What I Learned About Getting A Job In The Art/Game Industry
So! Today I want to talk about how I got my job in the casual/social gaming industry and offer some tips for artists who may be struggling to find work. This is by no means a foolproof formula on getting a job, and this is only MY experience and by no means does it apply to everyone and their individual circumstances, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. But these are just some things that worked for me and maybe they will work for others too! (And yeah there are a billion other posts like this one but I never get tired of reading them!)
THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD VERY BAD YEAR AND A HALF BEFORE I GOT MY JOB
I went to a private art school in the Midwest. I got good grades, I made some cool work and great friends, and I graduated with my bachelor’s and 100% confidence that I would get an industry job within 3 months.
I mean, 6 months.
… OK, definitely within a year…
… year and a half…?
It was 19 months later when I was finally employed with a full-time industry job.
In that time, I was working a part time job for a whopping $10 an hour (which was considered pretty good for my job/my state). The rest of the time I was doing freelance work (mostly for friends and family, which ranged anywhere from realistic portraits to graphic design, I would accept anything if it involved anything vaguely artistic) and doing commissions on deviantART and FurAffinity.
I learned a lot during these 19 months. I learned about communicating with customers, I learned about marketing yourself and target audiences, I learned about ETAs and taking on too much work and working faster and more efficiently to maximize my earnings per hour.
I applied to every job in the area that I thought would vaguely relate to art. Unfortunately the only real corporate art and design opportunities in my city were product design for a major corporation or small (read, TINY, like under 20 people) animation and design houses, both of which I was massively under-qualified for.
I thought I was hot shit in high school, I thought I was hot shit in college, I thought I was hot shit coming out of college, but nothing in my portfolio was appealing for an employer looking for a product designer and there wasn’t enough experience to be hired by a tiny design house only looking for the best. All of a sudden I wasn’t hot shit anymore. I was just shit.
I grew resentful of my school. Why hadn’t they tried harder to get me a job? Why hadn’t they taught me how to market myself? Why was the animation department so lackluster? It must have been my school’s fault. I went to a terrible school. They were why I was failing.
(To be fair, although I no longer blame my school on my failures, I have a much different view of privatized art schools nowadays. But that’s a different story.)
I quickly fell into depressive spirals. Everything was hard from then on. I knew what I really wanted. I wanted an animation-related job in California like I’d dreamed about as a child. I wanted to work at Disney or Pixar, do storyboards or character designs like everyone else. But that was 2,000 miles away in California, a huge and expensive undertaking. There was no way. Guess I was stuck here.
It was only in fall of 2012 when things started looking up. My outlook on life profoundly when I had made some major changes to my personal life which simultaneously raised my self-confidence and permitted me more time to focus and create.
Not a month after making this life change was I approached by an old classmate of mine. I knew he’d been working in California for about a year (he was brave — he’d moved out there with whatever he could fit in his car, he went to the Animation Collaborative and made connections and did everything I was too scared and hopeless to do at the time). He said there was an opening at his company and that I should apply.
Excited, I looked at the qualifications and — oh. Never mind. I don’t think I’m qualified for this job. He insisted I should try, insisted that he would help and send his bosses my information. At this rate, I figured sure, what the hell. I applied, not expected anything but another rejection letter.
And they responded saying they were interested! A Skype interview was scheduled. Following-up happened. A couple weeks later, I had an offer letter in hand. I was going to California!!
2.5 years later I’m still here. I have new skills, a contact web, new confidence, and new life experiences and that was worth the time I spent waiting for it to happen.
So now I’m seeing people going through the same mess I went through. I remember how much it sucks. And I want to help. Hopefully I CAN help.
KAYCIE’S TIPS AND THINGS TO CONSIDER WHILE SEARCHING FOR WORK:
1. PRODUCE WORK — ALWAYS HAVE PROJECTS TO WORK ON. Personal projects show that you have initiative and self-discipline. While I was waiting for my dream job to call, I both finished and promoted my Periodic Table of Elements project. I did freelance. I worked on some comics. I had a strict once-a-week updating schedule for my blog. I entered pieces for gallery shows. I re-did old drawings to see how much I’d changed. Sometimes I just did some fan art because why not? It’s fun!
