Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Websites don’t return phone calls, either

A followup to Steve Hulett’s post from yesterday.

I once got a call from a member -- let's call her Alice Smith -- who said she was having trouble getting a response from a studio to which she had applied several times. I called the studio, and the dialogue was as follows:

Receptionist: “Human resources, may I help you?”

Me: “I’m Jeff Massie from the Animation Guild, could I speak to [name of person in charge]?”

Receptionist: “And what is this in reference to?”

Me: “I’m calling about Alice Smith.”

Whereupon the receptionist burst into tears.

Alice, it seems, was considered a border-line harasser by studio recruiters.

This happened long enough ago that the studio in question no longer exists. And at many studios, neither does the hiring system that allowed Alice to actually speak to someone on the phone. Nowadays, to apply for a job at many if not most larger studios, you go to a website and/or send an e-mail to a generic address. If employers are to be believed, a large reason for the necessity of this is the sort of applicant abuse that may have occurred in this situation. Websites don’t cry.

The thing is, I don’t really believe this. There aren’t that many applicants behaving that badly. I think most people are smart enough to know that making the receptionist burst into tears at the sound of your name is not a good job application strategy.

A depersonalized application process isn’t necessary to protect management from the raging mobs with torches and portfolios. The now-common ways of doing things in the world of artist recruitment have resulted from what Steve wrote about yesterday -- the triumph of lowered demand over high supply in the labor marketplace. Too many applicants, not enough jobs ... it’s easier (and cheaper) to set up a website and a process to prioritize insulating the employer from the unemployed, rather than pay someone to communicate to potential employees.

I’ve had h.r. reps try to convince me it’s “fairer” to require everyone to apply through the same system, rather than allow veterans to talk to decision-makers they may have worked with in the past. That’s also been the justification for requiring every applicant to take a test, whether he’s Bill Tytla or someone who can’t spell the word annymation. (I’ve been told that at least one employer rep tried to claim that it was the union that required everyone to take a test. Nuh-uh.)

It is worth noting that Article 19 of the contract (pages 45-46) gives employers wide latitude as to whom they hire and how they hire them. We have never been a “roster union”, and I have never believed that a roster would solve more problems for the membership than it would create. The Guild has insisted on an ongoing dialogue with employers regarding abuses of application and testing processes. We haven’t given up on this issue; as always we need support from the membership to give us the leverage in pursuing solutions that stick.

I have been generalizing here about employer abuses; a number of our employers, large and small, actually have artist recruitment people on the inside who are willing to talk to job applicants on the outside. And much of the anger and bitterness Steve and I hear from members comes from the general frustration of finding work in hard times, even at studios that treat all job applicants fairly.

Of course, the point of having an employment application process is to insure that the best applicants are discovered ... as opposed to, let’s say, the ones who are merely willing to work for less.

Isn’t it?


Anonymous said...

I want to meet Alice Smith.

Jeff Massie said...

No, you don't. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

Good one Jeff.
I would trust Jeff's judgement on this one.
He's been around for quite a while.

Anonymous said...

Back in the day... there was once an editor who kept phoning the studio begging to be interviewed for a job. Then she kept calling demanding to speak to the head guy about why he didn't call her back. Then she called about why she wasn't given a job! Then she showed up one day at the studio making a big scene at reception demanding to see the hiring guy. So she got dumped on a PA (me) to give her a tour of the studio & subtly head her out the door after which we never saw her again.

The reason? She only wanted to work in live action & refused to work in animation even though she was demanding employment from an animation studio!

yeah. fun times.

C.M.B. said...

I know Alice Smith, and you sir, are no Alice Smith!

Anonymous said...

So beyond quietly slinking away with your portfolio, are there ANY reasonable steps to getting some attention?

Anonymous said...

Evil management drone here (just being up front so you that are more render can avert your eyes)to say that I have a story board artist that calls me once o month like clock work to ask me if I am looking for story board artists. This is after I have told him (every time) that, "No, we do not have a story board department we are supplied boards by our client)


JavaJunkie said...

