As an applicant, the hiring process is difficult and stressful. Unfortunately, there is no way of getting around that. We know what it’s like to be on the other side, so we compiled a few tips to help with your future job applications!
Most of these tips apply to video game artists, but a few can be applied to any game industry discipline requiring a portfolio (i.e. designers).
I’ve Been There
I’ve been on the other side of job applications many times before – spending hours perfectly crafting an application, creating a portfolio (i.e. fighting with WordPress themes and plugins), going on interviews, clicking refresh while awaiting a response from HR. It’s stressful and not very fun, especially when what you really want to be doing is working at company X already and showing them what you can do!
It’s an entirely different experience to be on the other side of job applications.
100+ Applications a Day!
Even as an unknown indie studio, we received well over 100 applications within the first two days of posting job ads! That’s overwhelming, especially since we are such a small team and have a host of other responsibilities (i.e. design, programming, legal).
It is challenging, to say the least, to stay on top of all the HR work. I’d imagine that well-known studios could easily receive 1000+ applications in a day for a single discipline. Granted, they have more people than we do reviewing applications, but that’s still a massive number of applications to go through, especially if there are only a handful of reviewers!
Are Hiring Managers Simply Heartless?
I’ve been at talks where hiring managers discuss the application process and was shocked to learn a hiring manager might spend a minute or less on each application. It seems heartless after you (as an applicant) put so much time and effort into crafting a perfectly tailored application.
It isn’t that the hiring manager is ‘evil’ or wants you to fail. After all, the faster they find the “perfect applicant,” the better for everyone involved.
Keep in mind that an HR manager may have a certain number of applications they need to get through in a day. It is unfortunately easy for this process to become somewhat automated – if an application doesn’t stand out, it may be quickly passed over.
After going through so many portfolios, you do get faster at it. You know what you’re looking for and what you’re not looking for. If there’s a reason to spend longer on an application, the hiring manager will spend more time with it. What you want to do is give them a reason to keep looking.
JOB APPLICATION TIPS
1. Make links CLICKABLE, especially your portfolio link!
Most applicants include a portfolio link in their CV, but the reviewer often has to type it in manually or copy and paste. This gets tedious really fast, especially when the HR manager has meetings, interviews, alongside trying to get through (potentially) 100+ resumes in a single day!
2. Place your portfolio URL in an OBVIOUS place.
I was surprised by how much I had to hunt around on applications for a portfolio link. Again, make it as easy as possible on the person reviewing your application. Place the link as high up in your CV as possible (i.e. in a header), as well as in your cover letter.
If you aren’t sure about the visibility of your portfolio link, give your CV to anyone – a friend, a family member, a random person at an arcade – anyone. See how long it takes them…and the next person…and the next…to find the link for your portfolio. It’s a good test to make sure anyone can QUICKLY find your portfolio link!
3. Try to CONSOLIDATE your portfolio into just 1 link.
Many art applicants have anywhere from 2-5 links in their application. While it’s great you have so much you want to show us!, do your best to consolidate these links into just 1 portfolio link.
It’s a possibility an HR manager will only look at the link titled “Portfolio” and skip the others.
4. Make it clear what you are at the top of your portfolio & CV (i.e. Concept Artist or 3D Modeler).
Don’t leave the reviewer guessing what you are, especially if you have different types of samples on your portfolio (i.e. 3D models and animations). You may have made this obvious in your cover letter, but you want to make sure your “title” is listed across all of your application documents.
When I was a game design student creating my portfolio, I didn’t realize the importance of this, but there is a huge difference between listing Level Designer/Scripter vs. AI Designer vs. Systems Designer. They’re all game designers, sure, but HR managers want to know what you are off the bat.
You have to know what role you’re after and what it is you want to do. An HR person can’t define that for you.
5. Don’t make HR managers click through a bunch of pages to get to the good stuff!
You can separate art by concept art, 3D, rigging/animation, but beyond that, you probably don’t want to have separate pages. After all, you don’t want to hide your art and risk the HR manager not finding your best stuff!
6. Please, write a cover letter!
Many applicants don’t bother with a cover letter or only write a sentence or two. Whether or not you intend to, this shows the company that you don’t really care. It implies that you spam multiple companies the exact same application.
