Interviews can be a very stressful time. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t get stressed out by them. Usually you are there because you have already decided you really want to work at this company, and the next few hours are likely to be the deciding factor in whether that happens or not.
In my time as a game designer I’ve interviewed a fair number of candidates (enough that I can’t remember how many), so I thought I would put together some tips on what I liked, or didn’t like, to see from a candidate.
These hints are only likely to help if you have already been offered an interview – I have written previously on how to help get yourself to that stage, so I won’t be going over that again.
Research the company at least a little bit, so that you know a little about us. I used to think this was common sense (why apply for a job at a company you know nothing about?) but experience has taught me that apparently it isn’t.
Okay, I’m not going to be bothered if you don’t know the current stock price (I don’t either), but at least be aware of any upcoming titles we have announced, and make sure you know what the last game we released was. These are simple bits of information to find out, either from the company’s own website, a gaming news site, or probably even Wikipedia.
If you know what game you are likely to be working on (because you did a bit of research and found out what has been announced, or because the job ad specifically mentioned it) then try and play something in the same genre before the interview. It’s quite common to ask about our own games, and other similar games, to see what your thoughts are on the genre. If you can speak from an informed position, then you’ll come across much better. If you are interviewing at Blizzard and say “yeah, I’ve never played World of Warcraft, or any MMOs” then you may struggle.
Obviously, if you suspect you’ll be working on the game’s a sequel, then try and play the previous game. Build a list of what you liked about it, but also what you did not like. If you can only sing a game’s praises in an interview, and can’t see any areas for improvement, then your ideas for a sequel would turn out like a mission pack.
This is a fine line, however. You don’t want to be too critical of the company’s previous work. Pick a couple of things at most, and make sure you have a similar number of things that you liked.
If the company has told you which members of staff will be on your interview panel (as many do now), don’t eStalk them. Admittedly, this is a very personal preference, but I am not a fan of finding out you’ve googled me, or looked me up on MobyGames, and committed the list of published titles to memory. It’s like your preparations for the interview have gone past the normal, and have become a bit obsessively data collector.
Don’t email your interviewers before hand. It is relatively easy to guess email addresses based on a name & company, and this would be far too strange. If you need further information about the interview itself go through the same contact who has been dealing with your application so far.
You will get plenty of chance to chat during your interview, and it’s certainly acceptable to email them afterwards (this works better if you ask them for their address while you are face to face, rather than working it out after the fact). It will usually leave a good impression to send a quick “nice to meet you” email the day after the interview, and you could carry on any discussion you were having with your interviewers at this point (“I downloaded Plants vs Zombies like you suggested, and am really enjoying it. etc.”) Even if you don’t get the position, you may find you’ve made a good new contact within the company.
Tell me about what you did, not what your team did. This seems to be quite common in new graduatess who only have university projects to their name. “Our team designed these levels, and this is how we designed them.” It’s comendably honest that you’re not claiming to have done all of the design work yourself, but at the same time if I’m not hiring your whole team, the information is a little bit useless to me. Similarly, if you bring any previous work to the interview, make sure it is very clear which bits are yours.
Whatever you do, don’t lie to me, as it is pretty easy to be caught out, and it will never leave a good impression. If you’re showing a video of a mod you (or you and your team) made for Half-Life 2, and the mod uses the standard zombie enemies from that game, don’t tell me you wrote their AI. Remarkably, I have played Half Life 2, and I can tell from a video when your enemies are using the standard monsters. I would imagine this one goes down like a lead balloon at Valve.
Don’t worry about being nervous. For the most part if you’re nervous it’s going to be very obvious to your interviewers, and they’ll take that into account when deciding if they think they would like to work with you. Obviously if you clam up completely that’s going to make life hard – if you are prone to nerves perhaps practice some relaxation exercises before hand. If anything, I am going to be impressed that you have realised the situation, and want to take a quick break for a glass of water to help calm yourself.
It may help calm you to keep this thought in mind – Remember that the company have invited you for interview, and are willing to take some key employees away from their work to speak with you. Clearly they already liked your CV quite a lot to even get to this stage. Nobody likes interviewing people, so the fewer interviews they have to perform the better. They would dearly love to hire you, as that cuts down on how many interviews they have to do. All you have to do is show them that their initial impression of you was well founded.
Finally, have some interesting questions to ask. Every interview has a “is there anything you’d like to ask us?” section. And there are stock questions that most interviewees will ask – obviously some of these are good things to know, about employment terms and packages (some interviewers say they don’t like interviewees asking about money – I think anyone who thinks that way is hiding something).
Try to come up with some unique questions. Possibly taken fro what industry news has been happening that week. Try to stay away from anything too politicised (“What do you think of the horrible way Activision have treated Infinity Ward?” is too polarised in my opinion) or anything too much like a publicity question (“Can you tell me about this feature of your game?” is the sort of question journalists ask, and may start NDA alarm bells ringing in your interviewers’ heads).
If you have any comments about these tips I’d love to hear them. Maybe you are an interviewer who has some other pet peeves that turn you off interviewees?
This article was originally posted on my personal blog at http://www.mainlyaboutgames.co.uk