Networking and Portfolio Tips for Upcoming and Recent Graduates

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    Animation Pagoda Staff
    Animation Pagoda Staff
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    Start Preparing Right Now

    Many universities do not teach the business side of selling art for a living.  The result is that many artists who thought they were somewhat ready to go out and get paid to make stuff find themselves completely unprepared for the harsh reality of capitalism.

    Not only must decent artists compete against thousands of even-better artists with more practice, experience, and seemingly innate talent, they also have to set aside time for stuff like marketing, taxes, and dealing with leads and clients.  It can be kind of disheartening at times.

    The best way to prepare yourself is to start selling work while in college.  Begin thinking about ideas for personal projects that could be entered in festivals and exhibitions or pitched or sold. Set up a portfolio website or take a few commissions on the side of classes.

    Visit career expos, online forums, and conventions where people can ask industry professionals and independent entrepreneurs questions.  The more you know, the more you can prepare yourself for what’s coming.


    Portfolio Reviews

    For most types of professions, a resume or CV is the basis for getting an interview.  This might include your prior job experience, level of education, and major.

    However in the art and design world, a slip of paper doesn’t actually matter that much.  No client is going to care where you went to school or if you worked three summers as a lifeguard.  The quality of your portfolio, projects, and demo reels are what will actually make you stand out and get a job.  For that reason, you want to present your portfolio in a manner that demonstrates your skill level and specializations.

    Ask friends or professors to take a look at websites, portfolios, or demo reels. Or post on social media forums and let your peers and alumni offer suggestions and strategies for producing the best work possible. If you keep all your designs hidden and never share your talents with the outside world, you will never be noticed.


    Networking

    In this day and age, online profiles often play a factor in getting hired.

    Getting your own portfolio website is ideal, but a website will not draw a lot of traffic on its own.  You need to advertise on social media, job boards, and freelancing websites.

    Businesses also really love LinkedIn. It is currently the largest job recruiting site, though in all honesty there are many other websites with job boards that are better suited to artists and designers.

    Keep in contact with professors and friends from college.  They can provide references and maybe help you get a foot in the door to the job market.

    After graduating and saying goodbye to college, your chances to build connections with other like-minded designers will be limited to co-workers and professional acquaintances. Guilds and professional organizations charge membership dues, but they also provide workshops, resources, and a chance to meet with other creative people. A free alternative is to visit forums, industry news websites, or follow social media.


    Interviews

    Employers in creative fields aren’t going to be impressed by a nice formal suit or the grades on your resume. They will want to see a strong portfolio of digital work, a variety of listed software skills, and a few years of experience or an internship.  Most studios won’t even consider applicants who don’t have at least three years of professional experience.

    Being able to work quickly under pressure to meet deadlines is essential. In many cases, a good recommendation from someone in the industry is enough to secure an interview, even if you don’t have all the desired skills or an amazing portfolio. As long as you can show that you are a team player and are creative and willing to work hard to learn new programs, you have a shot.


    Job Hunting

    Job hunting sucks.  Your applications will be rejected a lot.

    Having a website and LinkedIn account isn’t always enough to attract clients. The best way to get people to seek out your work is to start doing small freelance jobs or internships. These will build up a client base who can recommend you to more employers and opportunities

    Unsolicited cold call emails to companies are generally not the best way to bring attention to your work. Seek introductions and recommendations, go to conferences and film festivals, and leave a good impression when meeting a potential employer face to face.

    If you can’t get an interview with anyone after trying for months, then ignore the previous tip. Send cold call emails, but do so as a last resort. Conduct research and direct emails inquiring about job positions or freelance work to the HR department director, or whoever is most relevant to the job type. Continue improving your portfolio, resume, and online presence


    Invest in Your Tools

    After graduation, all the lovely equipment and software you used in college will no longer be free or student discount-priced. Purchasing supplies and programs can be expensive, but it is necessary for the trade.  Start building up your collection gradually when you can afford it. DIY equipment is also an option.

    New technology advances make programs obsolete in just a few years, so keep up to date with what cutting-edge tools the industry is using. Many companies use in-house software that you weren’t taught in college, so you have to be willing to adapt and learn.

    Continue to practice using software and equipment after college. Having a degree doesn’t guarantee you a job, so don’t stop making projects.


    Transitioning after College

    Graduating feels great. But then after a few weeks of celebratory sleeping in late and binge-watching Netflix all day, you come to the terrifying realization that you don’t have the slightest clue how to promote your work and get hired. Your portfolio isn’t that bad, but it isn’t outstanding enough to secure your dream job. There aren’t any studios in the area where you live. You don’t have any connections in the industry, and all your job applications keep getting zero responses back.

    Expect to start small and work your way up. College graduates don’t immediately start out designing logos for top brands like Coca-Cola, or as art directors at Pixar or directors of multi-million dollar movie productions. It takes several years working for companies and clients nobody has heard of before you start to build credentials and develop a respectable portfolio.

    Bobby Chiu: 4 things I wish I knew in school

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