You want to get a job in the game industry? So does everyone else! The competition is stiff. So you need a really good strategy to approach your job search. I will tell you what worked for me – and the people I’ve hired!
I’m going to run you through the process of getting a job in the game industry. This post will focus on the actual search, as opposed to building your portfolio.
Everyone wants to get a job in the game industry! How can you stand out?
The game industry is a high-demand job – think rock star or actor. That means it is the kind of job that people will do even if they aren’t paid much (or at all).
This gives the employer leverage. This means the employer can sit back and pick from a huge swath of candidates – even the most minor blemish on a portfolio can disqualify you from choosy places.
And because there is such a glut of candidates, this means the employer also doesn’t have to work hard to find people – applications will just drop into their lap!
What does this mean for your job search?
So there are two processes that you juggle during a job search. The actual search itself – sending out resumes, clicking application links, talking to people on LinkedIn – and portfolio management – improving your portfolio, removing outdated and bad work, polishing your presentation.
Both are important! This post will focus on the search, a later post will tackle the portfolio.
I would suggest creating a LinkedIn portfolio as your first step. You can see my LinkedIn profile here. LinkedIn is basically a social resume that everyone can see. It has credibility because it’s public.
This is how I got my latest job. I spotted a posting on Indeed for a local company, so I looked through my network, found an old acquaintance that worked there, and asked directly about the position. Because I knew he was in a position to make direct hiring decisions, this worked out well.
When creating your profile, leave off anything that is not related to art or your desired industry (game dev). That means any part-time jobs shouldn’t be there!
So what do you put? Go into detail on your education, and especially any team project you’ve worked on at school. Haven’t worked on any team projects at school? Find a team of like-minded individuals online and make your own project!
For each project, make sure to break down your responsibilities by discipline (character, enviro, etc) and task (modeling, sculpting, lighting, rigging, etc).
The goal here is that you are signaling that you understand the game industry and aren’t just a fanboy. You know the work and the lingo, which is important for building credibility.
Next, build up your network. Add your friends, classmates, and professors. Focus on people you actually know, or that are in the same situation as you.
A caution – don’t try to add professionals that you don’t know, like me; I don’t accept invites from people I don’t know, or who aren’t in the industry already. I think a lot of pros do the same. Doing so is an easy way to get flagged as a spammer!
But spamming contacts is also a way to dilute your credibility. If I see someone that has no experience but a ton of contacts, my impression is that they are taking a scattershot approach to their career search – and I can extrapolate that to them doing scattershot quality work!
Start applying for game industry jobs!
Go to sites like indeed.com or gamasutra.com. LinkedIn also has job listings now. In general I’ve found it is easier to find listings on aggregator sites like Indeed. And with sites like Gamasutra, where employers are actively posting positions, you know that those jobs are active.
What I generally won’t do is apply directly on a specific studio’s websites. I would rather work with the aggregators, it’s a bit easier. The exception here is if you are looking locally, for studios in your actual city.
Copy your resume info from the LinkedIn profile you set up. You can try customizing your resume for each application, but if you don’t have any experience, that really doesn’t factor in much. Maybe you emphasize the character setup you did instead of modeling on that one project, if they are looking for a character TD.
How do cover letters work to get a job in the game industry?
Nothing makes my eyes glaze over faster than an obviously copy-pasted cover letter. You need to humanize yourself and be as real as possible.
Be up front that you are a rookie looking to break in. Let them know you are excited to learn the ropes and you are willing to do absolutely any task that comes your way. And be ready to present your advantages as a junior artist!
And if you do hear back from someone in the negative, thank them for their time and let them know that you appreciate them letting you know that it is a no go. Enthusiasm goes a long way!
I don’t recommend fanboy/girling over the company you are applying to. That always makes me wonder if the person is ready for an actual job, or if they still think that making video games is like playing video games.
Regardless, keep your cover letter short, and include your email and portfolio link. When I say short, I usually won’t read anything more than five sentences. Make the link to your portfolio prominent – that’s what really counts.
I didn’t get any responses to my job applications!
If you are like most people, you will get zero responses. This is disheartening!
First, if your portfolio isn’t up to snuff, then no one will bother with you. I’ll talk about that in a later post.
However, there are other reasons you may not have heard back. Remember how I mentioned that game industry jobs are in high-demand? You may be a qualified candidate, you may have a good portfolio, and still hear nothing back. There are just so many other candidates!
You have to think of finding a job as a numbers game. The average person has a handful of careers (between 5 and 15, depending on how you count) over a lifetime.
If you work for 40 years and you have 10 career changes, that means you’ll find one new job every four years.
That should give you an idea of the rarity of finding a new job. It’s hard! You are going to get hundreds, or even thousands of NOs!
But you only need one yes.
It’s easy to get discouraged. It’s hard for an artist not to take it personally if they aren’t getting hired – I must be a bad artist! But you need to keep the personal out of it. Think of your job search as a job in itself. Keep at it, day after day, week after week, month after month, the same way you would a real job.
What about networking?
If there’s a shortcut to finding a job, it’s networking. Find meetups or IGDA events that you can attend, or go to GDC or other conferences. Actually talking to people has better results.
If you are going to do this, avoid the big mistake everyone makes – DON’T ASK FOR A JOB! I’ve been approached by people and literally the first words out of their mouth are ‘can you get me a job?’ Way to make me feel like a piece of meat, pal!
Talk to the person. Ask them about their job, what they do. And be upfront about what you’re looking for. Tell them you’re looking for a job, but ask them for advice. What worked for them? What do they look for when hiring people?
Ask them if you can email them for tips or portfolio reviews. If you’re lucky, they’ll say yes. Be careful not to abuse their time. Make it clear you understand they are a busy professional and you appreciate any advice they can give.
Hopefully by establishing this kind of relationship, you can get good mentorship and feedback – and if it turns out that person suddenly needs a junior artist, there’s a good chance you’ll be the first person they think of. This is, in fact, the way I hired a lot of junior artists.
What about school?
School can be a good in – if your professors are also professionals. All the tips about networking apply here. Being able to scout talent is one of the big benefits of teaching.
Persistence is key
That’s the terrain – these jobs are in high demand, you have a lot of competition, and the employer can be picky. The odds are stacked against you.
The key is to be persistent – to keep after it, day after day, regardless of rejection.
Of course, that isn’t the whole story. You also need a great portfolio for your search – a topic I’ll cover in my next post.