15 min read

Opinion: Burn Your Resume

In a peppy Gamasutra opinion piece, Reset Generation/Pocket Kingdom co-creator Scott Foe waxes lyrical on the job market, ways to get hired, and approaches to presenting yourself, explaining why you should 'burn your resume'.
[In a peppy Gamasutra opinion piece, Reset Generation/Pocket Kingdom co-creator Scott Foe waxes lyrical on the job market, ways to get hired, and approaches to presenting yourself, explaining why you should 'burn your resume' and go with network, skills, and different documentation altogether.] i. A medical mystery worthy of Dr. House himself, my body is incredibly resistant to any and all forms of anesthetics -– why I couldn’t have come down with a much cooler mutant power, like that guy Mystery from VH1’s The Pickup Artist, is a lament for another column. Last week, I checked myself into a San Francisco medical center for outpatient surgery. Fifteen injections and two hours in, I could still feel every little touch from every little metal instrument. “We should stop,” the doctor warned. But I just wanted to get it over with. I should have stopped. The pain was, in a word, indescribable – in a few words, the pain was worthy of a prescription for “The World’s Largest Vicodin.” The doctor actually waved my payment. “Let’s never talk about this to anyone,” he said. “I don’t charge for torture.” Not to worry, doc: Anybody who has ever gone through what passes as games industry interview process can tell you that there are worse ways to spend your time. I’ve heard it estimated that, at this very moment, some 12% of North American game developers are out of work. And I still say burn your resume. ii. It’s not that I don’t feel for the interviewers. Creating a good test for interviewing candidates is a lot like being the Dungeon Master in Dungeons and Dragons: You sit for hours, carefully preparing your castle maps, monster encounters, and clever dialog for the surprise villain that will ultimately threaten the very fabric of the Elven queen’s gown, just to have the players (the candidates) decide that instead of saving the world, they would rather go to the beach and drink Kobold Kahlua. Interviewer: “What’s your greatest strength?” Candidate: “I execute shit like shit’s a mass murderer in Texas.” Interviewer: “What’s your greatest weakness?” Candidate: “I am a surprisingly weak interviewee: For all of my world-beater talents, people never seem to want to hire me.” But, to be completely fair, you really can’t compare Dungeons and Dragons to the interview process. If you did compare Dungeons and Dragons to the interview process, resumes would be character sheets, and in Dungeons and Dragons, people actually read the character sheets. “Send us your resume,” is pretty-much without fail the first request that you will receive when dealing with a company’s Human Resources department. In most cases, you cannot visit to interview without having sent a resume ahead of you: So why do we allow people to interview us without having read the resume that we sent? iii. Of course, The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy might comment that, “Resumes aren’t character sheets: Job descriptions are character sheets.” Well, here’s a little tip for the Comic Book Guys of the world: The only people who answer obsessively crafted job descriptions are kids out of college and mediocre performers. Amazing talent already has a job, a job where amazing talent is kept busy with work that is both satisfying and challenging, a job where amazing talent is very, very well cared for – a job where even the masseurs have masseurs. You might be saying to yourself, “Hey! I’m amazing talent and I’m out of work!” Well, here’s a little test for you: Can you snap your fingers to control the weather? Now that’s a talent! Talent can’t be taught: You either have it, or you don’t. The Comic Book Guys will say, “Opportunity and experience trump talent.” And I say to the Comic Book Guys that what we really want is somebody who has talent and has also had the opportunities and experience to develop talent: That’s what makes “amazing talent.” Too often, hiring policy dictates that if an amazing talent can’t be found, a warm body will do – to the constant and quickening degrade of the organization. To paraphrase the old venture capitalist saying, “A’s attract A’s; B’s attract J’s through K’s.” Every warm body you seat lowers the value of your company. It baffles me as to why companies will string along the warm-bodied while holding to hopes of finding an amazing talent: When you discover a body that is warm, but not amazing, tell them, “No thanks.” It also baffles me as to why companies will string along amazing talents, with no word, for days or even weeks, all because of some dumb-colored tape on hiring. Uncertainty disturbs the colon, resulting in nasty bouts of mud butt: You don’t want your future star performer stinking up all the chairs in your office once you finally get around to hiring him, do you? If you don’t want stinky chairs, make sure that somebody is contacting the candidates daily, letting them know where they stand until a trigger can be pulled or the gun unloaded. Now you, with your amazing talent for algebra, might be thinking, “If amazing talent has a job where amazing talent is happy, it is impossible to hire amazing talent.” Not exactly true. Sometimes it’s the publisher, in the library, with the candlestick; sometimes amazing talent’s husband has to move and so she goes too; sometimes, for whatever reason, amazing talent is in the wind, looking for work. Human capital is just as