Job-seeking advice for my recently laid off 61-year old dad?
October 31, 2017 8:20 AM   Subscribe

My dad was recently laid off because his employer "can't afford to keep him on." He has had the same job (illustrator/storyboard artist in NYC) for thirty years since he immigrated to the U.S. and has no experience navigating the job market. I wish he could afford to retire now, but the reality is that he can't. How do I help him?

My dad has worked for the last thirty years as an illustrator/storyboard artist at a commercial art studio in NYC. Last week, his boss let him go - business has been slow for years, and my family has been worried that he was on the chopping block for a while now, but we were hoping they would at least keep him on these last 4 years so he could turn 65, retire, and collect social security.

As it is, the situation is pretty urgent. My parents' savings were spent up in bad years, they have some debt, and pretty much their only assets are their house and car in the suburbs. My mom is a real estate agent with a really volatile income, and even hustling really hard she usually only manages to make around 25K a year. I'm trying to help support them financially, but I'm also paying off student loans and can't really keep them afloat in the long run. My dad's also a really modest, hard-working guy who tends to keep his head down, so he's really demoralized right now and even blames himself even though his employer has been exploiting him for the last decade.

My dad does not have any experience in the U.S. job market, or doing anything other than being an illustrator. He immigrated to the U.S., and was immediately picked up by this art studio where he has been ever since. I guess the options are, he can either try to eke it out as a freelance illustrator, or find another employer. I think he's probably too old to learn an entirely new profession, unless it's something with a low barrier of entry.

So my questions are:

1) To anyone with experience as a freelancer: what does he need to do to get set up? My dad's not very Internet savvy, so I'm pretty much stepping in and making him a LinkedIn profile and personal website where I'm going to put up his portfolio and resume. I'm trying to figure out sites like ThumbTack, Freelancer, UpWork, etc, but it seems like there's a lot of competition and I'm not sure if they're actually lucrative if you don't already have a clientele base. Are there other options I'm not aware of?

2) Are there maybe temp/staffing agencies in the greater NYC area that are friendly to older adults? I did a Google search but didn't surface much. It doesn't have to be art/illustration necessarily.

3) What kinds of employers hire illustrators? From what I understand, commercial art studios like the one my dad worked at are pretty rare these days, and those that do exist pretty much only hire young people straight out of art school who are willing to work for cheap (so is my dad, but apparently that wasn't enough). My dad's a really skilled artist, though his digital skills are limited to Adobe Photoshop CS6 and some ZBrush.

4) Are there other avenues I haven't thought of?

Thank you!
posted by adso to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I do not work in NYC, but I do work in advertising and regularly work with storyboard artists. They're usually freelance and often older. They typically come into the agency or production company via specialist illustration agents, we brief them, then they work on site. Some storyboarders work with pencil on paper and scan in their sketches; others work with Wacom tablets and work digitally. The method doesn't matter, but speed and skill do.

The good news is an experienced storyboarder with a good portfolio in a busy city like NYC (NB I do not live in NYC but do live in a similarly large city) probably won't be hard up for freelance work. He absolutely needs to have a portfolio online, but that's easily achieved with services like Squarespace. He should also ask around his contacts to find decent illustration agencies to work with and start setting up meetings. I can't help out on specific day rates, but the agent should be able to help with that.

Good luck!
posted by nerdfish at 8:25 AM on October 31, 2017 [15 favorites]

Seconding the online portfolio thing -- that's essential. Even a nicely organized Tumblr is better than nothing.

If he isn't already, he should be asking all of his friends from work for advice. If he is a member of any professional organizations he should reach out to them, too.

If he's interested in illustration work then he might want to try finding an agent -- a good agent will connect him with jobs he's well suited for and help him deal with the vagaries of freelancing. If he has friends with agents they can recommend, great. If you need suggestions I can ask around -- I have a couple of currently active freelancer illustrator friends with agents they seem to like.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:52 AM on October 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

Is he connected to all the avenues for networking in NYC? Specifically ASIFA East (NYC animation association) would be a good organization for him to join if he hasn't ($35/year). Is he on Facebook? These days a lot of networking is happening on Facebook. There are a lot of professional groups that will pass along openings- I don't know of any that are specifically storyboard-related since that's not my area of expertise. A LinkedIn profile is a great start, as is a personal website with a lot of samples. Does he have any colleagues who can endorse him on LinkedIn for illustration and storyboarding? Look into animation studios and advertising agencies as places that might hire illustrators and storyboard artists.

Two specialized job sites are the Motionographer job site and Animation Jobs but honestly I see as many jobs on LinkedIn as anywhere else. Creative Circle is a staffing agency that you could try that specializes in creative jobs but I don't have any personal experience with them. IMO since he has so much experience as a storyboarder, and since the pay can be quite decent if he takes the right type of jobs, I think it's worth it for him to focus on that type of work. The industry in New York is quite cyclical and it might be in a bit of a lull at the moment but that kind of thing changes very quickly. is free to holders of a NYPL library card (you have to go through the NYPL web site), so if he wants to learn any new skills (employers probably want Adobe Creative Cloud these days) he should take advantage of that. Photoshop CC is no more complicated than Photoshop CS6 but it would be an advantage to him to say that he can use it - he can get an Adobe Photoshop CC membership for I think $20 a month just so he can say that he is familiar with it, and watch a couple Lynda videos so he is up to date on anything that might be useful to him.

Good luck to him!
posted by matcha action at 9:18 AM on October 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

Has anybody else from his studio been let go in the last year or two? Track them down and take them and your Dad out for coffee. They've probably built up contacts at other studios, and will be your number-one source of knowledge about the current job market. If they also remember your Dad as quiet and hard-working, they'll also be his number one source for job leads. In my experience in a related industry that also hires illustrators (animation), there's no stronger recommendation than somebody knows somebody says your Dad is a good guy and he's looking for work.
posted by clawsoon at 9:28 AM on October 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

Do you think he might have any interest in teaching/tutoring? Maybe look for studios and schools in New York that offer drawing and illustration classes who recruit instructors from among professional artists. Another possible angle: many retirement communities (i.e., "active 55+" communities, as distinct from assisted living or nursing care facilities) offer art classes to their residents, and so need instructors as well. These aren't likely to be full-time jobs, unfortunately, but they could be a way to bring in some money while also making contacts.

Good luck!
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 10:48 AM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

He probably lacks the network and contacts to go from zero to freelancing but I am thirding finding an agent. This is exactly how and why agents earn their commission.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:02 PM on October 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

In addition to an online portfolio, he needs a good, modern resume. Conventions have changed a lot since he last applied for a job. Get rid of the objective, and replace it with a summary of qualifications. Take the dates off his education, and put it at the bottom. Make sure his bullet points list accomplishments, not job duties. If there are any numbers he can include (# of projects worked on at one time, turnaround times, throughput, etc., include that.

Honestly, if you can afford it, I'd throw money at a resume service. It's expensive, but it will help him get hired faster and he'll be working sooner. PM me if you want a rec.

If that's not an option, here's all of Ask a Manager's advice on the subject.
posted by radioamy at 12:52 PM on October 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

The comments so far have better advice than I can give about working smarter. I'd just also encourage working harder. I worked as a freelance programmer for a decade or so, and when I was between jobs, I did my best to do something, anything, every day. During one such lull, I sent a letter and resume to every company in the local Chamber of Commerce directory. One of the recipients called me a year later and eventually hired me.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:43 PM on October 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

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