How to Ace a Job Interview in the Creative Industry
March 28, 2018
On the day of your job interview, will you put your best foot forward? Being unprepared is a one-way ticket from the boardroom back to the elevator, so don’t underestimate your big day and remember—you are being evaluated before you even show up.
What Happens Before the Interview
Don’t underestimate the importance of pre-interview communication. Respond to any emails from your potential employer swiftly and professionally.
Send each attachment (your portfolio or a cover letter) in a single file. Don’t torture your potential boss with an .odt, .txt or .docx. Play it safe and send a neat PDF.
Be prepared for your employer to visit your social media—you might want to set any photos from, errr, highly casual social gatherings to ‘visible to Friends only’ and be purposeful with your social media presence once you’ve started sending out your resume.
[Above: A glimpse inside CG Cookie's office and workspace. Image courtesy of CG Cookie]
The Cover Letter is Where You Can Show Your Personality
A few years ago, while looking for a new site developer at CG Cookie, we received dozens of applications and full page cover letters. One of them, sent in by Nick Haskins, only had one sentence: “I am the dough to your cookie and you knead me.”
This gave us a chuckle and immediately showed that Nick could be a great cultural fit. Ultimately, it was the quality of his experience and his resume that made us invite him in for an interview, but the cover letter meant he had a leg up. During the in-person interview, he showed us that the funny cover letter wasn’t just a gimmick or an effort to fit in at any cost; it was an authentic expression of his easy going personality. Together with his standout skills, this ultimately got him the job - and he has been with us for years!
Your potential employer is likely inundated with bland CVs and cover letters. If you think it’s a good fit, inject a little personality or humor into your cover letter.
Don’t Forget Your Manners
A little courtesy can go a long way; thank the reviewer for taking the time to look over your application and respond with thanks even to rejections (politely, that is). It’s a small world, and you want to leave a good impression.
Once you get invited to an interview (yay!) respond with thanks, avoid excited emojis, and confirm your attendance. Be brief and factual to confirm the details: “I look forward to our conversation on July 4th, 10:00 a.m., at Fireworks Headquarters.”
As always—spel chek your eimails before sedning.
Don’t Go In There Blind
Knowledge is power; just as you should tailor your CV and portfolio for each job application, you should also prepare for each interview separately and do your research. Ideally, you will have friends (or friends of friends of friends) who work at the company and can give you firsthand information.
Alternatively, GlassDoor is a good place to get insight on the company culture from current or past employees. For larger companies, you might even find information on the interview process.
Social media can reveal recent events, projects, and marketing style—all invaluable insight that you can draw on during the interview. In short, they are going to stalk your social media, so you should definitely check out theirs.
You Will Be Judged By Your Cover
The creative industry style tends to be casual, but don’t take it for granted and use your research to inform yourself about the company culture. Is it a small gaming studio with a casual vibe, or a well-established agency with a set hierarchy and a dress code? Will your role be client-facing, or strictly creative?
Dress accordingly—if the company has a casual culture, you don’t need to wear a suit. However, khakis and a printed t-shirt are never acceptable for a job interview (even if you end up wearing them once you are hired and settled in). The rule of thumb is to mirror the company style while being polished, put together and neat.
[Above: Rustic brick wall interiors in CG Cookie's office and workspace. Image courtesy of CG Cookie]
During the Interview, Focus on Your Potential Job
Talk about your experience and passion that relates to that role. Your interviewer should have an impression that you are there to learn, and are interested in the company. “Pick up what they are laying down” is a great rule of thumb.
Remember, your talent is important, but so are your soft skills. In the creative industry, you will be working with others which takes good communication skills and an ability to be a team player. Show during the interview that you have what it takes.
Having a couple examples ready to go is essential. You can bring up team projects in class or extracurricular activities.