You want to come across in a good light when sending in applications, and it certainly won’t hurt to send in some sort of cover letter! (Unless you swear at the company or make some other faux-pas in your cover letter. Strangely enough, this has happened.)
It is possible to stand out from other applicants in your cover letter! After staring at applications for hours on end, the applications that stand out are the ones that show passion, and it doesn’t really take that much. A simple paragraph in your cover letter about why you want to work there is enough – how you are uniquely qualified for this role or how you fit into the company’s office culture.
Unfortunately, I tend to get formulaic in my cover letters, even when I’m trying to personalize them to a specific company. It’s an easy habit to fall into (i.e. “I am responsible, hard-working, etc. I would be a great fit for your team!”).
After reviewing thousands of submissions, it’s easy for the brain to skim quickly through buzzwords, but if an applicant takes the extra time to write a cover letter that stands out (even in a relatively small way), the HR manager may take an extra minute or two to pause and really read what you have to say.
(If I were to guess, I’d say this has to do with pattern recognition in human psychology. Do your best to break the patterns they’re used to seeing in other cover letters!)
Just remember that HR employees are humans, not robots! You want to relate to them on a human level if possible. If you’re at a loss for what to write, read through their website, blog, social media pages, articles, presentations. There should be themes that come across (i.e. a company mission or vision) that give you something to work from.
7. Don’t show still images (concepts or 3D models) in a video unless you ALSO have screenshots of the same images.
It isn’t necessary to show still images in a slideshow or video. While videos are necessary for animation, all 2D and 3D images should be easily (and quickly) viewable.
Again, this isn’t because the person reviewing your portfolio is heartless, it’s simply to save valuable time. The person reviewing your portfolio doesn’t want to spend the extra time with a video unless it is necessary.
8. Only gear your portfolio toward 1 specific artstyle (or subject matter) if that’s the ONLY artstyle you’re interested in doing.
(This can be applied to game designers as well. Don’t ONLY show single player level maps if you really want to do multiplayer design. If you’ve only worked on single player levels, create a portfolio piece that shows you’ve got what it takes when it comes to multiplayer levels!)
You’ll get different advice from most people you ask for application advice, so do what feels right to you. I’m just giving suggestions based on my own experience.
I recommend showing a broad range of artstyles (i.e. realistic, stylized) and subjects (i.e. adults, kids, animals, robots) unless you are truly interested in ONLY creating realistic weapons, environments, etc. If a studio looks at your portfolio and only sees realistic weapons, they may have the impression that you are only interested in working on realistic weapons, and if that isn’t what they are looking for, they may pass over your application.
To tailor your application further to the company, you could even include a direct link to the portfolio page that focuses on the artstyle or subject matter listed in the job description. Recruiters may appreciate being able to immediately jump to the content most relevant to their studio’s current project.
It comes down to this – Studios are looking for someone who will fit into their company. They are looking for that one piece that screams you are the perfect fit for them. You should ideally have at least one piece of art they can point to and say, “This person can definitely create the style we’re looking for!”
If the studio is looking for an artstyle or subject matter not currently represented on your portfolio, you can always apply with a work in progress piece or tell them you’ll get back to them within a few weeks with a WIP piece to show what you can do. Even if they don’t end up hiring you, it’s another great piece you can add to your portfolio! It can open up future opportunities. (It also looks great to a studio that you’re willing to create a sample specifically for them.)
9. Show off your very best stuff first, but also include “related examples” in case the hiring manager wants to see more.
Your best stuff should be featured most prominently on your page. After all, you don’t want the hiring manager to miss your best samples!
Depending on how it’s done, it can be really nice to show related examples under the item(s) the HR manager is currently viewing. Remember – you want to give the HR manager a reason to stay on your page.
If they are looking at a particular piece, you may want to have a small bar below with related work so they won’t leave your page after looking at the one piece. Maybe there’s something that one piece was “lacking” (in their eyes) that another piece has.
Thank you so much to everyone who submitted an application to Golden Moose Studios this fall! We wish we could get back to everyone regarding their applications, but that may not be possible since we received such a large quantity of applications.
Even if we don’t have any job postings or advisor positions listed on our site currently, feel free to send in applications at any time to firstname.lastname@example.org. Production needs change all the time, and we would love to hear from you!
Please leave a message below if you have any questions about applying to game studios or specific comments on this blog post. Thanks for reading!