Breaking in to the games industry can be really tough. Just like other creative industries, such as movies and TV, there is a lot of competition for relatively few entry level positions. No surprise then that one of the common requests on the IGDA’s Breaking In Forum is for a review/help with a résumé. While helping with these requests I have noticed that there are three common mistakes that crop up again and again. The first is failing to give useful/specific information, the second is padding and the third is waffling. In order to produce a great résumé you need to ensure you avoid these simple mistakes.
1. Failing to give useful/specific information.
Applicants often mention that they were responsible for XYZ on a previous project or are experienced at programming in C++ but how does the person reading your résumé knows what you mean when you say “responsible for”? You need to clearly but briefly explain what exactly you did – give numbers, time-frames etc so that readers can understand the value of what you did.
Saying “Eperienced in C++” is meaningless without detail so give an example such as “Developed a rigid body physics engine in C++ in X time for Y project”. Don’t write an essay about the features of your physics engine, leave it to the interviewer to pick up on that if it is something that interests them.
Note: You should also plan for any interview by giving some thought to what challenges you faced while developing your system and how you overcame them.
While the problem above was one of omission, padding is a problem of inclusion. It is most often seen in the résumés of entry level applicants who apply for jobs which require “3 years industry experience” (Note: It is important to understand the difference between Work Experience and Industry Experience). Entry level applicants who don’t understand the difference, or just want to try anyway, often pad their résumé with information which isn’t applicable. Examples of things that aren’t relevant experience for a games programmer would include…
A weekend job at CompUSA
Skilled in the use of Microsoft Word
Guild Master in WOW
CompUSA – When listing work experience it should be applicable work experience doing game development. Working retail, even at a computer or game store isn’t applicable work experience for a game developer. You could mention a university placement at a games company or at a company where you were actually doing some form of actual development (no, IT support wouldn’t count). You could also mention a completed game you made in your spare time or a mod project as these are game development, but don’t list them under work/industry experience. Put them under “other experience” rather than work/industry experience because there is a considerable difference between doing something in your spare time and working in a commercial environment under the sort of restrictions/deadlines that companies face.
Microsoft Word – Likewise don’t list basic skills such as word processing when applying for a technical position. It is assumed that a programmer will have adequate keyboard skills so it isn’t worth listing. Worse still it clearly indicates to someone reading your résumé that you either don’t understand what is important for the position in question or that you are desperate to pad your résumé so that it seems more impressive.
Note: Unless you send a hand written cover letter and résumé your keyboard skills are going to be pretty self evident.
Guild Master – This may come as a surprise to a lot of people but being addicted to playing games isn’t actually a qualification for a game development job. I have worked with some really great programmers and artists/animators who never played games. Their passion was programming/art – making games and not playing games. If you want to list gaming as one of your interests that is fine but it isn’t a a qualification for a development position and you shouldn’t treat it as such.
Otherwise known as the age old art of managing to use twenty two words where five would have been more than sufficient. [see what I did there?] Again this often occurs when people are worried that their résumé isn’t strong enough. They try to make up for weaknesses by going to excessive lengths to explain about various elements in their résumé. The problem with waffling is that, rather than making things clearer, it usually makes a résumé less readable and thus hides what positive attributes you do have.
“I decided that a good quality game needed [system X] and so I spent my spare time designing it, then convinced my boss that it would be useful to the project. I then wrote and tested it myself in C++”
Not only is the above sentence overly wordy but the applicant was so busy trying to explain how good they are that they failed to provide the really significant details making them guilty of mistake number one above. You should clearly and briefly explain what you did, how long it took and what the benefits were. “I spent X months developed a level editing tool that allowed designers to assemble and test game levels 15% faster than the previous tool-set.” – You obviously need to be prepared to have an interviewer quiz you on the claims made.
If the above problems occur in your résumé it is a clear indication that you have trouble communicating or that you are desperate for a job or lack confidence in your abilities. Interviewers and HR staff will spot these mistakes immediately and mark you down accordingly. If an employer advertises a position requiring three years of industry experience they won’t be fooled by someone including their two years of part-time work at McDonalds and a year at CompUSA. Employers do hire entry level staff and it is understood that these individuals won’t have industry experience. If you fit into that category then providing an honest (and short) résumé will be more likely to get you a job than attempting to mislead an interviewer.
Update: I came across a post that links to another useful résumé related article at Darius Kazemi’s blog http://tinysubversions.blogspot.com/2009/04/writing-resume-for-game-company.html
Image used in this post http://www.flickr.com/photos/azrainman/1004637172/ used under the Creative Commons license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/