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Just Say No to Employment Tests
by Stephen Dinehart on 04/11/14 02:34:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I can hear you now. 

"But that's just the way it's done Grognard."

"Ya, but if I want the job I have too... (right?)"

Fact is, I'm tired of being exploited. Aren't you? I regularly flush 3-6 weeks of my life annually on design, scripting and writing tests. Let's not even talk about hours of free phone consulting disguised as interview.  Now, I'm no gaming messiah, but you'd think with over 15 years of game development experience people would be more interested in my work. Nope. Why?

The abused like to abuse.

I had another one this week, for a position a didn't even apply for. It went something like this: "We've gotten over 100,000 applications and from that huge pool you've made it. So congrats! Frankly, you are so lucky we're still talking to you. Unfortunately, we can only hire one person, so the next step will be to ask you to do the real job, in lieu of pay, and that way we can see how you operate." 

Then there's always - "Wow, we totally love you, this is great. What a stellar resume. We have this amazing IP! We've already burned through five or so writers, but you'll really knock this one out. Just to make sure you aren't dead weight, could you rethink our IP using [X] franchise, design a few levels, write a 3-page sample campaign script and get back to us with a proposal in two weeks? We know, it sucks, but you really need to do this if you want [fill in carrot of your choice]."

This is not professional. It's exploitation. It's taking food off your table and doing free work for competitors. It's stealing your life. Time. Time you could be spending with people that like you.

"Did they call again?" Photo by Corey Beasley

It's not like we're all that fat kid looking for a break. I can say that because I once was, but if I could talk to that kid I'd tell him to give them the ████ and go back to his D&D. I'd tell him that everyone is lying to him. He wouldn't have seen the The 40 Year Old Virgin, as it hadn't been made yet, but I'd tell him it's a lie too. DON'T GIVE UP YOUR TOYS FOR GIRLS OR JOBS - KEEP PLAYING. Anything but wasting his time on employment tests would get him way farther than any amount of jumping through bozo-buckets and disastrous poison-ridden creative environments. They do more harm than good.

"But you're senior, clearly juniors need to be subjected to the gauntlet." No, all juniors need are enthusiasm and a basic skill-set. Hiring managers should be able to figure that out with a simple conversation and design sample.

"Oh no! It's not like that. Human Resources departments everywhere LOVE people and have nothing but respect for thier time and effort. They simply must do this to determine if you have any value." Haven't read the fine print have you?

"IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTE: By accepting this test you are agreeing not to share any of our intellectual property, neither the storyline, game mechanics, images, names, concepts or trademarked characters. You are also waiving any and all rights to the content submitted as part of this test throughout the Universe forever."

Sounds peachy! And that universe bit, promise. I've signed contracts worded that way by expensive lawyers for HUGE companies. They actually asked for talent to put all the IP they've ever created on a 8.5x11 sheet of paper called "Exhibit A". Why would they do that? So they can steal your work indiscriminately without consequence. So they obscure themselves of any real resposibility and make sure you never get a dime if you should take them to court. Yep, all about you. I'm not saying anyone has stolen content from a test I've been swindled into taking, only that they make sure to have the wiggle room to do so. In this situation it wouldn't be stealing anyhow, hence the verbiage of the contact excerpt above.

Do you think this is how other industries operate? 

"Hello. We've heard you are really good at making sprockets. We need a special sprocket for our broken shit machine. Design one for us and we'll tell you if you have the job. You have 72 hours. Go."

Are big WTF signals going off in your head right now? Because they should be. That's the way it works in the interacitve entertianment industry.

Now, I know stories abound. Please feel free to share them in the comments!  I've produced some decent, even great material for employment tests, but I know it's not my best. My best work comes out when people trust me and value my time and contribution. I think it's the same for most people. Hell, I don't even apply for these jobs anymore. They call me. Then they ask me to take a test? Don't give me, "the job market is harsh". I'm not on the job market anymore than any of us stuck in this on again off again rat race.

But this simple question I ask you - what if we stopped? What if we all said "no", starting today? Right now?

"Then some kid would get the job instead of me." Well good. █████ those lousy █████ heads. If they don't want you, you shouldn't work for them. Plain and simple. If you are so valueless as to be overlooked for sake that you value your time and effort - go elsewhere. Hell, take that time and make something for yourself, then Kickstart it. Having worked in time-tested professional creative envriornments outside the game industry I can say our tests are no proper judge of creative talent. If a creative manager is worth two shits he or she should be able to tell you if a candidate is a good fit without burning so much time and goodwill. 

I'm calling it out - bullshit. Caca del toro as we say in Spain. (I'm not in Spain. Ok, nor am I Spanish.)

Who's with me? Let's start a revolution and next time say "Sure, I'll do your test. On a retainer."

They'll laugh. You'll say "thanks, but no thanks sweetheart" and hang-up. (People still hang-up right?)

I for one am done. 

I'm doing it for you, for us, so we don't have to prove ourselves on the alters of recruiters and inexperienced producers everywhere anymore. Join me and I promise they'll stop. 

Find me @stephendinehart

 


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Comments


Tony Dormanesh
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I want to agree with this, and it sounds like you've had it worse than most of us. I come from a purely design background, where most designers don't have a portfolio. If employers forced us to show a portfolio of work, then I think design tests could go away.

