How Can I Get Past My Disability to Land a Position in the Animation and Illustration Field?

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Phoebe from University of Colorado asks:

“I want to work in illustration/animation, but feel like I’ve exhausted all my resources. An internship would be great, but I seem to have a hard time finding one since I’m no longer a student. I also have social anxiety and hand-pain that keep me from working for extended periods of time. How can I find a creative career that can accommodate my disabilities?”

Thanks for your question, Phoebe.  I’m sure you’ve done quite a bit to find suitable employment opportunity in your field.  However, there is always more you can do to move closer to your employment goals.

Having coached over 5,000 clients during the last ten years, I can confidently tell you that most individuals want to quickly land the job of their dreams.  However, most aren’t willing to build a solid self-marketing (job search) plan and fuel it with massive action until the objective is accomplished (and the job offer is secured).

Also, I don’t want to minimize some of the challenges you mentioned either.  But, this is a problem you can successfully solve, Phoebe.  As long as you are willing to put in consistent action, then I believe you can accomplish your goal.

Detailed below are some specific suggestions you can implement in your plan to land a starting point position in the field of illustration and/or animation.

How Many Jobs Do You Need?

You only need one job, right?  You don’t need two or ten or one hundred.  Just one full-time job…that is all you need.  During your job search, you’ll experience both the emotional ups and downs.  Learn to appreciate both and continue to stay focused on the goal of obtaining one job offer.  Fuel your search with consistent effort each day.  If you don’t give up on the goal, you’ll get there.

Treat Your Job Search Like a Job

One common mistake recent graduates make in their search relates to the amount of time and effort they invest into their job search efforts.  Most invest very little time into the search and assume that the successful outcome will come easily, even in spite of the competitive nature of the job market.  Here is statistic that might catch your attention:  1.9 million bachelors degrees are expected to be awarded during the 2016-2017 academic year (with the same number or more this academic year).

These statistics aren’t meant to scare, rather to motivate you to fuel your search with a great deal of effort.  Treat the search like a full-time job.  Invest 40+ hours a week into your campaign to land the right job.  Most of the recent college graduates I meet with recognize that they haven’t been working as hard as they need to in order land the job if they are being completely honest with themselves.  I’ve found that many get better results in the search simply by investing more time.

Network, Network, Network!

People hire people, not computers.  We need the help of others to succeed both on the job and in life.  Networking (engaging with people) is, was, and will always produce the best results.  Embrace saying hello to others, while reconnecting with people you already know.  One of the first things you should do is let all of your friends, family members, and connections know exactly what you are looking for and that you’d be grateful for any assistance that they can offer to you.  While many may not be able to help with a job lead, these individuals can offer tips, leads, introductions, referrals, and more that can be a stepping stone to landing the job.

Make sure to grow your circle of influence and network by attending community events.  Join professional associations in your field to connect with others in your field.  Utilize LinkedIn to grow your virtual network, find posted jobs, connect with recruiters, further your value proposition through skills endorsements and recommendations, and join industry related groups.

Volunteer to Gain Experience

Your question indicated that you have limited field experience.  One great way to acquire experience is to volunteer your time.  While the preferred way to gain experience is to be paid of course.  However, don’t underestimate the power of volunteering as a way to gain experience.  Additionally, get involved in your community with causes and organizations you believe in too.  These volunteer initiatives will help you to grow your network, build your reputation as a leader, gain experience, strengthen your resume, and much more.  Get out there!

Your Job Search is a Sales and Marketing Campaign

Think of your job search as your own personal sales and marketing campaign.  You are the product so you need to know all of the features, values, and benefits you can offer to a prospective employer.  Personally, I don’t like the term, “job search”, as it sounds like you are lifting up rocks to “find” something.  Mentally reposition the search while thinking of it as a campaign.  You are connecting with people, especially prospective employers and decision makers to highlight your value proposition (what you can do for them), detailing how you can solve their problems.  Also, you will sell to the buyer – in this case, the hiring manager.  This is the person who has the power to hire you.  Focus your efforts primarily on the hiring manager.

Use Various Job Search Methods

Most job seekers mistakenly assume employers post all jobs online through various job boards and company sites.  Employers are competing for talent similar to the way you are competing for jobs with other candidates.  Current data shows that many employers find employee referrals as a great way to fill job openings.  Recruitment by referrals are utilized for over 25 percent of openings according to recent research.

Jobs won’t always be posted online.  So, I suggest that you reverse this thinking by targeting employers.  Don’t wait for employers to post available jobs.  Develop a list of 25-50 prospective employers in your area that may have opportunity in line with your skills, experience, education, and interests.  Do some additional research and determine a decision maker to whom you’ll address your letter and resume.  This is a great way to get your value proposition into the hands of the person with the power to start a dialogue and ultimately hire you.  Companies are always hiring.  The downside is that they may not always be hiring on your timeline.  Get to the employer before everyone else.

Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for jobs to be posted.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.  Remember, you only need one job.

