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Nailing The Interview / Part 1: Recruiting & Hiring New Employees

In this game industry-specific article, HR veteran Marc Mencher looks at the vital task of hiring good game developers, focusing on evaluating the job, defining the job descriptions, and ways of reaching out to potential recruits.

Marc Mencher, Blogger

December 28, 2007

18 Min Read

So you want to start a high-level raiding guild in WoW with people who really know how to play and won't dump the guild after they get all the best stuff. You could broadcast on a recruitment channel that everyone is welcome... or you could be a little more efficient and spare yourself at least some of the inevitable drama and attrition that comes with an open invite.

Does it really matter who you pick to play in your MMO guild? Sure it does, because you've probably invested a fair amount of time and money in the game. So you can understand that it matters even more if you're looking to hire people to build an MMO, because you're going to be investing a whole lot more than $14.99 a month!

Recruiting and hiring new employees is one of the most stressful aspects of management. Whether you're asking the questions or answering them, hiring the right people is crucial to a company's success and ultimately to its survival. Both employers and employees need to understand the process so that they can eliminate many of the problems that can keep the right people from getting the wrong job (or the wrong people from getting any job at your company.) This involves doing your homework, having the confidence in your information and honing your social skills to get through the process from initial job posting to finding the employee (or job) of your dreams.

Before You Start "Looking for Signatures"...

We'll assume for the sake of these articles that you've already defined your company's mission and know how you want to build, or keep building, a strong successful team. Whether you're recruiting for a new position or seeking a replacement, first things first -- you need to write a job description. This means that you need to figure out where the job fits in the company's hierarchy, what the employee's role will be in the division, department and/or team, how the reporting structure works both up and down the ladder, and the really tricky one -- personalities and methodologies throughout the company.

That brings us to the vacancy. Job openings are created when someone vacates a position for whatever reason, or when you obtain approval to open a new position. In the case of vacancies, use that opportunity to reassess the job, clarify the duties and refine the job description. It's safe to assume that you're going to need a healer for your guild but what kind of priest is best? Shadow Priest or Holy Priest? For your company, let's say you're looking for a designer. Content or Mechanics? Do you need a stronger writer or a stronger stat person? This is why it's important to evaluate your needs and then customize the job description so that you get the person you really want. That doesn't mean one type of designer is intrinsically better than the other; it's a question of using your funding and headcount intelligently.

Evaluate your current team, including people who have the skills you're looking for but might be in another division. Some companies have a policy about not switching teams or divisions until after a certain amount of time, and there are good reasons for that. However, that doesn't mean that managers can afford not to know who does what. You may have a Lead Tester who has written a couple of successful fantasy novels so there's a potential member of the Design Team. Or you may have a member of the Design Team who is adept at database management and technical writing. The important thing is to know who can do what before you look outside the company. Bringing in some new blood can be good but it can also generate resentment if members of the team feel that they have been overlooked.

Consider whether you need to fill the job in the same way. If part of the job (or the whole thing!) has become obsolete for some reason, consider appointing a part-time replacement. Use a job-sharing plan if the role needs different skills or consider keeping an employee who wants to work part time. If the work occurs only at certain periods, you could use freelancers or contract workers. There are a lot of questions you need to ask (and the odds are that even after you've posted the job description, you'll think of something else you need and/or want!)

  • Changes in the game business occur so rapidly that the need for a job may exist only for a short time, so use a vacancy as an opportunity to reassess the reason for a job and check whether the qualifications required for a job have changed.

  • A vacancy may also be a good time to review all job descriptions for your team when a vacancy is created.

  • Currently unfulfilled tasks and duties can be added to a job description or combined to create a new job but only if you can support it financially.

Alternates to "Traditional" Employment Scenarios

Even if you have a bona fide vacancy, you may not need to fill it with a full-time staff employee. There are some cost-effective alternatives, but be very sure that you're choosing one because it's really the best solution (remember the old adage "penny wise and pound foolish.") If you choose one of these alternatives, you need to make sure that the job description clearly reflects that. Don't wait until the candidate has gone to the trouble of coming for an interview to say, "Oh gosh, didn't anyone tell you we only need someone 10 hours a week?"

