Monday, December 18, 2006

'Tis the Season for Student Interviews

I’ve gotten a number of these in the past few weeks -- students having to do an interview with a person in their chosen field for their finals. I’ve had some good experiences and some bad ones so, here are a few "Do's and Don'ts" for you students out there. Pros and teachers, please feel free to leave information that I may have forgotten in the comments.

  • Don’t go onto a public forum and say “Any pros out there willing to answer questions?” A cattle call will not work. Almost any illustrator/designer/art director will be flattered and/or remember what's it’s like to be a student. I can imagine only a very few being unwilling to help but you have to show that you are seeking out that person because you respect what they have to say, not just to get the assignment out of the way.
  • State your purpose. Use a clear subject line in your email and sign off with your real name.
  • Be professional. Save the banter and the LOLs for your friends. Your subject is taking time out of a busy schedule so stay focused on the interview.
  • Write in full sentences, capitalize where appropriate, and use punctuation. (But don’t expect the same in the answers.)
  • Don’t expect the interviewee to do your report for you. Ask specific questions -- don’t say, “Tell me about illustration?” and end it there.
  • Artists that frequently receive these requests often put a FAQ sheet up on their websites. Go there first and see which of your questions are already answered. Show that you have done some research. I realize that the assignment is more about learning communication skills, building confidence, and starting to network than it is about the actual answers, so, once you’ve visited their websites you should acknowledge that you’ve gotten what information you could and explain that you have a few more questions.
  • Give the interviewee the choice between a phone interview and a written interview.
  • If they want to answer via email, give them a week to do so. If anyone else is like me, they’ll want to wait until the weekend to get to it, they’ll get distracted by the weekend’s activities, and then jump to it on Monday night. Ok, maybe that’s just me...still, give them some time.
  • If they want a phone interview, make sure you have your questions organized and in front of you before you dial them. Try not to go quiet. Half the reason you are doing the assignment is to gain communication skills. Try to engage your subject -- you’ll get more interesting answers that way. On the other hand, if you are the type to go on, then remember to let your subject do most of the talking. They won’t want to speak over you.
  • Always thank the person afterwards. Always!


Anonymous said...

Aww, but they do respond to regular questions on public forums - I just did that very thing and got the best advice I've heard yet! <3

Irene Gallo said...

Well, I've found that anyone with experience is willing to answer specific questions on the forums (and is great for that) but the open calls for "any pro to be my interview subject" usually are not answered...I'm sure there are exceptions. Still, one of the things I love about illustration is that it's not so hard to contact the people you admire. Take advantage of it.

Robert Hunt said...

Thanks for posting this Irene, I have been getting a ton of these interview requests lately, I always do them but I do sometimes wish the students asking the questions were better prepared. Personally, I prefer to answer in writing if takes longer but I don't sound quite as dense as I probably do over the phone.

Bob Eggleton (Zillabob) said...

I get emails about these too. They claim to be doing a "thesis" on me, and the questions always seem generic and, my first response is how can they do a thesis/dissection of me or my work when they often ask such oblique questions! Some I have done, some I have not. Many years ago, I helped a gal out in ENgland with this, and she was driven to tears after alot of hard work her teacher-one of these avant garde(French for "bullshit" as they say) types-practically failed her because he felt sorry for what I was doing (illustration) and that she should have picked a "fine art" artist. That's what she told me anyway.

Korsaktion said...

Good topic Irene.

I've been getting some of these as well. I almost pawned one off on you. I'm even overlapping with Robert Hunt. We got the same RIT student.

And I agree, as long as they've done a little research and are conscientious everything can go smoothly.

I like to push them back a bit too. It gets them thinking.

Steve Malley said...

The last two-three years, I've seen a real upswing in parents approaching on their kids' behalf. You know, "Li'l Janie is a great drawer and real interested in this. What's she gotta do, is there a course or something?"

More often than not, the kids are nowhere in sight. When they are along, these kids *never* have a word to say for themselves or show a spark of passion for the work.

I love helping along the wee'uns who will next carry the flame. If they can be bothered.

There's a lot of heartbreak and hard work on the road to a career in art. Talent just ain't enough.

TR said...

Pardon my ignorance, but what is the forum and how may I get there?

Irene Gallo said...


CA is short for It's a very active forum for artists - mostly game artists and those hoping to be, but there are a large number of book and magazine peeps as well. A fun place, if a bit overwhelming at first:

Unknown said...

What's sad is that my last name begins with "A" so I used to get students that tell me they have to do a report on me. I'm fairly sure that they don't know anything about working big name guys and are just going down the illustrator list in google alphabetically.

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