Over the years, I've had many people ask me how to get a job at Walt Disney World. I've observed many colleagues and friends get a job at Disney. I've participated in the hiring of individuals who worked at Disney, and I've been hired myself. While hiring processes evolve over time, there are some important key approaches you should take if you want to work at Walt Disney World. I'm going to talk about the important things you should do to get a job. I'll also address how you can get a good paying job.
Qualify as part of the C.A.S.T. Most people know that employees are referred to as cast members at Walt Disney World. This is largely because as a cast member, you are part of a show that the guests see each day. But the word C.A.S.T. has also been used as an acronym applying to four key requisites for being hired. They are as follows:
C. Compensation: Know what you are going to make. Disney typically pays just above the 50 percentile in pay. What that means is that the amount you make will be just slightly higher than what you would make if you worked the same job elsewhere. So if you are a cashier, you are going to make just a little more than what the average cashier makes outside the gates of Disney. Don't think that because Disney is such a big company that the compensation is so much bigger. Though there are many tangible and intangible benefits working for the company, pay is usually not one of them. So be realistic about whether you are trying to get a job at Disney because you want to make a lot of money. Other than through executive positions, that doesn't happen.
A. Appearance: You have to look the role of someone at Disney. If you are a male, that means no long hair or bushy sideburns. If you are female, cut the fancy fingernail polish and the unusual hair color. If you really want the job, look like someone who has the job. Some people say "Well, I don't want to change my appearance unless I get the job." What you're really saying is that you don't want the job that much. And that's the message you're communicating to Casting. So look the part!
S. Schedule: Disney has an adage, "We work while others play." If you want the job, make yourself really available. Be willing to work a schedule that isn't convenient. There are salaried and hourly office positions that are 9-5. But those are more the exception than the rule. The newer you are to the company, the more likely you will be working weekends and holidays on a consistent basis.
T. Transportation: You have to have reliable transportation. Fortunately Lynx bus service has improved dramatically in and out of Disney in the last few years. But that isn't enough. Orlando does not have effective mass transportation systems like New York and other big cities. You should have a driver's license and a car that can get you there reliably. Remember, in most positions, if you miss or show up late more than a few days, you're terminated. Don't go through the hassle of getting a job only to lose it to poor transportation. I have seen this repeatedly happen.
Those four things are foundational to knowing how to get a job at Disney. Most people I know don't get the job largely because one of those areas apply. But there are other important things you can do.
Keep a Clean Record. If you get the job, Disney will ask you to sign a form allowing them to do a background check at any point in your hire. Whether they do one or not on you is unknown. For the particular role you've applied for they may not run one on you immediately. But it doesn't mean they won't at some point. The fact is, Disney doesn't want to hire people with baggage in their past. So stay clean.
Get a Referral. This is a little different than "knowing someone." Largely, Disney has put systems in place so that a manager can't typically hire all of their buddies to work there. But what does help is having a cast member refer you for the role. One way this is done is with a cast member referral card. It's simply a card that's turned into Casting that suggests this individual as being worth looking at. It helps if the person referring has a more senior position, but that's not a guarantor. So get to know people, and get a referral. More than one-third of new hires were referred by another cast member.
An example of a cast referral card used to refer potential candidates. Some managers and executives carry them around and hand them to individuals they find around Orlando and elsewhere who they feel would make great cast members.
Live in Orlando-Or Look Like It. Most hires at Walt Disney World are not going to be from out of the Central Florida area. With the exception of the international and college programs (which are an entirely different discussion), people being hired live in Orlando. That's a dilemma for many who live elsewhere in the country, but want to work at Walt Disney World. I've seen some individuals who live far away establish a P.O. box and a telephone number that is local. That works to get in the door of the interview, but at some point you'll have to get honest about why your last several jobs were elsewhere.
I don't recommend that you come to Orlando without a job in place. I've seen that too many times and it's usually a disaster. You should have a guaranteed job. But unless your skills are highly needed and can't be filled locally, Disney is not likely to hire you from afar and even less likely to relocate you. One thing you may want to do is to relocate from your job elsewhere to a job locally (i.e. move from an Outback Steakhouse position in Dallas to an Outback Steakhouse position in Orlando), then work to get a job at Disney.
Interview Well. Being a cast member means you fit the part. That requires you being able to come across as a successful candidate. Besides the obvious of showing up on time for an interview and dressing/grooming appropriately, be certain that you come across the right way. Smile. Ask questions of others. Do your homework before you get there. Look like you're invested in the potential work, not just the pay or benefits you get out of it. Display appropriate etiquette. The better the job, the more interviews you are likely to have. For a back of the house hourly position, you won't have too many interviews. But even a role like the Disney Reservation Center will likely require panel interviews with individuals who you would not only report to, but would be your peers.