Jobshare: Sometimes a valued employee can't work full time but wants to stay with the company. If you can make it work, dividing a job between several employees is a possible solution. There are a lot of ways to arrange this but you have to be sure that the people doing the job understand how to work together; otherwise, you're better off to replace the employee or adding the tasks to the workload of different employees who might be doing something similar already.

Upgrade/Downgrade Position: Replacing staff becomes increasingly more difficult the higher up the org chart you go. Sometimes, despite everyone's best efforts, you have duplicate positions that are costing the company more than the work the individuals are doing. A well-managed budge requires constant reassessment. Salaries, like everything else, rise over time, which means that people coming into the industry now expect to receive more than they would have even a few years ago. Be very sure about the job title and description before you post the job. Don't wait until the interview to tell the applicant that the job has been downgraded!

Part-Time: Sometimes you have important work that must be done but it won't fill 40 hours a week. You've got a couple of options here: you can add tasks to the job to make it full-time or you can firmly establish the position as part-time. There are various degrees of part-time, which affect payment of benefits, so be sure you review the position with HR before you advertise it. Be prepared for the applicant to ask whether the job might grow into a full-time position.

Flex Time: In flex time situations, employees still work 40 hours but not always five consecutive 8-hour days. Typically, there's a "core" period of time during the workday when employees are expected to be at work (i.e., 10 am- 4pm). This is when the bulk of the work (including meetings) is conducted. Beyond that, employees can make arrangements about when they work as long as they meet their goals. Other variations include working four 10-hour days with three days off, or working a rotating schedule of days on and off. This is something you'll want to specify in the job description.

Telecommuting: More and more companies are using telecommuting, which enables them to cast a much wider net for employees and reduces overhead costs associated with having employees on-site. In the best situation, telecommuting employees frequently are more productive because they have no commute time and are often willing to work longer hours because they're at home. The downside is that you can't actually monitor their work so sometimes the situation is mishandled. If you're offering telecommuting as an option, add that to the job description, as well as the specifications you use for monitoring work.

Freelance: Sometimes you may have special projects that either don't require an extended full-time employee or that require someone with a very specialized skillset. That's when you want to consider contracting a freelancer. You may end up paying a higher hourly or per-project fee but you do not have to pay benefits or other overhead costs. Be prepared for the freelancer to ask whether the job might turn into something permanent. As much as they love the freedom of working for themselves, many freelancers yearn for the stability of a "regular" job.

Once you've established all the requirements for the job, it's time to write the job description, but...

Writing a Useful Job Description

Before you write anything, talk to your HR Department. Laws vary from state to state so you need to be sure that you know what you can and can't say, can and can't ask, and can and can't offer. Once you have the guidelines, it's time to write the job description (don't worry -- you'll be back to talk with HR before you start the interview process!)

The second step in hiring requires you to produce an accurate "marketing pitch" (job description). If you're replacing an employee who was doing a great job, you can use that person's general skill set and assignments as the basis for the description. Consider whether the job has changed over time, perhaps because of new technology or client needs. What is the optimal skill set that you need to get the job done now?

If the current employee is leaving under positive circumstances, ask for his/her help -- in essence, conduct an interview about the job. Check with people above and below them to find out what qualities and skills the replacement employee will need to have to be successful. Try to match skills but avoid the pitfall of overlooking a potentially great candidate who isn't exactly like the departing employee.

What about someone who was let go, or the creation of a new position? You can still refer to the current job description or job requisition, but with a slightly different view. Are there any obsolete requirements in the old description? Did you set the bar too high, considering the type of job and/or compensation available? Do you want to build in some flexibility so that the new employee has a clear career path? Will new technology and onsite training allow you to hire a more junior (and frankly sometimes less expensive) employee who can grow into the responsibilities of the predecessor? The exercise of designing a useful job description lies somewhere between a subjective daydream of perfection and an objective assessment of what you really need -- and can afford.

