“Get a Job! A Recruiter Tells You What You Need to Know” by Thompson

  • ©Pamela Kleibrink Thompson




    Get a Job! A Recruiter Tells You What You Need to Know

Program Title:

    Electronic Schoolhouse (Classroom)



    What does it take to get a job at a visual effects, traditional animation or interactive company? This course presents the keys to opening the door to interviews, how to put your life on a one-page resume, and how to showcase your talent in a three-minute-or-less demo reel.


    If yours doesn’t work, neither will you. As a recruiter and career coach I have seen literally thousands of resumes. On a slow day, I get three or four; so here is what bugs me the most:

    Issue #1 – No phone number, wrong phone number, wrong area code, hard-to-find phone number, hard-to-read phone number.

    Issue #2 – Name missing. Yes it has happened! But if I have a phone number, I can call it and leave a message for the person, so this gets the #2 position.

    Issue #3 – Resumes with a type face that is impossible to read – too small or too ornate. Huge blocks of type that are a challenge to read.

    Issue #4 – Hiding your skills. Don’t make anyone read through a big paragraph to find your specialized skills such as C++ programming or knowledge of Alias. Highlight your skills under a separate heading.

    Issue #5 – Resumes with multiple pages. If your resume is more than one page, put your name and phone number on each one.

    Issue #6 – Resumes that fail to tell me who you are, what you know (skills), what you’ve done (accomplishments), and what you want to do (objective or goal). If you are changing careers, focus your resume on the job you want rather than the job you have.

    Issue #7 – Paper that doesn’t copy well. Test your resume. Copy it and make a copy of the copy. Surprised? Orange and dark blue paper turns black. Marbleized paper makes your resume look like someone poured coffee over it.

    Issue #8 – Graphics or artwork on a gray scale behind the type. After doing the copy test, you’ll find those beautiful graphics in the background are now some of the ugliest stuff you’ve seen on paper and what’s more, you can no longer read your phone number or name, which looked so crisp in front of the graphic on the original. If you want someone to get a sample of your graphics include it on a separate page with your name and phone number.

    Issue #9 – Typos and spelling mistakes. Proofread and ask a friend to proofread.

    Here are several tips for a better resume:

    1. List your skills and be specific.

    2. Many companies scan resumes into computer databases. Select a font where the lower case l and number one are different enough that the computer won’t confuse the characters.

    3. If you have email, put your email address on your resume.

    4. If your resume shows a variety of jobs, make sure you have an objective at the top that indicates what job you’re seeking.

    5. Review your resume every six months to update your skills and accomplishments.

    Portfolios and Demo Reels

    If you are an artist, it is essential that you have an outstanding portfolio and demo reel. The first step is to determine what your strengths and interests are. What kind of work are you suited for? There are many different jobs for artists, from animators to modelers to graphic designers to Web site developers to interface designers. You need to figure out what you like to do and what you are really good at. Assess your skills. Make sure your demo reel reflects the very best you can do and keep it short. Make them want to see more. Make sure the demo reel and portfolio are relevant to the job you want. If you want a job as a character animator, don’t show only compositing work on your reel.

    The purpose of the resume, portfolio, and demo reel is to get you an interview with someone who can hire you. Prepare your marketing materials with care. Have others take a look at them and give you feedback before you send them out. For artists, a demo reel and portfolio are more important than a resume.

    Your demo reel should:

    • Be no longer than three minutes. It can be much shorter.
    • Show variety
    • Contain only your best work
    • Be dynamic
    • Be irresistible
    • Be labeled with your name and phone number and email address if you have one. Include slates on your reel with this information in case the label falls off.
    • Be a VHS cassette in NTSC format. This is the format almost all companies can deal with in the United States. If it’s a PAL tape, be sure the company has a way to view it.
    • Be representative of your recent work and show your skills and talent
    • Be of high caliber and quality

    Put the very best segment first. Include slates on the tape or a written outline that describes each scene and what you did for that segment. Remember, your audience sees lots of demo reels and portfolios. Keep it moving.

    If you must have your work returned, include a self-addressed stamped container for return. Never send your only copy to anyone.

    If you have worked on an interactive project and want to submit your portfolio in a digital medium such as CD-ROM, call the company before you send it to be sure they have the appropriate equipment to view it. Include a breakdown of how each piece was done and the constraints of production.

    A portfolio of life drawing, illustration, photography (if you are interested in lighting), sculpture (if you are interested in modeling), character design, or color design is a big plus. Many aspiring computer artists today have no foundation in fine art, and the lack of training in aesthetics limits their capabilities. It’s easier to train someone to learn a software package than to learn to draw. If you have a fine art background, include some of the work with your reel. Portfolios should have no more than 25 pages of work, and remember to include only your best work.

    Whether you submit a demo reel, CD-ROM, portfolio, or all three, remember to always include a resume with it.


    I recently got a message in a fortune cookie: “A wise man knows everything. A shrewd one, everybody. “That message is the essence of networking. As an independent recruiter, I have found that no matter what you do in the entertainment arena, networking is key.

