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How to Hire Talent Successfully in the Entertainment Industry

Most recruiters know what it’s like to get hit with a hiring fire drill. Whether you suddenly have to scale due to ambitious revenue goals or a demanding new project, those intense hiring pushes are frenzied – but ideally, they’re ideally temporary.

The entertainment industry is different. Here, the sudden need to hire creative talent for a new film arises often. And when it does, teams have to quickly tap into an existing network of qualified candidates. But how do they maintain a full pipeline of talent?

According to Illumination Entertainment VP of Talent Alison Mann, the solution lies in building and continually nurturing long-term relationships with talent. We’re excited to share that she’ll be speaking at our Talent Innovation Summit in less than two weeks. But even before then, we wanted to learn her secrets to building and maintaining a rich pool of candidates in the entertainment industry.

What is your approach to hiring candidates in the entertainment industry?

I’ve been a creative recruiter for 15 years, and I’ve worked at several well-known media companies where the recruiting process was typically traditional. Generally, recruiters have their directive of ‘I need you to find x by this time.’ To search successfully, however, my approach is long-term. My mindset is: ‘I need to find a lot of cool ‘x’, and I don’t have any time frame for it.’

I’ve never just recruited the candidates that come to me. Throughout my career, my goal has always been to search for new talent – whether it’s emerging directors, visual development artists, creators, or animators – that haven’t been found yet. My recruiting style is to pursue passive candidates, rather than candidates who are actively looking. I would say 70 to 80 percent of my job is building those long-term relationships with candidates who could potentially become new creatives for our projects.

Using Lever in my current role has been very beneficial – when I post a new position, I can easily share it with my network on social media. It gives me an excuse to connect with the community I’ve been building over the last 15 years.

Where are the best places to find candidates in entertainment?

I’ve always tried to scout everywhere I can, since you never know where you might find something or someone amazing. Using social media platforms like Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, or video aggregators like Youtube and Vimeo, has helped me identify top talent. Being industry aware is very important as well, so I like to check out forums like Reddit, Cartoon Brew, Variety, and Deadline to stay up to date on trending creative topics. I’ll also travel to film festivals, schools and design conferences to meet with talent in-person. In general, my recruiting strategy is very proactive. Due to the nature of the production business, we always have a need to hire, whether it is forecasted or not. Often, we’ll have an immediate production need that arises, or we’ll find an amazing candidate that we opportunistically want to hire. Because of this, I need to continually keep an eye out and track talent. The majority of my days are filled with reaching out and setting meetings with new creatives that could potentially support our needs.

Can you tell me more about the strategies you employ to recruit candidates long-term?

When I discover really cool creators, I love to reach out to learn more about them and what they’re inspired by. In getting to know what drives them as an artist, I can figure out the best possible way for us to work together – whether they are freelancers, or looking for something in-house. I also try to convey the immediate impact they could have. My job, in essence, is matchmaker at the end of the day. Even if the timing isn’t right at the moment, I still touch base with them frequently to see if they would be interested in collaborating. I never sit idle or wait for candidates to come to us. The key is constant messaging and communication. 

Also, one of my main goals is to always create a great candidate experience. I like to involve the whole team in their process – not just me – to give them a sense of community and show them how invested we all are in building a relationship with them. I set expectations with candidate from in the beginning by communicating constantly, and staying responsive. Recruiting isn’t just about getting butts in seats, it’s about building a trusting and genuine relationship that would hopefully yield a positive outcome for both parties.

For example, I once hired a story artist I had been tracking since I started in that role. I initially heard about her from one of my good friends, who had worked with her at past companies. When I first connected with her, she was working for one of our competitive companies, and I knew she wouldn’t be available right away. But through breakfasts, several meetings with me, and a few meetings with the team, we got to know each other. We actually became friends, and I learned her motivations and time frame.

Ultimately, I had the amazing opportunity to both hire and work with her. That experience – and many others – taught me that it’s important to be genuine, not pressure someone, and work with their timing. People are much more responsive when they feel you have your best interest at heart.

How does Lever help you build those long term relationships with candidates?

Lever has definitely helped. My favorite feature in Lever is the Chrome Extension because it’s helped me scout talent, and it generally makes recruiting a lot less work for me. I can quickly upload profiles to Lever rather than copying and pasting them into a document. I can also easily track my communication because it syncs with my email, and all correspondence with candidates is accessible. Also, many candidates have said it’s the easiest application experience they’ve ever experienced. Artists don’t want to spend too much time creating profiles or inputting resumes, so they love the ease-of-use.

What advice do you have for other recruiters in your industry?

Recruiting is about being genuinely interested in helping the person you’re communicating with. It isn’t just about filling positions, but being someone that can help guide people’s careers, and knowing they have a place to go they can trust and get honest feedback and guidance from. People will often come to me with advice on how their portfolio is progressing, and I am more than happy to support and walk them through what is working. If you help guide people, they’ll remember – and come back to you.

Also, I’d say that the challenge of our industry is that it’s production-based. There’s not always a sense of job security for candidates. You have to be thoughtful and sensitive to their needs – listen to their concerns and don’t shy away from playing the role of career coach at times.

What do you enjoy most about recruiting in your industry?

What I love about the animation community is how supportive it is, and how it yields itself to being such a good vessel in fostering relationships. Since it can take several years to make a movie, your team really ends up feeling like family.

Because we’re very close to each other, it’s also very collaborative when it comes to recruiting talent. While it is my responsibility to find, track and curate – everyone is invested in the process from start to finish.

Thank you for sharing the strategies you’ve honed throughout your 15 years in the entertainment industry, Alison. We’re excited for our Summit attendees to hear even more advice from you very soon.

If you want to see who else will be letting us in on their recruiting secrets, skim through our agenda here.