If you're in a position to hire someone, a few people apply but no one has a portfolio... what do you do? Just hire them based on answering a few questions? I've been in that situation where one person talks the talk better than the others, but when the design tests came in that person was at the bottom of the barrel. When it comes to game design, you don't want someone who's only a good talker, you need someone who kicks ass.

Some of my colleagues have already gone down the path of no tests. I know a few who just laugh at a company that wants them to do a test and walk away. It's ballsy. I've disregarded many a company with little or no reputation who asks for too much in a test. But other times (A company I would've liked to work for) I've spent 40+ hours making epic, detailed maps and stories.

On the other hand I feel it's really hard to work for free, especially when you're unemployed and stressed. Under those circumstances I know many times I've turned in design tests that weren't my best work.

Chris Proctor
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The problem with portfolios is that you often can't show your best work because of non-disclosure agreements, particularly as a designer. Some of my best work never shipped, or did ship but is so deep in the systems of a game that I can explain it but not actually demonstrate it in a video, or is part of the special sauce of a game so I can't get permission to use it in my portfolio.

Huge tests are also shitty, but it at least gives everyone a level playing field, and if you don't want to do the work you're free to withdraw your application - I've done that a couple of times myself if I didn't love the opportunity enough.

My favourite is a severely time-limited test. One company asked me to schedule a time to begin the test, and I had to return it within 4 hours. That's great! The company gets a chunk of design written under pressure, and I get to deliver a test in 4 hours without feeling like I'm giving other applicants a head start on me.

Andrew Dovichi
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I think I had that same 4 hour design test as you, I actually hated it though. My personal time is already severely limited thanks to the joy of having 3 kids and a wife that all want my attention. So blocking out a 4 hour chunk of time without distraction is pretty tough for me. This particular test got hit with a case of what can go wrong, will go wrong.

My mother in law got admitted to the hospital about a half an hour into the test so my wife bailed to go be with her, leaving me with 3 kids in bed, which should have been ok except one kid decided to wake up a puke all over himself in bed.

I maybe got 2 hours of work in before I had to turn it in. I figured that making excuses (no matter how valid) would be just as bad as what I turned in so I just let it go.

I already hate design tests, but please give me a week or so to complete it on my own time.

Chris Proctor
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Sure, life will sometimes find a way to screw up a test. You'd run into the same problem with in-person interviews though - if you'd been onsite for a full day interview, then what?

If you give every applicant a week you have 4-hour tests being compared to 40-hour tests . . . I'm not a fan, either as an applicant or someone reviewing the tests.

Stephen Dinehart
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No, like TC says below. It's really embarrassing and unprofessional for all those involved. I've worked in other much more professional creative industries that don't have these issues. We can fix it.

Kenneth Blaney
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Honest question, are there any examples of instances where companies have used the results of employment tests without compensating (or hiring) the original creator?

Stephen Dinehart
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Hey Kenneth. Thanks for the question. I don't think that's really the issue at play here, but I have had clients flat out rip off my work to secure bigger clients. I'll skip names.

Kenneth Blaney
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I ask because a large part of the article seems dedicated to the idea that skills tests are doing work for the company for free and so the company giving the test using the results of the test in any way would directly confirm that suspicion. If this is a common experience (and it appears that it is) then your argument against skills tests holds a lot more weight in my mind. It goes from "They technically could" to "They technically do". I will probably be significantly less likely to take/give any skill tests in the future.

A similar clause is often found without nefarious intent in academic institutions. Generally, the reason they claim the rights to work done for classes is to prevent legal issues between their students who may collaborate on projects in specifically entangling ways. Technically a school like DigiPen might be able to sell student projects without cutting the students in, but they won't and don't for various reasons.

Stephen Dinehart
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Hey Kenneth. I had a hard time with the IP policy at USC SCA when I was in grad school there. It definitely kept me from outputting my best. In hindsight though, the school has such a policy mostly to protect students. Sure they get kickbacks, but in the event that a big published approaches about an IP you created in school, as happened to me, the school is there to make sure you get, well, an OK deal. Wait. They just had me sign away my rights to Sony...

Anonymous Designer
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What if we stopped? Answer: We would hire worse designers, and games would be worse.

Chances are, whatever brilliant design you use in your test either isn't really that brilliant, or would be overlooked even if it was. If you truly believe whatever you came up with for your test is a rare specimen of cutting edge design - then save it and don't blow your load. Is that all you've got? Or give it and come up with tomorrows cutting edge design next.

If you want to be a game designer you need to be prepared to crap out good game design day in day out, have your favorite ideas abandoned, the ones you hate the most embraced, and have your ideas stolen, ignored, mutilated, and once in awhile maybe liked. You're supposed to enjoy it. If you can't do that to get the job, you don't deserve the job in the first place.

That said, good luck with your job search. I'm sure it's frustrating out there.

Stephen Dinehart
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Jack, best jobs I've had never required tests. Good talent knows good talent. You get a nose for it. Out where? Job search? These are largely unsolicited. Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous Designer
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That's true, most people I hire don't require design tests. But if they do, there's a reason - the scent wasn't there. Not only are they not going to get hired by refusing, but if they are the type of designer that is going to be defensive and stubborn about providing ideas and samples without relinquishing ownership, that's a red flag and I wouldn't want to work with them anyway.

