The Number One Tip to Get A Job in the Art Industry

If, like me, you graduated (or will be graduating soon..it’s that time of year) from art school with a metric crapton of student loans, you’re probably concerned about getting a job.  Whether it’s in the animation industry, or games, or whatever, you’re probably getting your portfolios all ready and your cover letters written and hoping you get picked up at your school’s portfolio night, or whatever (assuming your school even has an industry event).

However, the single most important thing I could ever stress upon any of my students is this single tip.

Always look at yourself from the company’s eyes.

There, that’s it, now go and get a job. (Drops mic).

Just kidding, dropping the mic makes a loud noise and it’s pretty rude.

Seriously (all bad jokes aside), most people forget that companies have no idea who you are.  They don’t have the intimate knowledge that you have about yourself.

If you’re looking to hire someone for a concept art position, and you see a portfolio with 9 awesome pieces and 1 sorta mediocre one, what would you think about the artist?  If you’re looking at it from an art student perspective, you might think “Well, that artist probably just had a bad day, or ran out of time and only had 9 good pieces to put in their portfolio.”  Sure, we’d all like to be given the benefit of the doubt, but do you know what an art director thinks?

“Hmm, this kid has potential, but if they can’t pull of 10 awesome pieces, maybe they have crap time management.  Or maybe they’re too slow to do production work.  Or maybe the 9 were a fluke and really they’re gonna be giving me all mediocre stuff like that one piece in the back.  Eh,time to move on.”

The sole concept of business is that your employees have to make you more money than you pay them.  It’s a very simple idea, but one that, as employees, most of us forget.  If you create $10/hour of value for the company but your salary is $20/hour, every hour they employ you, they’re going to be losing $10.  This leads to the company eventually shutting down and you being out of a job.  Thus, art directors and other hiring managers need to make sure that their art team has the speed, skills, and ability to maximize profits.  If profits are maximized, the studio stays alive and you get paid.  If the person doing the hiring isn’t 100% confident that you can make money, you’re not going to even get an interview.

Lesson: having a portfolio that is strong all the way through is super key.  Also important is making sure that your portfolio fits the studio’s style.  You should actively be creating portfolios that show that you can produce work in the style that the studio needs you to produce.

Does that mean that you need to have a different portfolio for Dreamworks than you do for Blizzard than you do for Cartoon Network?

YES.

Is that a ridiculous amount of work?  I never said it wasn’t.  But the key is that you need to tailor EVERYTHING to whatever company you’re applying for if you really want to maximize your job search.  From your resume to your cover letter to your portfolio to what you wear on your interview, you should be crafting what the company is going to think about you by making it was easy as possible for you to fit in with the company.  Remember, as a company, it’s easier to find someone who can already do the job the way they want it done, rather than have someone talented who they have to train.

If you want to work a studio that has realistic and terrifying monsters, a company culture that is super relaxed, makes MMORPGs, and is looking for a concept artist, you should be shaping your application to show the company that you really do fit in.

Your resume should feature creature design or horror work that you’ve done.  It should focus on all your concept art work, and if you don’t have any, it should focus on anything that would highlight the skills a concept artist needs (hint: you can find things like this on the job descriptions).  Your cover letter should talk about your experience playing their past games (haven’t played, you should start now), and show that your familiar with their work and the world they’ve built in past MMORPGs.  Maybe you’ve even researched the leadership team at the studio as well as the recruiter.  You should dress casually for the interview – jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt with a character from their past game, or from a horror film that’s inspired them (you know this because you’ve read interviews with the lead artists there).  Finally, your portfolio is filled with other nightmarish creatures that are rendered in the same style as the studio’s past work, but has your own unique design sense and flare of imagination.

It’s one thing to say that you’d be a good fit.  It’s a whole other level when you show them that you’d be a good fit.

You’re giving them everything they could want in a possible hire – from your personality to your portfolio, you are figuring out exactly who they want and are showing them that you can be that person.

I know this is a lot to handle, especially as you’re dealing with finals, getting ready for the commencement ceremony, and doing all that other stuff in your life.  However, if you keep the company’s perspective in mind, you’ll find yourself being more and more successful in business, which means getting that dream job quicker.

Good luck and congratulations on making it through.  Now the real game begins.