I turned down a job applicant the other day – something I do at least 2-3 times a day on average, and have been doing a lot more lately since we have reached graduation season and because of the poor economy. He (very politely, I might add) asked why he was turned down and if I had any advice for other applications. I was impressed with his tone, and while I still wasn’t going to hire him, I did want to help out. So I wrote him a rather lengthy letter with some advice on getting a job in the game industry, based on my own experience. Reading it again before sending it, I thought that it was pretty good general advice, and thought I would share it here, for anyone interested:
The truth is, a lot of the issue with finding work is being a precise fit for that company. Right now I am looking specifically for experienced coders – people who have shipped a few games. You could be the best new graduate in the world, and you still won’t pass the first vetting process here, because you don’t have the experience we need. Not now, anyway. This is no reflection on you at all. This will be the case at many, many other companies – so be resilient – you’ll get a hell of a lot of quick rejections (or worse, no replies). That’s just how it will be.
My suggestions for your job search:
- Be willing to move anywhere, and be willing to do it on your own dime if you are young and inexperienced. Not just in your own country, but internationally. The best experiences I have had professionally have come when I packed my bags and headed to strange places like Bavaria, Malaysia, and Japan. And people have a great deal of respect for international experience later in your career, so when you are young and single, don’t be afraid to go out there somewhere.
- Be willing to work on any project until you build up some experience. You may want to work on RPGs or FPS games, and you should certainly prioritize companies that do those games in your job search, but as a young graduate or junior level employee, you’ll likely be moved around from project to project anyway – especially at a larger company. Choose the company (if a choice is available at all) by the quality of their games, not the type. You’ll be better off in the long run being a coder on an award-winning game in a genre that’s not your favorite – than working on precisely the project you want to work on, for a company that fails and never ships a product.
- Over time, as you continue to get rejected, you should send your resume to every single game company in the world, starting from the best and working towards the worst. You should define “best” and “worst” primarily by the number and quality of games they ship. Gamasutra has a pretty definitive list – there are others as well. But don’t be afraid to try out some companies you have never heard of or who have never shipped a project – some of them can be pretty interesting.
- *Do not* limit yourself to looking for companies with job ads. Everyone is looking for good employees, all of the time – and you certainly aren’t going to offend anyone by sending an unsolicited resume. Almost every job I have gotten was from a company that was not publically announcing job vacancies.
- Send resumes to small independent studios – they get a lot fewer resumes, and they cannot afford to be so picky in who they hire. And to be honest, life is better at the little indie studios anyway. All the big famous developers – even EA! – were all small studios once upon a time – the people that were lucky enough to be there then are happy, happy people now.
- Research companies – you should be spending 8 hours a day looking for companies, looking at their websites, and learning about them. So instead of bulk mailing 2000 resumes a day, send out as many a day that you can actually research properly, learn about, and write a single paragraph about THEM in your cover letter. If you do this hardcore, you can still get out 30-40 solid resumes a day. And it is also a great way to spend time learning about the industry. All game developers have a “press release” or “news” section – and that’s great reading, even if you aren’t looking for work. At the end of every job search, you should end up with a job (hopefully) and a much better understanding of the current state of the industry.
- Make an Excel spreadsheet of all the companies you have found, and keep notes on who you have sent stuff and when. Follow up exactly 1 week after sending the initial mail with a polite “is there any other information I can send” mail – make this very polite, and do not hint at the fact that they should have written you back already. Do it again in 3 weeks – if they don’t respond to that, it’s a no. Don’t try again for ~6 months.
There – that’s how to get a job in the game industry. Follow that plan, keep cheerful, and don’t let the rejections get you down. If you are actually a skilled, hirable employee, you’ll have a job within 5 months – even in this economy.
Christopher Natsuume – Creative Director