I assumed you were searching for a job because in your article you mentioned how "this week" you received a response from a job application. Not really material to the discussion regardless.

David Navarro
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"But if they do, there's a reason - the scent wasn't there."

Precisely. Design tests are generally completely worthless by themselves; they are more of a handy cover to hire or not hire someone based on other criteria. I can't think of a single discipline less conducive to be spot-tested for than game design.

This is regarding pure design, of course. Scripting ability or proficiency with any given editor are of course more testable.

Michael Leone
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"What if we stopped? Answer: We would hire worse designers, and games would be worse".

This is absolutely false. Other industries I have worked in give you a basic skills test to determine viability, then make the hiring decision with that. They then hire that person for a probationary period, or outright depending on the experience of the applicant. Virtually every emergency and public service industry works this way. The company gets the work done, and the person gets paid for their time. The system of multi-day or multi-week tests is just making people do work for you without paying them, and should be illegal.

Anonymous Designer
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I don't see anything wrong with a company re-reimbursing an applicant that had to put over single-digit man hours into a test in the case that they didn't get the job. That still leaves the prerogative of giving a test to the developer, without taking advantage of the applicant.

There is a realistic legal avenue for this type of solution.

Thomas Happ
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I really dislike programming tests. It's like time to dig out the textbooks and remember stuff you'd forgotten years ago because they're not things you've used since. And usually you need to finish them in less than an hour. I'd prefer to send a sample of some existing code I was proud of, or at worst, write some new code over a few days as if I were performing a real-world task.

Julien Delavennat
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One hour programming tests? I've only ever taken two programming tests (for internships), but both of them I could do from home, one I had as much time as I wanted (I took 10 days), the other I know was supposed to be 3 days, but because that would have ended during the weekend, the HR person told me to send it on monday instead, which gave me 5 days. Both of those studios were based in Stockholm though.

I'm actually glad I got to pass some technical tests, as they were pretty hard for my level (I was in 3rd year), they actually taught me a lot, and even though I can't put them in my portfolio, I can still talk about the tech I had to deal with in interviews.

Actually it's funny, the studio that ended up accepting me for an internship didn't even ask for an interview, they were like "nice CV, nice test, you can code, sure come over", whereas the other studio I passed the test, but then I failed the following phone interview. It was my first interview ever, my brain froze super hard, and I couldn't remember any of the stuff I ever worked on, so I ended up not getting the internship because "well apparently you don't have enough experience, please apply again later", even though I had the level to pass the technical test and I had stuff on my CV and in my portfolio.

Stephen Dinehart
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Boom! You said it right there Julien. Sounds like that place you landed your internship was full of smart people. At your level no test is needed, only enthusiasm and a basic skill-set. That's the same way I landed internships at places like EA and Warner Brothers back in grad school.

Chris Proctor
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I'm ok with tests (note: I balk at those that'll take me the better part of a week), though I much prefer this order:
- phone screen
- short phone interview
- remote test
- in person interview

Doing the test after the phone interview shows respect for the applicant's time - if they make it past the phone interview they're at least in with a good chance, so the time seems better spent.

Stephen Dinehart
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I actually love tests, for the record. Just not the way they're used and abused as a recruitment tool in our industry. What you describe is much better, but I think for folks like us samples should be just fine. Hell, hire a candidate on contract for a week, a month, whatever, then if they pass 'the test' give them a FT gig with benefits.

Mike Kiessling
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"Hell, hire a candidate on contract for a week, a month, whatever, then if they pass 'the test' give them a FT gig with benefits."

The problem with that is, a lot of guys and gals out there are taking tests while still working someplace else.
it's a huge leap of faith to quit an OK job to gamble on passing the contract period to get hired as a full-time employee.
Besides, if companies are already abusing tests to get 'free work' from applicants, what would stop them from abusing a contract month to get some more work and then not retain their new hire?

Most companies already have probation periods for new hires, but they usually require well defined targets to pass or fail so they offer some more security than a contract that can be ended without any real reason.

Anyway, you make some good points here, and I don't mind tests myself but I would still prefer any work I create for a test to not be protected by any NDA.
It's not rocket surgery to come up with a test that checks an applicants qualification for the job at hand without using IP protected parameters.
If you don;t like me, fine, but let me use the work I created in my portfolio if I want to.

Jesse Tucker
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I've been asked to provide an in-editor sample piece for every level design position I've applied for. I don't really see that as exploitative, but then again you can't really build a game off of a single level very easily.

It seems like from your experience they've basically used you as a consultant under the guise of hiring you. That sounds really crappy.

Chris Proctor
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He didn't say the work he's done for tests has appeared in any games. He's speculated that that's the motivation for the contracts etc, but I'd be interested to see any actual cases of it happening.

Stephen Dinehart
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Perhaps I emphasized incorrectly Chris, I'm not saying anyone has stolen my work. It wouldn't be stealing under such conditions. As talent we forfeit our rights. I'd almost be happier if it was used. That's a compliment! In my book, it's a question of poor hiring practices more than anything. Thanks for commenting.