Be mindful of your body language—maintain healthy eye contact and keep a straight posture to indicate that you are actively engaged. Avoid fidgeting with a pen and watch the speed of your speech. We tend to talk faster when nervous; if that happens to you, remind yourself to take regular breaths and speak calmly. Also, your handshake should be firm and confident.
Be Prepared for a Portfolio Review
You can be certain that your portfolio will be brought up during the interview. This is the best reflection of you and your skill, so be prepared to talk about it and rehearse practice in advance. “Why did you include this piece in your portfolio?” is almost certain to come up. Don’t be depreciative about your work—be factual, humble, but confident.
Also, expect the interviewer to pull out the weakest piece from your portfolio and focus on it. They may even rip it apart (not literally, that would be just rude). In either case, don’t get defensive! Once you become a member of a production team, this will happen to you daily and you have to be prepared to iterate and improve.
Remember, your future employer is evaluating your potential above anything else. Listen, show a desire to learn, and an ability to accept constructive criticism.
When the Tough Questions Come
“What do you think of our latest game, Jumpy Frogs?” is an opportunity for you to show that you are well-informed about the company and interested in their work. Rise to the challenge and show your knowledge of the company that goes beyond their homepage. You should be up to date on their more recent endeavors and big changes, like a new CEO, major new client or recent industry awards.
“Why do you want to work here?” or a variation thereof will definitely come up. A good answer will include soft factors (your own interests, company culture) or hard factors (the company’s clients, previous projects, the pipeline that they use). A great answer will include both and show that you are a good fit.
“What is your biggest weakness?” The mother of all tough interview questions will never go away. Honesty is the best approach here—identify a weak spot (time management? soft skills? sketching? incessant snacking?) then list a few steps that you’ve taken to improve in this area.
[Above: Another glimpse inside CG Cookie's office and workspace. Image courtesy of CG Cookie]
Don’t Just Answer: Have a Few Smart Questions Ready
It’s common for applicants to talk too much due to nervousness or to passively follow the interviewer’s lead. But an interview should be a two-way conversation, to make sure a future cooperation is a good fit for both parties.
Great candidates stand out by proactively asking questions (without actually hijacking the interview). You can inquire about the company, your potential future position, and show a keen interest. For instance, you can ask about the team’s approach to collaboration on projects, or some of the challenges you would be expected to take on.
Once It’s Over, Say Thank You
After the interview, always send a thank you email. This can be quite brief, thanking the interviewer for their time and consideration.
Avoid generic phrases. Instead, try to make it personal and inject a thoughtful detail from the interview to remind them of it. Remember, they may have seen a dozen other applicants on the same day.
For instance, you can say, “After speaking with you and the team, I believe I would be a perfect fit for Awesome Games. I really enjoyed learning about how you tackled the tight deadline on your latest project, Jumpy Frogs, after the client asked for an earlier delivery. With my passion for environmental design and my strong work ethic, I believe I could be a great asset to your team and help you overcome similar challenges in the future.”
It’s a Lot to Take In, But You Can Do It!
In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: Don’t Panic. Acing a job interview is a skill, and like any other skill it can be learned. Be confident, but also prepared for a few rejections (yes, they will happen). Remember that every “no” is a “yes” to something better, and interviewing will get easier over time.
Good luck on your next interview and the pursuit of your dream job!
Wes Burke [pictured above] is the CEO and founder of CG Cookie, a learning platform for digital artists. An ILIA—Schaumburg graduate and game industry veteran, Wes is an inaugural recipient of the Wade Ray Scholarship, 2015 ILIA 0151—Schaumburg commencement speaker, and a graduate of The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program. He lives in Elbrun, IL with his wife and three daughters.
About CG Cookie
With tens of thousands of members, CG Cookie is a passionate global hub for driven artists learning digital art from the best trainers in the industry. With focus on open-source tools, CG Cookie offers training on concept art, 3D design, game development and traditional sculpting, teaching skills that cover the full pipeline of modern creative industry.
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