunately we can’t get back to everyone.
How important is a complete portfolio? Can I get away with not having a portfolio when interviewing at Bobbi Brown?
I think some kind of online presence is a huge plus, especially if you want a job with a focus on digital.
However, I do understand that keeping a portfolio current can be very time consuming – time that a lot of us don’t have. So I don’t mind if people send an email, or walk into an interview with a PDF that shows four or five good projects.
Tell us one thing you never want to see again on a portfolio. Anything you wish you saw more?
I wish I saw credits! Very few projects are completed by just one person, and I notice a lot of people don’t give credit in their portfolio. This makes it harder to understand what exactly your role was for each project. Giving credit to the team you have worked with on each project you decide to show helps us understand who reported into you, who you reported to and how big the team was.
I don’t think I have ever seen something that I never want to see again in a portfolio.
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?
As long as it doesn’t interfere with the job, sure. If you work for a company you indirectly become an ambassador or spokesperson for it. Whatever you say or do will reflect on your employer, so think about what you say and do in public, and what you might want to keep private.
Say I make the first pass and get invited to an interview. Can you describe the interview process as briefly as possible?
I don’t like giving design exercises. I do try to have you meet with as many people as possible so you get a good feel for the people who work here, and I can get feedback from these people to see if you’d be a good cultural add.
Timeframes can be from a week to a couple months, depending on your situation. For example: Do you need to give notice to your employer? That adds some time to the process/timeline. Do you need a visa? If so, the company would ideally work with attorneys to get that sorted, but that takes time as well. Do you need to relocate? Do you need to interview with people who were not available during your first interview?
So I guess it varies from one candidate to another and what their situation is.
"As long as you are willing to learn, I don’t mind what your background is. We are all learning new things every day and no one has the right answer all the time."
What are the secondary skills you look for in a designer, besides common soft skills? For example: Do you prefer writing ability over coding skills? Photography skills over coding?
Photography skills can come in handy – especially the technical side of it, how to set up light and such.
Knowing photographers and their styles is a nice plus as well so you can pull swipe quicker and easier during the concepting phase of a project. We shoot a lot and having a good basic knowledge of photographers, set designers, stylists, etc. is always good.
Coding/programming, not as much. Estée Lauder has a centralized dev / production team that handles that side of the business, but if you happen to know your way around certain programming languages it won’t hurt either as you’ll be able to prototype or figure out stuff quicker with developers.
Writing skills can always come in handy, especially for concepting and formulating your ideas in decks that will be presented to creative, marketing teams and senior leadership.
You had experience designing for fashion before joining Bobbi Brown. Is design experience in fashion/beauty or retail required for the job, or are you open to designers from any background?
For me personally, the switch from fashion to beauty was and still is quite hard. The focus shifts completely, the gradation in skin tones and shades of products become very important.
“Beauty” is defined differently from fashion. Your canvas becomes smaller as you need to close in on the face all the time. With fashion, you are pulled out more and literally have more space to work with.
But, as long as you are willing to learn, I don’t really mind what your background is. In the end, we are all learning new things every day and no one has the right answer all the time. Everyone on the creative team has a listening ear, is open for ideas, suggestions and collaboration.
Would you hire someone who is a cultural add over someone who has more industry experience and hard skills?
"I think, as someone just coming out of school, go after a job you’ll enjoy doing and work your way up."
What are the biggest mistakes you see designers make when applying for a job at Bobbi Brown? Are there any specific things that keep bothering you? Please complain to us! (:
Not specifically to Bobbi Brown, but kids these days ask Silicon Valley salaries straight out of school, with zero work experience.
I have a hard time understanding it. I partially blame the schools who tell the kids it's OK to ask for it, and the companies in Silicon Valley that do actually pay those salaries. Maybe my mindset is biased because I came to New York on a mid five-figure salary. I don’t know.
When I came to New York I thought I was a good designer already, but I was wrong in so many ways. Not only did I not have any idea how a company works, but I didn’t have any idea how to work with other people and express my ideas and opinions to them.
I think, as someone just coming out of school, go after a job you’ll enjoy doing and work your way up. Don’t turn down jobs because they don’t pay enough right away. Work hard and you’ll get there.
Behind the scenes of a Bobbi Brown shoot
Do we need to live in New York to apply for a job, or do you hire remote employees as well?
We are fortunate enough to be able to relocate people. We are part of Estée Lauder Companies so depending on your level and location, Estée Lauder Companies & Bobbi Brown will try to get the right candidate to join.
How do you think Bobbi Brown is different when hiring new talent compared to other companies?
When I interviewed, I had six different conversations in one day with people from the creative, operations and online teams. I had never done six interviews in a day before. Everything was very casual and because the people were so open, I was able to get a good feel right away on how the dynamic between teams are.
It is then up to you to decide if you want to join that dynamic, to mold your position / role and push with everyone in the right direction.
Thanks so much, Tom! Any parting advice for us – something we forgot to ask that a potential candidate should know?
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this! Some last advice from me is to be confident and ask questions during interviews. Try to walk out of the interview with all the info you need to make up your mind. Have a nice overview of benefits, vacation days, whether remote work available? What is the pet policy in the office?
Thank you, Tom! Your tips here are valuable not only for those applying to Bobbi Brown, but for anyone (especially young designers) looking for a design job.
Readers, if you are interested in working on the Bobbi Brown design team, keep this advice in mind:
1. Try to make an inside connection
Most of Bobbi Brown's design hires came from a referral. Try to make a connection with someone online or find a friend of a friend to make an introduction for you. It will count for a lot.
2. Show a willingness to learn
In your portfolio and in your interviews. You don't need a specific design background to work at Bobbi Brown, but they want to see an eagerness to learn – without an ego.
3. Be prepared for several interviews
The interview process can last anywhere from a week to a couple months, and you will meet several people on the team during that process. If you have another job or are traveling from outside the city, it's something to keep in mind.
For more interviews with companies like Spotify, Pentagram, Airbnb, Microsoft and more, catch up on our How to Get a Job at X series right here. And if you want to see a specific company in the series, tag me and the company on Twitter to let us know (: