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Nailing The Interview, Part 2: Recruiting: What, Why & How?

In the second in <a href="http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3305/nailing_the_interview__part_1_.php">our series</a> of game-specific recruitment articles, HR veteran Marc Mencher discusses just how you identify developers you want to hire, with many practical tips on advertising, sorting, and scheduling interviews.

Marc Mencher, Blogger

March 13, 2008

21 Min Read

[In the second in our series of Nailing The Interview articles, HR veteran Marc Mencher discusses the particulars of identifying candidates that you want to interview and the proper tactics to take in the interviewing game. To read the first article in the series, click here.]

You've set up your MMO guild, chosen your tabard and selected a couple of officers. Now you need more players. You could spend time watching other people in the game, which means you probably won't be doing much leveling yourself.

You could ask everyone to keep an eye out for possible recruits (which you'll probably do anyhow). Or you could find someone outside the guild to help you find great players who would be perfect for your team.

Finding great employees is a lot like finding great guild members. You want people whose skills complement the rest of the group, who understand the game, who know how to play their class and who will fit in with the other players. As true as this is for your hobby, it's crucial for your company.

After drawing up a job specification, you need to choose a method of recruitment, which can range from advertising in the general press to using a professional agency.

Recruiting Internally

One way to recruit for open positions is to hire from within your company. Interviewing internal applicants is easier because they already know the company and understand the culture. (On the other hand, internal recruitment doesn't always cut costs overall because unless you consolidate positions, there will still be an opening that needs to be filled.)

looking.gif Many companies encourage internal recruitment first, which may include advertising in-house before releasing information on job openings to the general public.

In certain states, regardless of whether the company has already identified an internal candidate, the job still has to be posted publicly. The upside is the influx of potential hires, even if it's not for that particular job.

Advertising Jobs

Where you advertise and what your ad says will determine the type and number of applicants who apply, and go a long way to helping you find the right person for the job from that pool. Consider using trade publication for jobs that require specialized skills.

For a broader approach, use the general press; some papers allocate different days to particular professions. Advertisements in non-specialized press aren't cheap but can elicit a sizeable response. If you lack the time or resources to cope with hundreds of applicants, advertise in a publication with a limited circulation. These decisions are all part of your overall recruiting strategy, which should be defined before you ever post your first ad or call your first recruiter.

Designing an Ad

The design and wording of an advertisement will definitely influence the response you get. Size will be dictated by cost and content, but any layout, large or small, needs to be eye-catching and clear.

To eliminate unqualified applications (and save yourself some time), be as specific as you can about the skills and experience needed (like a college degree, a second language, odd or fluctuating shift hours, weekend work, travel and/or relocation.) It's a good idea to give a closing date for applications -- if nothing else, it tells you something about prospective employees that they're able to meet deadlines.


Wanted: Dynamic Marketing Manager

James Malcolm Associates, a major provider in the computer technology market, is currently looking for a marketing manager to head up a select team and report directly to the general manager.

The successful candidate will manage promotion projects, adhere closely to budgets and contribute to new business plans for all aspects of the company's marketing strategy.

Requirements include a B.A. in Marketing, Journalism or a related field, at least five years' relevant experience, and the ability to work under pressure and function well in a team environment.

Please send your resume, cover letter and salary history to [the name and address of your recruiting manager or human resources Department].

  • You have only a moment to grab the attention of the perfect applicant so display the most important features of the job prominently.

  • If you want a cover letter with the resume, say so in the posting.

  • If you want a digital portfolio, say so (and be sure you indicate acceptable format(s) and whether it will be returned.)

  • If the job has some special requirements, say so -- especially if it requires relocation!

  • Always be sure the ads and job listings are proofread and approved before they're posted.

The Legal Aspects of Job Advertising

Advertising for recruitment may be subject to stringent legal restrictions that vary from state to state in the United States and country to country throughout the rest of the world. Keep in mind that your state regulations and procedures relating to employment may be different from the federal statutes, so you need to be aware of both.

The laws that most likely apply relate to discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion, sexual preference, disability and/or age. Avoid using blatantly sexist terms in job ads. Select your wording carefully to avoid stipulating characteristics that exclude potential applicants of any sex or race or a particular age range.

What does "Equal Opportunity employer" mean?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces U.S. employment laws including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and/or national origin.

It also oversees management of Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, as well as state and local governments. There are a lot of laws that affect federal and state employees only, so check with your human resources department to be sure that you can use "We are an Equal Opportunity employer" in the job ad.

Using a Recruiter

Earlier in the article, we discussed methods of recruitment including advertising the job on your own company website, recruiting internally, or using external job advertising services. Using a professional recruiting agency is also an option. For a negotiated fee, which can vary according to the level of the vacancy and your business relationship with that recruiter, you will get a shortlist of viable candidates for your open position.

Establishing a new relationship with a recruitment agency follows most of the same guidelines whether you're a start-up or an established company. You want to find the best recruiting agency for your needs, a firm that understands the game industry and your culture, and is most importantly someone you can trust.

When you think you have identified the right recruiting firm for your company, punch their name into any search engine and verify they have the skills and expertise you seek. Ask for game industry references and a record of successful placements. If they have legitimate expertise and success in our industry, they should be able to provide you with a list of prior satisfied game clients.

The last thing you need is to engage a recruiting firm weak in game industry experience. This is a recipe for wasting your limited time with 40 unfocused resumes being thrown at you per day by a recruiting agency whose staff can only match buzzwords off a candidate's resume.


Setting Up a Resume Processing System

Once you have decided which recruitment method(s) to use, set up an efficient response system that will enable you to deal with applications as quickly and as efficiently as possible. It can be as simple as using a simple database program to track incoming resumes to a more complicated system that includes various ranking methodologies.

Whatever you choose, be sure that everyone understands the system and agrees to follow the process. In some cases, recruiting for a particular position needs to be confidential, so you want to insure that incoming resumes aren't left lying around on the copier for everyone to see.

Will you need to process numerous application forms? Do you want to see samples of a candidate's work to assess abilities? Do you want to follow up on references before or after the interview? Create a process that will initially divide candidates into "for interview," "possible" and "rejected."

If you're working with a professional recruiter let your representative know the particulars of your process and how you're going to evaluate resumes and portfolios if requested. The recruiter wants to help you find the best candidate so the clearer you are about your needs and your process, the more successful the search will be.


Implementing a Process

Decide whether you want to interview potential candidates as soon as you see a qualified resume or wait until the first phase of the review process is done. Once the applicants have been sorted into workable categories, the system for processing applications should include the following steps:

  • Prepare standard letters for rejected candidates and send them in a timely manner.

  • Evaluate promising candidates.

  • Draw up a final interview list.

  • Schedule phone and/or in-person interview (either directly with the candidates or through the recruiter). Confirm the date and time, as well as directions and parking instructions. Indicate whether candidates should bring a copy of their resume and whether they will be required to take tests. This is very important because different states have laws about types of tests and situations in which they can be administered. Be sure that all correspondence with potential candidates has been cleared through your human resources and legal departments.

About response letters... in the past, almost every resume got a formal written response, even if it was a simple "thanks but no thanks" letter. Over time, this has devolved from sending a one-line post card to the current practice of "no news means no thanks."

While the latter may be cost-effective, it leaves applicants unsure whether the resume was ever received and that means your human resources department might get even more email. Believe it or not, it would have been more cost-effective to send a simple email (or postcard) and would have garnered the company some good will for a minimal investment.

Responding to applicants is one of those little "nice touches" that will leave a good impression. You never know when that graduate might become a superstar in the industry you want to recruit or who wants to use you as a recruiter.

If You're Looking For An Employee...

Initial Consideration of Applications

You went through the job defining process, you posted the job opening and now you have a mountain of resumes to consider. Do not expect to be able to get through them with only one glance.

Granted, there will be some that immediately stand out as exceptionally good (or bad), but there will be a middle group that may require several reviews by several people in your company before you decide whether to interview the candidates or not.

Establishing Criteria

When you wrote the job description, you (hopefully) made a list of criteria in order of importance for the position. What were the must-haves? What were the deal breakers? What was essential vs. desirable? Were there other attributes -- in terms of personality or physical skills -- that you're looking for? Now is the time to use that list as a guide to reviewing resumes.

Some examples of review criteria include:

Education: What level of education are you looking for? Would you consider a high-school graduate or is it essential to have an undergraduate or graduate degree?

Previous Employment: Are you looking for specific work skills acquired through employment vs. training in college or technical certificate programs? There was a time when being at a job for only two years was considered the kiss of death on a resume; these days, some employers wonder why the applicant hasn't moved on to another company.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to this, including evidence of a clear career path at the one company. (If you decide to interview the candidate, try not to say, "Why did you stay at one place so long?" There are ways to get that information without making an already nervous applicant feel like she's failed before she's even started!)

Hardware and Software Proficiencies: Assuming that basic computer skills are essential, are there specific software packages that new employees need to know or are you willing to invest in additional training if the candidate has outstanding skills in other areas?

Consulting with Colleagues

Before you reject "borderline" candidates sometimes it's helpful (or necessary) to ask colleagues to review resumes, applications and portfolios. Not only can their opinions help you decide to interview a seemingly unsuitable candidate but colleagues may know something about the candidate or skill set that you'll find helpful. They may also know about other opportunities in the company for which the candidate should be considered.

What should you do about resumes submitted by co-workers on behalf of a friend or relative? If your company has a policy about not hiring relatives, it's easy to point to that section in the employment handbook.

If not, you may be in the awkward situation of having to tell a colleague that the candidate isn't really qualified for the job -- or worse, you have to interview the relative anyhow (it's easier sometimes to conduct a formal interview than tell the Executive VP that her recently graduated son probably isn't ready to step into a Senior Producer position just yet).

In those circumstances, extend the courtesy of doing a full and fair interview, and give positive and constructive feedback. The colleague and the candidate may be unhappy now but in the end you're doing both of them a favor. (Of course, if you have no choice but to hire the relative, that's an entirely different matter...)

Checking Details

There are several ways to verify information in a resume. Whether you're working with a recruiter or not, your human resources department should handle those checks for you.

While it's polite to let a candidate know that you're checking information, the general assumption should be that if the candidate submits a resume, he knows there is a chance you will be calling schools, previous employers and references. References that don't check out are a pretty good red flag that you probably shouldn't bother to interview the employee.

If a candidate indicates that references will be furnished upon request, don't automatically assume that there aren't any. Sometimes confidentiality is crucial and your call to references will alert someone (like a vindictive current employer) that the candidate is job hunting. You can ask for the references prior to the interview or ask the candidate to bring a list in person.

Sometimes a resume comes across your desk that just doesn't "feel" right -- maybe there's too much high-level experience for a recent graduate or you know people who worked on a game in the candidate's credits list but you don't remember hearing the candidate's name mentioned in any discussions, or listed in the credits.

Without engaging in a major search & destroy mission, do a little checking -- or get your HR department or the recruiter -- to verify the details. It might be as simple as pulling the box off your shelf and reading the credits in the back of the manual. A person who claims to have worked on a game may in fact have done something as simple as an online review or an interview for the college newspaper.

While that shows an interest in the game and maybe the industry, it's not employment. As noted earlier, some degree of embellishment is bound to occur, but over time you've probably developed an instinct about these things, so it never hurts to do a little checking.


Spotting Gaps

If there are gaps in a candidate's employment history, don't be afraid to ask about them. Remember that not all gaps are the result of involuntary unemployment. They may have occurred because of prolonged illness, travel, taking time off to have children or looking after ailing parents. Even those gaps that are the result of unemployment may not reflect badly on the candidates themselves.

Ask the candidates open-ended questions about any gaps and why they occurred. You may find that they were let go or left a job for good reasons (there's so much downsizing in the industry today it's difficult to find someone who hasn't been cut from a job!) During the interview, focus on how the candidate used the time between periods of paid employment.

Selecting Interviewees

Once you have evaluated the resumes, it's time to make a list of interviewees. One simple technique is to create a "matching sheet" for each candidate with a simple spreadsheet program. In one column or row list the job criteria in order from absolutely essential to desirable. Using either columns or rows (one per applicant), check off who appears to have which qualifications.

At the bottom of each applicant's column make short notes, which can become questions you may want to ask during the interview. Although this exercise can't make the actual decision for you, it will provide a set of comparative criteria by which you can assess candidates both individually and against each other.

