Episode 183 – VFX Job Interview Questions

 

Let’s talk about this situation first: Going into a job interview as a creative means that they have seen your work and they like what they’ve seen. It isn’t that they’re coming in to consider you. It means that they’re narrowing down to a couple people. They just want to know if you’re a good fit for the company. This isn’t an interrogation. It’s more about finding out what kind of personality you have.

That also means that you’re completely in control of the situation and the tonality. It’s a two-way street. Don’t feel like you’re going to be just answering questions. Instead, you can come in and have a very outgoing personality and it will change everything. You’re just as in control of the outcome! Just keep in mind to stay friendly. You want them to make it out that you’re easy going and you get along with everyone. It’s important to be confident about your work and yourself.

Most experienced interviewers will also take into consideration that most people are nervous. There are some extreme cases. (I get calls or emails from studios. There will be situations like that.)

  • The key thing you don’t want to do is bragging. We all have an ego, but that can be a backlash. Whenever you’re over confident, it can be a red flag. It’s important you come off humble.
  • The other thing to keep in mind is to not trash talk about other people. Don’t badmouth your previous employer. Who is to say you aren’t going to do that to your new employer?
  • Don’t take credit for someone else’s work and don’t lie! The industry is so small. Don’t say, “I did everything in this shot on your reel” if you didn’t. For all you know, the person who did the rest of the shot is in the other room. It’s easy to have your name blacklisted, in this industry. I see that happen all the time! It’s better to be humble and not claim you did things you clearly didn’t do. I’ve had people apply for a job at my studio — with my reel! It’s easy to flag yourself.

[09:08] This industry is filled with egos and eccentric personalities. The employer is just looking if you’re a good fit for their team. It doesn’t matter how good you’re if you’re really poisonous for their team; or someone who’s going to have a negative effect on the studio. I remember a friend of mine telling me, “Hiring this person was like dropping a live hand grenade in the middle of the studio.” In other words, it caused a lot of irreversible damage. That’s why it’s important to keep a good eco system.

[10:15] Interviewing some of the senior stuff at id Software, I heard them talk about the soft skills and hard skills (www.allanmckay.com/81/). It’s easy to find someone who’s talented. It’s not easy to find someone who’s going to fit in with the team. At id Software, they prefer to hire the next best person if they feel that person is going to get along better with the team; rather than hiring someone just talented. Finding people who are a good fit is lot more important.

[10:53] I still remember working for a company 15 years ago and one of the Sups was telling an artist to get along better with the team. The artist was so pent up about it! His ego was so through the roof, he wasn’t listening to what the Sup was saying. When people are trying to throw you a bone, you need to listen. The best person is someone who’s going to get along with the team and take direction well.

So I just want to set the tone for this Podcast: Ultimately when you’re being interviewed, people just want to know who you are and more about your interests, and to see if you’re invested in what you’re doing. They’re also looking for any warning bells. We see people snap under stress in visual effects all the time.

[13:24] Finally, it’s important to bring up that there are different types of interviews. Some are with one person or a small group of people, like the Head of the Department or a Lead, or a Producer. It depends on the structure of the company, your country, etc. Usually, that’s the structure you work with. Other interviews are more brutal. I’ve been in an interview that lasted 8 hours. Google is the worst: They can go through 24 rounds of interviews. When it comes to VFX, there will be one interview, most likely. If it’s something more intense, you will have a list of people who will meet you. Different places — different structures. Very rarely will you have corporate style interviews, which actually tell you a lot about whether you want to work in that environment.

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

[00:49] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!

[03:23] I have some new free training coming up soon. Please join my VIP Insiders List to learn more information: www.allanmckay.com/inside/.

[50:58] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

 

VFX JOB INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

“Tell Us About Yourself.”

[15:11] The big loaded question is, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” There are so many ways you can take it! This is a chance to take advantage of it. It’s a chance for you to stand out. You want people to remember who you are. The more you give people an insight on who you are — the more you have a chance to stand out from other people. This is chance for you to talk about yourself and open up without making it all about you. In other words, you can show your personality.

