Pursuing a career in the games industry can be a daunting prospect for aspiring developers. Applying for a job in the first place and knowing how to go about it properly is a huge hurdle in itself. In this article, producer Nik Pantis shares their experience and advice as a recruiter, running through some important do’s and don’ts when it comes to resumes, portfolios, cover letters, and the kinds of games jobs you apply for.
Table of Contents
- Why (Studio) Size Matters
- My Hiring Process
- Cover Letters
- Actually Applying
- Locating Jobs
- Other Resources
Hi! I’m Nik! I’ve learned a lot by seeing things I like in other people’s job applications, but especially by seeing things that I don’t like. Do you want to know what not to do when applying for a job in games? Read on.
‘But who are you, Nik?’, I hear you ask. I’m a producer and production consultant for indie games. I’ve worked for games studios of various sizes, and I’ve been in a hiring position in most of those. From this, I’ve noticed a lot of ways that make someone stand out in a job application, and not always in a positive way.
Ideally, you’re looking to improve the way you apply for games jobs, whether you’re actively applying now, or just want to keep your documents up to date and polished as heck. Some of this advice is targeted to the entry-level folks in our industry, but we could all stand to have a bit of a refresher on this stuff, because times change and so does what studios look for in an application.
I’ll try not to tell you things you already know, but some basic context is needed and I’m sure it’ll all be helpful to someone. This article of what NOT to do should be used in conjunction with other resources. I won’t tell you exactly how to write a cover letter or resume (there are people and services you can hire for that), but I do have some nifty tips and tricks that might help you.
Each piece of a games job application is a piece of a puzzle and each piece serves a purpose. A cover letter. A resume. A portfolio. We’ll talk about each of them, as well as the hiring process. I’ll also include some resources at the bottom of this article for you.
If you’re expecting information on networking and interviewing, I’ll be writing separate articles for those soon. Just know that while networking is not easy for some, especially neurodivergent folks, networking is a fundamental skill that you can learn. While this is, in essence, creating professional relationships, my one line of advice for this article is to just try and make game dev friends.
WHY (STUDIO) SIZE MATTERS
First, it’s important to take into consideration who you’re talking to.
In larger studios, especially in AAA game development, teams will have dedicated hiring staff. Recruiters, talent sourcers, hiring managers will all have their place in this system.
When applying for indie studios, however, you might not be speaking with a recruiter; you’ll more likely be speaking with someone on the main development team. Alternatively, your resume will be filtered through software which automatically scans for certain keywords.
Keep this in mind when you’re sending your application through – it’s important to know who you’re speaking to and what questions they’ll be able to answer immediately, as well as if your application will even be sent directly to a human.
You can often find out how big a company is online by searching “How many employees does X COMPANY have?”, or by asking around! Another great way to find out is by checking the credits of a recent project.
As a producer at an indie studio with no recruiter on staff, one of my responsibilities includes ensuring we have all the people we need to make sure the game can be completed. Often this extends from identifying what gaps we might have in the team, to pitching a role internally, all the way through to the hiring process. In this case, the person you’re looking to address with your application is me.
Want to know what different sized studios look for? Check out the IGEA skills matrix!
MY HIRING PROCESS
When it comes to assessing an applicant, I try to give each one a consistent amount of time, and try to read every application that crosses my inbox.
Let’s say, for example, I assign myself 5 minutes per person. This is spread across reading their initial email, their cover letter, their resume, and their portfolio. During this initial assessment, I check to see how well the applicant meets our criteria. It often isn’t a dealbreaker if an applicant doesn’t meet all of our criteria, and sometimes an applicant will include something incredible we didn’t know we needed!
If I know an applicant personally, I handball their email to someone else to do this initial assessment – this is a standard conflict of interest procedure.
Now imagine I get 50 applicants for a role. If I spend 5 mins per application that is over 4 hours just for the initial assessment! I’ve seen some roles get hundreds of applicants before. Some people say they give each applicant only 30 to 60 seconds to ensure they get through each one, so make sure you’re putting your best foot forward to really grab someone’s attention.
