Sunday, April 25, 2010

Advice to Graduates

This was a comment I contributed to a December, 2008 post called The Final Customer. As graduation time once again approaches, I'm giving it its own entry.
Here's some basic advice I'd give to graduates from any year. Network aggressively. If you know people in the business, start talking to them now and keep talking to them. It's good to touch base with people when you're not looking for work, just so they don't think that the only time you get in touch is when you want something. If you're lucky, you'll learn what studios are busy and you can target them.

Apply to any animation-related job you can find. Knock on studio doors and if you are lucky enough to talk to people, get their business cards and send them a thank you email. Stay in touch with them once a month.

If there are any industry associations, join them. [I would add that you should join business networking sites like LinkedIn .] If there any industry events, attend them. Bring business cards and introduce yourself to strangers. Sometimes artists are shy and don't want to push themselves, but nobody has a reason to seek you out this early in your career. You've got to do the work.

Be prepared to relocate. At this point in your career, you need resume credits and experience. The sooner you get them, the sooner you can position yourself for the jobs you want. Sometimes, the only jobs are at small studios in out of the way locations, because nobody with experience wants to work/live there.

If you're not working, keep producing new art. That way, you can revisit studios once a month and have new things to show. That will convince the studio of your commitment. There's no reason for a studio to see you more than once if your portfolio/reel are exactly the same as last time.

Stay upbeat when talking to people, no matter how discouraged you are. No studio wants to listen to an applicant complain, especially if the studio is struggling to stay in business. Stay enthusiastic and be willing to do whatever they ask, even if it's not what you really want. There will be lots of time to reposition yourself in the future.

Job hunting is a skill. The sooner you start applying for jobs, the sooner you'll learn the ropes. Do not sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. Keep putting out feelers and keep producing new work. Sooner or later, you'll catch a break.

When you do, live below your means. Don't assume the job will last as long as promised. Don't assume that the studio will have another project when the current one is done. Save your money because you will spend time unemployed.

If you're working, keep networking. Let the other studios know that you've been hired. They will take you more seriously if other studios want you. Keep talking to friends in the business, monitoring the situation wherever they are working. That way, when you're out of work, you can hit the ground running in order to find your next job.

While you're working, keep your portfolio and reel up to date. When a project is finished, ask for samples of your work from it, even if you can't show the samples until the project is released. You don't want a studio to shut down and leave you with no access to the work you've done. It's happened.

Graduating in tough times could turn out to be a blessing. Those people who manage to make it through the recession are going to be smarter and tougher than those who don't (though luck does play a part in it). When the business goes through other slow periods, you'll be more ready to deal with them while others disappear.
Something I would add is the concept of a "best-before" date. When you go to the grocery store, perishable items have a best-before date stamped on them. After that date, an item is no longer fresh. Graduates, too, have best-before dates. Their freshness expires one year after graduation. At that point, if people have not yet worked in the industry, they are competing against a new crop of graduates whose skills and enthusiasm are fresher. Someone who has gone a year without being able to break into the business raises questions in the mind of a prospective employer.

For this reason, I always tell grads to take any job offered, even if it's not a preferred studio or task. Getting that first job immediately separates a grad from all the people who have yet to find work. It also provides a grad with a new network of co-workers who may be able to provide future employment or a reference.

Grads have a tendency to look at their first job as the culmination of their educations, but it isn't. It's merely the first step in a career. Just as you go from knowing everything about your high school to knowing nothing at all about your college or university, you're now going from knowing everything about the school you are leaving to knowing nothing (or very little) about the animation industry. It's no fun to start again at the bottom, but that's where you are and over the course of your career, you may find yourself starting over several more times. Recognize your position for what it is and accept it. With luck, it's only temporary.

Luck and timing play a major role in a career. If John Lasseter had been born 10 years later, he would not be where he is today. Someone once asked actress Lillian Gish what it took to succeed. She responded that it took talent, persistence and luck, though she thought a person could get by with two out of three. Since you can't control luck, focus on the other two and hope for the best.

18 comments:

Alex_Munguia said...

thank you.

Adric said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Mark. It's good to hear something uplifting after the burnout of fourth year.

Bob Cowan said...

Mike --
Good comments. And I think your observations speak to more than those graduating -- they have applicability to those that are unemployed or those that are under-employed (those who are not doing what they really want to do). Hope you don't mind, but I posted a link to your comments on my Facebook page... Thanks! Bob ;D

Braden said...

Hey Mark,

Thanks for taking the time to post this! Lots of good info to digest, and will surely help in the future.

Zartok-35 said...

I'll be sure to keep this in mind when I need to use it. Good information!

Steve Schnier said...

Hi Mark,
Good advice as always. Although times are tough, this is probably the best time ever to be starting a career in the animation business. There are literally thousands of possibilites and options open to people today - options that didn't exist even five years ago.

The cost of production has fallen. New markets: video games, app development, internet productions are in their infancies. Can't find a job working on someone else's show? Start your own. What have you got to lose?

Nobody ever fails in the entertainment industry. They just give up before they succeed.

JPilot said...

My first job out of university in a stone dead industry in the mid eighties: part time cel painter in a commercial animation studio. I remember that getting my foot in the door that first time was the best feeling ever, no matter how humble the job was.

roconnor said...

I had never thought about that last piece of advice -the "best before date" -but it is absolutely true.

I've taken many chances on being a recent grad's first time employer but I can't think of any who I've brought in past their "expiration date".

roconnor said...
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Eric "Spillz" Angelillo said...

Awesome!

Thanks!

Amber Gail said...

It sounds like good advice! Thanks for looking out for us, Mark.

Ryan said...

Everything in this blog post is true. Thanks for posting it, Mark.

Roberto Severino said...

Even though I'm still 15, and a sophomore in high school, I have a strong feeling that this advice is really going to serve me well if I get into a good animation college (which I really want to because someday, I wanna really impact the animation industry and make fun cartoons). Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

While this is all excellent advice, I would like to add something. About "producing new art". One of the mistakes I made was trying to create what I thought studios wanted to see. That's no way to be an artist. Create what YOU want to see. Not only will you find psychological refuge in that work, it might lead you to real success, rather than just a job.

warren said...

Great advice, Mark.

I was blown away by some of the student work I saw yesterday. If I were in a position to hire some of them myself, I would have.

About your post - in my own experience, I found that getting the first job out of school was relatively easy thanks to the Industry Day we had in 1997. Only four or five studios showed and it was a crap time to grad (the boom was going bust), but still, without recruiters coming in, I would have never gotten that first gig.

The second gig is where this advice comes in handy. And the third, and the fourth, and - you get the picture.

Wayne-Michael Lee said...
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Wayne-Michael Lee said...

Thanks so much for the words of wisdom Mark. You're a great teacher and we were lucky to have had you.

Aaron Fryer said...

awesome advice, I'll look back to this when it's my turn in 3 more years!