Sherman Luong
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Test are only ok if the other side has the answers with them.

Heres what you did, heres what we did, similar, different? Discuss. Now you see how their mind works and how their potential mind works.

But a lot of test these days they don't do that.

Stephen Dinehart
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Good point Sherman. It's not much of a test if there are not answers.

Joseph Caddell
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I concur. At least with the fact some studios won't let you display your test for your portfolio. I think even some studios use your asset in the shipped game...I think I've herd it done before (complete Bulls*it if you ask me). It really pisses me off that this company a friend was working with was using the same character design they told a bunch of other character artist to do, then they would pick the one they liked most...He was going to ask the Manager to see if I could join, until he found that out. He quit immediately.

Stephen Dinehart
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That sounds kinda stinky Joseph. Steer clear!

Joseph Caddell
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Oh I will! Haha, if they contact me, i'll say "no thanks!"

TC Weidner
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I agree 100%. It's ridiculous, it's embarrassing for everyone involved, as in you are treating an potential company asset as if they are 10 years old.. pencils out kids....

Its all CYA for those hiring, just in case the employee doesnt pan out they can point to "the test" but the test.. its not my fault. CYA.... almost all the nonsense of the corporate leads back to C Y A

Stephen Dinehart
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Embarrassing is a great way to put it TC, and for everyone.

Jason Weesner
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I see nothing wrong with design tests unless you're asked to do them on the fly during the interview with no warning. This type of design test serves no real purpose since it's an incomplete representation of the work you would do if you had the job. Real design work involves research / analysis, structured thought, presentation, refinement / iteration, collaboration, and many other processes that can't possibly fit conclusively into an hour of interview time unless the candidate has been given the time to prepare.

Stephen Dinehart
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Chris, I might like in-interview tests much better. Something like "Here's a player experience goal. Design a game in one hour that meets that goal and delivers meaningful play."

Now that's my kind of test! In studio, in the moment, and by the skin of your teeth. My kind of employment game! :D

Taric Mirza
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I agree with Stephen's response. I am a big fan of these kinds of on-the-fly tests. Keep in mind, you aren't asking the candidate to take 1 hour and deliver the equivalent of a 500 hour polished peer-reviewed final design that was the height of your artistic talent. It "is what it is", just whatever you can do in an hour, same thing applies to the other candidates.

It is such a powerful and effective interview technique because it tests the most important skills that simple questions often miss.

a) are you productive? What is the quantity you were able to produce in that short amount of time

b) quality and creativity? Does your work, even while being incomplete, really show where you are going with it and hopefully some flash of brilliance/creativity/uniqueness?

c) how well do you work with people? A properly structured test problem will be one where the candidate has motivation to ask for feedback interactively. You get closer to a real-world collaborative environment, which sheds some light on the candidate's communication skills. That gives you a far more accurate representation of their teamwork capacity than simply asking them the standard "how well do you work well in teams / please give us an example".

Jason Weesner
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A) Again, that measure of "productivity" is not indicative of your level of productivity as an employee. Giving the candidate time to prepare and then talk about what they produced is a far better gauge and helps to properly set expectations for the employer and the candidate.

B) Your quality and creativity should be evident in your past work and your ability to talk about it.

C) This sounds about as useful as speed dating! Professional relationships and effective collaboration rarely develop in any substantial way over the course of an hour if you've just met a group of people for the first time.

Josef Shindler
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The best interviews I've ever had never even asked for design tests. Why? Because the people interviewing me actually knew the material and could ask intelligent questions.

Design tests are often a necessary evil when the first line of interviewing doesn't actually involve a subject matter expert. This is especially true at large companies.

Stephen Dinehart
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Agreed! I think you hit the nail of the head Josef. Cheers.

Ian Fisch
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It's pretty simple really. Companies will throw you as many hoops as they think you'll jump through. If they believe non technical designers are a dime-a-dozen, they'll make tests are rigorous as they can be, to ensure they pick the best one out of 1000.

Stephen Dinehart
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Morning Ian. Yep, hoops. The bigger issue is, I don't think it helps ensure anything, but burning out all but the desperate and total fan boys. I mean, I never had this issue in plain old IT. Hey, I got paid more too... hmmm...

Robert Schmidt
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Was interviewing for an architect position at an educational game company years ago and was informed I would have to write a code test. I asked them why, I wasn't being hired to code. Company policy. I said, if you were hiring an architect to design you a building would you have him prove to you he knew how to hammer a nail? Company policy. Well clearly our expectations are not in alignment, good look on your search. They called me up a few days latter asking me to reconsider. I pointed out that they clearly did not understand the position for which they were hiring and that did not bode well for me. Crazy, they are hiring me to design their products and they are concerned that after only 20 years as a software designer I may not know how to write code.

Earlier in my career I was asked to demonstrate how to write an enterprise application by creating a website that accessed a database. I pointed out that I would employ a framework to do something like that and I had written many of them but couldn't in the time available. They said, just pull some data from the database. I asked, what would that prove? Nothing I could do in the time allowed would ever appear in production code. Not a single line. Instead, I suggested, I walk him though what I would do. So while demonstrating how a terrible enterprise app would be written I explained how a proper solution would be built. Was hired to setup their development department.