Think of it like calling up someone for a date: If you leave a message and they call you back = success. If they don't call you back and you keep calling and calling = You blew it.

Anonymous said...

So beyond quietly slinking away with your portfolio, are there ANY reasonable steps to getting some attention??

Unfortunately no, not from a front office or a studio, and 99% of the time not from an individual either. It stinks but that's reality. The best thing anyone can do to get noticed is network-meet people in the business and put your work on your blog.

Real jobs usually don't come from portfolio drop-offs to places and people you have no history with-or even ones you do have a history with. Not saying not to do it at all, but if there's no reply or the answer is no, it's no. It's just too crowded a field.

I had a portfolio at DisneyToons where it was ignored, just sat there for a few weeks after dropping it off(they were accepting them at the time). Then someone called me about a position on a project-a person I'd worked with in the past. I assumed they had seen my book. I was offered a job on the phone and accepted it.

I got a call weeks later from Recruitment at Disney: "Sorry, but we aren't interested. Please come pick up your portfolio". I was already working at the studio, unbeknownst to them! By the way, they were pretty dismissive/rude about it too.

That time the laugh was on them. But this is the way it goes. The people who say "no" are going to keep saying it. You have to have luck and connections to get a yes, and more than half the time it's when you aren't even looking.

Anonymous said...

I actually go a rejection letter from a studio I never applied to - talk about preemptive strike!

Anonymous said...

What is appropriate when interviews are involved?

I've had interviews, but did not get any follow up from the company. Just left hanging with no response. Not even a no thank you.

I've been asked about by availability for interviews, and said I was open. Then again, no response.

Who oversees the recruiters to see if they are leaving qualified applicants with a good feeling about the company?

Meredith said...

So, my theory has been that with computer animation being king, there would be fewer and fewer people with physical drawing skills coming up through school and those of us with traditional skills would be a rare breed that would have an easier job getting into the studios in those few niches that require them (storyboard, layout, design). But that doesn't seem to be the case, at least not yet. If anything, competition for those few jobs seems steeper than ever. Can anyone comment on this?

Anonymous said...

What is appropriate when interviews are involved?

Another experienced animator here with VERY mixed treatment regarding interviews. My overall assessment is that if I, as an animator, did my job as poorly as many recruiters and hiring managers, I would not have a career. It's stunning how incompetent some of these people are, and how long they last despite their incompetence, and how they tend to show up at another studio once they finally get canned from their original studio.

That said, I've also had some marvelous and very professional interactions with many recruiters. Some are real gems, and do a difficult job well. But they seem to be in the minority.

Anonymous said...

Well, as a recent grad (and thankfully hire), I can say I'm a bit mixed with regards to how recruiters do things. I would like to think that communication between possible applicants once they reach a certain stage (let's say after they get an interview, possibly two), should be a little bit more of a two way street. A few studios interviewed me, told me I did well, and that I'd hear back about the position within X timeframe. Reasonable and not a locked in date for sure. However, when that timeframe came and went, I emailed them only TWICE, politely asking if there was any news, good or bad. I sent these emails days apart, and then finally left a phone message. Still the line seemed completely dead. I assumed I didn't get the job. I had to do it for my own mental health. I couldn't count on having an offer from them so I moved on, I have loans to payoff :)

Lo and behold the same studio calls after I've already accepted a position somewhere else. One month to the day after they told me I'd hear back, without ever having told me to hang on. I respectfully told them I wasn't available, and hoped that perhaps down the road we may cross paths again, but I was kinda annoyed.

Yes, this industry is competitive, but there's a certain human courtesy that I think needs to be shown to applicants that studios are actually considering for a job...don't leave them hanging with no answers (even if the answer is, hang tight). Besides, even bad news is still news. People have decisions to make and keeping everyone informed within reason would help everyone. Studios and applicants included.

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