Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Job Interviewing For Illustrators

© 2013 Don Arday.
After sending out a cover letter with your resume or making a phone call and possibly sending out some select samples of your work, comes the interview. Contrary to what many artists think, the quality of a portfolio is not the exclusive thing that will land you a job. You may have heard the saying “the work speaks for itself”, which may or may not be true, but most certainly, the work can’t speak for you. You will have to be interviewed, and how well you prepare and perform during an interview, will determine whether you are, in the end, hired for a position.

Pre Interview Preparation

1)    Do Your Research - Prepare by researching the organization. Get to know the kind of work they do and the markets they serve. Know who their clients are and look at examples of work they have produced. Use the most current information possible. Do your research before you make any contact with the organization.
2)    Know Your Interviewer - Get the name of the person you will be interviewing with. Note whether they are a Human Resources (HR) person, or a creative person. Know their job title and what they do. If they are a creative person then research the particular work they have produced. 
3)    Research the Job - Begin with the job title. Try to learn things about the specific job being advertised. E.g., Art Director, you should know what an art director does. Read job descriptions carefully to direct your preparation. Also research the industry. E.g., Flexographic Publishing, do you know what that industry does?
4)    Match Your Suitability – Determine how well you qualify for the job. Define criteria determine where, and what kinds of jobs, to apply to. It may be location, size of company, type of work, benefits, etc. Assess your strengths and weaknesses relative to the job description. Don’t be discouraged; it is rare that any applicant for a position is a “perfect match”. 
Special note: You may not find out the specifics of the job you are interviewing for until you are actually in the interview.

General Preparation

1)    Know Where to Go - Obtain maps and any special directions well in advance of the interview time. Know the floor and office number, parking instructions, etc. It is enough to worry about the actual interview without having to worry about a parking space.
2)    Be on Time - Take the trip to the company location in advance if necessary. Always overestimate the amount of time it will take to get there. If you are early, you can always go into the restroom, to wash and collect your thoughts.
3)    Dress for Success - It is not necessary for you to try to know or mimic the culture of the company you are interviewing with, i.e., Hawaiian shirts, etc. Neat, professional dress or even suit clothing is preferable to casual. If you arrive overdressed, it will look like you have another important interview to go to afterward.
4)    Rehearse - Check over your portfolio. Review some questions to prepare your answers. The more interviews you do the better you will get at interviewing.
5)    Gather Your Materials - Create a checklist of items to bring, directions, money for parking, portfolio, business cards, resume, sample leave behinds, note pad, datebook, etc.

The Interview

1)    Plan on 15 to 30 Minutes - There is not much time to tell all the great things about yourself or your work that you could, or all the clever anecdotes you would like to tell. It will either seem like it only lasted two minutes or like it lasted two hours depending upon how it goes. 
2)    Introduce Yourself - If you encounter people at different times, be sure to tell them who you are and perhaps use an identifier to refresh their memory such as “We spoke last week” or “I just graduated from RIT” or “Bob Dorsey recommended I meet you.”
3)    Remember Names - It sounds simple, but it’s one of the biggest mistakes inexperienced job applicants make. Remember or write the name down of all people you interact with from the receptionist to the interviewer, and others you may be introduced to. Ask for business cards, this will help when it comes to spelling a name properly in any further correspondence.
4)    Your Elevator Speech - Compose a single or two sentence sales pitch that promotes you and your work very positively. The answer to “Why hire you?” including your strengths, abilities, and what is unique about you. Now is the time to promote yourself.
5)    Keep the Conversation Going - Answer questions concisely. Be conversational, but try not to be long winded. Should lulls in the conversation occur, you could direct the attention of the interviewer to your portfolio.
6)    The Portfolio - Your portfolio is your interview godsend. It will keep the interviewers attention on your work and off of you. It is your visual aid, and it will help you tell your story. It will preempt a host of questions, but remember the portfolio is not a replacement for you. It may provide the visuals, but you will provide the voice and movement.
7)    Critique Etiquette - You are going to receive a critique of your work, and in some cases it may be a type of harsh critique you may not have expected or were prepared for. It is important not to be taken off guard or to let your emotions flare or send the interview into a negative spiral. Even though you may think the interviewer is being offensive, you should always maintain a professional demeanor. Conversely, know how to politely take compliments; you will probably get a fair share of them.
8)    Ask Questions - Based on the research you have done about the company, you should ask questions about the number employees, the work spaces, thinks that you observe, etc.
9)    Concluding the Interview - There are several courses of action that could occur at the end of an interview. Always be polite and professional no matter what the outcome may be.
1)    You are told your work is spectacular and you are offered a job.
             You can ask for time to consider the offer. 
          A week is not unreasonable. 
2)    You are told someone else will need to see your portfolio, you are offered a second interview.
                            You should consider this a good sign.
3)    You are told that you will be contacted in the near future.
   Ask when you might expect to be contacted. 
   If you do not hear something you can contact the company.
4)    You are told that the firm is not hiring at the moment.
   Ask if you can check back with them in a month or so, 
   and ask if they, could recommend where else you might interview.
5)    You are told that your work is impressive but not the kind needed by 
      that firm.
   Ask if they, could recommend where else you might interview.
6)    You are told that you are not ready for a position at that company.
   Ask what would be required for you to obtain a position there.
7)    You are told you need to go back to school.
   Ask specifically what your deficiencies were, and what they would 
   recommend for you to improve your portfolio or presentation.
If no suggestion or final summary is offered by the interviewer then be prepared to ask about the potential of obtaining a job, or recommendations of other companies you should contact, or suggestions that would improve your portfolio, etc.

