Your Guide to How to Not Get a Job at Disneyland
I’ve toyed with exactly how to write this update for a while now because I wanted to share our experiences trying to get jobs with Disney. I think it’s only fair, however, to say up front that neither of us has ended up working for Disney at this point in time. Tracy is happily employed with a different company and I’m working from home as much as I can. So that’s how the story ends, for now, but I still think our process, however short, of interviewing to become Disney cast members is still worth sharing—partly because there are a couple elements of the story that were bizarrely interesting and partly because I think we learned a lot of information about working at Disneyland that I wish we had known going in. It’s not that we would have done the move differently had we known what we know now, but it’s more that we came in pretty ignorant to any of the internal goings on at Disneyland. If anyone reading this out there has the dream of becoming a cast member here someday, maybe you’ll learn something that will help shape your journey. I’ll also say up front that while neither of us is working for Disney right now, we both still might like to be a part of the company someday. Therefore, since what you post on the internet stays around forever, I might be slightly less candid about my thoughts on the process than I usually am in this report just because I don’t want to say something that could come back to haunt me someday down the road.
The process of our trying to work for Disney (beyond just dreaming and checking their careers website occasionally) started back in Colorado, when Tracy’s dad came home from a work function one evening. He had been talking to a woman at his company about Tracy and me, how we were in the process of moving to CA, how much we loved Disney, and how we hoped to work at Disneyland someday. This is going to get too confusing if I don’t start referring to the people involved by name. We’ll call this gal Betty. Betty countered back saying that one of her neighbors was recently retired from Disney and had moved to Boulder to teach at one of the universities there. We’ll call this neighbor Jack. Jack had held a very important position in the company, and Betty was more than willing to ask if he had any advice about how we might get hired on, if we were interested. Tracy’s dad thanked her for the generous offer and they exchanged contact information. Later that week, we got forwarded an email from Jack saying that while he no longer had any real contact with the HR department at Disney, he would be happy to pass our resumes and cover letters along to someone who still worked there.
The whole experience thus far gave us pause as we considered what to do. I really wasn’t in any position health-wise to be considering a job at Disneyland—I had all but conceded the fact I’d need to work from home, if possible, for a while—but this seemed like an opportunity we couldn’t exactly pass up. Therefore, we decided we’d worry about the consequences later and simply do all we could now to see if Disney was even interested in us and whether there happened to be jobs each of us were interested in. We tweaked our resumes and both wrote the most heartfelt cover letters we’ve even composed (it’s amazing how much less generic a cover letter becomes when you’re writing about working for your dream company!). We sent our information to Jack through Tracy’s dad, and then we basically washed our hands of the experience as we were pretty sure that nothing would actually come from it.
Imagine our surprise, therefore, when a couple days later, Tracy’s dad forwarded us an email that Jack had forwarded to him. The correspondence was between Jack and Tom Staggs. That’s right, the “person who still works at Disney” and would hopefully be able to make sure that HR got our information was none other than the Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and likely future CEO of the Walt Disney Company. No matter how you feel about the way he runs the parks, I think you can understand why we geeked out a little. The emails simply went something along the lines of:
“Tom, I’ve attached the resumes of an impressive young couple who are very interested in working at DLR. Can you please forward to your HR people? Thanks, [Jack]”
“[Jack], Will do. Hope all is well. –Tom”
It was nothing too earthshattering, but it was still a little exciting knowing our resumes were passing through the boss of everyone at Disneyland. Considering the level of employment we were expecting to be considered for, the whole transaction was way out of our league, but we could at least be pretty sure we would hear from someone at Disney to follow up.
That someone came in the form of a recruiter for the corporate side of Disney who worked out of Anaheim. She emailed us both several days later asking if we would be available for phone calls the following week to speak about opportunities within the company. We both scheduled our phone calls for Friday, November 16, which was two days after we arrived in Orange County (in case you’re having trouble keeping the order of events straight).