Most companies generally do not have the skill-set to hire programmers so they just do what everyone else does. If you allow yourself to be lead by the nose you are competing with dozens of others. Use that time to distinguish yourself instead just showing you meet their lowest standards. If they see it, good for you, if they don't, it probably would have been a waste of your time anyway.

Stephen Dinehart
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Brilliant example Rob! Thanks. Code tests. I've had those too. I say, wouldn't you rather look as a sample of my code from a function product on the market? No. I don't get it. I think we have a lot of poor gatekeepers out there and they fear for their jobs.

"If you allow yourself to be lead by the nose you are competing with dozens of others. Use that time to distinguish yourself instead just showing you meet their lowest standards. If they see it, good for you, if they don't, it probably would have been a waste of your time anyway."

You said it! Cheers. Thanks for commenting.

Ken Nakai
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It's true, that's usually a big warning sign that they really don't know what they're doing. I've used on-the-fly interview tests but not as a way to evaluate someone's coding skills (I tell them they can even write it in pseudo-code). I just want to see how they tackle a problem. In my experience, both as a coder in the trenches and as a manager hiring them, you really won't be able to glean everything from an interview. I tended to focus on personality and fit (of course, throwing a couple of questions out there or letting them talk about how they approached coding problems helps make it more clear if they really understand what they're doing).

In the end, a good anything (coder, designer, whatever) is going to shine through if you give them the tools, space and time. A good manager knows how to manage that and deal with different people with different strengths.

I've hired people because we were desperate and they knew their stuff (and someone hire up was pushing to fill a seat because we needed help) but they just didn't fit and couldn't deliver. And I've hired people who had limited experience but got along well with others and they hit the ground running, figuring out what they needed to and getting things moving on their own. In the end, you need to hire the person, not just the skillset.

Plus, there's always the fact that people change or have things they have to deal with or office politics or whatever get in the way. You could hire an ace employee only to have them tank because they work well in a corporate environment with silos and can't handle a looser start-up like environment. But, then you have people who've worked corporate environments for ages and are just bundles of energy and productivity once they've been unleashed in a start-up like environment. Everyone's unique so plan accordingly...

Jed Hubic
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Am I not following something? The places that never hired you had tests, ergo tests are bad? The best places you've worked never had tests, but that implies that they then hired you. Maybe my mind bad is text parsing article this.

Stephen Dinehart
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Hey Jeb! Thanks for commenting. It's not a question of hiring, it's a question of professionalism. I've had a very successful career in games. I'm doing this not for myself, but to embolden others. We shouldn't be treated this way. It's just a bad hiring practice.

TC Weidner
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its not about him, its about this ridiculous practice. Its insulting and embarrassing.

Anton Temba
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The most annoying thing as designer is trying to prove you're good.

Its not like a musician or a graphics artist that can just pull out their stuff out of a bag and play it to the viewer or show it to them. Design material exists in documents with walls-of-text, sketchy scribbles or as a mindset inside of our heads that can only be accessed by talking to us for a couple hours.

Compared to other artist work, is very difficult to present and requires the interviewer to make a serious effort in getting to know you.

What even more annoying is that design involves a lot of abstract concepts that are often tricky to explain. In this regard, musicians and graphical artist have an upper hand in their ability to present their works.

Stephen Dinehart
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Helloooo Anton! Agreed, but I don't think it's unique to particular kinds of talent or positions. Though I'm sure producers never get asked to do such tasks (someone please correct me). I've received the same treatment as a production developer, graphics artist, game designer, writer, narrative designer, general bozo, and countless other titles.

Anyone that knows design should be able to interview candidates without such a fruitless gauntlet. I think the problem stems mostly from the glut of mid and senior level talent in games. They tend to defend their territory staunchly as they know they are under-qualified. I've seen it too many times.

Design is abstract, but like music, a good movement - an encounter, that produces meaningful play should be enough to say - "I get it, let's do this."

Thanks for commenting! Hope you found something inspiring in my drivel.

Julian Cram
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Producer here... *waves*

I've had to do "production tests" for a lack of a better term. A whole sheet of "If X happens, what would you do?" and "how would you order these events in this timeline?"

Michael Deneen
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Good article. I've always had a distaste for tests being a great metric for potential employee quality. Design tests, specifically, are very tricky. For theoretical design questions, there's no absolute right or wrong answer, and often times a difference in opinion between the tester and the test-taker can translate to failure. For the less theoretical, and more construction-orientated tests (level design), the best you'll ever get out of the results is how sloppily or cleanly the person organizes their work, which does have some value. Otherwise, analyzing top down maps or playing an early version doesn't tell the whole story given that we typically iterate on this kind of work together while in a professional environment.

To play devil's advocate, though, I have seen design tests work fairly well before. This is because the test was used as a conversation starter, and it never functioned as a dead end. After giving a candidate the test, we'd ALWAYS contact them afterwards. What was being judged was how they discussed their design, and reacted to criticism or questions about how certain aspects could be changed. Even when the paper design looked objectively bad (poor grammar, incomplete/incoherent thoughts, etc), it gave us an opportunity to find out WHY that was. We were really looking for thought processes and communication skills. Only in the few bad cases did the poor test verify our assumptions about the candidate. This wasn't a bulletproof process, of course, but it painted a larger picture than a design test could do alone.