The basic elements of a job description include:

  • Job title

  • Reporting line

  • Basic responsibilities

  • Chief tasks and activities

  • Special tasks ("and whatever else management deems necessary" is a given!)

  • Minimum requirements

  • Preferred requirements

  • Special requirements

  • Special instructions for submitting applications and resumes

  • Contact email and/or phone and/ or mailing address

Don't underplay difficult or challenging aspects of the job, but don't drive potential candidates away by making the job seem impossible!

You don't need to specify salary, although at least a range helps manage candidate expectations. General information about benefits should be included somewhere on the company's HR page, so you only need to refer to the URL. Conditions of service are very important, and in some cases are mandated by law, such as requirements for heavy lifting or having a special vehicle license.

Sometimes, companies want to hire an in-house person so they write the job description in such a way that only that person will be qualified. While this isn't illegal per se, it sends a message to prospective employees and it may prevent the company from finding an amazing person from the outside. Take the risk and open that net a little wider -- you never know what you might catch!

The Language of Job Descriptions -- Be Specific

"SillySongs is a new guild for bards who want to work towards high-level raiding with other players who love '80s music. We're more interested in how we sound than how we look. Raiding mostly on weeknights PST -- look for us on the Contralto server."

If you love acid rock and would much rather hit a mob than sing it to sleep, SillySongs probably isn't for you, but you wouldn't have known that if they hadn't been specific in their guild recruitment notice. To prevent misunderstandings, take the extra time to write an accurate job description, including the job title. Use action verbs in the job description but try to avoid industry jargon like "liaise" or "interface" when you really mean "mediate" and "interact." Some companies still actually use the catch-all phrase "and other tasks as deemed necessary or appropriate by management" but do yourself and the candidate a favor by trying to be more specific.

  • Be sure that the job description is as accurate as possible

  • Make job titles sound upwardly mobile (but only if they really are!) This encourages people to grow into them.

  • The job's overall responsibilities (but keep them reasonable!)

  • A list of the chief tasks and activities, i.e., "serve customers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-F."

  • Are overtime and/or travel required?

  • Does the job call for any particular technical or educational expertise?

  • What is the most challenging part of the job?

Writing an accurate job description helps you get the right information out there when the job is advertised, and (optimistically) enables you to hire the right person. When describing major responsibilities, give a few details about what the employee is expected to achieve. Use action verbs and structure; avoid passive sentence structure because it's weak and makes the job environment sound stilted and formal.

Points to Remember

  • Not every job needs a new person and not all vacancies can be filled.

  • Changes in our industry occur so fast that the need for the job may exist for only a short time.

  • Don't exaggerate the job description to drive people away.

  • A vacancy can be an opportunity to redefine job responsibilities.

  • If you can't find the right candidate, revise the job description.

  • Working unfulfilled tasks and duties into a job description is an option as long as you're ready to adjust compensation as well.

  • Even if you want to hire someone in-house, don't be afraid to write a realistic job description -- you might find someone even better!

  • Consider alternatives to "traditional" full-time hires.

Looking for A Few Good People -- PST

After you've got the job description written and approved, it's time to decide how you're going to recruit. Methods include word-of-mouth, company websites, print media, recruiters and beyond. You want to hear from applicants but you also want to be sure that you get the best applicants, so it's your responsibility to make sure you've been specific about how they should send you that tell.

No matter whether you're using an internet or a print ad, the design and wording of an advertisement will definitely influence the response you get. Make sure that the layout is eye-catching and clear. Post that well-written, approved job description. Make sure applicants know how to contact you and always give a closing date for the position (and track that -- it looks very inefficient when an applicant finds out that the job was filled but you forgot to remove the posting.)

The better and clearer your ad, the less time you'll waste reviewing resumes and the less time will be wasted in interviewing the wrong people. A final note -- always proof your postings! Get at least two other people to look at it as well in case you missed something. First impressions are important and not just yours -- remember that the applicant is the buyer too!

