The university leaver's guide to getting a job in the game industry
You’re in your final year of university and almost ready to begin your career in the game industry, but what should your first steps be? Here we offer advice from industry experts on what you should expect, and what is expected of you in return.
First and foremost, ensure that your CV is up to muster and don’t be afraid to ask for advice on the best way to present it and what you should include – a good place to start would be our game industry CV guide.
Begin planning your career early – don’t leave it until after you’ve graduated to start applying for jobs, because developers look to fill their graduate roles quickly. Your window of opportunity is slim.
And with this in mind, try to be flexible about where you’re prepared to work. Securing that first role may require you to relocate and if you’re not prepared to look at a wide range of locations you’ll significantly reduce the opportunities available to you. Being flexible is key, both for your first game industry job and for every subsequent job you take.
Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio
Ensure that you have a strong portfolio of work, consisting of examples from your course and, importantly, extra-curricular projects. Producing work in your own time demonstrates not only a strong work ethic, but also your passion for your specialism. This, above almost all else, is what developers will want to see from applicants.
Make sure the projects you include are complete – an incomplete demo, no matter how technically impressive, is likely to make a bad first impression with your prospective employer who may see potential time management or even skills problems.
This isn’t to say that studios are expecting to see a genre-defining epic in your first efforts. Tidy, efficient and well-documented code is on the checklist, however, as it bodes well for working in large development teams where other people will have to interact with your work, and you theirs.
Your tidy code must also be relevant to the types of projects you are hoping to work on – teams working on projects for the major consoles, for example, will want to see good C++ skills.
What kind of job market is out there?
According to recruitment agencies we approached, though the jobs market has shown a marked improvement in 2011, the biggest skills gap in the game industry right now is in coding. As such, studios looking to plug that gap may well be more willing to train people up but don’t expect a free ride: “Studios still look for excellent academics, good A levels and good projects,” Aardvark Swift advises. “It’s all about what you can offer a company, an entry level role is not a charity role; you need to be productive straight away.”
Whatever role you’re applying for, however, be it coding, modelling, animation, writing or any other role, studios aim to recruit the best from each field. Excelling in your specialism, either through your academic career or portfolio, is key to grabbing the attention of the industry.
“Studios aren’t keen on a jack of all trades junior; someone who wants to be a designer, but will work as a coder,” warns Aardvark Swift. “This makes the candidate a risk: they might not like the role, not put their heart into it and leave at the first chance.”
The rapid growth of new game platforms - such as smartphones, tablets and social networks – means that there are a great deal more opportunities available to those prepared to apply for positions at start-up companies and smaller developers as opposed to simply the big, established companies.
“QA is a great direction for those having trouble getting their foot in the door,” says Datascope. “It will give you access to games studios, will let experience the environment and processes first hand, will give you an income and will let you work with actual games professionals who can help and advise you.”
Signing up with a game industry recruitment agency
Signing up to a recruitment agency has the potential to your starting salary, as you will benefit from the agency’s market knowledge and experience in negotiation. Because the game industry is talent driven, with professionals and companies looking for the best opportunities, agencies are highly focused on their customers and reputation. In a relatively small sector, word-of-mouth spreads quickly.
The companies we spoke to advise signing up to only one or two agencies, as it can reflect badly on you if a developer receives the same resume multiple times. It’s important to remember that there are some developers who don’t work with, or won’t accept new staff from, recruitment agencies.
What to expect from a recruitment agency interview
As with any other job interview, the consultant you meet with will want to go through your CV, paying close attention to:
- Spelling and grammar - don't fall at the first hurdle.
- Skills and experiences gained while studying, including placements, completed projects, entered competitions and key achievements.
- Your thoughts about the course you chose to study, and what element of it you enjoyed.
- What relevant software you have experience with, and the level of proficiency you have attained with each.
- Any paid or unpaid game industry employment you’ve managed to secure during your time at university.
- Why you want to work in the gaming industry.
- Which role or speciality you’d like to work towards.
As stressed previously, a well put-together CV, strong showreel/demo/website and flexibility regarding where you’re prepared to work will stand you in good stead. Make sure, too, that once you’ve signed up, you are easily contactable and available for any offered developer interviews.
What to expect from a developer interview
While the above elements will all factor, expect a more in-depth, discussion probably augmented with technical tests. It’s a potentially daunting prospect, but preparation here is key and recruitment agencies are on hand to offer help and advice on how to best handle these situations.
That discussion is, obviously, likely to centre on videogames, your love of them and why you want to make them. Keep this in mind when preparing for the interview, as having a list of recently played games – including what you though was good and bad about them – will be just as useful as all that technical know-how.
And finally, make sure you that you have researched the studio thoroughly and have a clear idea of the kinds of games it makes, past projects and most crucially whatever it’s currently working on.
Common mistakes to avoid
Don’t be tempted to send your CV to every role you see. Be sure that you have carefully read the advert and try to limit yourself to roles that specifically ask for junior or entry level candidates. Ensure your CV is tailored to the role you are applying for too – studios don’t need to know about that summer you spent working on the tills.
Don't apply for roles that don’t suit your skill set, or send a CV which doesn’t clearly represent why you’re right for the job. You'll lead studios to conclude that you haven’t researched the position thoroughly. For the most part, you should only send a CV to a studio once every six months, so it’s worth spending a little time making sure everything is right.
You have limited space on your CV and cover letter – don’t take it up with copious details on your projects and education. Bullet point key information and look to expand upon it during the interview.
It’s worth saying again that not widening your job search beyond your local area will severely impair your chances.
Don’t assume that having a degree and an interest in games is enough – industry jobs are highly contested and standing out is essential. Work experience, an interesting portfolio and great academic results will all help.
Don’t be overly confident or, conversely, shy during your interview. Presenting yourself well is important, but over-confidence and an unwillingness to listen will make you appear disruptive, while a lack of confidence will raise doubts as to your ability to work in a team. It sounds obvious, but a surprising number of people fall foul of this elementary consideration.
Don’t oversell yourself by claiming knowledge or experience of something you do not have on your CV.
This guide was put together with the help of industry experts from several recruitment companies, including: Amiqus head of games recruitment Stig Strand and principal consultant Peter Leonard; Aardvark Swift director Ian Goodall and videogame recruitment consultant Hollie Heraghty; Datascope senior games consultant Alex Wright-Manning; Interactive Selection managing director David Smith and OPM Jobs managing director Kim Parker-Adcock.