[In this week's Ask the Experts column from educational site Game Career Guide, contributing editor Jill Duffy talks with Greenlightjobs' Lisa Kaye about some of the possibly confusing terms used in game industry job ads, sorting out the meaning of 'flexibility' in today's rapidly changing game market.
We're also running this useful breaking-in column on Gamasutra - please consult the Game Career Guide 'Getting Started' page for more advice on entering and progressing your career in the game biz.]
I've noticed from looking at job descriptions that I need to have some skills other than programming to get a job in the game development industry, including: flexibility; work with team members to meet project deadlines; must have good work ethic and require little supervision; strong communication and writing skills; works well under pressure.
My questions are:
1) What do companies usually mean by "flexibility?"
2) How should I train to work with team members to meet project deadlines? Where I live I don't know many people who even do any programming, much less 3D modeling, or anything related to the industry.
From a Worried Programmer
Fear not, Worried Programmer! We can certainly help you with this one.
Catchphrases like "flexibility" and "strong communication skills" are not unique to the game industry. My favorites are must be "self-motivated," "able to multi-task," and "highly organized." Get used to these annoying little words because you're going to be seeing them a lot when applying for jobs.
In fact, you'll find them in job descriptions the whole world over - not just in the game industry. Most how-to books on applying for jobs and the interviewing process will cover why these vague terms are thrown into job postings. And that's my first piece of advice: Pick up a book about how to apply for jobs. All the general advice out there pretty much applies equally to the game industry, with the slight exception of dress code (see "Ask the Experts: Interview Dress Code
Let's get back to those catch phrases. The key is figuring why the company included them and which are the most important. When you see a phrase like "requires little supervision," you can bet your lucky stars you're going to be on your own a lot. That could mean blissful autonomy, or it could mean no approvals, little critical feedback, and the feeling that your boss is neglecting you, so it's a good thing the company is being upfront about it.
These words are also little flags that let you know how to frame your cover letter, resume, and interview. When the hiring committee reads your cover letter, they will probably put a little check mark next to all the instances in which you've mirrored their description of a perfect candidate. You don't need to say something as straightforward as "I am an effective communicator because..." but it does help to repeat some of their key words. Here's an example of how to do it in a cover letter: "During my college project, I relied on email and phone communication to effectively move the project forward when one of the team members was studying overseas. This experience allowed me to focus on the value of written communication as well as master the art of knowing when to step in with a phone call."
You'll need specific examples of things you've done-and saw through to completion-to make these experiences meaningful to the hiring committee. When companies require that you have "team" experience, this is what they mean. You've done something with at least one other person and completed it. It doesn't necessarily have to be game-related either. If you've ever played in a band or were part of a sports team, that counts as team experience too (though working on an electronic project, of course, would make for a much more comparable experience).
Let the hiring committee know that you know what they are looking for. It makes you, the interviewee, look really good if you ask specific questions about the work place using the keywords from the job ad as your launching pad. For example, if you are confused about what "supervision" really means, it would be prudent of you to make a little note and ask about it specifically in an interview. Again, it tells the interviewers that you understand these aspects are central to the position. Ask them. They want you to ask them.
Here's an example of a way you could frame your question: "I remember in the job posting you mentioned that a strong candidate would be able to work without supervision. Can you explain what type of supervision does exist and how often it occurs? It sounds almost as if you are looking for someone who can collaborate with others rather than be supervised-is that right?" Then the committee will have a chance to either confirm or modify or refute your claim, giving you a clearer picture of what they want.
Lisa Kaye is president and founder of Greenlightjobs, an online recruitment and job search site for the entertainment industry. She says that "flexibility" can mean any number of things, but in the game industry, it often relates to one's ability to work with different software and technologies. Game development, she says, is wired to the "constant change and upgrades and in software programs and enhancements in technology.
"The term ‘flexible' can imply being open to learning and training in new technology and new ways of doing the same job. Most creative companies in gaming and animation maintain proprietary technology, which means they are the only ones who own and can train someone on it," says Kaye. Proprietary tools, in other words, are ones created by the company itself and not sold to other companies, a custom-made program, if you will. "If you're flexible in learning new ways of working and using proprietary technology, then you are more attractive to employers seeking to fill these positions," Kaye adds.
On the other hand, Kaye also notes that "flexibility" could suggest that employees need to be accommodating of different locales. "Being flexible can mean being open to working in different environments, willingness to travel, and willing to learn and work with different forms of technology and systems, all of which opens the door to possibilities in terms of job opportunities and career advancement."
For interviewing purposes, you should think of "flexibility" in the bigger picture. "Flexibility offers you and the employer alternate ways to explore job opportunities and work settings, giving you both greater freedom of choice," say Kaye. So if an employer gives you an in to talk about "flexibility," you can be prepared to talk about how you and the company might work together to both parties' maximum benefit.
[Jill Duffy is managing editor of Game Developer. She has more than seven years experience in publishing, writing, and editing. If you have a well thought-out question you'd like to ask her about working in the game development industry, email her at [email protected].]