One of the most common questions I get asked by people when they find out I work in games “how do I get a job making videogames?” I also get asked about industry jobs from friends who I have worked with, or students I have taught in the past. Depending upon what stage of your career you’re coming at this from, the job search may seem tough to impossible at times. As someone who has been fortunate enough to find enough work to make videogames a career, I’m going to try and outline some methods for finding your first (or second, or tenth) job in the videogame industry. Hopefully people of all stages of their careers will find something they can take from this to help them in their quest. Actual results may vary. This is how to get videogame jobs.
What is it that you want to do exactly? Identify what is is you want to be doing in the videogame industry.
There are many aspects to making games. Character designers, game designers, coders, 3d modelers, texture artists, effects artists, game testers, and animators all have very different roles and requirements, and each department is looking for something unique from the others. Even people who have been in the industry for a while sometimes have trouble identifying what it is that they really want to do. What are you good at? What aspects of game development do you consider fun? Do you love playing games more than anything? Maybe QA would be a good job for you? Do you hate playing broken games? QA would probably be a bad fit for you!
It is totally possible to change roles in the industry over time. In the past, I have worked with several people who have come from QA and gone on to being designers, producers, programmers, and artists. I have seen artists start on the lowest rung and work their way up the ranks to head up entire teams.
Where can I find open positions?
There are several job boards that update very frequently, sometimes daily more more, where you can find open positions of all levels. CreativeHeads, Gamasutra, and Indeed all have a pretty robust job sections. You should also follow studios on Twitter, as there are often job updates posted there. LinkedIn is a pretty good place to connect with people that currently work, or have worked, and the studios you are interested in. Facebook is a good place to join groups of developers or find out about local meet ups. Studios also usually list their openings on their sites.
Be ready to pounce on open positions instantly! Do not hesitate any longer than absolutely necessary to apply for an open job. Often times, studios are facing a bottleneck in production and want to fill spots quickly. The sooner you can get your work in front of them, then sooner you can be working and collecting a paycheck.
Industry events like GDC, E3, or even local meet ups are a good place to find out about career openings as well. I usually take a stack of PostIt notes and a pen with me to events like this. If I talk to someone interesting, or they have a hot job tip, I’ll scribble down what we talked about on a PostIt, and stick it on their business card as I take it. After a week long conference, it’s very easy to forget who you talked to about what, (especially at a loud dark party with alcohol mixed in) and the PostIts help you keep things straight. Follow up with these people very soon after the event, so you are fresh in their minds, and the job lead is still hot.
Ask your industry friends! Many times a studio will ask their employees if they know of anyone good. Make sure you have a good reputation and are good to work with, and people won’t hesitate to suggest you for a position where they work.
A head hunter or staffing agency may be of use as well. They get paid when they find work for you, usually a percentage of whatever it is you will be paid. You usually pay nothing. It’s in their best interest to get you working fast, and for as much money as possible. I’ve had some good results with this avenue in the past. A quick Google search should reveal staffing agencies for the games industry in the geographic area you are looking to work in.
How strong is your resume?
OK, you’ve found an open position you think would be a good fit. It’s time to send in your resume. This is usually your first line of offense in your job search. Recruiters are not developers. They are in place to help weed through the huge crush of applicants that apply for many jobs, and present the dev teams with a smaller list of viable candidates. Key words, standard industry terms, software titles you know how to use, and specific skill sets should all be highlighted and easy to find. Do not assume that “they’ll know what I mean” when it comes to your resume. Recruiters are scanning resumes for key words and skills that they are being instructed to find. Try and keep your resume to a single page. While this may seem like a lot of paper to fill for a new comer, this gets harder to do in the other direction as your career gets longer and you try to cram everything in.
Make sure you have current and obvious contact information listed, and can easily be reached.