important a component of your business as is the amount of capital resources at your command: Which is to say, a group of ten brilliant people in an empty room will beat the market-snot out of a group of ten dumb people charged with the management of a great product. With this in mind, you should spare nothing to bring amazing talent onboard when presented with the opportunity to do so: Different people are motivated by different things, not always money, and the words, “We don’t pay in used Women’s Shoes,” should never cross your lips. And are you seriously going to turn away amazing talent when, “We don’t have a position open at the moment”? The top organizations create a position when amazing talent becomes available – a position which will maximize the utility of amazing talent while trivializing amazing talent’s weaknesses. Earlier I mentioned that I’ve heard it estimated that 12% of game developers are out of work. Well, the AAA studios – you know who they are – are still hiring, growing organically. I posted the availability of a former co-worker, one whom I consider to be most-amazing, to a private developer forum recently, and, within one day, the big-named studios were requesting his contact information. I’ve heard the story so many times that it has become almost as comical as my writing: “Our company has a new CEO, and we’ve all been told to read From Good to Great.” From Good to Great is a good book, but I wish these CEOs would force their employees to read something greater: Mavericks at Work, by Bill Taylor and Polly Labarre, is the best book on the subject of attracting and retaining human capital that I’ve ever read. In fact, a great deal of this section was inspired by that very book. The authors suggest replacing your “Recruitment” with “Harassment” – make everybody in your organization responsible for identifying the amazing talent in your industry, and then stalk amazing talent with offers like some jilted-ex-lover. At the very least, should amazing talent ever find itself out of work, amazing talent will be thinking of you. iv. “You’re walking down the hall and BAM! One of your employees, riding down the hall on a bicycle, smacks right into you! What do you do?” This was one of my favorite questions to ask the people that could potentially become my bosses. The answer that I was looking for is, “Why was my employee riding the bicycle indoors?’” Before acting, great managers ask, “Why?” (I’ve since found much sneakier ways of getting to, “Why?”) I’m also on the lookout for pronouns: Does the interviewer say, “I,” a lot, or does the interviewer say, “we?” There is no “I” in “team” – well, I guess there’s no, “we” in “team,” either. But the “Wii” is the best-selling console of this generation. Never, ever be afraid to throw questions at your interviewers: You’re both the Dungeon Master, and don’t you forget it. “The problem with resumes,” says Seth Godin, a globally recognized marketing mastermind and bald man, is that they are “just another reason for somebody to reject you.” If you’re lucky enough to have your resume read by the people you are interviewing with, your luck might involve those people scanning your resume for key-words. When, when, when will companies learn that just because people list “Python” on their resume, that does not mean that those people are very good at Python. And just because somebody does not list Python on their resume does not mean that they are not amazing talent that can learn all there is to know about Python in two weeks. The truth is that even amazing talent will not be ready to win swims in your organizational ocean without first acclimating to the weekly waters. Education in America was conceived and founded mostly during the industrial revolution to be vocational – to prepare the populace for manual labor. As we have transitioned into a knowledge-based economy, high-specialization has left us needing to learn on the job, even the amazingly talented. Yes, even amazing talent has weaknesses – weaknesses which amazing talent is very self-aware of. But top performers don’t psyche themselves out. If you ask the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant what his weaknesses are, I’m sure he could recount for you every last detail from muscle memory. But I’m also sure he wouldn’t, “I’m the Black Mamba: The deadliest animal alive.” Kobe Bryant has had twenty-four fifty-plus-point games in his career, third only to Wilt Chamberlin and Michael Jordan. When Kobe misses a shot, he doesn’t stop taking shots. And if you are going to be taking shots, you’re going to need the ball. The problem with job descriptions is that they always list what the candidate will be held responsible for, but almost never list what authority the candidate will be given, should the candidate be hired. Responsibility is the converse of authority: Political science dictates that we should not be held responsible for something over which we have no authority. Find out what authority you will have to execute before signing on to a new position. v. “Don’t make a resume: I don’t want you sending it around to other companies.” This is unintentionally sound advice from a triple-A studio head – “unintentionally sound,” in that having a resume is a very bad idea. Burn your resume, but never, never stop talking to people until you are signed. Getting somebody to almost hire you is the easiest task in the world. Social networking is all the rage these days, and yes, you can most-definitely use those weak connections in your network to tweet your way into a job. Third-party validation is an invaluable tool