Having gone through a lot of hiring since I opened Starcolt, I thought I’d collate all the tips that I find causes applications to stand out when I’m going through the process. It’s true that games has always been a fairly competitive industry, but there are a lot of quite low-effort things you can do to set yourself out from the crowd, as well as a lot of common errors I see pop up a lot.
Keep in mind, this is from the perspective of a smaller games company and myself personally as an employer, but hopefully these tips can be of some help to you.
- ) Read the job ad carefully, and send in all information requested in it.
This seems like a common sense thing to say, but you’d be surprised how often applications are sent in with none of the requested documents. In UI/UX, we often refer to ‘pain points’ — challenging aspects of the product that causes users to churn. If you don’t attach the documents asked for in your application, consider that a pain point for the employer as something they’d need to chase up, and a potential reason for them to churn from your application.
Example: Please send your CV and cover letter to email@example.com, and include a link to an online portfolio of your work.
2.) Attach any documents (CVs, cover letters) as .pdfs.
This is sometimes impossible because hiring backends may ask for a specific format, but personally .pdfs are much, much easier and quicker for me to open and read than any other format. If you’re not applying through a corporate back-end, I’d suggest .pdfs — not .zips, .7zs, .rars, and not even any .docxs. I’ve even had a whole Unreal project sent directly to my inbox before, which was an interesting experience.
3.) Do at least the bare minimum to look into who you’re applying for, and use that information in your application.
Check the job ad — does it say who’s doing the hiring? Address it to them. If not, address it to the studio or ‘to whom it may concern’ — do not default to ‘Dear Sir’, which has popped up a bit. What kind of games does the studio make? Refer to that; specific titles, even better. It’s very easy to tell scattershot applications, and while I know job-hunting is a tedious process (I’ve been there, many times), your time is best spent giving yourself the best shot when you’re applying. If you’re not going to make a small effort to look into who you’re applying for, their values and their projects, it may not be worth applying at all and using that time elsewhere. And, in that vein…
3a.) Tailor your application to the job you’re applying for.
I’ve received quite a few applications where the applicant describes themselves as a role quite different from the job they’re applying for. Adjacent experience is really important and valuable, but keep in mind the employer is searching for a specific skill-set and you don’t want to distract from that. If a 3D Artist job is advertised and you send through a C.V. titled ‘Game Designer’, it might throw them off a bit. Make sure all the information you give is heralding your abilities to do the specific job advertised first and foremost.
4.) Make your relevant portfolio work easy to access.
The best applications I’ve received immediately give me a link to work I can look at that’s relevant to the job vacancy, or link to specific projects throughout their application. Context is great, accessibility is great. Often we’re sifting through a lot of applications so the quicker I can take a look at your previous projects, the better! The hiring manager shouldn’t have to chase you up for a portfolio link or examples of your work. Pain point!
5.) Your application should be short and sweet.
Your C.V./resume should be no longer than two pages, ideally one page — your cover letter should not be a novel. Keep in mind again that there are often many, many applications and going through them is a time consuming process for the hiring manager or employer. Being snappy and to the point is usually very appreciated! Personally I don’t recommend putting anything on it not directly relevant — e.g. where you went to high school, unrelated jobs (unless you’re a fresh junior), but this may just be me.
6.) Don’t be afraid to break the mold and personalise your application.
Probably my most contentious point! Again, this is just my personal preference, but I’d much rather see character come through in an application than common conventions or a cover letter template. I like to see the person’s voice come through, appreciate a solid (context appropriate meme), and get to know them a little bit. If you have an idea of something weird (but professional/appropriate) to do, there’s no harm in trying it — worst case scenario, you’re memorable, which isn’t a bad thing.
7.) Ask for feedback if you’re unsuccessful.
Sometimes this is difficult for especially small studios to achieve because hiring requires a lot of resources and time, but always feel like you can ask for feedback if you don’t get the job. You may not always get a response, but it’s better to ask than not to! I always make an effort to try and give feedback where I can.
8.) Be specific about your role in larger projects in your work examples.
I want to know exactly what your contributions to Far Cry or Call of Duty were. Point to a script, identify a dialogue route, screenshot your work etc. Titles are great, but I need to know what parts you did specifically. If you list a larger project in your portfolio, also list the role you played.
e.g. Shooty McBlasty 3D — 3D Prop Artist
9.) Include passion projects, talk about your interests if they’re relevant.
Again, might be me, but I enjoy learning more about candidates than just their professional history. Don’t go into a ton of detail, but an overview of what you’re about is pretty neat.
Did someone say bonus round?
Common issues that have immediately turned me off applications…
- not saying a greeting or ‘hello’ in an application, just sending a link in an email body
- very, very long cover letters/resumes
- self-flagellation or self-deprecation in applications — this feels really uncomfortable to read as someone in charge of hiring! (e.g. I’m terrible, and probably won’t get this job, but I’m going to apply anyway)
- not being able to easily correlate the applicant’s skills to the job description via their portfolio work
- being contacted through personal channels and not the professional channel requests in the job ad
- applications that are titled for another company or person
Things that have made me remember applications…
- a strong, personal voice in a cover letter
- discussions around the genre of games we make, titles they’ve enjoyed in that genre and why
- unique presentations of cover letters (while still being legible, professional and appropriate)
- references to projects my company has worked on/is working on so I know they understand the context of what they’re applying for, and how they feel about the project