Gail: Get Your Foot in the Door

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Gail Roberts is a professional makeup artist whose career is on the rise. She graduated top of her class from Complections College of Makeup Art and Design in March of 2013, two of her pieces have been featured in Make-up Artist Magazine, and she just finished work on a major motion picture. Gail is extraordinarily skilled and driven, but it took more than her raw talent and energy to land her job working on the movie. After hearing of a potential connection, Gail decided to show how seriously she wanted a job in a very unique way after phone calls and e-mails didn’t work.

I met up with Gail to discuss how she got into such a competitive industry so quickly after graduation, and learned that she had to think very creatively and get ideas from her friends and family to find a way to really stand out. Here’s what happened:

R: Tell me how you got the job on the movie.

G: My boyfriend was on the set of a show, and he had shown my work from school to the makeup artist on set. The makeup artist was impressed and gave my boyfriend a phone number to call to see about getting work in a lab. I called the number at 10 or 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning, this was before I knew that lab days normally go pretty late on Fridays. So I worked out my schpeil in my head, I knew what I was going to say, I dialed the number, I was ready to go… and there was no answer. I decided not to leave a message so I hung up and called back, this time the man who would soon become my boss answered the phone.

He answered with, “Why would you call me on a Saturday morning after I’ve been in the lab until 6 a.m.?” and my heart sunk. I was so distraught. But he ended up suggesting that I send him my stuff. So I sent him an e-mail and apologized profusely and he ended up asking me for an interview. I went in for my interview and it sounded like he would have me in to start work in the lab in a couple of months. We emailed back and forth a couple of times, but I didn’t end up hearing from him when the production was set to start. He stopped answering my emails, I didn’t want to call him again because I was traumatized from the initial phone call.

I was talking to my family about the dilemma and my mom and my aunt suggested that I send him something in the mail. At first I was hesitant, and I was pretty discouraged by this point anyway. We ended up getting to the idea of something like gruesome cupcakes. I then talked to my boyfriend about it, who told me the funniest job application he’d ever seen was when someone sent in a shoe with a note in it saying, “just getting my foot in the door”. And I thought, that’s really funny. I should do something like that. So I put together the ideas of sending the boss at the lab something gruesome, something baked, and something to get my foot in the door, and came up with the idea of baking a gruesome foot cake.

I spent the next week figuring out the logistics of baking the cake, I saw a lot of images online and thought “I can do better”. I constructed the cake by baking a bunch of layer cakes, stacking them, and carving them into a foot. When it was ready, I wrapped the cake in plastic wrap, got in the car, and brought it to the lab. I didn’t even know if the boss would be there but I just knocked on the door with my cake and hoped for the best.

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The cake that sealed the deal!

R: How did he react?

G: Everyone at the lab thought it was hilarious, including the boss. He immediately had me in his office and told me to start work the following week. He hadn’t even realized I had made the cake at first he thought I had just brought it. When he did find out I had made the cake, he said, “well now you’re just showing off”. He emailed me that weekend and I started work the following Monday. By the time I started work, I was known as the ‘cake girl.’

R: How confident were you in the gesture?

G: I was hesitant about the idea until talking to my boyfriend. I had a lot of encouragement from my boyfriend and my family. I had a whole bunch of worries about it though, I kept thinking of how this could all go wrong. I was worried that the boss had food allergies or an intolerance to something and that he wouldn’t be able to eat the cake. My confidence was pretty low, but my parents egged me on. I was a whole bucket of nerves on the way there, I didn’t even know if he would be at the lab. I was so worried, but at the same time I thought, “if he can see what I can do, and if the cake tastes good, maybe he’ll give me a chance.” But if it hadn’t worked out, I would have just been in the same place I started in. Well, he ended up giving me more than a chance and the whole thing ended up working out far better than I could have expected.

R: What advice do you have for others who want to stand out in their industry or field?

G: I think it’s important that if you have something you want to go for, and you think you’ve got the skills to get it, then do it. The worst thing that can happen is that they don’t hire you. You’ve got to let go of that fear of disappointment. There are a million people that will line up to tell you that you’re shit but you have to believe in your own skills and just kind of roll with it. You need to have sounding boards, especially for something this crazy. You need to make sure there’s people around you telling you, “It’s not that crazy you can do it”.

R: What’s your advice to others in your industry and in the workforce in general?

G: Well, in my industry in particular there’s a whole hell of a lot of competition. You have to be really good at what you do. You have to be good at teamwork. You don’t want to be that person who no one wants to work with, you don’t want to be a diva. The job market in general is really small. A very small number of people will get into the industry they want, you have to find what sets you apart and go for it. And surround yourself with a team of people who support you.

Gail’s foot cake got her in the door to this one job, but this job is now leading to another, and she will have steady work for the foreseeable future. She hopes to one day work for Cirque-du-soleil as a makeup artist, and wants to put her sculpting skills to work by eventually making a stop-motion animation short. The success of the foot cake has instilled in Gail a confidence that I’m sure will carry over to her future endeavours. The industry will see more and more of Gail as the years go on. Her career is on the path that it is because she leveraged her network and took a leap. I hope that sharing her story can inspire others to do the same.

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