If that still isn't sufficient, what's the answer to how to conduct a design interview? There's some credence to be hiring a person after a few interviews with different people in the company, and then evaluating how they coexist with them during a defined trial period. As long as they know that they're still being tested, that could yield the most accurate representation of a potential hire. This, of course, only works for the unemployed. Then again, asking an employed person to take a test that should take a normal human being 8 full working days is equally unrealistic. Back to square one?

Either way, the longer I work, the more I realize that getting along with your coworkers is of paramount concern. As long as people vaguely show technical chops and an ability to learn during the interview process, they can be taught how to technically do whatever is asked of them in the workplace. But if they're miserable people to be around, no design or technical competency will make them a true asset to a company. When I've interviewed people, the question I always ask myself is "Would I want to interact with this person on a daily basis?" If the answer is no, nothing else matters.

Rey Samonte
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This is one of the reasons why, after 15 years in the industry, I walked away. First of all, there is no stability in the industry. After each release, you can expect a few rounds of layoffs and you were always on edge. I just recently recovered after being unemployed for 7 months. During that time, I did whatever I could to survive which involved freelance development.

One of the things I hate is when you're doing a phone interview, and the interviewer asks you coding questions as if you're straight out of college. Focusing more on terminology rather than real world application and practices. Regarding programming tests, one of the tests required me to write a memory management system overnight. Granted, I understand the concepts and the importance, but personally, I've never wrote one from scratch before. My resume clearly stated the areas of development I was involved in and it would have been nice if the questions and focus of the interview related to the position I was applying for.

Then you have those tests where they expect you to implement something with so many restrictions of how to do it. It was like asking me to build a car with just a screw driver. It felt like you spent too much time just trying to be "cleaver" but you end up being hacky for the sake of getting it done. It's never a reflection of the real thought process and practices of what you would do on the job.

For me, it was just too much and it's not because I didn't think I was capable, but to go through this process almost every other year, I got sick of it. Fortunately, I managed to find a job outside of the gaming industry and am able to afford the time to develop my own games on the side.

Stephen Dinehart
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Thanks for your story Rey. It is a prime example, and all too familiar. Congrats on finding a way out so that you can return to what you loved in the first place - making meaningful games.

William Dettrey
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My main issue with legitimate art tests is the lack of feedback after you've completed a test and were turned down. When you get multiple tests in the same time period it completely consumes your schedule, that time which could be put to much better use elsewhere. In my experiences, I've been dropped like a hat as far as correspondence goes the second I am not what they are looking for: insert unknown reason/s here.

The tests described here seem like scam art tests to me and should definitely be avoided, but even the legitimate ones I have found a huge lack of professional communication and follow up from an industry that exclaims how intelligent, smart and "best of the best" they are.

We live in an exciting time where anyone of us or a group of us can create our own products rather than constantly be in competition amongst ourselves for a company's very desired milk. Use that time to better use and start churning your own cream instead (for as long as it will last). :)

Stephen Dinehart
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Thanks for sharing Will. Lost of good points, but my favorite - the time is now! Cheers.

Frank Ballinger
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I don't normally comment on forums, but I want to thank Stephen Dinehart for his writing on this issue.

As someone in the film industry trying to transition into games, it’s disappointing to see these elaborate early-stage tests as part of the hiring process. Such tests show a lack of respect for the applicant’s time.

I understand testing a potential employee for a brief period (an hour or so) on specific software/practices and to get a feel for technique. Beyond that, it’s unreasonable to expect more time from the applicant to create a finished “test product.” That’s what a portfolio or reel is for.

If an applicant has gone through several HR stages already, than perhaps an additional test is reasonable -- but not at the outset. Film production companies that ask job applicants to create “sample movies” just for them are unprofessional and seen as such.

I recently applied for a cinematic design position at a prominent game company. The auto-response email asked that I create a test movie, and that the test should take 8-16 hours, by their estimate. The work required was extensive. If the company had indicated an interest in me and my work through an initial phone interview or email, I would have considered it. But from an auto-response? No. My time is limited, and weekends are for my own work.

I hope some managers read this article and the comments, and realize they’re leaving a lot of talent on the table by alienating them with these tests. If they don’t care and prefer to make applicants jump through hoops, that tells me all I need to know about how they run their business.

Stephen Dinehart
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Thanks for sharing your story Frank, and you're welcome. It's been a long time coming. Fear held me at bay, fear of speaking up, that it might ruin my future in the industry, but time has come for change. I think most film industry talent would be appalled. Back in the 1930's when the first unions and guilds formed to keep these sorts of practices at bay. We have yet too, and it's high time.

I'm not sure if this will do much, but I hope it starts the conversation and some brave souls start standing up and forming unions. This industry sucks the life out of people and we deserve to be treated with a little respect. When we see such blockbusters coming to bay, coupled with mass layoffs, it just doesn't make sense. For now, our best hope are the indies. Cheers.

Neil Jones
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I'm done taking test! I was sent a test that needed to be done the day after so I was pretty much spent my whole birthday working on this dumb art test. It came out really well but took me about 11 hours I sent it in knowing I had the job because the models looked better then the concept art. I didnt hear back from them till the next year. The company asked me in for a interview and wanted me to do a unpaid internship which is not what I applied for.

