Sunday, November 14, 2010

Interviewed by a student

I recently answered some questions from a communication design student as part of their homework assignments. And looking back at my answers, I realize that I sometimes need some reminders about things I already know.


How important is communication in your profession (not important, important, somewhat important, very important, extremely important)?

Interpersonal communication is a really important skill. There are few positions where you can work without communicating with a team or a supervisor of some kind. On any given day, I may spend as much as 4 hours simply communicating with co-workers. In companies where projects are smaller and can be completed by one person, you still might spend 2 or so hours a day communicating just so that you understand the work that you are to be doing.

Communication and interpersonal skills are sometimes more important than a strong resume or portfolio. If we interview two applicants, one with stronger work but poor interpersonal skills, and another with strong interpersonal skills but weaker work, we tend to favor hiring the second candidate instead.

Can you briefly describe the positions of the people you communicate with (clients, Vice Presidents, salespeople.) in your job and a general description on the nature of your communication with these people?

I communicate with company clients like Producers and Licensors, but also my CEO, Department Manager, Project Coordinator, Lead Artist, and other artists on a regular basis. Communication happens in conference calls, department meetings, company-wide meetings, art reviews, personal reviews, emails, and training sessions.

What communication skills or methods have you found to be beneficial in your career?

Giving and receiving constructive feedback are the most valuable skills for any artist to have.

In terms of receiving feedback, it's really important to just listen and take notes. Whenever someone makes a comment about your work, make a note about it and move on to the next comment. If the feedback is vague and would like them to clarify their comments or provide specific examples, feel free to ask questions. But don't try to defend your work or your choices. Spending any time defending your work slows the flow of reviews and is counter-productive. You can prioritize feedback later on your own, or with your supervisor or instructor to decide what is most important to address first.

Ultimately, people who are giving you feedback care about the quality of the product. Some people don't know how to give feedback in a constructive way, and it's hard to listen to their criticism. Even then, if you just listen and write their comments down, when you look at them again later you might see through their tone of voice to the core of what they were trying to say.

That being said, when giving feedback, it's important to call out things that you do like about the work both before and after giving any suggestions for improvements that could be made. This not only lets the artist know that there are parts of the piece that are working well and should not be changed, but it also softens any comments that ask for changes, which allows the artist to better listen to what you are saying rather than becoming defensive about their work in response to your suggestions.

Can you give one example of how one of the above skills or methods has enhanced your career?

I used to get defensive about my work quite frequently during reviews. When people made comments that went against conscious decisions I had made while developing a piece, I would try to explain myself and show them why I disagreed with them. But that only made reviews awkward, and people became hesitant to give me any feedback at all because they knew I would put up a counter-argument.

When I began to simply listen and take notes for review later with my lead, I started seeing things about my work that I hadn't seen before. And even if I eventually decided not to follow a particular suggestion, just listening instead of defending my work allowed others to give me more ideas in the same amount of time. So by adopting the "simply listen and take notes" approach, I received more feedback on my work, which in turn allowed me to make it stronger. Sure my pride might have been hurt a bit in the short-term. But I knew my work would be much stronger in the long-run as a result of their comments, and I would eventually take even more pride in my work if I just listened.


What types of information do you provide about yourself through your own résumé?

I tailor my resume for the kind of position that I am looking for, making sure it fits on only one page.

If I am applying for a character animation position, I try to only include games that I have published that include my character animation work. And I might also replace a more recent design position with an older character animation position.

This way, I keep my resume short, and make sure that they can get the information they need at a glance.

What kind of information do you look for in a résumé that you receive from a potential employee?

In a resume, I usually look for Job Experience, including internships and volunteer positions with community programs or professional organizations in the graphic arts.

In the art field however, we put much more emphasis on a strong portfolio. No more than 10 or 15 pieces of your best work. Even if you only have 5 or 6 really strong pieces total, don't include any more. A portfolio of only 5 or 6 strong pieces makes a better impression than one with 5 strong pieces + 8 weak ones.

What tends to catch your eye most in a résumé?

Teamwork experience. For students or recent graduates, that means internships and community involvement. Both of those suggest that the applicant is not only comfortable working as part of a team, but will take the initiative to go above and beyond the basic requirements of their curriculum.

What kind of information is [un]important for you to see?

Keeping a resume down to one page is the most important thing in terms of what not to include.

At this point in my career, I have worked many jobs, and I could easily fill two to three pages or more by describing my responsibilities at each position. But resumes over 1 page long are usually a huge turn-off to most employers who have hundreds of resumes to sort through for each position. So, whatever you do, DO NOT submit a 2-3 page resume and expect someone to read the whole thing.

Second, do not include experience that is not relevant to the position you are applying for.

References are also generally understood as being available upon request. So I usually leave them out altogether to make more room for relevant information.

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