I get asked this question a lot by people who are considering a career change to animation and want to know how to go about it, or by people who are poised to enter the work force. This blog entry by C.H. Greenblatt really addresses the heart of the matter, plus it has really funny drawings!
Basically, you need to draw a LOT and be good at drawing (Being good with color is also important in my opinion), and you need to be nice and make friends. That’s essentially it.
The way it works is: your friends will help you find jobs, your nice personality will help you get the job and keep it, and your friends will help you get recommended to more jobs.
As you keep in touch with your friends regularly you can also ask them if they have heard of any jobs, and thusly you will keep yourself on the top of their mind.
The ability to draw better than the average schmo will ensure that you can do the work they need you to do. The better you are at drawing, the more likely you will get the job over someone else who is also nice.
Having your work on a website and adding to it regularly shows that you are working on your skills and also lets you have your work out there so you can email links to people who are looking for artists at the drop of a hat, and it has it out there so you can be found by someone who is looking for work.
Also, an added tip- if you have a contact form on your website please be sure that you also include a phone number and/or email address so people can contact you directly. Forms discourage impatient people from contacting you- for example someone who is looking to hire and has a stack of 20 portfolios in front of them of which yours is just one. Then also check your voicemails/emails daily at least. It’s kind of amazing how often the “answer people when they are trying to give you a job” part gets messed up.