I found out later by someone that worked they that they always send out art test for jobs and offer internships instead. I haven't done a art test since

Stephen Dinehart
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That's exactly the kind of treatment I'm talking about Neil. We shouldn't let people treat us this way and it sounds like you made the right moves.

Jacek Wesolowski
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For what it's worth, I did some recruiting for a design team in my last job and I never asked anyone to take a test (there were about 15 candidates in total). Tests are good for verifying technical skills, and not much else. As a designer, I've learned that technical skills are easily gained and at the same time they quickly become obsolete. The mindset is the most valuable part of one's experience, and the easiest, fastest, cheapest way to get to know one's mindset is to have a meaningful, in-depth conversation with them.

Recently, I've been looking for an artist to create assets for a tiny game I'm developing. I've talked to a potential contractor, and I've asked her to provide a sample. This is not because I doubt her skills (her portfolio is quite impressive), but because I need to see if we can find an art style that fits the game's theme, stays within my tiny budget, and doesn't make her uncomfortable. I am, of course, paying for the sample.

Stephen Dinehart
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Boom! Sounds like a revolution to me Jacek. Well played! I had one client in my career pay me for sample creation. It's quite honorable. Good luck in finding the right candidate. Thanks for commenting!

R. Hunter Gough
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Three years ago I was doing the designer-job-hunting blitz, applying at a lot of different companies and doing a lot of different design tests.

One company asked for a treatment for a new feature for their currently-live online game. Another company asked for a treatment for a hypothetical new game based on a specific theme. I don't think either of those gave me a time limit, but they each took me a few hours.

The biggest company I applied to wanted a treatment for a new chapter of their best-known game, AND a playable demo implementing a specific gameplay concept in the engine of my choice. I politely declined that one.

The company that ended up hiring me (and where I still work) just asked for a couple of writing samples (I sent them the treatment I'd written for the hypothetical new game above, and another treatment I'd written for a personal project). When I asked my boss about them later, he said that he'd just wanted to see how clearly I could communicate ideas in writing, and if I had a passable grasp of grammar and spelling.

I didn't feel like any of these companies were asking me to "do usable work for free", and the tests were all small enough that I didn't feel like any of them were abusing my time, even the ones that didn't work out. I probably would've felt differently if I'd gone through with the whole test for the big company and they hadn't hired me, but that was a major part of why I declined to do it.

The first (hypothetical?) example you give does sound particularly egregious, but I think the experiences I've listed above are a happy medium between "no tests ever" and "write our GDD for us". Likewise, I think that "programming tests" along the lines of what you'd find on the midterm for a CS class are perfectly reasonable, but "prototype our next game, and don't forget to include your source" is not.

Stephen Dinehart
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Hey Hunter. It sounds like you made the right decision. If you had taken that test and got the big gig, you most likely would be looking for more work now.

Gotta love "Don't forget to include the source". I fell for that as a junior too many times.

Thanks for sharing your story!

Frank - Austin - Keller
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I'm fairly new to the industry so I always assumed tests were just something that were necessary, but my current employer was different. They called me in, questioned me in the interview process, and (from what my boss tells me about that day), immediately knew what kind of employee I would be. I answered some questions about programming, general what would you do questions. For things I didn't know, I simply stated I would google it. Anyone can learn to do anything, as long as they have the basic skills sets (like you said). Anyways, they sent me an offer letter fairly quickly, and I just told other studios I'd found work when they contacted me. If companies can afford to spend the extra time to have potential employees take tests and hop through hoops, then congrats, but I'd think they lose out on good people.

Stephen Dinehart
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Sounds like you found a good spot Frank! That's one of the reasons I felt compelled to do this. I've been a professor of game design for sometime now. One of my students asked about tests, and I was compelled to tell him how I really felt! We shouldn't allow the industry to generally treat us like grunts. Oops... :)

Samuli Jaaskelainen
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A few weeks ago I was in an interview for programmer internship position. The interviewer clearly stated me that they won't have any programming tests because they want to respect my time. They only required a code sample from a previous game project.

The interviewer clearly didn't like timed programming test or think they were efficient. I respect that. I got the place shortly after the interview and gladly accepted it.

Stephen Dinehart
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That's great Samuli! There are exceptions, mostly small shops that still have respect for talent. Often that's why they got started in the first place, just look at the origins of Activision etc. from the fallout of Atari. Same story, now 30 YEARS LATER

Rasmus Rasmussen
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I am surprised no one else has mentioned this, but I have experienced the following twice - both times dealing with large businesses, mind you. In my experience, a certain level of inefficiency sneaks in, as companies grow.

Basically it goes like this: There is a phone screening, during which they ask you to take some kind of test. They give you a basic description of what is expected, and a time frame, but they are unable to answer any questions about it. Why? Because they work in the HR department, and have little to no understanding of what the test even contains. Yet you are supposed to complete it, and send it back to them. Presumably, they then filter it up to someone else, who then makes a decision based on the test alone.

