And while there’s no perfect way to land a job, there are skills that successful applicants tend to use (or develop) according to our panel. Below, we wanted to get into what those are, as well some key takeaways they’ve learned over their own careers as artists and recruiters.
Let’s get into it!
Tip 1: Perception is powerful
If you line up a bunch of successful people and ask them how they did it, a lot of times they’ll talk about two things: the “starts and stops” and what they learned from failures. Especially failures, since assessing what went wrong often leads to a wealth of knowledge about what to do right the next time. But leveraging failures also means being okay with the concept. And if you aren’t, it could be holding you back.
Or as Greg Barridge, Manager of Training, Artist Development, and Academic Outreach at Sony Pictures Imageworks puts it, “You have to realize failure is amazing. When you fail it means you’ve pushed yourself to another level. It’s okay to fail, if you are really pushing yourself to achieve. But hope is not a plan. You have to have a plan. Right now, your plan is to get a job, but what’s going to happen in 5 years? Directing? Supervising? It’s important to understand where you want to be so you can plan the trip.”
Tip 2: Embrace the evolution
Every panelist agrees! You are coming in at the right time. 3D-focused roles are exploding around the world, yielding more opportunities for obvious industries (games, VFX, animation) and newcomers who want help with everything from architecture to the metaverse.
“I’ve been in the feature animation space for 15 years and I haven’t seen this type of opportunity for artists in digital media in a long time,” said Dawn Yamazi, VP Talent Recruitment at Illumination. “It’s no longer, ‘I want to make a film. I want to do a series’… it’s open. If graduates and new students can be open to watching the trends, and looking for opportunities, they’re in for an interesting surprise.”
Paying attention to the trends will be paramount, though, as changes are becoming more and more common.
“Nobody saw how important virtual production and virtual collaboration would be in this industry,” added Barridge. “With everything coming our way—the metaverse, etc.—there are a multitude of paths.”
Tip 3: Be strategic in your search
For many, LinkedIn is a powerful tool. Not only for networking, but for finding applicants. Yamazi was quick to note that having a website linked there is critically important for recruiters searching for new talent. People are only getting busier, so they lean on centralized places that allow them to build good shortlists. Make sure you’re in their field of view.
It’s also important to think about what you are doing once you are there. Bob Nicoll, Former Dean and Founder of Blizzard Academy added that, “In the era of social media, be careful about what you say. All of your potential future employers will see it. Be smart about being professional when it comes to any site that recruiters look at.”
Tip 4: When it comes to portfolios, ‘better is best’
What makes for a good portfolio? Quality and curation.
“I run the internship program at Sony and every year we get 800 applications,” said Barridge. “It’s not about the quantity of work, it’s the quality. I can look at a student reel and figure out in the first three seconds whether I want to work with them. The 3D models, the creature, it’s about creating that moment of believability. Always put your best work forward.”
But while many students can hone in on their best work, many don’t think about the story they are telling or how much time they actually have to make an impression.
“When you get to a trade show or event, thousands of reels come in. You go into a room with three or four other artists, and watch reels with the sound off. Definitely put your best work first; don’t save it to the end because people make snap decisions. Less is more and better is best.”
Portfolios should also be adapted to your intended audience, as different organizations/leads will have different desires about the people they hire.
“Customize your portfolio to the job you’re applying to,” said Nicoll. “Put work in that speaks to the role you’re applying for, cut everything that doesn’t apply.”
Axis | University of Hertfordshire
Tip 5: Be someone people want to work with
Each panelist admitted it’s so hard when you are starting out, especially when you are going up against hundreds (or thousands) of other applicants. And to a certain degree, a measure of luck/good timing is involved in a successful hire. But a classic edge can sometimes be found in how you come off. Nicoll and Barridge both noted that Imageworks was pretty invested in communication skills and how well you played with others. Yamazi said confidence is a good thing, but “we don’t want rude or arrogant.”
So finding ways to be seen as approachable and excellent could be your ticket to standing out.
Tip 6: Growth is the goal
When you have your eyes on a dream job, it’s easy to get discouraged when you aren’t seeing constant progress. But according to Yamazi, important skills can be found in all places, and over time, they add up.
“Having a dream target is really important because it centers you in a direction. All jobs matter. I learned different things from different jobs (waitress, advertising). How we get there may differ, but knowing different company cultures, different workflows helped me. Don’t be discouraged if you have to make a living when you’re dreaming on the side. You can learn different skills from being a barista—communication, people skills, it’s all important. But you also have to know when to leave, so you can keep moving and find that purpose. When we’re fulfilling all of those purposes, that’s what happiness is.”
Tip 7: Be brave
And finally, even when we want something really bad, it can be easy to second guess ourselves, or fall prey to imposter syndrome once we start doing the work. And since growth usually comes with discomfort, training our brains to believe that we not only can move forward, but that we must can be the mental trick that pushes you up.
“Realize everything you want is on the other side of what scares you,” said Barridge. “You have to take that challenge on. Apprehension of showing your work to someone you admire, it’s scary, but the fear is getting in your own way. Take on the challenge and move forward.”
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