[This article was written by Guy DeRosa, games and interactive manager at recruitment agency Skillsearch. www.skillsearch.com]
As a recruitment agent I often find myself discussing how different the games industry is to recruit for versus any other. That's extremely fortunate as I don't think the other industries would tolerate me, and perhaps vice-versa (potentially because when I typed the word 'versus' I experienced an uncontrollable urge to shout "FIGHT" in an American accent because it reminded me of Street Fighter 2).
But perhaps I'm the bearer of more wisdom than I currently know. I was recently speaking to a careers advisor and learned that some are being advised in what could be viewed as quite a corporate/90s/dull manner when the truth is there is a lot more emphasis on being more you than you might believe. You've just got to know how to flaunt those feathers!
1. Get out there
Go and have some fun with the sort of people you want to become. The games community is small and intimate, so it takes no time at all to be recognised and known. This is one of the few industries in the world where people want to meet you for the sincere and simple reason that they just hope you're a cool person to hang out with, so make the most of it. Take yourself off to launches, enthusiast groups (such as 'Indie Game Developers', 'Augmenting Reality', 'Unity User Group' on meetup.com), game jams, and events (Develop: Brighton, Rezzed), as this is a sure fire way to springboard your way into the industry.
Honestly, your next employer would probably prefer to meet you over a beer and a chat about games than via myself, a recruiter...
Surround yourself with people who will make growing the natural thing to do.
2. Build an online presence
There's a chance you will have some sort of online presence already, but how good is it?
LinkedIn is a good place to start if you have no presence but you do have some experience. Build a network of connections and politely request recommendations for any previous (industry relevant) work that you have done. Even if that means connecting with your old uni peers and asking a lecturer to recommend you, it's a good start to padding that profile out. Make sure you add projects to this, and specify what your role/duties were – that part is crucial!
Available now? Looking for new opportunities? Make sure prospective employers can see that in your title.
Freelancer? Why not add your next date of availability to your LinkedIn title.
Building a portfolio site is the next big step you should take – or in some cases putting some love into that site which has been sitting half finished since your second year at uni. For you artists and designers in particular, the appearance of your site is critical. Having an ugly or badly-designed site can call into question your sense of design or usability, and that's not what you want... Even the coders amongst you can be judged on it!
I probably don't need to tell you this, but it's probably best to keep your Flash use to a minimum these days too.
Make it as easy as you can for the hiring staff to evaluate your work. My advice would be to run through your projects history, ring fencing each one clearly. Ensure that you describe what you did, and what software you may have used to do it. Any visuals you can provide, including YouTube clips to gameplay where possible, is a massive bonus.
Other places to build a presence
Online communities and forums are a good place to get others to critique your work, and frequent involvement (especially if it displays how you are improving) can get noticed by the right people.
Twitter is another great tool and an excellent way to show everybody what an interesting person you are! At the end of every conversation with a new client I ask them if there is anything more I should know about the kind of people they'd like to recruit, and the answer is always the same: we want people with personality! Now this doesn't mean you need to be 'crazy', but gone are the days that a interview meant you have to be the most boring version of you – bear this in mind when CV writing and Twittering – we want to know that you’re suitable for the role and what you think of the new Star Wars movie!
3. Use the right recruiters
I'm going to level with you here. Recruiters don't have the best reputation, and don't we know it! But the good news is that there is actually a generous collection of great agents out there who are passionate gamers just like you, that genuinely want the games industry to strive – just like you – I promise!
An early suggestion is to work with just one recruiter initially, and do your research first. This way you will maintain control of your job hunt and be able to actually collaborate with your agent as an individual on how best to approach the market. Your agent will get to know where you've been, where you'd go, what you would/wouldn't like to do and how much for. A good agent will already have the industry knowledge/contacts to connect you to the right opportunity.
Do your research
There is only a small collection of approximately five different agencies throughout Europe which are genuinely and truly embedded within the games industry – and that includes us at Skillsearch. Look at websites, read testimonials and recommendations on agent's individual LinkedIn pages, get a real feel for who is most likely to get you your dream job. Bear in mind recruiters rarely come from a technical background, so make sure you're working with somebody with experience. When I first started in games recruitment (albeit five years ago) I called C# "see-hashtag"...
Do you really think 2009 me would have got you a job with that sort of lingo? I think I've made my point. Let's move on. Swiftly.
Here are some tips, broken down into area of expertise which may assist you in getting an interview:
Being a 'Jack-of-all-trades' the appeal of yester year! Whether you are inexperienced and looking for a first position, or a total veteran, labelling yourself as a 'Jack-of-all trades' just isn't cutting it I'm afraid. You need to know what you are and label yourself. People want specialists. Naturally you will have other skills and that gives you some excellent CV/interview fodder, but for now go in with your forté. How can you really show what you can do to get ahead of your competition? Think about the following and let your recruiter or future employer know about it early.
- Demonstrable games/programs/assets studio's developers can look at
- Code samples
- Blog posts or tutoring vids on programming theory or techniques
- Published papers
- A portfolio website, or at very least a zip file or drop box
- Examples of games that use your work
- For 3D artists, renders with edges you want to show off about and efficient use of polygons
- Downloadable samples of your work
- A clearly creative side for colour and flair
- Level maps
5. Interviewing and attitude
It’s about value and values. You're working in games and you're clearly in it for the love, because very rarely did anybody ever 'fall into' games. So feel free to show how passionate you are about what you do!
Make it clear what you value, aim specifically for those studios that do the same and tell them why: you'll never tire of games development like this. In fact, you’ll look forward to it!
Remember (cliché alert): it doesn't matter how experienced and long in the tooth you are, if you're doing what you love then you will never work a day for the rest of your life. (At least I warned you).
For this reason asking early questions about working hours and salary packages in interviews is a no no. You will get the opportunity to find out about that at a later stage – for now, let's focus on the positives:
- What are they trying to achieve
- How would you fit into that
- What does the person interviewing you enjoy about their position
- Do they have a long-term vision
- Opportunities for progression
Research, prepare & research some more
I cannot tell you how many interviewees, no matter how good, lost out to the candidate that stayed up all night playing the client's game the night before as research, or even creating something specifically for them as prep.
You get to play games as 'research' for a company you might work for – it's a perk, make the most of it!
Well, that's It... good luck!
Hopefully you took something useful out of this, whatever stage of your career.
[Guy DeRosa is the games and interactive manager at recruitment agency Skillsearch. www.skillsearch.com]