The Follow Up

1)    Following Up – Write a note, send a letter, or an email thanking you interviewer for the interview and any useful comments or help they might have given you. If you were applying for an open position, you can call back after a week or so to inquire if the position is still open. 
2)    Checking Back – If there is no position or it gets filled, you can still approach the company after a few months have passed as long as you have added new work to your portfolio.

Question Preparation

The following are examples of typical questions asked during interviews. You can prepare for upcoming interviews by giving some thought to how you would answer them.

             Corporate Questions

1)    What do you know about our company?
2)    Why are you interested in working at our company?
3)    What skills or expertise do you have to offer that could benefit our company?
4)    Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
5)    Do you have any experience working on a team or collaborating with other artists?
6)    How well versed are you in business software applications, i.e., Excel?
7)    What two or three things would be most important to you in your job?
8)    What motivates you to do a good job?
9)    What do you see yourself doing in three to five years?
10) What would you say are your strengths, and your weaknesses?
11) What are your salary requirements?
12) Are you willing to undergo a physical, psychological, and/or drug test?
13) Are you willing to work as contract laborer for a period of time before being hired as a full time employee?
14) Are you looking at other job possibilities?
15) Do you know anyone who works for us?
16) Do you have any questions to ask during the interview?

             Field of Practice Questions

1)    Why did you choose illustration as your course of study?
2)    How much time on average do you put into one of your illustrations?
3)    When given an assignment problem, how do you go about solving it?
4)    How did you execute this illustration? (About a specific piece in your portfolio)
5)    What would you call your style of illustration?
6)    Have any of the pieces in you portfolio been in competitions?
7)    How familiar are you with image-based software, i.e., Photoshop, Illustrator?
8)    How familiar are you with page layout software, i.e., InDesign, Quark?
9)    How familiar are you with web creation software, i.e., Flash, Dreamweaver?
10) How familiar are you with animation software, i.e., Cinema 4D, Final 
      Cut Pro?

Be prepared for improperly phrased or baiting questions. These type of questions get asked more commonly than one would think, especially during interviews that happen over lunch or dinner where alcohol is present. By knowing how a question should be phrased properly it will be possible for you to restate it before answering it.

             Improper Questions  Proper Version (In Italics)

1)    What nationality are you?                        
          Are you entitled to work in the US?
2)    Where were your parents born?               
          No proper version.
3)    How old are you?                                    
         Do you meet our company minimum age requirement of 21?
4)    What is your marital status?                     
         Can you work overtime or travel?
5)    Do you plan to have a family?                 
         No proper version.
6)    Are you living with anyone?                    
         No proper version.
7)    What clubs do you belong to?                  
         Do you belong to any industry organizations?
8)    Do you have any disabilities?                   
         Do you need special accommodations to perform your job?
9)    Do you have any chronic health conditions?
   Are you willing to undergo a physical or drug test?
10) Have you ever been arrested?                  
         Have you been convicted of (a crime relating to job performance)? E.g., cashier – stealing?
11) What is your sex or preference?               
         No proper version.
12) What is your height and weight?              
         Do you meet our standards to perform the job of an airline host/hostess, mover, diver, etc.?
13) What religion do you practice?                 
         No proper version.
14) Are you Republican or Democrat?           
         No proper version.
15) How do you spend your spare time?        
         No proper version.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Illustrating Santa