Do you have a good email address? [email protected] tells me nothing about you, other than your poor choice of email addresses. Your name and possibly your main skill would be a good choice. [email protected] or [email protected] would be perfect. What is your cell phone number? Did you put your current digits on your resume? I’ve heard horror stories where people have revised a resume year after year, only to find out after a lack of calls that they had their old phone number listed. If studios cannot get in touch with you, they cannot hire you. Do not apply for a bunch of jobs, then go off the grid for three weeks. Take that Habitat for Humanity trip to the Amazon before you start your job search, not during. A physical address is less and less of an important detail at this stage, and some people leave it off of their resume all together. This could go either way, as sometimes studios are looking for local candidates only. Sometimes if they love your work and you are willing to relocate on your own dime, they will make an exception. Sometimes you’ll get financial help, or the whole move will be covered. This often depends on the position, the studio, their needs, and their fiscal health.
Have your work online so it can be shared instantly.
This may be more of a note for the artists in the group, but you should have a portfolio or reel online so you can share it instantly. As mentioned previously, studios cannot wait around for you to get your stuff together. Send a link to a tumblr of your designs, or a YouTube link to your animation reel. If they can’t easily view your work, they will move on to another candidate. Make sure your current contact info is easily readable on the reel itself.
Your gallery reel should include your best work, not everything you’ve ever done. It should also include only things that you are allowed to show. Breaching NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements) or showing work from a game in development is a huge red flag for many people. If you would show unreleased and secret things from another studio, you could also possibly leak work at the place you are applying. Many places will stop looking at your stuff right away. Seriously, DON’T DO IT. Be sure to include your email or phone number (or both) so you can be easily contacted.
You applied, now what?
Give it some time! There is a good chance that a recruiter is going through hundreds of applicants in the first few days of a job posting. Give them a chance to weed out the lesser candidates and get to your stuff. Sometimes you won’t hear anything back. Don’t take it personally. If you see the job posted again at a later date, maybe reapply with some revised are or slightly tweaked resume. If you are a desirable candidate, you’ll most likely have an interview scheduled.
You got an interview!
Phone interviews are very common, especially for distant applicants. Make sure you are well rested and prepared for the phone interview. Keep in mind any time zone differences! If you're on the east coast, and the studio is on the west coast, be sure to clarify and find out if the call will be at 1PM east or west coast time. Be ready to take the call in a quiet area where you can concentrate on the interview, preferably somewhere with an internet connection so you can look at things mentioned in the interview. It’s less of an interview really, and much more of a call to ask “you’re still interested in us, right?”
The initial interview will probably just be with the HR team or recruiter. They will want to verify that your info is correct and that you are still interested and available for the position. This is a great time to get general questions answered. When would the job start? What is the estimated time frame for hiring someone? They may not have solid answers, but they may be able to clear up some things for you. These initial calls usually end with “Well, do you have any questions for us?” Be sure to now some things about the studio. Ask a couple of general questions about the studio here. What are they working on? How many people work there? What will you be working on? Again, you may not get a solid answer (or any answer), but you might. You may also be asked either before the initial interview or right after to sign an NDA. These are standard, and basically just lets the studio talk to you about unreleased and upcoming projects without fear that you’re going to Tweet a bunch of their secret stuff. If you do, you’re in BIG trouble. That’s a whole other post!
This initial call is also where you may be asked to complete some kind of test.
You got a test!
First off, do not be insulted. The studio wants to make sure you are a good fit, and can do what you say you can do. As an animator, I have done many animation tests over the years. These are meant to be a very clear indicator of what you are capable of as an employee. What can you do with specific or minimal instruction on a tight deadline? How do your skills apply to the specific content of the studio? For example, I have a very “cartoony ” (I hate that description) animation style. I would not be well suited for a mocap job with realistic animation. I could do it (and have), but my heart wouldn’t be into it. That would probably show in an art test. Your test will be compared to the tests of other candidates, all with the exact same set of constraints and details.