Target marketing and employee incentive referral programs as described above can be very powerful.  Consider adding other job search methods including:

  • Recruiters – While recruiters work for and are paid by their company (direct recruiter) or client (3rd party recruiter), these individuals need qualified candidates to fill direct jobs or put in front of client companies. Develop a rapport with recruiters, especially those who specialize in your industry
  • Job Leads Via Job Boards Using Double-Hit – After applying online, most go into hope and pray mode as they hope and pray an employer calls them in for an interview. Be proactive with employers by following up on all your applications.  Additionally, target market your value proposition to the hiring manager as well.  Research to determine who the decision maker is and craft a strong message to this individual highlighting how you can help them.  This is a great way to get your resume into the hands of the person who is making the hiring decision.  The first step is to apply through HR, then target the decision maker / hiring manager – the double-hit.  Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for a response.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.
  • Staffing Agencies – Staffing agencies may have opportunity that is not posted online so research to find an agency specializing in your field who work with local companies in your area.

Work with a Life Coach

From your question, it sounds like your social anxiety is a personal and professional barrier.  It is unclear if you have sought assistance from a qualified coach to help you develop a plan to minimize or overcome your challenge.  If you haven’t yet worked with a life, disability, or social anxiety coach, I recommend that you conduct some research to find a qualified coach to partner with you.

Is there a cost?  Yes, of course there is a cost, and the cost may be extensive depending on the coach’s credentialing.  However, a qualified, credentialed, and experienced coach can help you get past this barrier that may be costing you opportunities.  Consider positioning the cost as an investment in your future as it can pay dividends to you for the rest of your professional life and beyond.

As a starting point, conduct some research to find experienced coaches who specialize in working with clients who have social anxiety.  While the coach doesn’t need to reside in your geographic area, you might feel more comfortable working with someone in person so consider this as you research potential coaches.  I suggest developing a list of at least three potential coaches.  Most coaches will offer a free, no cost initial consultation so take advantage of this to find a coach that resonates best with you.

Target Smaller Employers/Disability Friendly Employers

Finding employment is challenging for anyone, but especially so individuals with disabilities or barriers.  You may want to target employers who have strategies for hiring people with disabilities.  Companies like IBM, Ernst & Young, Sodexo, and others have recently been voted as “best workplaces for someone with disabilities” so I suggest that you target these employers.

However, I wouldn’t rule out employers not on the list, but you should spend extra time and energy targeting disability friendly employers as a part of your campaign.

Consider Non-Traditional Ways to Work for an Employer

Most professionals, like you, are primarily looking for full-time, permanent opportunity with an employer.  However, the world of work is changing in terms of how employers prefer to hire along with how candidates like to do the work.  Open your thinking up to considering freelance, project, temporary, part-time, volunteer, and other opportunities that would allow you to get your start in illustration and animation.  While securing a full-time, permanent job is the goal, these non-traditional job types would allow you to get your start, while allowing you to earn income, gain skill, build a stronger portfolio, and more.  Additionally, these jobs would allow you to get inside a company on their terms.  Once you are “inside” a company, you will be better positioned to land the preferred job type (full-time, permanent).  There are numerous websites where you can learn of freelance or project opportunities including Freelance, Behance, People Per Hour, Flex Jobs, Fiverr, and more.

Expand Geographical Search Area

Consider diversifying your job search by expanding your search area.  Obviously, a broader search area will likely mean more opportunity.  For example, if you were considering job opportunities within a 30-minute drive from your home, then expand this to a 60-minute drive.  It may not be the desired location, but do what you have to do to land the job.  You would probably agree that it would be better for you to be working even if you have to drive 30 minutes more to get to the work site.

Contact Your Career Center

Most colleges and universities offer career preparation services to recent graduates for at least a year after graduation at no cost.  There may be a fee for an alumnus, like you, who is a few years from graduation.  However, it could prove to be helpful to speak with someone knowledgeable and skilled in career coaching/advising. Simply put, students (and recent graduates) should leverage their career center as it is a great resource.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  Furthermore, they likely have a job site exclusively for current students and recent alums featuring jobs posted with the institution.  Lastly, these professionals may be able to refer you to recruiters who work with their office too.  Contact your career center soon.

Putting It All Together

I’m sure you’ve invested lots of time and energy to land the right job in your field.  It can be frustrating and feel like you’ve exhausted all your options.  Rest assured, there is always more you can do. One of the themes woven in this post is engaging others to help move you forward – or networking.  Embrace networking, both virtually and in-person, as a part of your campaign.  Including this strategy as a part of each element of your plan will absolutely net you better results and move you closer to landing the job.  Take advantage of all of these suggestions as you build and implement your plan.  You can do it, Phoebe!

Good luck and best wishes!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon


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About the Author

Robert Nealon

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career. Currently, he is a career coach at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional. He is an active member of Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Center for Credentialing and Education, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and National Career Development Association. Connect with Bob via LinkedIn and Twitter.

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