for finding a new position, “I’ve worked with this guy, and he’s like a suitcase nuclear device: Put him down beside a problem and then bunker up, because there will be nothing but the problem’s shadows on the wall.” It always amazes me that companies fail to capitalize on, or even value, those weak connections once you have been hired. Business development is not just for business developers, and having people out there, incessantly singing like angels about you and your operation, can pay off for you in very tangible ways. I was having lunch with a friend, the president of a large gaming middleware operation; he lamented the fact that his guys were not plugged-into the development community; his competitors are talking to people constantly, both through private channels, and through industry celebrity, creating a greater perceived value for their services. “But how do I test for social network when hiring somebody?” Well, it just so happens that there is no “Huge Social Network” column on the traditional resume. Resumes are just that, traditional: They all look the same. You have your objectives, your skills, your work history, your references (which are sometimes “available upon request”), but nothing that really says who you are or what is so special about you. You know that the games that you work on have to have a zingy-something-special to succeed at market: Why should you approach marketing yourself any differently? Do you really want to get in the same marching line as the other 12% of the industry that is delivering objectives, skills, work history, and references (which are sometimes “available on request”)? Burn your resume. Yes, you will eventually have to send something when asked, “Please send us your resume.” Just make sure that that something is truly special, something that communicates not only who you are and where you have been, but also why you are truly special. If you are thinking that there is nothing truly special about you, then you’re probably a corpse. (Ha! I got you: If you’re a corpse, and you’re reading this, then that’s something truly special: Zombies are hot right now!) Maybe you are a bad ass Scrum Master? Include a Sprint Report. Maybe you can beat Green Grass and High Tides on expert? Include a photo of you and your Rock Band. And, if your social network is truly overwhelming, make sure that’s reflected too. Call your something a “Curriculum Vitae,” which is a term that sounds just plain fancy, and which won’t make people on the receiving end balk when you do not send in a resume. Make sure that whatever it is that you send looks as pretty as you possibly can make it. Graphic Designers are like adulterers, in that everybody knows one: Don’t be shy about calling for help. vi. I can’t recommend working with recruiters: In one of my worst recruiter experiences, a co-worker listed me as a reference to a recruiter, and that same recruiter immediately called me asking if I would be interested in the job for which my co-worker was interviewing. If you are going to work with a recruiter, the only advice that I can give is to avoid working with multiple recruiters at the same time: Recruiters are like cats in that they feel they belong to the house rather than to the owners; and they hate having their toes stepped on. I can recommend working with agents, but I stress that working with agents is in no way essential to finding a great position. One of the biggest differences between working with an agent and working with a recruiter is that an agent should be making a percentage of every penny you make from the agent’s work – this is the only way to align utilities to ensure that an agent performs for you. If you are going to sign on with an agent, make sure that you deliver, in writing, the results you expect your agent to achieve, and instruct your agent that making a binding agreement without first clearing things through you is not permitted. Once you’ve hired an agent, bow out of any and all negotiations: If a potential suitor calls you to complain about your agent, don’t panic: It’s a negotiation tactic, called, “hitting the high hat,” and the intention is to freak you out. Have them take it up with your agent. Agents are like dogs, in that they’ll love you if you feed them regularly. Make sure that you are on the phone with your agent at least once a week – if that time cannot be yielded, the agent is probably too busy to perform effectively for you. And beware, there are a lot of companies out there who simply will not work with you if you have an agent – the old saying goes, “To get the money you want, you have to decide whose money you don’t want.” Some agents, like IDEA's Sean Kauppinen and indie agent/dev Dave Taylor, I can get on with, though. Don’t place your fate solely in the hands of human resources departments, recruiters, or even agents. You are ultimately responsible for feeding your mouth, and so, make sure you milk those weak social connections like a perverse dairy farmer. Send your Curriculum Vitae everywhere, even to the loud neighbor against whom you filed a noise-complaint. You never know. [Scott Foe was creator/producer of Nokia’s critically acclaimed cross-platform game Reset Generation, and has worked on titles including Sega’s Pocket Kingdom: Own the World, the first global, massively multiplayer mobile game. Foe began his decade-long industry career as a member of the Dreamcast product development team at Sega. And, although having a resume is "a very bad idea", here's his Curriculum Vitae. It's different... honest.]

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