You could say, “I personally love photography and I go shoot a lot in my spare time. I make short films and do landscape photography. That’s what got me interested in getting behind the camera.” Or, “I love being social, seeing films and catching up with people afterwards.” Or, “I love going to SIGGRAPH and organizing mixers for the industry.” It shows that you’re social and organized, that you’re building your community. Attending conferences means that you’re in the industry already, and you’re interested in bettering your skills. This gives and insight into who you are. This is chance to talk about yourself and demonstrate who you are. This question is only tricky if you haven’t thought about it. If you say, “I’m obsessed with 3D right now. I know it sounds crazy, but I work on it in my spare time.” That will make you stand out as well.

“What Do You Know About Our Company?”

[19:44] Here is another basic question, “What do you know about our company?” or “Why do you want to work here?” I don’t think there is the right answer to this. But it is one of those questions that you could screw up really badly. This is a chance for you to do your research about the company and look into who they really are — and to demonstrate that. If you don’t do that, that begs the question: Why are you even applying there? The easiest thing to do is to go on LinkedIn or Glass Door and see what they do. You could say, “I really love the animation you, guys, do and some of the projects you’ve worked on. I always wanted to do more cartoony animation.” Or, “I love the game cinematics you do, I’ve always been a fan! I know you’ve worked on some really cool stuff!” You aren’t going to win anyone over, but you can screw it up.

Or, this question: “Why do you want to work there?” If you’re interviewing at Scanline, you could say, “I love all the large scale water effects. You destroy every scene in every movie. You do such cool work!” That’s a great answer! You go above and beyond — and you know their specialty. It’s more about making sure you have a good reason behind it.

“What Are Your Strengths?”

[24:08] One of the biggest mistakes when someone asks us, “What are your strengths?” — we say, “EVERYTHING! I’m the best at everything out there!” And I actually get those answers. For me, it can be really dangerous because you can’t place someone like that. I had a conversation with a Supervisor in New York coming in and saying, “My reel is really good!” — but it’s not which makes people question what you mean by “good”. You could say, “I’m not the best at lighting — but my simulations are good!” If you’re aware of that — you can improve on that. If you think you’re awesome, it will be hard for me to push you to improve.

“What Are Your Weaknesses?”

[22:13] The bigger question is always what your weaknesses are. It’s hard to know where you’re good and where you aren’t. For me, you could ask me in any area where I suck. That makes me a better artist. I know where I need to grow. I know which areas I need to avoid and let other people do their work because it’s not one of my strengths. It’s hard to talk about weaknesses because you may think you’re admitting failure. But none of us are good at everything. The more you’re in touch with what your strengths and weaknesses are, then more it makes them trust you. It makes their job easier with placing you as well. If you’re good at modeling — but not animation — it helps me place you in my modeling department. I once interviewed an artist who claimed he was the best at every area. It disabled me to place him because I didn’t know how to disqualify him. If you say you’re great at everything — you’re either being dishonest or you aren’t in touch with reality. So figure out your strengths and your weaknesses: what you’re passionate about and what you need to get better at. That’s cool! It give me the lay of the land. This isn’t a bad thing!

“How Much Money Are You Expecting to Make?”

[30:42] When the studio says, “How much money are you expecting?” — this is one of the hardest questions. A lot of us are afraid to shoot too high or too low. The key is to get them to come up with the number. You shouldn’t be the one doing that. If they present the first number to you, they can usually go up. If they offer you $50K, you may be able to ask for $60K. Just keep in mind that there is a bit of a wiggle room. If you’re nervous and you say, “Um. $35K?” and they say okay, that means you shot too low and you could’ve asked for $50K.

One of the ways to answer that question is to say, “I’m not sure what number I want to go for until I find out more about this position. I’d be more comfortable if you let me know about your base number.” From there you can negotiate up. They can always say yes or no. They already have a number in mind. You could be more in demand; then you’d say, “I’m talking to a few different studios and I’m trying to get an understanding what this position is about — and if we’re good fit. I’d like to get a better idea about what your budget is.” What you’re communicating is that you have other offers, without sounding stand-off-ish. I tend to say that a lot. I make it about the projects and the environment.