At this point, I’m entering all of my data into a spreadsheet with applicant names and my initial recommendation of whether we should offer an interview to learn more about an applicant or not.
Send us everything we need in your initial email, we don’t want to go looking for your portfolio link when we have other people who are sending it all to us straight away.
Next, I pitch the people who best fit the needs of the role to my boss. With my recommendations in hand, I explain why each applicant ought to be given an interview. Each interview can range from 30 to 60 minutes. After this, I shortlist our applicants to find those we want to offer a second interview to. Our interviews will delve into both technical ability and culture fit – we want to know if you’ll be able to do the job and if we would enjoy working with you. This is also a chance for the applicant to see if they’d enjoy working with us, too! We love being asked questions.
Once we’ve decided on a successful candidate, we send them a job offer. Some studios never send rejection emails, but I believe it’s important so we aren’t wasting people’s time. When sending an email saying a candidate is unsuccessful, I end the email asking the candidate if they would like any feedback, rather than just including the feedback straight up after a rejection. Not everyone would like feedback after a rejection, so asking is important.
Just because you aren’t selected for a role, it doesn’t mean you’re unskilled at what you do. You just might not be the perfect fit for that particular role at that particular time. We often have one role available, but many, many exceptional applicants – a rejection is not a reflection on you as a professional.
That was a lot, huh? To recap, here’s my recruitment process in dot point form:
- Pitch a role internally, including why we need it & what we want from it
- Write up a job ad
- Receive applications
- Initial application assessments
- Pitch applicants to higher-ups
- Shortlist candidates for interviews & interview them
- Further shortlist candidates & interview again
- Send an offer email to successful applicant
- Send unsuccessful applicants an email
A cover letter is a tool to sell yourself. It provides you with an opportunity to introduce yourself and explain why you are not only qualified to do the job, but why you are the best possible fit for the advertised position. A cover letter says more than ‘I worked at X company for Y years, so I know how to do this.’ It’s also a chance for you to show how your values align with a company’s values, or why a company’s culture appeals to you.
So, with this in mind, a cover letter should be tailored to the studio you’re applying to every single time.
A good cover letter structure contains an introduction with a bit about you, a section for you to talk about how you fit the needs of the studio in relation to the games job posting, a section on why you think you’d fit on a cultural level and what you’re looking for in a company, and then a quick wrap up.
Relate your cover letter back to job posting, and try to explain why you and the company you’re applying for would be a good fit for each other, not just why you want the job.
THINGS NOT TO DO
- Do not send a generic cover letter for every application. Tailor your cover letter to the studio and position you’re applying to.
- Do not go in unprepared. Copy and paste the job responsibilities and requirements into your working document to ensure you’re meeting as many of them as possible!
- Do not forget to PROVE you can meet the criteria. Use concrete examples of HOW you could meet the requirements and responsibilities of this role. Candidates that can clearly explain how they meet the needs of the studio also make it clear that they really understand the role we’re looking to fill.
- Do not forget to include contact information.
- Do not send a .docx – export as a .pdf or have your cover letter be the body of your email.
- Do not leave your cover letter named ‘coverletter.pdf’, add your name. An example would be ‘NikPantis_CoverLetter.pdf’. A lot of applicant’s resumes will end up in the same folder.
- Do not forget to check your grammar and spelling – details are important.
- Do not send your application without having someone else read over it, if possible.
- Do not waffle on for three pages. Keep it concise, keep it precise – three or four paragraphs max.
- Do not tell us you’re using this role as a stepping stone.
- Do not introduce yourself as one discipline when you’re applying for another (e.g.: don’t say you’re only a game designer when applying for a producer role).
The goal of a cover letter is to provide enough information to pique someone’s interest and score you an interview.
Jean Leggett’s tweet thread on cover letters has some valuable information, as does League of Geek’s tweet thread breaking down cover letters!