    Here are some networking tips to try out at the next function you attend:

    • If you have trouble getting started, think of it as a game. Make a goal of meeting at least two people at the next party or meeting you attend. Years ago, I went to a party with three friends, one of whom issued us all a challenge: meet five people. Instead of hanging around together, we went off in all directions and reported back the results. We had all met five different people, so now our network had expanded by 20!
    • If you are painfully shy, go to events with someone who is good at networking. He or she will take you around and introduce both of you to someone new.
    • Listen and learn. Force yourself to eavesdrop on a group. Learn their names.
    • If you forget someone’s name, admit it and reintroduce yourself. If you dread doing that, if you have a friend with you, reintroduce yourself to the person and then introduce your friend. Then pause so the person can introduce himself.
    • Be prepared to meet people, follow up, and keep in touch. Bring plenty of business cards and exchange them with everyone.
    • In a group made up of strangers and acquaintances, talk to someone you don’t know. Once you introduce yourself to a stranger, he or she is now an acquaintance and could be part of your network.
    • You have something in common with everyone. Make it your goal to find out what it is. This is fairly easy to do especially at SIGGRAPH 99. Everyone here has a common interest.
    • Never whine, gossip, or speak badly of a fellow artist or employer. Be nice to everyone. It’s a small world, especially in the entertainment industry.
    • Prepare for meetings by reading the trade journals or the program. Read the bios of the speakers who do the presentations before you attend the meeting. Find out about the people you are going to meet. Do your homework. It’ll be easier to speak to people if you know something about them.
    • You don’t have to wait for an event to try networking. Form a relationship with people in charge. Go to lunch with the Get a Job! boss. Network with people on other projects at your company. Network with people from other companies, too. Your next job may come from one of them.
    • Be positive and flexible. Be a team player.
    • There is no such thing as a small job. Do your best on every job you get and your circle of fans will grow.
    • Everyone, yes, everyone is a potential job lead. Don’t keep what you want a secret. Tell people what you are looking for. Ask them for help.
    • The most important thing about networking is you must be prepared to give before you get. Find out what you can do for someone else. Perhaps someone is having back trouble (not uncommon in the animation industry!), and you know a good chiropractor or acupuncturist. Be ready to lend a hand, and hands will reach out to help you when you need it.

    Whenever you attend an industry conference, trade show, or an association meeting or software user group, make a goal of meeting at least five people. Networking is one way to market yourself for jobs that may never be advertised. Build on these relationships.


    Before you go for your interview:

    • Research the company’s products or services.
    • Find out what their reputation is. Larger companies will have publicity materials. Study their press releases.
    • Look for people in responsible positions that you respect.
    • Determine the long-range prospects of the company by looking at their goals and target market.
    • Look for a company that is growing.
    • If it is a publicly traded company, check it out on the stock market report.
    • Most importantly, look for opportunities to learn from exceptional people.

    This research will pay off when you finally get an interview. You will impress them by your knowledge and enthusiasm for their company. Everyone wants to find someone who will fit in, and this research will help you convince the interviewer that you do. After you get one foot in the door, how do you get both feet in and stay in? Interviewers want to answer three basic questions:

    • Can you do the job?
    • Will you do the job?
    • Will you fit in with the other people at the company?

    To get answers to these three questions, they may ask you many other questions. If you can convince the interviewer that you have the skills, (can you do it?); the willingness (will you do it?); and flexibility, and that you are a team player (fit), chances are you will get a job.

    The last question (fit) is often the one that makes all the difference. If you have done your homework and research, you will likely be the one they believe will fit in. You know the other companies that do the kind of work they do. You know the company’s work and something about the company’s history and the key people. And you can speak with confidence.

    But only one of the key factors in getting a job is the fit. The other is willingness. Attitude is of paramount importance, particularly in the computer graphics industry. There is little room for arrogance or a prima donna attitude. You are working closely with many personalities under often strict deadlines, and being a team player is essential to keeping a job and sustaining your career. So convince them that you can do the job, want the job and are willing to do it, and that you will fit in, and you will be getting an offer soon.

    Once you get that job, remember to network, keep your resume, portfolio and demo reel up to date, and do the very best job you can every single day.

    The Author

    Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is an independent recruiter, career coach, and management consultant for clients such as Walt Disney Feature Animation, Digital Domain, Fox Feature Animation, Dream Quest Images, and interactive companies such as Lucas Learning, Activision, and Hollywood On Line. Thompson’s adventures in animation include setting up a studio from scratch, hiring and managing a crew of 100 artists, creating and staffing a 3D art department, producing award-winning video games, commercials, creating and producing the 1998 Career Boot Camp, and co-producing the 1999 Career Boot Camp.

    Thompson regularly speaks on career issues and consults with colleges and universities to design animation training programs. Her production credits include “The Simpsons,” “Family Dog,” and “Bebe’s Kids. “Thompson worked on the computer animated film currently running at Epcot Center’s Universe of Energy Pavilion, which is possibly the longest continuously running computer animated film ever. She was recognized in February 1999 by Animation Magazine as one of the top recruiters in her field. Her articles on animation and business have appeared in over 40 periodicals. A member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Thompson is currently the subcommittee chair of LA SIGGRAPH and is active in Women in Animationand ASIFA.

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