How to Get a Really Good Paying Job at Disney
Having read the above, many people will not hassle with the process of getting a job at Disney, only to end up running some ride all day or cleaning hotel rooms. For others, they want not only a serious career at Disney, but they want one that pays well. Here are some thoughts on that:
Be Really Good at Something. There is a quote found near the Mad Tea Party, given by Randy Pausch, a former Disney Imagineer who became legendary when he came down with cancer and gave what is known as The Last Lecture. That quote states: Be good at something. It will make you valuable. Have something to bring to the table. Because that will make you more welcome."
The truth is, unless you are very specialized at something Disney really needs, you're not likely to get hired away from Kalamazoo, Mich., to work at Disney in a really high-paying job. But it can happen if you are really good at something Disney really needs. Indeed, that unique form of specialty is the only way you can come to Disney and land a job that pays really well walking in the front door.
Remember that the big plus of working at Walt Disney World alone is that there are more than 60,000 jobs. In some ways, it's a city like any other, that requires hiring almost any kind of position you would find in any other community (with noted exception to jobs like being a funeral director). There are thousands of different job titles, and many of them are very specialized. If you know Disney well as a guest (and you probably do if you're reading this article), you will likely see where your job fits in the big Disney puzzle. That's where you want to target your job search.
Network In and Out. More than just being referred by a Disney cast member, know the cast. Be part of professional associations and organizations cast members like you are a part of. Attend those functions they may attend locally. Introduce yourself and learn about them. Get on Facebook and LinkedIn, but don't sit there advertising for work. Don't look like you're desperate for getting a job. Just network and associate. If you network right, those referrals will be golden when a job opening becomes available.
And once you get on board, keep on networking, particularly across the property. Join associations, clubs, and projects that let you become familiar with other operations across property. Introduce yourself to others, particularly management. I know one manager who hired at least seven candidates during his managerial career simply because they came up and introduced themselves to him at some point. One even "hung out" in that department whenever she could. Networking internally is a major way to get promoted from within. And getting promoted from within usually moves you up the pay and opportunity scale.
Start as a Consultant or Contractor. Many people who work their way into a job, first start as a consultant. That's how I eventually got in. I was specialized in interactive media software. Disney in the mid-1990s had never yet built any kind of interactive application where you could click on a map and see info and photos on a hotel. Marketing was very interested in getting something like that going, so I built it for them while working as a contractor for a media related department Disney had above the "Palace" at Italy in Epcot (Yes, I played the Palace). And from there I was introduced (thanks to a good friend) to the vice president of Disney Professional Development Programs (now Disney Institute) who was looking for someone with my skills. But I first started by being a consultant.
Offices can be anywhere. This was my first office as a contractor/consultant. My office when I finally became an official cast member was actually a block away from Sea World, far off of Disney property. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Work From the Bottom Up. I know very capable, skilled individuals who successfully got great management jobs at Disney. But they did it largely by taking on a front-line role, or by hiring on in a much lesser paid position than they would have gotten elsewhere. For instance, I had a colleague whose background was as a colonel in the Air Force. He wanted to work at Disney badly. So he got a job as a security officer. It was a risk, because he was supplementing his income by living off of his retirement. But he worked his way up in a relatively short amount of time. That's largely because he was very skilled and capable not only in doing his job but in working well and leading others.
Remember that Walt Disney World is the largest single-site employer in the world. That's really important for moving up the ladder. There are many roles and opportunities once you get a job. You can move up the ladder in a fairly reasonable time, if you are willing to keep looking and interviewing (though note that you must remain in a role for at least six months before moving on).
Disney likes to hire from within. While some executives have come from outside the organization, most have come from within. And some have done both. Having outside experience as well as some Disney experience will be valuable as the opportunity arrives.
Al Weiss started his career as an 18-year-old cast member in 1972. His first role was as a "z-runner" who would run up and down through the utilidor of the Magic Kingdom zeroing out cash registers at the end of everyone's shift. Now he is president of worldwide operations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
I've seen these ideas work. I've seen people from as far away as the other side of the country get a fairly decent job at Walt Disney World. But they did these things. And in truth, these aren't just good ideas for getting a job at Disney. They're practical solutions for getting a good job anywhere. The trick is to put them in practice. Moreover, put them in practice at Disney and you can get a job—even a well-paying job—at Disney.
See you at the parks—hopefully with a name tag on!
(Send an email to Jeff Kober)
J. Jeff Kober, (@MousePlanetJeff) president of Performance Journeys and CEO of World Class Benchmarking, is also a thought leader on best-in-business practices at the Walt Disney Company. He brings those ideas to organizations via keynotes, seminars, and workshops to organizations around the world. He has authored "The Wonderful World of Customer Service at Disney" as well as a "Disney at Work" series of apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch, available via DisneyatWork.com. You can find out more about his newest book, "Lead With Your Customer: Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence" at LeadWithYourCustomer.com.