Always have something to work on! Even if the progress is slow - trust me, I’ve had story ideas stewing around in my head for 10 years without ever putting them on paper. You don’t have to work 8+ hours a day on your project (if you have that kind of time though, great!), a little bit at a time is also very effective. Setting self-deadlines can help, but just make sure they’re reasonable (trust me, you may be dealing with unreasonable deadlines once you do have your Big Job, so take advantage while it lasts!)
BONUS – Try to do projects that you can tangibly hold once you’re done with them, like a book, or a print, or a series of buttons or stickers. Something that can be seen in a context larger than “I drew this to put on the internet”. A reaction to a physical thing is PROFOUNDLY different to a reaction of an image on a computer screen. We see that stuff every day. If we can hold it in our hands, or own a copy of it… it’s much more professional AND much more personal.
2. PRODUCE WORK YOU LOVE — it’s cliche, but focus on what you like to do, even if you don’t think there’s a job for you in that field. An aspiring comic artist might get hired for storyboards. A graphic designer might end up doing UI design. If you produce work you love, it shows. And that’s really the whole point, right?
If you have the option, try new things but don’t drown yourself trying to do something because you think it’s trendy or desirable — best case scenario is that you end up doing that job and eventually resenting it because it’s not what you really wanted to do, but now you’re stuck in that field because that’s all you’re qualified for (i.e., wanting to be an animator but pursuing a career in graphic design — not because you love it, but because it’s less competitive and pays more). Be true to yourself and what you love!
If you don’t know what you want to do yet, that’s OK! (I’ve been at my job for 2.5 years and I still don’t really know what I want to do.) Keep trying new things to find out what you like most!
3. RESEARCH – If you really want a big fancy industry job with health insurance and vacation time, find out what’s out there and plan your attack accordingly. I had no idea that social games were even a remote possibility before I got my job because they didn’t teach us about games in college. It’s the perfect culmination of what I was looking for in a job - animation, illustration, and character design! Find out where your ideal industry “hotspots” are. Figure out where in the country/world those places are and what it would take to get there. Find out if there’s anyone you know that lives there or anyone THEY know that lives there that you could talk to. Your network will build.
But, that leads me to my next point…
4. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE IN THE AREA TO GET THE JOB/BE SUCCESSFUL — there’s this belief in the job industry that you have to be there to get it. While this can sometimes help, THIS IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE. I got a job in CA while I was still in MN. There are many artists out there like me who relocated for their jobs. Faith Erin Hicks doesn’t live in the comics capitol of the world, and yet she’s an incredibly prominent figure in the comics universe (she even wrote a post about this). Technology has blossomed in the past decade, and many preliminary interviews are conducted over phone or Skype.
Honestly, I could have moved out to California and peddled my portfolio around, and maybe I would have ended up like my classmate and gotten a job. But the main reason I didn’t move out to CA because IT’S RIDICULOUS EXPENSIVE. Like, apart from maybe Honolulu and Manhattan, the Bay Area is the most expensive place to live in the entire country. I lived in MN with my mother for over a year for free because I made peanuts, I was paying student loans, and I didn’t want to live in a 5x5 room in a strange state with 4 random strangers. I know not everyone is in my situation and not everyone has the luxuries that I had, but I’m 99% confident that I would have run out of money if I had moved out to the Bay Area without getting my job first. (When in doubt, ask about relocation opportunities! Some companies WILL pay to relocate you!!)
5. USE SOCIAL MEDIA — post your WIPs and finished products! Get a Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Blogger, Facebook… if your favorite artists or people you’d want to hire you have an account and are actively using it, get one! Post every day on at least one site. Need topic ideas? Talk about art! Talk about your favorite artists! Feature your friends and have your friends feature you! Talk about things you like that aren’t art! And above all, USE HASHTAGS! Yeah they’re kind of annoying to read and don’t go overboard but they DO HELP!
