Trying to land your dream video job? Follow these five tips to stand out from the crowd!
Getting hired for a staff position in the video production industry is tough. There are a ton of people out there looking for work and not nearly enough well paying jobs. I’ve been lucky enough to have had successful runs on both sides of the table (trying to be hired and hiring someone for my department) in a relatively short time span, and learned a lot from the process, especially in relation to what a hiring manager is looking for in a potential video production employee.
Last year, I was in a position where I was looking to hire an editor/animator for my department, while also helping the production team review candidates for a position in their department. As I left that company to move to a new position, I even helped review and select the candidates for my replacement. Here are 5 tips and insights from my time as a hiring manager on how to stand above the rest. A lot of these are going to focus on the reel, and I’ll try to explain why for each.
#1: No Reel, No Chance
Extensive résumés are great. Solid references are awesome. But, neither really show what the person can actually do. I saw tons of great looking résumés come across my desk, and lots of them couldn’t back up their extensive experience with the caliber of work we were looking for. So what it came down to was that if they didn’t have a reel, we’d request it – and we didn’t bother looking any closer until we saw one. Not having a reel (or at least samples of work) was an immediate disqualification for the position.
#2: The Reel is Everything
Seriously. It’s everything. If someone wowed me with their reel, they almost definitely got a call back. Instead of sending a reel, some people would send us a playlist/album of full videos. This was technically okay, but I’d usually just scrub through a couple of them; rarely would I watch a whole standalone example. A well-done reel was a much better way to get noticed. It may not be fair to place that much emphasis on the reel, but it’s reality.
A candidate could tell me all day long in an interview how they could handle the quality of work we produced, how design is important, how they’re great at motion graphics or color grading or VFX. But if they couldn’t show actual examples of solid work in these areas that impressed me enough to keep watching, they were too big of a risk to hire. Hiring someone and finding out that they don’t have the skills they said they did is a huge pain; either you have to live with your poor decision for a while, or you have to let them go quickly and start the hiring process again.
What I wanted to see was proven work. I know some of you are saying “I’m up and coming, and haven’t gotten the chance to do cool/proven work yet! That’s not fair!” I didn’t really care if your reel was paid work, spec work, or just a project you did for fun. All I cared about is that you can do the quality of work I needed done.
Also, if I saw something in a reel straight out of a video tutorial (like Video Copilot or Red Giant TV), that person was out. It wasn’t really their work; tutorials are meant to be learned from, not copied keyframe for keyframe. Seriously. Cut that crap out.
#3: Pack the Good Stuff into the Open & Close of the Reel (and Keep It Short)
There’s a lot of debate about how to do a reel, and a lot of different philosophies depending on what the reel is showcasing — directing, cinematography, editing, motion graphics, VFX, color grading, etc. Here’s what I can tell you from the perspective of someone looking to hire: keep it short, and focus on the beginning and end. I had to look though a huge amount of candidates as they came in, plus do my actual job. It’s not really fair to judge someone by only watching part of a reel, but I had to be realistic with my workload. My time was limited, so usually I would watch the first 20 seconds or so of a reel and decide how to proceed from there.
• If it was obviously bad, I’d stop watching right away.
• If I was unsure, I’d scrub through the middle to see if anything caught my eye, then watch the last 15 seconds or so – I was looking for a strong finish.
• If it was good, I’d continue watching until I got bored, then scrub through and watch the end.
• If it was amazing (and very few were), I’d watch the whole thing. If I watch the whole thing all the way through, they went straight to my list of preferred candidates.
Also, if the reel was 6+ minutes, you could almost bet that I didn’t watch the whole thing. A 6+ minute reel meant that they couldn’t select the best options and didn’t know how to make something an appropriate length given the format. If a candidate just had so much amazing work they wanted to show off, the best thing to do was a hybrid approach: make an absolutely killer 2–3 minute reel, then link to an album where I can see full pieces if the reel piques my interest.
#4: Show Some Personality
The candidates that really stood out from the crowd were the ones that had a distinct personality show up in their initial contact and work samples. Believe it or not, a good cover letter went a long way. If they had the generic, “Dear Hiring Manager, I believe that I would be an excellent candidate for your position. Please see the attached résumé and reel…,” they blended right in. But, if they had some fun personality in their initial email, that gave me a better sense of who that person was and if they’d be fun to work with. We were big on hiring for culture. A lot of businesses do that these days; so showing personality is a must.
The reel is another fun place to show some personality. If the reel was more than just “Reel 2014” and an email followed by a montage of unrelated shots, but was actually creatively constructed and even – gasp! – well-written, it stood out. It wasn’t a requirement, but it sure helped.
#5: Show You Care About Quality
Whether it’s fair or not, I was judging every candidate by a lot of small, random things that spoke into that person’s values. Did they have a website and, more importantly, was it well designed? Was the résumé well designed or was it just a plain, default-styled Word doc? Did the titles in the reel look cool/appropriate, or were they just “defaultica”?
These things may seem like minutia that had only a little to do with the actual job, but they all spoke to two very important things I was looking for:
1. A dedication to quality work– that person wanted to make sure that everything they sent out represented them well.
2. Good taste – having good taste is key for any creative position (listen to Ira Glass’ awesome quote for more on that and the creative process). If what they sent was designed, they probably cared about quality. If what they sent was designed well, they probably had good taste.
A note on this in particular for those of you without design skills – even if you can’t design something well yourself, that’s not really an excuse for sending out something shoddy. While you shouldn’t use templates in your reel, who says you can’t use a well-designed template for your resume or website? You’re not applying for a graphic design job; you’re applying for a video production job. Buy a good looking template; it’s easy, and shows you care about quality, even when you can’t do it yourself.
So there you have it. 5 tips for standing out from the crowd when looking for a video production job. Happy job hunting!
Want some more career tips? Check out these posts from PremiumBeat:
Author: Aaron Williams for PremiumBeat.
(cover photo credit: snap from PremiumBeat)