Advice for First Time Animation Job Hunters
OK! You’re close to finishing up your college or university time and looking for that first industry job in animation, VFX or gaming. What should you do first? And then second? And so on.
Here are some tips:
1. Listen to your instructors
They have often been in the industry for several years and they know many people who are in the industry. Most colleges have advisory boards made up of industry professionals that advise the college curriculum and staff on what is needed. Your instructors know how to help you get set up to present to the industry.
2. Demo Reel
If you’re a creative person the demo reel is more critical than anything else. Animation, modeling, background/matte painting, surfacing, character finaling (hair/fur/feathers/textures), lighting, comp are all a visual performance medium. The interviewers want to see a reel to gauge what you know so far and where you need to grow. They are not expecting 10 or 15 years of experience but they are looking for attention to details and a strong fundamental knowledge of the basics. Don’t be casual. This is your first chance to show them your passion and your skills.
3. Length and Content of Demo Reel
This will be a debate forever among many folks but the basics are to keep the reel stocked with your best work. Start with your strongest piece as first impressions are critical. The people reviewing your reel are often VERY busy and they may have reviewed your reel among 20 or 30 other reels. They will be moving quickly so if your reel is tricky to navigate, has a password, lags a lot, or just isn’t ready to be reviewed with no restrictions you stand a greater chance of being overlooked. You want to make your material accessible to a wide audience with no explanations needed. Posting it up on Vimeo, YouTube or a similar service is relatively easy to do and you can link it on your resume and on your LinkedIn Profile.
This brings us to LinkedIn. If you don’t know what it is, go check it out. It’s social media for job seekers and hiring managers minus all the embarrassing photos on the other platforms. The platform has been around for a few decades and is the highway for many HR teams and recruiters at almost every studio. It’s free too. Effectively, it’s like a virtual resume or a sign post telling studios “Here I am!! Look at my demo reel!” As your career moves forward at times it will be the platform where long lost colleagues can find you if your cell #, email and other contacts have changed.
Don’t let your first interview be your first interview. What do I mean by that? Well, people rehearse and practice for sports events, music recitals, their wedding speech and anything that requires stepping up in front of others. Get a buddy or two and do some mock interviews. If you don’t have someone to do this with, hop on Zoom or any platform with a camera to record yourself doing a mock interview. Play it back. Watch it. Try it again. Try it quick or slow as needed. Play the other part. Be an interviewee and an interviewer. Role play questions that might get asked and answers you want to give. Record again and watch again. This is easier with a friend or two so if you need to, share the recordings with a friend. The overall idea here is to work out some of the nerves or kinks before your big interview.
If going for an interview have questions ready either on your phone, tablet or a notepad. You can cross them off during the interview or at the end as many of them will get answered during the discussion. If they don’t get answered you can always ask at the end “I had a few questions and you’ve answered almost all of them, but I have 2 more questions. Can I ask them?” If the interviewer answered all of them during the interview you can say “I had a bunch but you covered them all, thank you.” Long story short, you want to go in with curiosity and you want to understand more about the company. Coming in without questions sometimes gets read as unprepared or uninterested. You don’t want to come off as either.
7. Follow Up!
Before you leave the interview, if the interviewer didn’t outline next steps or set an expectation you can ask “will I hear back from you in a few days?” or “what would the next steps be?” - Hopefully they will provide you with an answer that explains their process and their timing. If you don’t hear back from them inside that window you can always send a polite email to them saying “just following up. I’m curious to see if there have been any decisions made or when I might expect to hear back from you?”
8. Keep Interviewing!
Some people hold on for one role or one company. Keep interviewing at other studios if you have them lined up or if you can line up more. It’s impossible for us to understand the myriad of decisions and actions going on inside any one company. A project may have slowed down or sped up or even been delayed indefinitely. Or they have a large list of candidates to interview and haven’t had time to cycle through them all so they have a volume or resource challenge. It would be great for you if you ended up with 2 or 3 offers to consider.
9. GOOD LUCK!
It’s a fun and rewarding industry. You’ll make friends and work on some cool projects. Remember to be a sponge. Soak up information, contribute to your team and pull your weight. You’ll get recommended by others the next time they are putting together a team. As an old industry friend once said “be prolific. Always deliver a bit more than they expected and they will always want you on their team”
Lance LeFort is President of LeFort Talent Group, a management consulting firm to digital entertainment companies internationally. He has held progressive positions in his career encompassing Talent, Operations and HR management in video game, animation and VFX studios.
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