why should anyone hire you

Why should anyone hire you?

In my earlier post about portfolio sites, I addressed a few of the most common mistakes I saw on artists’ sites. But mistakes on a portfolio aren’t the biggest problem. The biggest mistakes happen before the portfolio is even created.

Most artists assume they make a portfolio site, submit to a few employers, and sit back and wait for the job offers to roll in.

This was exactly what I did when I first graduated college! (Although back then it was demo reels on VHS, and you had to mail things instead of e-mail things, so it was a lot slower.)

But this betrays a critical error in thinking – ‘if I build it, they will come.’ The ‘it’ in this case is your portfolio site, not a baseball diamond.

It’s really just a roundabout way of saying ‘if I’m a good enough artist, someone will hire me!’

Ha, NO.

Every artist looking for a job needs to ask themselves a tough question – ‘why would anyone hire me? What do I bring to a project that can’t be found somewhere else?’

Well? Why should anyone hire you?

In every case, an art director is looking to hire an artist to solve a problem.

A job isn’t about just making art. It’s a job, there are a lot more responsibilities than just being a good artist.

You know, little things, like showing up every day, and not being a complete jerk or smelling up the place. And maybe being able to create art on a schedule, instead of being a prima donna.

What you need to do, is put yourself in the art director’s shoes. Think of it from the perspective of the person that is looking to hire people. What does that person want or need?

What are the motivations of an employer looking to hire?

In every case, an art director is looking to hire an artist to solve a problem.

Usually, it is a very specific problem. An artist on the team just quit, and they need a replacement. Or the next project requires amazing hair simulation, but there’s nobody on staff that can do that.

So under what circumstances is an art director going to look for a junior artist straight out of school? In some cases there are studios that like hiring up lots of interns and training them internally. But aside from that, what is the advantage of a junior artist?

Junior artists don’t have many advantages.

A junior artist, by definition, lacks experience. They aren’t good problem solvers because they haven’t seen many problems!

Also, they will be young, and generally won’t have as much practice in their chosen art medium, meaning they probably aren’t as good as someone more practiced.

They don’t know anything about working in an office environment. They have no idea how or when to take the initiative. The list goes on!

Are there any advantages?


First, the obvious one: they are cheap to hire. To art directors on a budget, this is a huge selling point.

Second, they are eager: they will tackle any project, no matter how mind numbing, because they are happy to have a job.

Third, they are excited. It’s called the 9 to 5 grind for a reason. New people will be fresh, and young people will be fresher and more enthusiastic still! Experienced workers love to see this kind of excitement, because we’re all vampires hoping to drain your souls until you are just like us. Ha ha ha you think I’m kidding? Welcome to capitalism!

So… I don’t build it and they don’t come? What am I supposed to do here?

Your portfolio needs to show that you are aware of your status as a junior artist, and you are ready to be a team player.

  1. Show process and workflow on your site. This means texture breakdowns, wireframe shots, shader networks, whatever. Show that you can create assets that are ready to drop right into a game!
  2. Be enthusiastic. I’m not saying you should fake anything here, but you are excited to work in the game industry, right? Let a little of that show through, and point out that you are ready to do whatever it takes to make that happen!
  3. Don’t disqualify yourself. Don’t put anything on your site about how you only want to work on JRPGs or the next Halo, or how you hate sports games or social games. This shows that you don’t have any idea how a real job – let alone the game industry – actually works!

Dealing with geography problems.

There is one last wrinkle – geography.

Namely, where you live, versus where the job you’re applying to is.

Chances are, a studio won’t pay to fly a junior artist out for an interview. At the beginning of my career, I had one studio invite me for a job interview – and then told me to hire my own rental car and drive there. They finally relented and flew me out there, but I should have known right away not to go. Anyway, I digress…

A studio might pay to fly you out. They might pay to relocate you. But the chances of this happening aren’t good. A big advantage for a junior artist is being local, i.e. ready to start the same day.

In this case, you might try couch surfing in a city with a few job postings you’re checking out. Email the hiring manager, let them know you’ll be in town and you’d love to chat. You will probably get a better response than emailing them from half a continent away!

4 thoughts on “Why should anyone hire you?”

  1. James, I’m getting closer to graduating, and I’m wondering what are some common questions in job interviews for animators, 3d character/environment modelers, or even riggers?

    Second question, Some programmers I know have had programming tests thrown at them, are there similar situations where an artist will be given a set time to create something during interview?

    1. Interview questions are mostly about ensuring that you know what you’re talking about (that the work on your portfolio wasn’t a fluke), and that you can be a professional. I don’t know that it’s useful to prep for certain questions because every interview will be different.

      Art tests are definitely a thing. Most places have you do the test ahead of time, before they’ll even consent to interview you. Onsite art tests might happen, but since art is pretty time consuming to create, doing an onsite test might not be very useful. I could see it in a more technical setting, such as being presented with a rigged character that is malfunctioning and the interviewer asks you to describe your thought process as you try to diagnose and fix the problem.

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