The Shortlist of Candidates

Don't limit the interview list to only those candidates who fit the bill 100%. Include candidates who are a close fit and those with exceptional skills in specific areas you might not have considered initially.

Depending on the post you are trying to fill, it may be worth interviewing a couple of unconventional candidates. Sometimes, when a job requires making radical changes, the most suitable person might actually be someone who hasn't spent years in that position.

Choosing Interviewers

Unless you're hiring part-time testers, it's a pretty good bet that more than one or two people will need to interview the candidates. Depending on schedules and reporting structure, interviews might be conducted by teams rather than individuals.

If an employee will be working for more than one person, make sure that all those to whom the jobholder will be reporting get a chance to chat. (Just be careful not to overwhelm the candidate with too many people at one time!) Consider asking your own supervisors if they wish to attend, especially if the position is a key one on your team.

If the employee will be working closely with another department, include a representative in the interview schedule. In some companies, an HR person is required to attend all interviews.

Scheduling Interviews

If at all possible, schedule interviews with enough time in between to accommodate everyone's schedule. (If you're interviewing multiple candidates for the same position, it can be embarrassing to bump into their rivals outside the interview room.)

Just like a doctor's office, if one appointment runs over, the entire schedule may be imperiled and key individuals who need to talk to the candidate won't be able to, or the interview may be cut too short to be useful.

Even a little padding in the schedule will allow you to make notes after each interview -- which is a good thing, because hours of interviews tend to cause brain-blur. You also want to give the candidate (and the interviewers) a chance to attend to personal matters like going to the bathroom or grabbing a snack.

Candidates who are currently unemployed probably have more flexible schedules but those who are working may need to take time off from their current jobs or travel a considerable distance. Family obligations can limit availability as well. Bear these in mind, and be as flexible as possible when scheduling interviews.

You may actually need to fly someone in for a visit; if so, make sure your HR department does what it can to accommodate their schedule without adversely affecting your overall hiring and project schedule.

Staging Interviews

Even before you advertise the job, you should have an idea about your hiring process schedule -- how long the job should be posted (some states have a requirement about this), how long you have for the overall interview process, how long it might take after a candidate has been identified to get that person on-board.

The level of the vacancy may dictate how much time you have (or should take). More senior and/or specialized positions usually take longer because there's more at stake in terms of responsibility, visibility and salary.

About Tests

A candidate was interviewing at a major game company for a licensing producer position. She had all the qualifications, including having produced products for some pretty big licenses, and an excellent knowledge of the license in question. She was interviewed by a number of people including the vice president of production, two senior producers, other production staff members and various marketing people.

Everything looked good and then... she was told without warning she had to take a timed essay test on which she had to indicate what she would do under different production circumstances. She was surprised, but because she really wanted the job she took the test. She later found out that although the senior producers wanted to hire her, an even more senior staff member had already decided to hire someone with far less experience from his previous company.

There was no question that the test was administered illegally but no one -- including the candidate -- was willing to challenge to the senior staff member. You can't always count on candidates backing down, so be absolutely sure which job-related skill tests you can and cannot administer and under what circumstances, and be sure the candidate knows about it in advance.

There are positions -- more often than not technical ones -- which require some testing as part of the interview process. That information should be included on the job posting. If you're hiring clerical staff and working through an agency or recruiter, the chances are that the candidate has already gone through a battery of tests before the agency agreed to represent them.

If you're comfortable with the agency (and you shouldn't work with an agency you don't trust), you can significantly reduce the stress of the interview process by accepting the results of those preliminary tests. If your company is going to administer tests, be sure to reiterate that in the confirmation correspondence or conversation prior to the actual interview (you know, the one that includes the time, directions to your office, etc.)

About Attire

There is a charming fiction (which is somewhat true) that everyone in the gaming business wears jeans and t-shirts to work. However, an interview is generally regarded as a "formal" encounter (in the professional sense) so you can help the candidate by including a simple statement in the confirmation letter regarding attire, such as "Attire is business casual."

Let the people who will be doing the interviewing know what the candidate was told about attire. Chances are the candidate will overdress anyhow, but there are always those who think that ignoring your instructions will show how well they'll fit into your corporate culture

Once all the preliminary work is done -- placing the ad, reviewing the resumes, scheduling the interviews -- it's time to meet your (potential) new employees.

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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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