TAKE THE TEST SERIOUSLY. This is how studios decide who gets through to the next round of the hiring process. If you don’t understand something in the directions, or a rig is broken, or an asset won’t open, let the studio know immediately. It could be part of the test. How will this candidate handle partial or missing information? How you react says a lot about what kind of an employee you will be. Make sure you cover all aspects of the test, and give yourself enough time to make things look great. Make sure your test can be opened on another machine and that you aren’t missing anything. Perhaps most of all, keep your test private! While you may be able to get a close friend to give you a fresh perspective on something, do not upload your results to YouTube or Facebook. You’re probably violating any NDA you have signed, and you are tipping off other potential candidates as to the level of work of their competitors. Having said that, a quick Google search may reveal what other recent tests from the studio have been like. Keep your cards close to your chest and do your best. Remember that most applicants haven’t even made it this far. If you blow off the test or do a bad job, this directly reflects upon how you would do as an employee.
The team will review the test and get back to you soon. “Soon” can mean many different things from a day or two to a few weeks. Give them a chance, but if you don’t hear anything in a reasonable amount of time, or if you have another offer from another studio, you can email them and ask if they have made any decisions. How long you should wait before contacting them is a hard to quantify, but use your best judgement. Later in the same day you sent the test back is way too pushy, but maybe a few days or a week later would be perfect?
Get ready to run the gauntlet in a long, on site interview!
So they loved your test and want to bring you in for a studio visit. They may be investing quite a bit of money in you as a potential hire, flying you to their studio and putting you up in a hotel. This is not free for them. Studios are taking a financial risk, and bringing in candidates that have no interest in taking the job is a waste all around. Don’t waste your time or their time and money. If you have no intention of taking the job, let them know before you visit, if possible.
You’ll probably start you day by meeting with the HR person. They’ll probably ask if you want anything to drink or snack on while you wait for a representative from your potential team to meet with you. You’ll usually get a brief overview of the project you’ll be working on. Ask questions here, as you’re very close to the finish line, and the studio will be much more at ease talking to you about the project.
The various project leads and maybe the producer will meet with you, depending upon schedules and the size of the studio. You’ll see some of the different departments, the facility, maybe even your specific potential workstation. Ask a lot of questions, and be ready to receive a lot of answers. After the formalities at the studio, you may be asked to go to lunch or dinner with the team. This is where the interview process can fall apart, or really solidify, depending upon the mood of the team and how well you gel with everyone.
You may be asked about specific details of your work history in this phase, and sometimes about specific people. It’s a small industry, and everyone seems to know everyone. It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice. Don’t throw anyone under the bus. Bad mouthing people often says more about you than it does about the person you are talking about. Keep it about the work, but be honest. Sometimes people will try to get information or dirt about a rival studio from you. It could be a trap! I’ve heard stories of people asking about specific people, only to later reveal that the person they were talking about is their spouse and they wanted to see what you said! Don’t feed the trolls. I almost didn’t even mention this part, but I’ve heard of people killing the whole thing for themselves at this phase because of things like this, so in the interest of covering all aspects of the process, I thought I’d include it.
The on site interview went well, now you wait.
There may be multiple applicants being interviewed. They may have some in town applicants they want to meet in addition to the out of towners they brought in. This all takes time. Usually, you’ll hear something within a few days. Again, the amount of time you should wait before contacting the studio is hard to quantify. Some people suggest you let them call you and to never initiate contact a studio. Interviewing at a studio kind of like dating, and the onsite is like the first date. If the guy or girl was nice and you want a future with them, why would you wait too long before talking to them again? You may also have some kind of external deadline looming, like kids starting school or an apartment lease ending, that requires some kind of expedience. Don’t be pushy, but let them know that you are interested. You may also have another offer on the table at this point, and need an answer one way or the other.
You got an offer!
Congratulations! You get the call that they want to bring you on. They should have specific details for you at this stage, including salary, benefits, start date, etc. Ask very specific questions here, and expect very specific and concrete answers. The ball is now in your court. If the salary is lower than you expected, or the benefits are not as you thought they would be, mention it now and hopefully they can meet your needs.
Keep your resume and reel current!
The drought is over! Congratulations…until next time. Studios downsize, projects get cancelled, budgets get slashed, etc. It really is a jungle out there. Always be ready to swing to the next vine, if you need to. If you have any additional tips for job seekers, be sure to mention it in the comments.
Good luck out there!