Neither Tracy nor I really knew what to expect from our phone calls, so we both tried to prepare as best we could. We honestly didn’t know if she was going to talk to us about jobs in the corporate offices or if she had any connection to the hourly roles in the parks and resorts. If we were going to work hourly, Tracy wanted a job either at the front desk or in guest services at one of the hotels. I would have wanted the same (provided they would let me sit in a chair), but I still wasn’t sure if I really wanted to try working for Disney at this point in time or not. After all, I reasoned, I didn’t want to blow my one shot at working for the company if I had a relapse of feeling extra bad and had to quit.
Still, the morning of our phone interviews came. I was the first victim. Honestly, I don’t recall a lot of what the recruiter talked about with me. All I know is that it became clear pretty quickly that she wasn’t really considering me for any of the jobs over which she had any jurisdiction. She kept focusing on how young (and, therefore, inexperienced) I was. She also pulled up my profile on the Disney careers site to see what jobs I had applied for previously. While we were in New York, when we had first decided to move to CA, I had applied for anything I thought I might be remotely qualified for at Disney, dreaming that maybe my resume would catch someone’s eye for some reason and they would want us to leave New York earlier than we were intending (oh darn) and come out to CA to work for them. Obviously it was a pipe dream. When you can apply to jobs with the click of a button and see no real downside to doing so, it just makes sense to apply to all kinds of things and hope you may be right. The recruiter didn’t see it this way, however. She kept saying things like, “I see you applied for [fill in the blank] job several months ago. What in your work history made you think you would be right for that job?” My honest answer was, “Well I don’t remember that exact job posting, but I must have seen something in the description that I thought made it seem like something I could do.”
She seemed thoroughly unimpressed, and it made me wonder why exactly she had bothered setting up the call in the first place. She suggested that if I wanted to work at Disney, I would really need to start in an hourly role (tell me something I don’t know), so that would be my best place to start looking. The one positive thing she said she would do for me was to have someone from hourly casting call me to talk about those positions. Her final question for me was “so how did you get connected with Tom Staggs’ office?” Our six degrees of separation explanation suddenly seemed more embarrassing as I tried to explain that we knew someone who knew someone else, etc. Luckily, she didn’t really seem to care about the answer anyway.
Once my interrogation was done, I handed off the phone to Tracy. She fared slightly better with the recruiter. Since Tracy worked for a little while in recruiting herself at her last company, the gal honed right in on that and was discussing how there might be positions in that for Tracy to do someday. Unfortunately, she said, they weren’t hiring for any jobs like that right now and Tracy too would be better off starting in an hourly role for now. The same person from hourly casting would be giving her a call to walk her through the process and answer any questions. Tracy thanked the recruiter and the phone interviews were over.
Neither of us felt great about this interaction—it honestly felt as though we were talking to the wrong person for the kinds of jobs Disney considered us to be qualified for—but we were glad to have someone from hourly casting to talk to. We had obviously been trolling the Disney careers site for months and knew, basically, how the hourly jobs were posted.
We had a few trepidations about applying for hourly roles. First, it seemed like there wasn’t a whole lot of variety to the jobs that kept getting posted. There was a lot of Housekeeping, Custodial, and other jobs that, while I respect the people who do them 110%, I was not about to apply for. Then there were the jobs that sounded like what we’d be interested in, but the pay was just so incredibly low. We would have no problem (my health excluded) working in Attractions, Guest Research, Ticket Sales, etc. except for the fact that almost all of these paid right around, or less than $10 per hour. Now we came here prepared to take a decent pay cut from what we were making in NYC, but if the two of us worked full-time at that rate we would only barely make enough to cover our expenses. And that’s if full-time work was available.
