Some Career Advice From Walt | Disney World

  • If you want career advice, start at the top.

    With Walt.

    Disney, that is.

    His view: be interested in everything.

    Never stop learning.

    Would that attitude prove positive for getting a job at Walt Disney World Resort?

    And not some ordinary one...

    But a really good job?

    Walt Disney World Resort just in Orlando alone is the top employer here in terms of numbers. A growing army of more than 60,000 Cast Members.

    Not necessarily of the highest paying jobs in the area's crowded hospitality industry.

    This is not widely known or generally acknowledged but it's believed Disney's employment policy is generally this: They pay just over the 50 percent percentile for many jobs. Or slightly more than minimum wage for most positions.

    Not great but the perks are enormous.

    So let's say you're serious about working at Disney (think of just the perks alone!).

    What are your chances?

    For entry level jobs such as a retail clerk or a sheet-changing job at the Contemporary Hotel, chances are fairly good.

    At least if you live in Orlando. And meet some other fairly simple qualifications.

    But what if you have higher goals?

    Think of it: There may be fewer great jobs than being an Imagineer.

    Otherwise known as WDI.

    High-paying jobs are at WDI

    No. Chances are you would not start there.

    Unlikely, but it is possible.

    But the creative prospect of such a job is thrilling, to say the least.

    You know about the perks but probably less about salaries.

    We not job recruiters or a job placement agency, and our own rough figures are only estimates.

    But some Imagineering (WDI) type jobs at Disney...even at the lowest level starting level...can begin at $23 an hour.

    Mechanical engineers can earn much more, of course --  $60,000 to $150,000 a year, is a figure sometimes cited.

    Software experts who create rides might start at even more, $155,000.

    Even executive assistances or what are termed as project coordinators can earn $40,000-70,000. Senior positions even more.

    Being a jaw-dropper

    Disney at its own site says the Imagineers are behind "some of the most awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping creations of all time. And working alongside our team of dreamers and doers, you'll have the opportunity to gain experience in an incredible array of disciplines."

    Quite a mouthful of achievement, isn't it?

    Jobs at Disney range from master planning to show writing, from ride systems to special effects. And more.

    Disney asks:

    "Does seeing a blueprint make your imagination run wild with possibilities? Do you constantly dream up new ideas? Do you push yourself to achieve whole new levels of thinking and innovation? That's the spirit of Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI)."

    Disney goes on to describe the commitment to the creative nature of its Imagineers:

    "We combine our rich story telling legacy with the latest technology to breathe life behind the Disney stories and characters in our theme."

    Don't underestimate the necessary skills that are required. And they often include technical background such as AudioCAD and Revit experience (not to mention some non-technical attributes such as a positive attitude, and written and verbal communication skills.

    One important point to consider here:

    There are no cookie-cutter, sure-fire formulas for success.

    We never will say it is easy, either

    For any good job. Anywhere.

    If you talk to Disney cast members, you find that some people found jobs there easily.

    Others sent resumes, pestered with repeated phone calls, tried to meet human resource hiring people, etc.

    Did everything they could.


    On the other hand, some Cast Members just walked into an office, filled out an application form, and were hired shortly after.

    One successful job applicant made this point:

    "If you want to be an Imagineer, you will probably have to work hard at it  --  for a long time. It won't likely happen quickly or easily. You will have to make up your mind to relentlessly pursue your dream job."

    So if you've thought about the prospect, here's what we can tell you:

    First, if you just want to work any job you can get...

    Here are some hints from those who have worked here now or in the past:

    Rules to remember, and some tips too

    Well, really, this is elementary. But you should live here because...guess what?

    The vast majority of hires (outside of international students or special cases) come from here.

    A simple reason:

    It's much easier for Disney to hire locals rather than someone from, say, Omaha, Nebraska.

    We can't get away from more simple hiring elements:

    Show up dressed for success.

    No earrings on men.

    No purple hair for women (or men).

    No tattoos for either one.

    Yes, dress has gotten more liberal here since facial hair and mustaches were banned. But still conservative is the rule.

    Not everyone wearing a suit gets the job. But your clothes show your seriousness.

    Next: Smile.

    More smiles.

    Keep smiling.

    Some cast members call this cultivating a "Tinkerbelle personality."

    Keep in mind that all Cast Members, from actors portraying Snow White to operators of the Jungle Cruise, all have to maintain a smiley face façade. ALWAYS.

    Next: Show you did your homework.

    Do you regularly visit the Disney site?

    Look for ways in an interview to show your knowledge about the company you want to work for.

    Show how you prepared (for whatever job you are looking for).

    Homework and flexibility add up to a winning attitude

    Show you are flexible.

    Talk about how you are willing to work odd or non-traditional 9-5 hours.

    Disney has an adage: "We work while others play." Pay attention to it.

    If you really want the job, make yourself readily available.

