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Understanding games job adverts

We hear from Karen McLoughlin from Sumo Digital and Ian Goodall from Aardvark Swift, on things they'd like to see on a CV and cover letter.
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We’re now going to hear from two experts, Karen Mcloughlin from Sumo Digital and Ian Goodall from Aardvark Swift.
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For production, we’re really looking for people that can communicate effectively. Production is all about having fantastic organisational skills, really being able to bring out the best in people, really being able to align the teams to the tasks that we’ve got to get finished. And in production, it really is about that coordination, working in a team environment, being confident, and being a really good communicator. Understanding each of the disciplines is always an advantage coming into production. You can come out of every discipline, or you can come into it as a new producer.
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But the main things are really good organisational skills and the ability to really develop and get the best out of the people and the teams that you’re working with across all disciplines. For coders, we’re looking primarily for really strong C++ programming skills. For being a really good coder, communication is key. You need to be able to work with the different disciplines to be able to align the tasks that you’re working on. And really have a good understanding of the full game cycle and production process is also really, really valuable. For game design, we’re really looking for excellent communicators. Being a good designer is about salesmanship.
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It’s about selling your ideas, selling your vision, whether that’s to a particular team, whether that’s to a publisher, or whether that’s to a large audience to try and get what you really want to see the game being developed to at the end. So game design is really about great verbal, brilliant writing skills, and really having that charismatic personality where you can really sell not only yourself but bringing people on board with your vision and your ideas. So for artists, we would be looking for them to meet most of the criteria in the job specifications. For artists, we’re really looking for passion and the ability to just create amazing 3D art. And we’re looking for talent.
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Talent is primarily the thing that we need within our artist roles.
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If you’re applying for jobs at game studios, then think about the studio that you’re applying to. And they are all very specific. And they maybe make specific types of games or work on specific platforms. Tailor your CV for the studio. So if you’re applying to a racing game studio or a football studio, then hopefully you’re interested in their products or in what they do. Get that into the CV. Make sure you stress that you’ve got an interest in that or you’ve played that type of game or you understand that genre of game. CVs need to be kept simple and clear for people to be able to understand.
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The one thing I would stress to people is that HR departments and the people that field the CVs have only got a very, very short amount of time with each CV. I’m talking seconds. So you may want to get really creative with your CV. And you might come up with some great idea as to how you can make yourself stand out. But bear in mind that people have only got a short space of time. And then they need to move you into a yes pile, a maybe pile, or a no pile. So try and keep it really clear, really concise, and stick to things like Word documents and things like that, because that will help you.
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If you’ve got any employment experience within the games industry, fantastic. If you’ve got any work experience, fantastic. If not, list the things that you’ve done as a job. People don’t really care or don’t want to know that you’ve stacked shelves in Tesco or you’ve served pizzas in Pizza Hut. What you need to focus on are the soft skills that that’s allowed you to build and to create. So if you’ve worked in a team, talk about your communication skills and your team skills. If you’ve worked on your own, talk about how that’s helped to develop those sort of skills. These are all transferable skills that the games industry will want to hear about. And so focus on those.
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Education is obviously really important. Start with the most recent education first. If you do have a degree or if you’ve got some sort of higher level education, then talk in a bit more detail about what you’ve studied and what you’ve learned during that. You certainly need to have a hobbies and interest section on your CV. It’s the section that sometimes is overlooked by people. But it’s probably one of the most important. Studios want to hire rounded human beings and people that are going to fit within their culture. So they will look quite closely at this.
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They’ll also use this section to pick out questions for interview as well, just to sort of– maybe they’ll be ice-breaking questions, or they’ll want to find out a bit more about you. So if you are into cycling or running or if you’ve run a half marathon or that kind of thing, then get it in there. If you’re doing work for charity, for example, then make sure you mention things like that as well.
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We expect to see not a massive cover letter but an opportunity to really write a small paragraph about why you’re applying for the job, a little bit about yourself, and really just inject some personality into the application. It’s a good opportunity to tell us any information that’s not included in your CV. So it might not be about your skills or your technical experience or your expertise. It could be information that we just might find useful. In your cover letter, you could also talk about anything that you’ve done outside of actually looking for work, any personal projects that you’ve worked on, any particular game jams, any communities, or anything that you’ve done to actually integrate yourself into the video games community.
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That kind of stuff for us is massively important and really, really valuable for us to see. The advice I’d give on cover letters is, think about the fact that people have not got a lot of time to review your whole application. So they will focus on your CV. So what we do suggest is that you turn your covering letter into an opening paragraph on a CV. So if you distill that down to the key points that you want to get across of who you are, what you want to do, what your ambitions are, get it into a paragraph at the top of the CV. And it will get read.

In this video, we see the selection process in action as we hear from Karen McLoughlin from Sumo Digital and Ian Goodall from Aardvark Swift, who highlight things they’d like to see when an applicant sends in a CV and a cover letter.

Can you summarise what they say these should be?

There are a variety of additional things that studios may ask of you. Let’s run through each role in turn before we look at what’s true for all applicants whatever the role:

Artist

Artists have the simplest but possibly most challenging requirement from potential employers, a portfolio of artwork. Sharing this is a near universal requirement but doing so should carry a minor health warning. Every studio has at least one house style, sometimes more, which means that assessing a candidate’s style is invariably a value judgement. You may have a wonderful portfolio that just isn’t a good fit with one studio. There is only so much you can do to alter your style to suit each studio you’re applying for, but don’t be discouraged!

Programmer

Most studios will want to see what you’ve coded before but this also comes with a health warning. If you’ve worked in a team, then you’ll need to be very clear what you developed and what someone else developed. It’s likely that your understanding of the code will be the focus of some questions if you take it to interview, so choose carefully what you share and try to share your best work.

Designer

Designers will probably be asked to share design documents or completed games and then face questions at interview about what they did. Like the programmer above, be careful to choose work that’s mostly or only your own work because you’ll be expected to discuss the design choices in detail.

Producer

OK, producers, brace yourselves. There’s no such thing as a portfolio for a producer. In fact, there’s almost no additional thing that you can produce to demonstrate your professional and technical skills. Much of your assessment will be at interview, which we will come onto later.

All roles

  • Tailor your application to the role: Both experts recommended that you research the company before applying. Ian recommended that you change your CV and cover letter for every application, perhaps highlighting different experience that might relate to the particular job at the particular studio, but showing your passion for the kinds of games or platforms that the studio is known for.
  • Show work experience and projects: This experience will be crucial, so highlight this and any other experience in a games development (or similar) environment. If you were lucky enough to do any work placement or internships in games studios and you want to take anything you generated into interview, you must ensure you have permission to use it. Studios are very protective about their intellectual property but understand that this experience is vital in helping interns prepare for interview.
  • Show all your skills: It’s easy to forget that you should list your professional skills in the CV as well as your technical skills. List all of them to demonstrate that you’re a good fit to the role and use the cover letter to emphasise your professional skills.
  • Always list your hobbies: All our experts said that the hobbies section of a CV is critical in giving them an idea about who the candidate is and what it might be like to work alongside them in a team. Ian Goodall recommends you use this section to “show your personality, hobbies and what you would be like to work with.” So list your interests in as genuine a way as possible.
  • Demonstrate your drive: Karen likes to see the determination, drive and creativity of candidates. Even if you’ve not worked for a games company before, “show what you’ve done, your passion, your networking, your work in the community or charities.”
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How To Start Your Career In Games Development

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