Recently, some of my graduating students at the NYU Game Center wrote to me asking for advice about how to get that first job in the game industry. Below is my response, which I thought I might as well share here on my blog. These suggestions are geared towards people entering the industry for the first time and trying to get an internship, freelance, or full-time job at an existing company (rather than starting a new company). They are also good rules of thumb for more experienced game developers. Many of these tips sound obvious when you read them on the page, but trust me: after being on the hiring end of things for many years, you would be surprised how many job applicants don’t get them right. I hope you find them useful.
- Target your communications.The worst thing you can possibly do is send a generic cover letter that doesn’t mention anything particular about the company you are contacting. Do a little research on each company you approach – their games, their history, etc. and be sure to mention something particular about them when you contact them.
- Work your connections. Knowing someone who knows someone makes it 1000% more likely that you will get your foot in the door at a company. Contact faculty, friends, and colleagues in the industry and ask them about internships they know about. Go to local game events and SOCIALIZE. When you meet a developer working at a company, ask them if they have an internship program or if they are hiring. If they do, get contact info for that person as well as the person who you should contact about the position, and mention the person you met (or even CC them) when you contact the company.
- Be passionate. You MUST demonstrate passion for making games in your communication – that’s what the cover letter is for. Talk about your childhood of playing games, highlight a class project you loved, tell them what you are playing now. Ideally, you link your passion to something particular about the company – such as how you were addicted to their recent release. Don’t make things up, but find a way to authentically demonstrate your love for games. The implication is that you will translate that passion into hard work in your job.
- Name drop. If you had a class with any faculty that your target company might know about, mention that person in your cover letter and list them as possible references. You need to work every angle you can.
- Show them what you do. Be sure to give them examples of your work. If you made a great card game, find a way to share it (a description and images work much better than a set of rules). Put together a portfolio site that showcases your work. It’s also important to tell them (briefly) what was brilliant or interesting about each game you share.
- Present yourself well. Communication is a key skill for any game development position. Your writing should be perfect, your resume well-composed, and your website graphically clean and easy to use. Contacting someone with sloppy writing or visual design – when you are asking them to hire you as a designer(!) – is an automatic disqualification.
- Think about things from THEIR point of view. When you apply to a company, here’s what you have to imagine: a huge stack of resumes or an inbox overflowing with emailed cover letters. That’s your design context. You are in a competition and you need to figure out how to stand out. All of the above tips will help you do that. Think about what the company needs. They are not doing the internship out of charity – they are NOT doing it for you. They are doing for themselves, because they have work that needs to get done. Read their job or internship ad CAREFULLY and make sure you are really directly addressing their needs. If they are looking for a playtester, don’t try and convince them to hire you as a game designer (although it is perfectly alright to talk about your passion for game design). Any application process is a DESIGN problem – so just as in making a game, think about it from the audience’s point of view and create an experience. A company is not a faceless corporate entity – it is composed of individual people. It all comes down to catching the attention of the person sifting through the stack of letters and resumes, and convincing them that you are the right person for the position.