    Say you have some security background. This is not a difficult or impossible experience.

    But it is just one example of a valuable skill for a job applicant.

    Show also that you are in the long haul. And not just a few weekends.

    Keep in mind that an often expressed "love of Disney" is not really among your positive selling points to recruiters.

    Also show that you know it is not easy to work here. Long hours. Constant smile. Etc.

    Interviewers don't want amateur cheerleaders not willing to work long hours at sometime tedious jobs.

    Be aware of reality, too.

    Animal lovers may think it would be great to work at Animal Kingdom.

    But most people working there DO NOT WORK with the animals.

    So you have a far better chance of driving a Safari truck than you do of feeding or giving rabies shots to the monkeys.

    Unless, of course, you have experience working with a veterinarian or at an animal hospital.

    Having a car is also important

    Here you are fantasizing about your new job as a Cast Member...enjoying your free admission...and you have no obvious way to get to the park. No car. No truck.

    Fantasize more.

    Knowing the bus schedule does not count.

    You better have a car or truck or Moped. And a driver's license or a roommate who does.

    Then get a referral. The more senior, the better.

    Just knowing someone here is not what we mean.

    There are cast referral cards where members suggest others who would be worth looking at. It helps if that person is a more senior employee.

    But it's no guarantee.

    Overall, what all this is large to always be a good interview.

    Start with timeliness.


    Ask questions.

    Demonstrate your knowledge of Disney.

    So do your homework not just at Disney but learn good interview techniques (books are ok, and so is the Internet).

    Hopefully, you have a college degree.

    Not, not always necessary, but it sure helps.

    Now we come to the harder part.

    WDI jobs.

    The first and very best way to get one is to be really good at something marketable.

    That means simply a skill that is in demand.

    Find your own special skill

    Randy Pausch was a former WDI member who later got cancer and gave a series of guest talks known as the "last lecture."

    They boiled down to this:

    "Be good at something. That makes you valuable. Have something to bring to the table. Almost always, that will make you welcome there."

    The reality is that unless you have a definite skill that is in demand, Disney is hardly going to offer you a higher paying WDI job. You need to offer something special.

    If you have a referral of any kind, that is a leg up.

    But networking effectively also helps.

    Join associations, clubs and projects that let you become familiar with operations.

    Get to know others who might help you.

    Even just hanging out with Cast Members might lead to a job opening.

    Another alternative

    Don't even look for a full-time job.

    Forget it.

    Start as a consultant or contractor (no, that does not mean you are necessarily old and experienced).

    These positions are in demand in areas such as computer software, to cite just one example.

    They can lead to full-time jobs.

    Or consider this...

    Find any full-time bottom positions. Even picking up waste.

    Start at the very bottom.

    Anything at all.

    Take on new initiatives.

    Be a model person.

    Get noticed by your supervisors.

    Disney likes to promote within (lots of places say this but they REALLY do it).

    Hopefully your efforts get results. You are promoted.

    But the best way to get ahead (for sure and not having to rely so much on others) remains having a skill that is in demand.

    Something somebody else wants.

    This is not extremely difficult.

    Especially if you consider the vast range of job categories found in WDI:

    Accountant, architect, audio-specialist, computer programmer, space planner, facility designer, financial analyst, illustrator, interior designer, lighting designer, mechanic, plastics fabricator, project manager, sculptor, show set designer, and tool and die maker.

    Here's just one example of success:

    Ray was a serious artist in college who dreamed at the University of Illinois of someday showing his work at the Chicago Art Institute. He thought that someday his water colors would be eagerly bought by patrons.

    His own art show.

    Things did not exactly work out that way.

    But he did make a good living as a successful and much-admired artist at a major Chicago advertising agency before retiring to Florida. Here in Orlando, he got a job doing caricature drawings at the Magic Kingdom.

    He showed management abilities to his bosses.

    Ray ended up supervising set designs for various Disney rides.

    Not exactly what he had in mind many years ago, but still a creative, satisfying (and well-paying) position with WDI.

    But even more than having a skill, perhaps, our best advice is to get an attitude.

    What do we mean?

    Let's get back to Walt Disney himself. And Imagineer Mary Blair.

    You might have heard of her.

    She created the conceptual drawings and doll designs for "It's a Small World."

    She's famous for that.

    But that was not what she was hired for.

    When and why rubber cement is important

    When she first met Walt Disney, long before she (or even he) became famous, she told Walt about her use of latex in her art work.

    Latex? Rubber cement?

    How common, sold at the five and dime. So what?

    You might not expect the creator of Disney to be interested in latex or rubber cement. But by all accounts, he was fascinated.

    He spoke with her for several hours. Hired her.

    So you never know, do you?

    We don't know this for sure, but it's very likely Walt filed that information away. And used it later in movies...or at Walt Disney World Resort.

    Never stop learning.

    Walt knew it.

    Always good advice.###