We've all been there - you submit a job application (or are headhunted by a studio) and they're really interested, love your work and think you're the perfect candidate, but, umm, would you mind completing a quick test? I know some people flat out refuse to co-operate with any kind of testing policy, considering it demeaning or a waste of their limited spare time. However, a test isn't always simply a test of ability, but a measure of your attitude. On this basis alone, I'd consider very carefully before refusing to participate in this increasingly common step on the road to recruitment.
Of course, you could argue that the team contemplating hiring you should be experienced enough to glean from your CV/resume and portfolio or showreel whether you've got the requisite skills. This is true - to an extent. Whilst it's highly unlikely that someone who has held a very senior role for many, many years lacks the expertise that their CV suggests; for less experienced candidates, at least, I've had prospective employees be somewhat economical with the truth, right through to making wild, unsubstantiated, claims regarding abilities that they have no knowledge of whatsoever. Some potential hires are even underhand enough to rip sections from other people's showreels and present them as their own - fortunately, this devious behaviour is usually spotted fairly quickly. Word gets around and the actual creator of the animation generally gets wind of this and kicks up a big fuss (and friends and acquaintances pile in too!) as artists always recognise their own work and often that of their colleagues past and present. Nonetheless, not everyone is honest and upfront about their lack of experience in a particular area; for this reason, I did start setting tests for prospective hires, but - and this is a big but - the tests are always a reasonable length and all assets, script, and so on, are supplied.
I believe this is fair; a candidate who is serious about joining the company, who genuinely has the skills that are essential - and who is passionate about the quality of their work - is generally agreeable to performing a brief test of ability. I'd never set ludicrously lengthy tests, those that go beyond the realm of the job description or require masses of time spent sourcing assets; for a simple animation test, I'd supply the character rig and model, plus any necessary tools. Neither would I expect an applicant to take time off work to come into the studio; any tests should be available to perform at home and should accommodate the potential recruit's current commitments. Moreover, so long as the candidate has fulfilled the brief, I wouldn't demand a constant flow of petty alterations, for instance, due to a slightly different interpretation of the script. Actually, a spark of originality always bodes well and insisting on enforcing a series of unnecessary changes is a guaranteed way to put your potential new recruit off the studio and through the doors of a competitor.
What about taking tests myself? Well, I have to say that I don't really mind - so long as it's not ridiculously time consuming. Like most people in the games industry, I have a very tight schedule so spending absolutely ages working on an animation or cinematics test is a pain to fit in and is no more indicative of my ability than a test with a much shorter turn around. In fact, it could be argued that performing a test within an allotted amount of time more accurately reflects the pressures of working in game development! One behemoth of a tripartite test took literally weeks to perform and the company provided absolutely nothing - no script, no character models, nada. Ultimately, I actually enjoyed writing the script and all the rest of it; however, due to concerns regarding the company's stability, I declined their offer. Okay, my decision wasn't based on their approach to testing - but I have to say that the studio didn't exactly endear themselves to me by imposing a test that monopolised my every spare moment for several weeks. If you set tests that are a lengthy as this, then you seriously risk sending the message that you don't value the candidate's time.
However, this situation is fairly unusual; in my experience, I've found studios generally to be rather apologetic and somewhat tentative when asking if I'm happy to submit to testing. I don't find it a problem; I have the skills listed on my resume and am happy to put my money where my mouth is. Yes, I've been in this business a long time, but if all candidates are required to be tested, even if it's merely a formality for more experienced candidates, then there's little to be achieved by being difficult and stroppy. It also gives you a great opportunity to suss out your potential new employer - if they make absurd demands at this stage, then what are they like to actually work for? After all, the recruitment process is a two way street and you are also determining whether a studio is going to be a good fit from your perspective too.
In a nutshell, tests can be a useful tool is assessing technical and creative ability, but also an applicant's enthusiasm - gauging both aptitude and attitude. If they feel that testing is beneath them, then will they exhibit the same behaviour once hired and are asked to pitch in with the rest of the team? Equally, is the studio setting the test reasonable in their approach towards you at this early stage? If not, then you may want to look elsewhere. Testing can be a real eye-opener on both sides, but, generally, the best candidates are those who willingly agree to and actually enjoy this aspect of the process. Attitudes towards testing vary from individual to individual and everyone is quite within their rights to object, but I don't believe that a blanket refusal is particularly helpful to those wishing to become part of the team and, to be honest, I've certainly found that the best animators usually love to animate at any given opportunity and relish the chance to show off their awesome skills!