A resume is another tool to sell yourself. It states the facts – who you are, where you’ve been, and what you know. A good resume is easy to read and clearly highlights relevant information about you that will show you are a good fit for the job.
This is a chance to highlight experiences you have that other applicants might not have! Just like a cover letter, you have a chance to tailor your skills and experience to the studio and position you’re applying for, so try and do that each time.
You should clearly show your relevant employment history and your responsibilities at each workplace, your education, your relevant skills and tool proficiencies, your contact details, and links to your LinkedIn and portfolio if you have them.
Yes, as I said earlier, a resume states the facts of who you are, where you’ve been, and what you know. But you need to focus on what parts of your past are relevant to your future. Find the links. Find the common threads from group projects at university or college.
If you’re applying for a production role, how does your experience in a leadership role while working in retail apply to what you want to do? Note the similarities in the roles and responsibilities you’ve previously held to what you’re applying to, and back it up with the facts.
You should use Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or an equivalent word processor to create your resume, but not an art program. Check out Canva for fancy templates, too – it’s free!
Your resume needs to be clear, concise, and readable. Please export as a .pdf, as it will keep formatting just the way you like it and is easier for us to open!
Always ask friends or colleagues to read over your submissions. There are services available to work with you to really bring out the best of your experience and put it to paper (see Resources section below).
THINGS NOT TO DO
- Do not include your address, your town/suburb & country is enough.
- Do not lie about how much experience you have.
- Do not lie about places you’ve worked.
- Do not include your birthday.
- Do not include your relationship status.
- Do not include your high school graduation details (unless requested).
- Do not send an unreadable resume. Keep font and font size consistent.
- Do not send a .docx or a suspicious link- export as a .pdf.
- Do not undervalue your experience in other fields – including retail and hospitality!
- Do not include references if you haven’t asked them if you can use them as a reference.
- Do not paste full links. Use hyperlinks to your LinkedIn and portfolio.
- Do not forget to test your links!
- Do not have a dark background for your resume – ensure your resume is printable.
- Do not tell me how good you are at game design if you’re applying for a programmer role – be specific!
- Do not use skill bars to represent your proficiency – they are not a useful representation of your skills.
- Do not leave your cover letter named ‘resume.pdf’, add your name. An example would be ‘NikPantis_Resume.pdf’. A lot of applicant’s resumes will end up in the same folder.
Please read @slizagna’s tweet thread on resume tips, too!
A portfolio is a collection of the work that best represents you. It can document your education, your projects at other companies, your skills and your training. Your portfolio is your chance to really show off what you can do in a technical sense.
If a cover letter and a resume are a story you’ve written of how awesome you are, a portfolio is the evidence and the world-building. It’s worth investing in one if you don’t have one already.
Depending on your discipline, a portfolio might contain high resolution images of your art, samples of your writing or code, clips of audio, or even documentation. How you show off your work is also important – images and videos are the best way to show off your work while holding the attention of your viewer. You can’t expect someone to download your game or even trawl through thousands of lines of code. Try and keep the number of clicks required to get to key information to a minimum.
On portfolios, art lead Dean Walshe says:
A visual folio should be selective, it isn’t a working blog with all your work and ideation (you can link that as an Instagram or blog). Some will see your ability to assess and edit your folio as a reflection on your own judgement when assessing your work on a project, with concerns raised by poor selection as a level of work you may see as acceptable to ship. Three great folio images are better than three great and two mediocre pieces.
On this, try to match what you’re showing in your portfolio to the games job you’re applying for (for example, don’t focus on showing off stylised assets when applying for a company that uses a realistic art style, or applying for an environment job but only showing your character art).
Check out how other people in the same discipline as you present their portfolio. If you’re an artist, check out a reputable artist’s portfolio. Programmer? The same! Research the way developers and studios format key information in a presskit too – this could be good inspiration.
Information is vital. Tell me about your specific role on the project. Tell me about how big the team was, and how long the project went for. Did the project ship? Was it finished? There are no wrong answers here, so you should be honest – it’s about evaluating where you’re at. It goes without saying, but you should also include a way to contact you, such as an email.
