I've been trying to help out with mentoring people that are interested in getting into the games industry, and a lot of the same questions get asked. I've collated the advice I give into this page.
Note: The advice here is based on my experience as a programmer, and is aimed primarily at people trying to enter programming-related roles within the games industry.
1. Looking for jobs
First it's time to get organized; create a spreadsheet. You're going to use it to collate all the information about companies that you want to apply to:
- The company name.
- Contact email address and name.
- Links to any job postings.
- Any notes on the job postings, what skills do they require?
- What you like and dislike about the company.
- The status of your contact with them: Have you applied there, have they replied back?
- Date of application, date of reply.
- A link to the CV you created to send to them (more on this later).
Make a list of companies that you want to apply to. Find them by searching online, looking through local university connections, resources like Gamesmith Dev Map. Try to find industry posting sites like AFJV that exists for gamedev-related jobs in France.
It might seem hard to know which companies to include at first. What if they don't have any listings for entry-level jobs? Or no job listings at all? I would say that sometimes even if a company isn't hiring, if the right candidate comes along they might make an opening for them. To give an example, a company might not have had a listing for a tools engineer, but if someone applies with tools experience right around the time that the team are getting frustrated with tools workflow, suddenly that person looks like a great fit. So when in doubt, write down the company.
How many companies and jobs you collect before getting onto the next stage is up to you; it depends on the availability of jobs near you, your level of expertise, how much time you have. I would say that more is generally better. You never know which companies might be interested in you, and it's all good practice. It's also an iterative process, so you might find 5-10 at first, then go through the next steps and end up coming back to add more to the list. Having a spreadsheet will really help with this process.
2. Getting your Application Ready
Now we have a list of companies and jobs to apply to, let's cover the most important advice that I can give about applying:
Tailor your application to the position.
I cannot stress this enough. A crappy CV is a surefire way to fall at the first hurdle and never get an interview.
Try to get into the mindset of the person trying to hire you. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to choose you over the other candidates. Look at it from their perspective, they have to look over potentially hundreds of applications, trying to narrow down them down to a few people that are worth interviewing.
Your CV should immediately say why you're a great fit for the company or job that you're applying for. Let's go through some points that can help in that:
Put your relevant experience at the top
If you're applying for a C++ job, put any C++ experience at the top. Even if it's not your most recent experience, put it at the top.
Some people recommend putting work experience in chronological order but why make the person hiring you read through a bunch of irrelevant stuff before getting to the good stuff? It's way more likely that they'll think "oh this person isn't a good fit" and move onto another CV.
Relevant experience doesn't have to mean job experience. If you've taken courses that are relevant to the job you are applying for, put those before any irrelevant job experience.
I would also bend the standard formatting of CVs to put any relevant hobby projects in the first page of your CV. Typically people put hobby stuff in the second half.
Also put what you did within those jobs/projects. If you worked on a project with others at university, what parts of the project were you responsible for? If you worked on an Unreal project, what areas of Unreal did you gain experience in?
Remove irrelevant experience
If you're relatively inexperienced you might be tempted to put everything you've ever done on your CV. Don't do that. Everyone works a bunch of part-time jobs these days, delivering food, working in grocery stores. Unless one of those is in a sector directly relevant to the job (for example you worked in a game store), I wouldn't add it. It would be way more interesting to save that space for hobby projects or personal interests.
The same also applies for skills that are things that someone could pick up in an afternoon, or that aren't particularly relevant to the job. Using valuable space to write "Proficient at Microsoft Word and Google Drive" isn't a great idea. It comes across that you don't know what is a real skill.
Edit: I've heard opinions from others within the games industry about what they think should go in an Experience section;
Keep it under 2 pages
Everything important should be in the first half of page 1; relevant job experience, relevant hobby projects, relevant education. Everything else like less-relevant job experience or projects can go on page 2.
Write a "cover paragraph"
I'm writing this in 2022, and this is a personal opinion, but I don't care about cover letters from applicants.
What does help is a short paragraph to make it clear why the person reading should take the time to look at your CV.
Think about it this way, at each stage of the job application process, you are trying to prove that you are interesting enough to make it to the next stage. This is kind of what you are trying to say to the prospective company at each stage:
- Cover paragraph: "Hi I'm (Name), I've been a fan of (their games). I have experience in (relevant experience)."
- First page of CV: "Look at all the details of my relevant experience."
- Second page of CV: "I'm also a fun interesting person!"
- First Interview: "I'm nice to work with, and good at communication."
- Technical Interview: "I can talk about the technical stuff I've done, I respond well to tricky challenges."
You can use your cover paragraph to make it clear which role you are applying for at a company and why. They might have many programming-related jobs available, and the person reading your application needs to know who they should forward your CV to; the lead gameplay programmer, or the lead of tool development?
