How Not to get Hired – PAX West 2016

How Not to get Hired – PAX West 2016

I attended a number of panel talks by game developers at PAX West this last weekend. Besides the fun of talking with the developers and some of the comedy/youtube celebs, the most interesting ones for me were the career oriented ones. While already in the field, I think it’s always a very good idea to keep up to date on what new hires are doing in high tech. High tech and programming are fields you can very quickly find yourself ‘deprecated’ if you are not careful. One of the key pieces I’ve found over time is to keep abreast and versed on the latest technologies and hiring trends.

Hiring for game development can be very competitive and sometimes fickle. It’s an industry moving much faster than the rest of software development, so it’s actually a good place to start looking if you want to see some of the hiring trends coming to your latest Fortune 500.

Here are some of their tips:

  • Research your desired position and make sure it’s what you want. Many people don’t know what they want. That’s ok – but you will eventually need to pick. Know what is required for the job area you are considering. Looking at postings gives you an idea and you can see if that’s what you want to do. Especially for artists, find a studio that does work in the style you want to do. If you’re a 2D cartoon artist, don’t apply to big photo-realistic 3D houses. This matching of skills/desires is really important.
  • Look on Amazon – there are now decent books on how to get hired into the game industry.
  • Create unique cover letters that show how involved you are in the community, projects you are part of, and the passion you have. Ex: “I love finding things that drive my coworkers crazy and fixing them”, “I was at PAX East and saw a talk by X from your company and was excited when they started talking about Y.”
  • Proof-read everything you send to them. Resumes, cover letters, emails, etc. They showed lots of examples of people that didn’t seem to have basic literacy skills. Communication is important in game studios, so texting style communication is a mark against you.
  • When customizing your resume for a position, make sure you’ve done it yourself and know which one you gave each place. People have shown up to interviews and get asked about a detail on their resume they don’t remember or was worded differently because they didn’t write it or review it sufficiently. Not cool.
  • Portfolios must show you can do the work you claim. If it’s a UI position then don’t give me tons of examples of your 3D modeling. They must see you doing the work you claim you want.
  • The *baseline* is now knowing the company well. You should have at least played every one of their major titles and have exposure to all their minor ones. You get docked for this badly if you haven’t.
    • Play at least a little of each game they ship before arriving.
  • Practice, practice, practice answering questions out loud. Really get them down well. Have your mom, friend, dog, etc ask you questions you know you’ll probably get.
  • Don’t just show up at their studio and inquire about jobs. That’s antiquated and actually a bit creepy. Receptionists aren’t set up for it. Just don’t. Do it over the web.
  • Be excited. Getting on site for many companies means you’re already at a 50/50 chance of a hire – or higher. They’ve already vet you a lot via your online portfolio, screens, and talking with previous coworkers/employers. Show energy, don’t screw up, and you’re likely in.
  • Ask them questions too. What is your development cycle like? How long do you get per asset? Crunch benefits, duration, style, etc? To avoid bugging them later, ask when should you expect to hear back from them.
  • Expect a skill based test – 100% will happen even for long-term and very senior developers and artists.
  • Know what you are worth. Check out Gamasutra salary surveys, etc. Always respond to the first offer with needing a day/few to think about it. Make sure you calculate differences in cost of living for the city, etc. Everything is negotiable to some degree so ask.
    • Approach it like a conversation with a friend. “So, you offered X and I did some calculations based on what I’m making now, the cost delta in the new city, etc and I’m coming out with this number Y. Could we find a way to get closer to that?”
  • Don’t wear a suit or you’ll get teased a bit. Also, don’t wear anything that would embarrass your mother. Yes, it’s a much more casual environment but it’s not a show of how crazy you can be. Bathe. You need to show you care about how you come across to others because you will be working in teams and giving/receiving suggestions/improvement tips/feedback all day. Appearance shows you understand how to pay attention to how you come across.
  • Always send a thank-you note after the interview.
    • One person who really messed up an in-person test actually sent them a test he did on his own afterward to repair the damage. He didn’t get that job, but he did get one a year or so later.
    • If they say no, it’s no for now. Not no forever. Never give up and always try again. However, you must work towards your goal. Really show progress in your portfolio over time. If you go a year and your portfolio is the same, you’re failing and likely going to continue getting rejections. Even when employed, consider a periodic portfolio review from companies you might want to work for. Send it to them and ask for feedback. Constant improvement shows you are interested enough to keep going and growing. Side projects are key to this. One person actively did this and incorporated the recruiter’s feedback and got a job about a year later.
    • Perhaps ask the recruiter what you could have done better or if there was a gap you could work on.
  • Be ready to move a lot in your career. Each job change will almost always come with a location change.
  • DO NOT BURN BRIDGES or make a bad impression in any of your interactions. The game dev community is shockingly small and everyone knows at least one person at just about every studio. They will call people you have worked for and check you out.
    • Always stay professional – even at bars around your city like Seattle. Odds are very good there is someone within earshot of you that knows someone that knows them.
  • Not a lot of people will make it to the level they aspire too. The best strategy is to find something you want to master then master your craft and apply at a place that matches that style. It takes tons of grinding work – no quick solution. This is why you need to find something you really love. Practice every day. Gimmicky methods of following trendy things doesn’t really work long term. Hone your skill and find the thing that matches that. Seek out mods, indie projects, or other things you can contribute too.
    • This is why it’s important to really find something you love first because you’re going to spend a LOT of time on it.
  • Look into resume link for connections. The recruiters scan Art Station and Polycount to scout talent. They want to see you do good work but that you are also positive, take good feedback, and show progress.
  • Internships are starting to catch on at studios – slowly. Check it out if possible.
  • Use the cover letter to explain any career shifts or gaps.
  • For beginners: the expectation is that you can at least do fan art. Could the studio take that art quality and put it in their game today? That’s your bar.
  • Make contacts with recruiters and with others in the industry that do what you want to do. Make connections constantly, at every conference/meetup/IGDA/etc, and work your network. That’s where your jobs will come from.
  • Portfolios must be online and high quality as a *minimum*. Are you on other sites known for posting work for your discipline (Polycount, etc)? Don’t forget to give passwords to password protected portfolios.
  • Your portfolio is only as good as the weakest piece. Constantly work on replacing content with your latest amazing stuff. Within a few years, you will likely start removing even the good stuff. That’s your goal.
  • Each position and your work should show progression in your skills. This is huge. Shows you are a high performer and have a habit of development and growth.
  • Do not have your parents/others send letters to recruiters on your behalf. Borders on lazy/uninterested to downright creepy.

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