by Tim Kilpin | 26 May 2021
The Bloom Report
Q: I want to get started in the toy industry. When? Where? How?
This question, worded more eloquently than my headline would suggest, comes from recent college graduate Jamie Cox. She has an opportunity to go on to pursue a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, supported by a research scholarship. Jamie wonders: is it better to stay in school, or go straight into the industry? What skills should she be picking up along the way? What’s the best way to get a foot in the door?
Whew. I may need some crowdsourcing help on this one, folks.
When: First of all, a background in Mechanical Engineering is a great thing to have for the toy industry. Seeing as how we still make things in, you know, three dimensions – and we’re pretty fond of cool bells and whistles – your training sets you up very nicely for the industry. As for more school vs. jumping in? People I know have taken both routes; it’s a personal call of course that will be impacted by other factors this column isn’t set up to address. But I will say that the early industry experience offers a lot in its favor: first, you will immediately get real-world, out-of-the-classroom experience that school simply can’t replicate. Designing a toy’s battery box and switch mechanism – reliably, on deadline, and preferably under cost – while also juggling product testing results, samples reviews, milestone meetings, all-hands events, product integrity crises – well, I haven’t met a professor yet who can simulate all that, especially when it all happens in one day. Second, you’re going to find out – fast – if this industry is right for you. Probably not a bad idea if you know that sooner than later.
Where: If you are in school, you can plug into ongoing internship programs – which most major companies in the industry regularly offer. Personally, I prefer candidates who have already served as interns – if they are still applying for a job, then we haven’t scared them off! Big company or small, it doesn’t matter – the core of your experiences will likely be similar. The folks at the Bloom Report are pretty well-connected, and can offer information on intern programs around the industry. If you are going straight into the job market, it happens to be a very good time. Many toy companies, driven by a generally healthy U.S. market today, are expanding – and hiring.
How: Stay flexible. If someone wants you to start out by working on Product Integrity testing, or if they want you to focus on shaping up quote packages, or if they want you to help work through a tooling plan, say yes to everything. When I was a Package Copywriter at the old company, and I was asked to work on promotional programs or additional content, I eagerly ate up every assignment. I learned a lot along the way, and also demonstrated a willingness to try new things, whether it was in my specific area of expertise or not. Ultimately, I was offered an opportunity to join the Marketing department (in a lovely twist of fate, by someone I am lucky enough to be working with today, 35 years later). The point is: you never know where an assignment will lead, but you’ll never find out if you pass it up.
These responses seem wholly inadequate…career advice in 500 words or less. But if I read your initial questions right, you’re starting with two of the most important qualities: curiosity and passion.
For this industry, that’s a great place to start.
In additional to penning his thoughts here, Tim Kilpin is enjoying his role as President of PlayMonster. To read more about Tim's career in the toy industry, check out our interview with Tim last year! Tim Kilpin - I’m a very proud elf. Every Christmas morning...