Edit: A friend who is a writer in the games industry said "I do care about cover letters, as it's important to see how clearly people can communicate & to get a vibe check going. I want like, 3 juicy paragraphs at least."
Advice for Programmers, Technical Designers
The next few points are for people that are applying to jobs that require coding ability.
Show them your code.
This can be achieved in a bunch of different ways:
- Have a GitHub account with some repositories of small projects, plugins etc.
- Write some technical tutorials that include code.
- Tweet about interesting technical things that you find. Show that you understand them.
You should do at least one of these. In a job market where there are many applicants for the same position, anything you can do to differentiate yourself from the other candidates is vital. That usually means having some projects, code or tutorials that you have published online.
I need more projects on my CV, what should I do?
It's worth taking some time here to talk about what kind of projects are good to try to do to fill out your CV. The projects should ideally be related to the type of role you are applying for. For example if you want to become a UI programmer, you should have at least one project related to UI programming.
- A _small_ gameplay project to implement a _single_ gameplay mechanic from another game. For example, the "merge into the wall" from A Link Between Worlds, wall-running from Titanfall 2, a grid-based inventory system.
- Re-implementing a classic _simple_ game like Tetris, Pac-man, Breakout. Adding a twist to it. Something you can complete in a few weeks.
- A _small_ plugin for Unreal to solve a specific problem. Something you can finish in 2 weeks.
- An entire game. You will definitely not finish it.
- A MMORPG.
A small completed project is worth a hundred uncompleted full games.
3. Submitting the Application
OK so by this point you should have, for each job that you want to apply:
- A cover paragraph that explains why you are a good candidate, and why they should read your CV.
- A CV that is customized for the job or company.
- A contact email or URL to submit your application.
Hit the big send button and write down when you did on your spreadsheet. You can apply to a bunch of jobs all at once or spread them out, it's up to you. I like to do it all in one go because it gets it over with and then I can stress about something else.
Congratulations, they want to interview you! I try to think about interviews as a two-way process. They are trying to see if you are a good fit for the company, but you should also work out if you actually want to work there. Thinking about it this way gives me a little more confidence in the interview as I don't feel like all the power is on their side.
Before the interview make sure to go over all the projects and jobs that you wrote about on your CV. The interviewer will ask you for details and you need to be able to produce them. Details like:
- What was the trickiest part of this project/job?
- What did you wish went better in the project/job?
- What did you learn from this project/job?
- Can you tell me about a time where you had a conflict with another team member, and how did you resolve it?
There are a lot of good resources online about interview technique so I won't go over much more here.
I do want to talk more about what you should look for in a company when you are interviewing there. Remember it's about whether you would be a fit there, not just whether they want you:
- Ask about overtime. Asking directly about overtime will probably get you a standard "we don't do overtime" response. Instead I like to ask "what time do people usually finish work?" or "what kinds of hours do people do?"
- Ask about the company culture. Do people hang out? Are there parties? What do people usually do for lunch? Think about their answers and whether you would like to work at a place like that.
After the interview try to think about what went well, what didn't go so well. Were there some questions they asked you that you didn't know how to answer? Next time, how would you respond? Think of every interview as practice for the next one. Like with any skill, the more you do interviews, the better you will get at it.
5. Job Offers
If all has gone well, and you managed to communicate how much of an awesome candidate you are (and you are an awesome candidate), then you should get a job offer from at least one of the places you applied to. If you didn't get any, don't worry to much! You can go back to step 1 and find more companies to apply to and start the process. Because you have a process it shouldn't be too stressful adding more companies to the list, customizing your CV and sending out more applications.
If you do get a job offer, try to wait a week to see if you get any other offers from other interviews you are doing. Ideally you want to be taking a bunch of interviews right around the same time, so you can get competing offers from multiple companies. This can help you see what you are worth, and ideally get companies to compete to hire you. Maybe you like company A more than company B, but company B is offering more. Ask if Company A can match Company B's offer.
In negotiation, giving a clear end-point to the process can really help: "if you offer me (Salary X), I would accept right away". Recruiting is exhausting from both sides, by giving them a clear end point you're making it easier for them to say yes.
I'll keep adding to this as more questions get asked.
I don't meet the requirements, should I still apply?
It's important to treat job requirements as suggestions. When I've written job specifications it's more about describing the kind of candidate that I am looking for, rather than a hard list of requirements. If someone comes along that doesn't meet the bullet points on the job listing, but they're amazing, I would do everything I could to hire that person!
For example, if the job listing says "must have 1 shipped game", it means they're looking for someone with the experience of dealing with the last 10% of development. Fixing the tricky bugs, polishing the game, getting it ready for shipping without introducing any new bugs. If you have not shipped a game but you have experience like that then you should totally apply! If you haven't shipped a game, but you have a lot of experience, you should totally apply!
Looking for jobs can be stressful but hopefully some of this advice is helpful to you.
You got this.