The other thing we quickly found out was that every hourly job at Disney is hired on as part-time. I started doing some research on the internet to find out exactly how many hours part-timers got, and here’s what I found: during the summer, you easily get 40 hours a week, and you can work up to 60 hours in a week at the peak of the peak season, meaning lots of overtime. But then, immediately after Labor Day, anyone who hasn’t been working at Disneyland for at least three years has their hours slashed. During the off-peak season (aka around 8 months out of the year), you can expect to work 0-10 hours a week. Then, after you’ve been with the company for three years, you reach a level of seniority where you become one of the cast members who actually gets to work all year round. This knowledge, while surely not a revelation to most people who really did their research about working at Disneyland, totally took the wind out of our sails. Three months of full-time work per year at a pittance of a pay rate was not going to be enough to live on, and neither of us liked the prospect of having to find a second job for 9 months out of the year that you then have to quit when Disney gets busy again.
So how exactly do the thousands of cast members survive those first few brutal years? Well, from what I could figure out through my research, a huge majority of them start working at Disneyland while they’re still in school (either high school or college) and pay their dues while they don’t have to be supporting themselves. Then when they go out on their own, not only do they have enough years under their belts to be able to get full-time hours, but they’ve also gotten bumped up at least slightly from those starting salaries. Of course, the other thing we realized (which we had already known about working at WDW) is that the only real way to have an “in” with the company is to do the college program. People who have done the college program have the full array of professional internship opportunities available to them that we on the outside are never going to be able to do. I think the college program sounds great, but it wasn’t an option for me in college, so I wish that not doing it didn’t basically exclude you from ever being able to move up within the company.
We tried to regroup. After all, there were still those infamous jobs that paid closer to the $14 per hour range, including the front desk and guest services jobs at the hotels which were the ones we were most interested in anyway. We couldn’t imagine that the off-peak cutbacks were quite as bad for these jobs since the hotels operate near capacity year round, and we would at least have a bit of a cushion with the higher pay rates even if it was more of a part-time position at times. The problem was that it had been over a year since we had seen either of those jobs posted on the Disneyland careers site. They obviously were finding people to fill these positions internally if they didn’t need to ever hire for them from the outside. We wondered, therefore, if we could at least ask the person from hourly casting if these jobs were secretly hiring at all. Hey, it was worth a shot.
It took a couple weeks, but the person from hourly casting finally got in touch with us. Neither of us talked to her for too long and neither of us really heard anything we wanted to hear. I went first, and I found out that not only were the jobs posted on the Disney site the only ones that were hiring, but there really wasn’t going to be a lot of hiring done for several months. It was late November/early December, but the next time Disney was really going to start looking was March or April for people to come on in the summer. Not only that, but since you could only apply for an hourly role once every six months, the recruiter warned us to be sure the job we applied for was definitely the one we wanted. She didn’t think they were going to be hiring for any of the hotel roles we’d shown an interest in any time in the near future, instead pushing the current availabilities in attractions. Not only was this apparently not going to be a fast process at all, but it wasn’t shaping up in the way either of us was hoping for.
Tracy didn’t fare much better. She also asked the recruiter about the situation with the part-time hours and got a response that was consistent with what we’d read online. The recruiter had started in attractions and had her hours cut from 40+ hours per week in the summer to 4 hours per week at the start of the off-season. It was a little refreshing to get an honest answer about this (when I worked part-time for The Apple Store several years ago, they claimed we would get plenty of hours and then surprised us with only around 8 hours per week), but that didn’t mean we were happy about the answer.
At this point, I basically accepted it wasn’t in the cards for me to work at Disneyland at this point in time. Not only were we pretty sure I couldn’t physically do the jobs, every sign from Disney was pointing to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to make a living working for them. Tracy held out one last hope, and we knew it was a reach. We had missed the face character auditions a couple weeks before moving out here, and apparently at Disneyland, unlike at WDW, they only hold these auditions once every 6-9 months. Still, there was a face character audition coming up for Fantasmic! the weekend after our conversation with the hourly recruiter. Since Alice and Wendy are both in Fantasmic!, Tracy decided to go on the off-chance that this was the role they were seeking. Now, since I wasn’t there, this next part of the report is a little bit of hearsay.