BONUS! Posting images (instead of just text or links) helps! Twitter especially has this annoying thing where if I share something on it from Instagram, it will post a link to the photo but will not embed the actual photo. Upload the photo separately with the link! Nowadays people scroll past things so quickly you really need to catch their eye right away, so images will help you do that!
BONUS! Beware what you say on social media if you expect professionals to see it. On the one hand, it’s social media and you can say whatever you want, but if you encourage potential employers to view your social media sites (i.e., leave a link to your Twitter in your resume or on your website), you’re inviting them to read everything you’ve ever posted. If I’m scoping someone for a job recommendation and all they post about is how lazy they are and how they should be doing art but they’re too tired, that’s a red flag for me and I’m going to be hesitant to recommend that person. (I also tend to shy away from people who have perpetually negative attitudes, but that’s just me.) Instead, consider getting a “personal” account as well as a “professional” account.
6. DON’T BE A SUCK-UP — we’ve all done it, we all know people who have done it, and some people have been successful doing it. But for the most part, it’s pretty obvious when you’re brown-nosing. Sure, make as many connections and learn and ask as much as you can of peers and elders, but make sure it’s all genuine and not out of desperation. And above all, don’t bribe them with gifts or try to do them favors and expect to get a job recommendation because you were nice to them. Earn their respect by being yourself. It’s OK to show that you’re interested in what they do or where they work and how they got there, but if they say “sorry we don’t have openings right now” or “sorry, we’re looking for someone a little more experienced”, be prepared to tone it down a little or back off for a while.
Remember, a job rec reflects directly on the person doing the recommending. It’s always a bit of a gamble bringing in someone you don’t know or have never worked with before. They want to be sure you’re a good fit, not just in skill set but in personality, or it may reflect badly on them.
7. DEALING WITH REJECTION — Sometimes, you won’t be the right fit. Your work may be good, but sometimes it’s not what an employer is looking for. And that’s OK! Thank them for their consideration and start applying elsewhere.
Don’t be afraid of job postings that require a certain level of experience (except for maybe positions with “senior” in front of it). It’s mainly a tactic used to discourage certain types of applicants. If your work is good, the employer won’t really care if you don’t have 2+ years experience. Remember, you’ll go through training when you enter any new job, so you don’t have to know everything going in!
Though sometimes you may get rejected because you really don’t have enough experience. This is also OK. Thank them for their consideration and keep applying elsewhere. Not all jobs require the same level of experience.
BONUS — Dealing with Gallery Show Rejection — this came up with a friend of mine recently. If you’re applying to a gallery show and you get rejected… do it anyway!! Proceed with the project as if you had gotten in, follow the specs they give, and post it on your own sites and social media. Maybe promote the other show too. Not only does it show that you’re Awesome and Unstoppable, but maybe the gallery show curators will see it and decide hey, maybe they should invite you into the next show…
SIMILARLY! Rejecting Unpaid Work — were you approached with a cool opportunity that you’d LOVE to do but are bothered by the fact that you will not get paid for it? Do it (or something similar to it) yourself! For example, I saw a call for artists for a project that I would have loved to participate in, but it was both unpaid and had a deadline that I wasn’t sure I could achieve. So what did I do? I made my own, separate project. That way I got to set the deadline, I got to sell it, and I didn’t feel any pressure or obligation to get it done. I find that I will do things better and faster if I love to do them rather than if I feel obligated to do them.
And MOST IMPORTANTLY…
8. DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF — being between jobs (especially right before your first big job) can be incredibly stressful, scary, and demoralizing. Some days you will be so full of energy and motivation you feel like you can take on the world, other days you will be practically fetal on your bed crying because you think you suck and you’ll never amount to anything. IT’S OK TO FEEL THESE THINGS. It will suck, it will be hard and painful but IT WILL BE OK. Talk to loved ones, build your support nest, and don’t forget to take time for yourself because you’re working hard and you deserve it.
I hope that helped and that I didn’t just give terrible advice! Haha. If y’all have questions or comments feel free to drop me an ask. :)