Negotiating is pretty easy. It comes down to your leverage. I’ve seen people suck at negotiating. They lock up and say, “I want nothing less than $50K!” Be open to negotiating. It doesn’t need to be a big deal. Most employers don’t want to talk about money either. They just want to get this out of the way. Another important point: Talk about the money upfront. Don’t leave it until later, especially with client work. People leave the number until later — and then there is this vague expectation.

“How Much Money Were You Making at Your Last Job?”

[35:34] One of the curveball questions is, “How much money were you making at your last position?” That one I don’t have a good answer for. Technically, I don’t think it’s a legal question to ask, at least in the States. For me, I would deflect a question like that. I would say, “At the previous position, my responsibilities were quite different from this [potential] position. At the same time, I didn’t feel like I was being compensated fairly. Which is why I’m seeking new employment.” Deflecting means that they can’t loop back to that question. I’ve never asked this question: It’s none of my business and all I want to do is if they’re worth the number I want to pay. There are times when they come in with higher numbers than what the position is worth. Other times, there are people I want and I will borrow money to meet their expectations.

“Do You Have Any Questions?”

[37:39] The last question that every potential employer will ask is, “Do you have any questions?” Most people throw away this opportunity. In the beginning of my career, I would do a throwaway question like, “How many employees do you have at your studio?” — which is a wasted opportunity! Typically, you go in for an interview to talk logistics and come up with a number. (By the way, when they come back with a number, you can ask for some time to think it over.) With this last question, it’s your opportunity to get in there and make yourself memorable — and to find out more information. I would say, “With this project, what are you big concerns?” They may answer, “We don’t have much time to turn it around.” That’s great because it means that money is going to be less of a priority than the delivery. If they come back with “our budget is a bit tight” — that’s another piece of information. Another possible question could be, “What does your ideal candidate look like?” By knowing that information, it helps you sell yourself better, then or in later conversations. If they were to say they’re looking for some scripting ability, you can mention that later. “I don’t have much experience in scripting but I’m passionate to learn more of it.” The more information they disclose — the more you can align yourself.

So always ask as many questions as you can. It helps you find out about the company, including about any red flags. By asking a few questions, you may realize they don’t have dedicated workstations for render farms. I remember I had a meeting for movie Priest and they brought up their concern that the Sup on that film felt that CG explosions looked unrealistic. What would I do differently? That gave me a chance to stand out. I say, “People tend to do a big simulation. But the key thing is to make multiple elements and simulated them out separately. That way you can control it separately — then bring it back together.” This is more about stating how different you are — and eliminate their concern.

 

WRAPPING IT UP

[45:41] The other thing is to end with a clear picture of when they’re planning to get back to you. Or if they’ve made you the offer — this the chance for you to communicate when they can expect to hear back from you. The more you communicate, the more comfortable people feel. If they say, “We’re interviewing a few people” or “We’ll get back to you tomorrow”, you learn even more.

Once you do that — follow up with an email immediately! You could write, “Thank you for your time and for the chat! The project sounds amazing. Thank you for this opportunity! If you have any questions, please let me know.” Any other person has come in and left. But you’re the person who stands out past the noise. You’re going to stick out in their memory.

If you feel nervous, don’t beat yourself up. That’s always expected!

If they do offer money, take some time to come up with a counteroffer. You can learn more details about their medical package and whether it will cover your family. Or, if you’re really excited — you can sign the dotted line on the spot!

I always finish the interview by saying, “Thank you for your time! I’m really excited about this project.” That wraps it up. But that tends to be my personality. If you’re someone who doesn’t feel right saying that, say what sounds better to you. Make sure it feels right to you. You do you! I hope that makes sense.

Please take the time to share this Episode. I have a video version of this Episode on my YouTube Channel.

Next week I will be back with the answer to the burning question: How do I get started?

Until then —

Rock on!

 

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