If you are an illustrator, and you have illustrated for a couple of few years, as the Texans say, then you will have created your own version of Santa. Now, if you illustrate in the U.S., your Santa would be Santa Claus; but if you produced your work in England, he would be Father Christmas, and if your work were created in Germany, Santa would be known as Saint Nickolas. In any scenario, you would be participating in a rich tradition of picturing a historical fictional character (don’t tell your kids) who illustrators from decades, indeed centuries past, have described with acute visual similarity. And in doing so you most likely have referred to past interpretations of the jolly old gentleman with white beard, red coat, portly figure, twinkling eyes, and red button nose.

Now as you all know, illustrators work from reference. Even if it from reference we acquire from one and other. But where did the original reference come from. Where did Thomas Nast obtain the reference he used to produce his portrait—one of the earliest of Saint Nick? Perhaps the old gentleman, Kris Cringle that is, was obliging enough, and kind enough to grant Mr. Nast a sitting in order for him do produce a portrait for posterity. Or a photo op, as photography had been invented during Nast’s lifetime. And it is this portrait that has stood the test of decades, and over a century, to serve as reference for all illustrators who have pictured Santa since. What this all means is that perhaps there was real Santa who existed, or perhaps he was an imposter. Or, there was a very astute, worldly Santa, who wanted to conceal his identity and masquerade as an imposter. Either way, there are now hundreds of thousands of illustrations depicting Santa with the accuracy that would assist Interpol in apprehending him, should they receive word of an actual Santa sighting and be on the scene.

We illustrators know without a doubt, there is a Santa. For how would an appar-
ition, a phantom, a specter, a spirit, a persona, be able to actually make money appear in our bank accounts for the portraiture work we have produced of him?

© 2013 Don Arday.

Enjoy the Season! Best Wishes and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Illustration Career Checklist

For many illustrators just starting out, making the decisions about how to direct their careers can be a daunting and even confusing task, but a necessary one. Most illustrators believe that the type of work they produce, it’s style, subject matter, genre, etc. will automatically take them to wherever it is they wish to go in their career, and they a partially right. In some cases illustrators are fortunate enough to be discovered or to fall into a focused career path, but many new illustrators don’t know where they want to go, or even the kinds of directions an illustration career can take for it takes a fair amount of research and some contemplation to determine career aspirations. One problem is that new illustrators quite often don’t even know where to begin, and career path guidance and information has had its shortcomings in illustration education and the field at large.

Articles titled “How to be an Illustrator” simply don’t cut it any more than they would if the title was “How to be an Industrial Designer” for illustration is much more than simply being able to draw or paint well it is a distinct and technical career in the visual communications field that involves a number of business and non-visual communications skills. Despite what some may think, in addition to providing an artistic education, colleges and universities do provide education in these other areas.

How To Identify An Illustration Career

To begin, let’s assume that they have artistic training and possess the formal body of artistic knowledge and the ability to professionally execute illustrations. To compliment this, they must also have been educated in methodology used solve illustration problems. For these most basic skills are the foundation on which an illustration career is built. Without the exposure to dynamic methods and resources that impart and encourage these qualifications, a career in illustration will be very difficult to achieve.

Self-awareness of the qualities and skills that it will take to support a career in illustration is a necessity. This is then combined with knowledge of the illustration field, the scope of media and styles it supports, the markets it encompasses, the clients it serves, the audiences it benefits, the types of assignments it contains, etc. This is essential for an illustrator to determine his or her place in the illustration business, and having that understanding is necessary to formulate a career strategy.

© 2013 Don Arday.
The checklist below is provided to help an illustrator recognize, describe, and classify their work. It is divided into media, style, demographics and assignments. The list can even be used to identify possible directions an illustrator could pursue in their career.

How To Use This Checklist

Place a checkmark in the squares to identify all the traits that pertain to your work at the present time. Then place a checkmark in the circles next to all the traits that represent career aspirations. If you wish to continue a certain trait that applies now also in the future then check both. By comparing what you have achieved in the present to what you may wish to achieve in the future, you can get an idea about which directions to pursue with your work.