Where do you make one? There are plenty of tools out there, including free and paid services. You can use Squarespace, WordPress, ArtStation, DeviantArt, and Wix, for example. I’ve even heard of someone using Notion!
THINGS NOT TO DO
- Do not embellish your accomplishments – be yourself!
- Do not have a layout so ‘fancy’ it’s hard to navigate (get people to look at your work).
- Do not go in unprepared. Check out other people’s portfolios to see how they display their work! You might get inspired!
- Do not forget to check how your portfolio looks on both desktop AND mobile (including different aspect ratios and devices if you have access to them).
- Do not forget to check to make sure all links and downloads work.
Need some further help with portfolios? Jean Leggett has curated an excellent document of portfolio advice, including discipline-specific tips, and that can be found right here, and there was an awesome GDC talk titled Killer Portfolio or Portfolio Killer, which might be helpful for artists.
Now you have all of your pieces of the application puzzle – a cover letter, a resume, and a portfolio – it’s time to apply for the role in question.
- Draft an email.
- Upload attachments, such as your cover letter and resume.
When sending the email, kindness and professionalism are paramount. While not true 100% of the time (especially at bigger studios) you should assume that another human is on the receiving end of the email you’re about to send. But why is this important? People are going to have to want to work with you, so etiquette is crucial.
FINAL LIST OF THINGS NOT TO DO
- Do not assume. If you don’t know the hiring person’s name, it’s absolutely okay to start off the email with “To hiring manager” or even “To [COMPANY NAME]”. When using the company’s name, ensure you put the right company’s name. In subsequent emails, the person emailing you will likely sign off their email with their name, so you can use that when you reply instead.
- Do not address an email to Mr Hiring Person. Be mindful of your language. Use neutral pronouns when talking to a hiring person unless their pronouns are stated in their email signature – you should never assume you’re talking to a man on the other end.
- Do not forget to make sure your attachments are actually attached to the email. Handy tip: If you use the word ‘attached’ in your email somewhere (such as “I’ve attached my cover letter to this email”), most modern email clients will warn you if you haven’t attached anything to your email.
- Do not skip all the way to this list and think you got the gist of the article. Go back and read it again.
The following links are just a few places that game development jobs are posted at. Keep your eyes out in Facebook groups, as well as Twitter and LinkedIn, too.
OTHER RESOURCES THAT MIGHT HELP (SOME REPEATS)
- Canva, for resume templates (among other things)
- JD’s game job list – a resource full of game development jobs, regional searches, salary guides, and Discord communities.
- The IGEA skills matrix, a guide to what you might need to know for different sized studios.
- The Games Industry Guide Trello board is full of studios, publishers, investors, and more.
- Coraly Rosario’s tweet thread on common mistakes when applying for jobs.
- Chris Anderson’s tweet thread on making an attractive LinkedIn.
- A GDC talk by Richard Carrillo on interviewing for game designers.
- Xavier Coelho-Kostolny’s tweet thread about interview preparation.
- Xavier Coelho-Kostolny’s short guide to working out your freelancer rates.
- Nicolaas Van Meertens 2021 Global Game Dev Salaries sheet.
- Jean Leggett’s list of Discord communities.
- Jean Leggett’s document on salaries and negotiations.
- Jean Leggett’s document with portfolio advice.
- Jean Leggett’s document on networking.
- Jean Leggett’s tweet thread on cover letters.
- League of Geek’s tweet thread on cover letters.
- @slizagna’s tweet thread on resume tips.
- The Game Developers of Australia Discord community.
A big thank you to friends and industry colleagues who helped with editing and offering their own valuable insight.
- Alex Beaty
- Alex Minenna
- Dean Walshe
- Edward Whitehead
- Jaris Rener
- Jean Leggett
- Masao Kobayashi
- Rayn Olsen
- Trevor Powell
- Zhia Zariko