Recruiting Internally

Many companies encourage internal recruitment, and some insist that all vacancies be advertised internally before advertising outside. (Check with your HR Department -- some states require that all positions be advertised externally for a period of time.) It's easier to interview internal applicants because they already know the company and understand its work culture. You know them and their work and their social skills.

On the other hand, if you move a current employee into a new position, you'll then have to fill their old position. Not allowing employees to make lateral changes just to save replacement costs isn't going to grow your business. However, you'll need to be sure they're really right for the new job and not asking to move as a way to make a rapid rise up the corporate ladder. Whether you use in-house email, the company website or a corporate newsletter, treat this as if you were advertising the job to the outside.

Using the Website

When people look for jobs they tend to search company websites. Make your Jobs or Employment or Careers page easy to find and navigate. The website also gives a prospective employee a chance to get a snapshot impression about your company so you want to be sure you've got your best virtual face showing. Posting on your website can save you time and money but only if the page is accessible and functional. It's pretty off-putting to an applicant when she can't post her resume, especially when the site encourages her to do so!

Placing Advertisements

Where you advertise and what your ad says will determine the type and number of applicants you get and affect your chances to find right person for the job. Use trade publication for jobs that require specialized skills. For a more generalized approach, use the general press; some papers allocate different days to particular professions. Advertisements can be costly but can elicit a huge response. If you lack the time or resources to cope with hundreds of applicants, advertise in a publication with limited circulation. Consider using special "clearing house"/recruitment type websites that reach out specifically to a particular career like animation or programming.

A Note about Advertising

Recruitment advertising is subject to stringent legal restrictions that vary from country to country, and state to state. Check with HR about your state's regulations and procedures, and remember that federal and state laws may not always agree. Be particularly aware of laws affecting gender, race, religion sexual orientation or age. Select your wording carefully to avoid stipulating characteristics that could be seen as excluding potential applicants. Assuming you are an Equal Opportunity Employer, say so on your recruiting materials.

Using Personal Recommendations

There are positive and negative aspects to consider when using personal contacts to help you fill a vacancy. One the positive side, if a potential recruit comes with a recommendation from someone you trust, it suggests that her skills and experience have, to a degree, are proven. In addition, the applicant may have been briefed by your mutual contact about the work culture in your organization.

On the negative side, personal recommendations can be awkward when you have to turn down a candidate who just isn't right for the job. When a colleague suggests a candidate, assess skills and abilities objectively and be prepared to reject the application if need be (and also be prepared to explain to your colleague why the applicant isn't qualified.) Be careful about colleagues who see your job opening as a way to build a little empire of his or her cronies. Even if the applicants' skills are superior, you also need to be sensitive about the corporate culture.

Using Local Resources

Check whether there are any federal or state programs in your area aimed at reducing unemployment levels by offering training. These programs are often designed to address local needs of employers and employees. Local universities or colleges may also provide Job Placement Centers, so it's good to establish contact with those resources, especially if they handle technical placements.

Using Employment Agencies

Recruiting through an employment agency can the amount of paperwork involved in sifting through resumes and replying to advertised vacancies. This is particularly relevant if you anticipate a substantial response. For a fee, which can vary according to the position, an agency will provide a shortlist of candidates from whom you can select candidates to interview. If you plan to use a recruitment agency, make sure you use a reputable one with a solid track record.

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About the Author(s)

Marc Mencher


Marc Mencher is a specialist in game industry careers who has helped thousands of jobseekers land positions with the hottest gaming companies. Before founding GameRecruiter.com, he worked for such game companies as Spectrum Holobyte, Microprose, and 3DO. Marc is the author of “Get In The Game!” -- an instructional book on careers in the video games industry. He has been an Executive Producer on several games. He is a curriculum advisor to colleges offering Game Development degrees. Marc speaks at many of the Game Industry conferences around the world. His firm, GameRecruiter.com focuses on unique and un-advertised game industry jobs. He can be reached at http://www.gamerecruiter.com or 866-358-GAME (4263).

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