Pixie Software's Stephen Caruana on the interview etiquette that frequently goes overlooked

The casual phenomenon

[Stephen Caruana is managing director of Pixie Software, an independent game studio based in Malta, focusing on casual games for mobiles and the web.]

I’m sure you remember the “I want to work for Google” emails which were in circulation a few years ago, touting the variety of fancy employee amenities this internet giant offered its workforce. While certainly not the first company to offer such facilities, it is probably the most famous for doing it with such flair and panache.

During the past few years I have been observing many companies implement a similar, yet simpler approach by adopting a more casual attitude at the workplace which goes well beyond the concept of Casual Fridays.

This is especially true in the creative industries where companies try to portray a young, fresh and contemporary attitude.Without going off at a tangent into the various reasons behind this concept or into the arguments for and against it, I think that we are taking this to an extreme. The end result is that boundaries are becoming blurred and people are dropping more formal attitudes in exchange for a laid-back, friendlier approach. This has given rise to what I would like to label as the Casual Phenomenon.

It is my opinion that the lines separating informal and inappropriate are becoming less and less clear. People are no longer making the distinction between casual and unprofessional, which are completely separate concepts, simply because there aren’t enough contrasting life examples to draw from. Unfortunately we have become a society where it is not uncommon for a highly educated university graduate to attend a job interview wearing short trousers and a novelty t-shirt stating that, if found, the wearer should be immediately returned to the nearest pub.

As an independent game development studio, here at Pixie Software we see this manifesting itself worse than usual during interview sessions. For some people, game creation and the term “indie” conjure up images of the stereotypical bedroom-bound male teenage programmer developing games in his underwear. Obviously, this is a far cry from the environment one finds at the workplace. Although many indie studios present themselves as casual, modern organisations which dispense with unnecessary formalities, they certainly don’t do away with proper manners and etiquette. An informal approach does not equate to a couple of guys drinking beer whilst high-flving each other’s dirty jokes.Unfortunately this is what some job applicants out there seem to believe!

In light of this,I’d like to highlight three statements I’ve had to react to during interviews over the past few months which I feel particularly illustrate the concept of this ‘Casual Phenomenon’.

1. “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that I had to bring a printed copy of my CV with me. I thought sending it by email would be enough”

Well, no, nobody HAS to do anything. Similarly, I don’t have to take a person seriously if he or she does not demonstrate some degree of preparation and common sense.It would have behoved both parties had this person brought one or two printed copies of her resume to the interview, thereby demonstrating initiative and resourcefulness.

These passive qualities are the traits one looks for in a potential employee, not the canned speeches highlighting one’s alleged strengths and weaknesses.

Naturally, this concept extends to any other document or resource. If there is a chance your interviewer might ask to see something, make sure to have it with you. This applies most especially to the obvious things such as an artist’s portfolio.

And no, “it’s available online” is not a valid response. I’m not saying that having an online portfolio is bad. Far from it! Just don’t expect the persons conducting an interview to look for it during the interview itself. You’ll just be dismissed as being impractical and unprepared.

2. “Gaming has always been my passion. In fact I’m an l33t gamer and have my own clan! What’s your favourite game?”

Seriously? You are attending a job interview, not reminiscing about how many n00bs you pwned the other night with your gamer buddies.

I am constantly amazed by how often applicants come in for an interview, hands in their pocket, expecting to have a friendly chat. It is time to grow up! You are entering a place of business. The fact that the company chooses to have a less formal working environment does not reflect on the seriousness of its work. You are not dealing with a couple of hobbyists who decided to develop a game just for kicks. You’re in the business world now. Learn to conduct yourself in a professional manner if you want to be taken seriously.

Wearing a Space Invaders t-shirt to an interview does not show that you get the company’s work culture or that you are the perfect shoo-in. It just makes you look silly. Replying to questions naturally without providing canned replies and being able to effortlessly keep a conversation going is what singles you out as an ideal fit.

3. “Why would I like to work for your company? Well, it’s not that I have any particular preference. I just figured that since I don’t really have the best qualifications around, I’d have a much better chance of being accepted by a smaller company than by a larger, more serious one”

I am incredulous that someone could be so clueless as to provide such a reply, which is wrong on so many levels. I’ll spare you the long rant (my colleagues weren’t so lucky) as I’d much rather highlight two concepts which are brought up by the above statement. First of all, being a small indie company does not mean that second-rate work is the order of the day.

Since when is the size of a company a direct measure of the quality of its work, or of its level of standard? I’m not saying that candidates who do not have the “best qualifications around” are dismissed immediately. They are not. My point is that no company lowers its expectations just because of its size. Which leads me to my second point… I believe that as a smaller company, hiring the right personis even more crucial.

A bad hire is very expensive: the person’s salary, the resources wasted in trainingthat person, finding a replacement…With tighter budgets a small company does not afford to make many mistakes in this regard. Neither does it afford to spend time guiding and hand-holding unskilled individuals when it could have hired someone more qualified for the job. Nevertheless please dispel the idea that an indie company’s motto is “beggars can’t be choosers” or that it will hire anyone who knocks at its door.

Notwithstanding the above, I’d like to immediately present a counter-argument. At Pixie Software we do engage programmers who do not have prior experience in game development. We then provide on-the-job training and give them the help and space they need to adapt to the gaming industry. After all, no one was born qualified. However, these individuals would have demonstrated sensibility and a proper professional attitude.

Final thoughts

I would like to end with one simple piece of advice. Do not let words like “casual”, “informal” and “indie” mislead you into a false sense of indifference. Always treat every job opportunity seriously and present yourselves as serious professional individuals to the best of your abilities. After all, it’s not as if we’re playing games!

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