Tracy left our apartment on the day of the audition a little over an hour before she needed to be there—remember, we live about 10 minutes from Disneyland. When she arrived, she pulled into the cast member garage and started to drive around looking for a spot. She called me 10 minutes before the audition was supposed to start to tell me she still couldn’t find a parking spot (yep, after almost an hour of looking). The guard at the entrance to the parking structure acknowledged that no one seemed to be able to find parking and was sending people over to the Mickey and Friends structure (where they could pay $15 to park while still having almost zero chance of getting past the first round of the audition). Tracy wasn’t willing to pay, so she kept driving around the entire structure, knowing that she would be able to pounce on a spot at some point. Finally, with about 2 minutes to spare before the audition was supposed to start, she found the magic parking spot.
Booking it out of the garage, she made her way toward the Team Disney building and saw about 500 people lined up outside its entrance. There was no need to worry about being late as it would be hours before she made it inside. Cozying up in line, she made small talk with the gals in front of and behind her, and all of them waited as one group after another was called in for their auditions. “Audition” is almost a misnomer at these Disney cattle calls. It’s more like what’s known in the modeling world as a go-see because the first round is 100% about looks. While waiting outside the building with a light mist falling from the sky, Tracy and her new compadres laughed as a marching band got lined up on the bleachers outside the building to take their group picture.
About an hour and a half after arriving at the Team Disney building, Tracy finally got to go inside. Her group of 100 people was called into the audition room. Once inside, they were lined up into ten sets of ten and each rotated through, standing on a number in a line at the front of the room. The “audition” was to go down the line and give each person the opportunity to say their name and wave at themselves in the mirror. Then the casting directors kept the people from the lineup that they wanted to for the next round and the rest of the group was released. One person from Tracy’s line was kept, and it wasn’t her. Unfortunately, she was cut after this first round, along with 90-plus% of the people there. She said that from what she could tell, they were definitely looking for gals who could play Tiana and guys who could be princes. No one in Tracy’s height range was getting kept. Chalking up the experience as another one in the books, Tracy headed out and came home. At this point in time, she wasn’t going to be a character.
The phone interviews and auditions over, we moved on into a state of uncertainty regarding Tracy’s future employment with Disney. We both kept checking the careers site daily to see if the coveted hotel jobs ever happened to show up, but they never did. At one point, Tracy caved and applied for several jobs within Disney’s Partners Credit Union. Since she had years of experience as a bank teller, she should have been a shoo-in. Unfortunately, Disney must never have moved forward with hiring these jobs. Tracy was never actually rejected; her application still sits out there on her Disney careers profile, forever in the “pending” status.
As time went on, it became clear Disney wasn’t in the cards right now. While slightly disappointing, making that decision came with a big upside. Rather than constantly holding out from getting annual passes, since we knew that Disney employment comes with free park admission, we were able to cave and finally make it into the parks. But that didn’t happen until February, so you readers have lots of patience ahead of you before you get to hear stories from inside Disneyland. Tracy moved on and started applying at other companies, finally ending up with a job at a company she really likes. You’ll hear all about it, as well as my employment saga, eventually. But as I said up front, neither of us looks at our Disney job search as over. We both hope to work for the company at some point in our lives. Someday. Maybe.
Until then, I’ll finish this update with the question: would we have done anything different had we known how hard it was to work for Disney, and do I have any advice from this experience for other people who are in our shoes and dream of being Disneyland cast members? Honestly, I don’t think anything would have deterred us from still trying to make it work to get hired at Disney. We had it confirmed by both recruiters that no one would have considered us for any jobs until we were local, so honestly, we needed to come out and see what was available. My piece of advice to anyone else looking to try to work at Disney would be to do exactly what we did. Take the risk and make the move, but do so with healthy expectations. Understand how the Disney employment machine works and decide if it’s right for you. It wasn’t right for us right now, but I don’t have any animosity toward our short experience trying to become cast members. If it’s meant to be someday, I think it will be.