To me, that just seems like an incredible waste of everyone's time, as neither the HR person, nor whomever is looking over your test results, will have a full picture of you as a candidate (they may not even fully understand the position, they are trying to fill).

Stephen Dinehart
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All too often and all too familiar Rasmus. Thanks for sharing.

Michael Hackl
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Employment Tests are not limited to the video game industy. A Job I had as a draftsman in a steel construction company 10 years ago began with 1 hour doing their regular work. They said I didn't finish in time, so I had to come back the next day... at working hours and not yet employed. After a full day still not finishing the work I was assigned to do in one hour, I was given the opportunity to continue the next day.

In the end I got employed and was told by my coworkers that I was about the fastest draftsman in the company - a task that doesn't really involve anything creative. When I came to the interview I already knew they were quite desparately searching for help in that position. I had to fight a little, but in the end I got compensation for the day or two I worked for them in form of an Employment Test (Yes they did use the work I was assigned for as Employment Test).

Later I found out that the company wasn't doing very well. They made a loss with every project and that was a running joke with project leaders.

Bottom line: Some companies will try to rip you off in every way imaginable. Possibly it's a sign of a badly managed company in despair, or perhaps just greed.

In Austria respected companies are issuing job offers even though they don't even need someone. At best they get the magic employee of their dreams for minimum salary, at worst they issued cheap promotion. After all a company that is hiring must be doing well, and you never know who is reading the job offers.

My experience with the Employment Test is going to be the backstory to my new project @ForkedUpGame. Everything went well for me and I have no reason for bad feelings. Yet I got the impression that traditional company structures probably aren't the most futureproof concept.

Michael Robinson
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Until we boycott tests, studios will continue to spam them out. I have refused to take art tests for many years now. I get consistent work as a contract artist between games, movies, commercials, etc. There's no tests for contract jobs. They look at your portfolio and resume, you have an interview, and you get the job.

When I was staff at a AAA game developer I never had to take a test. Some of my industry friends that still get staff positions don't have to take tests, and the ones that do take tests usually never get hired. If a company really wants someone, they won't make them take a test. Over 90% of people who take tests don't get hired. Anyone who's been in the industry long enough knows that, especially recruiters who spam out the tests.

Here's what a test is for contract jobs: "We're gonna test things out by hiring you for a couple of weeks and will extend your employment after that if things work out during the trial period." Yep you get paid your full rate to work at the studio, not sitting at home wasting days or weeks working on tests for FREE that are spammed out to literally hundreds of other candidates.

Yes sometimes companies use the tests in their games and don't even hire the candidate who submitted it. Obviously not all the time but it has happened and still does happen. Tests can easily be turned into free assets for the company because they sometimes ask you to sign away the rights to your "test" and submit all of the source files, not just renders or screenshots or videos.

Thank you Stephen for writing this blog, this boycott has been a long time coming and it WILL happen sooner or later.

Michael Thornberg
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In all my years I have only needed to do a test once. 5 years ago. I didn't bother, and went to a competitor instead.

Why?

Because I have 30+ years experience coding now (started at 11). Nearly as many doing Graphics and animation. And half of that time composing music. You would think that that kind of person at least got the basics right. Which means one or both of two things: A) They don't trust you B) They didn't read your CV, or care. Ignored CV is probably a better term here. Needless to say, I don't bother with those companies. It is a waste of my (and their) time.

Stephen Dinehart
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Hey Michael. That's a stroke of luck. Sounds like a prudent approach. I can't tell you how often that happens, mostly at big studios. They fly me in to interview and no one, I mean no one, has actually looked at my CV or taken the time to even do a Google search. It's kinda pathetic really and generally insulting. I mean I like nice hotel rooms as much as the next guy, but business trips aren't exactly a party.

Joe Stewart
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Just want to offer some perspective from a totally different industry. In academia, when you interview for a faculty position at a university, it goes like this: the university pays for you to travel there. You have a full day of meetings with other faculty members and students in the department. You give a talk about your research. And... that's it. You don't teach a class for them--even though that will be a big part of your job. You certainly don't design a curriculum module. You don't write a grant proposal for them--even though that too will be a big part of your job. You may not have any experience doing these things, since many candidates don't do them at all until they actually become faculty members. The key is whether you show evidence that you can learn. If you haven't learned after 6 years, you won't get tenure, which means you'll effectively be fired. And the truth is, you'll still be learning after 6 years, and after 12 years, and after 24 years.

And I think this is exactly how it should be in academia and in any type of career that demands high creativity. Everyone will always be learning. The interview process should gauge how well they can do that, not how well they can do the narrow demands of the job as they exist in this moment.

Stephen Dinehart
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I like that angle a lot Joe. Having worked as a game design professor for a number of years I wholeheartedly agree - we are perpetually learning, hiring life-long learners is a prudent practice. Cheers.

Mario Wynands
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"Good talent knows good talent"? I wish it was that easy.

I'd like to offer that design (and programming and art) tests are genuinely beneficial to the employer in terms of informing them in a formal manner what the output of particular candidate is in response to a request in the form that the studio in question might typically make. On paper via a resume or via an interview, a candidate can talk a good game but might fall short in practice with respect to communication, professionalism, and/or craft in the context of how the studio itself communicates, so a test provides a good *additional* filter on top of the initial screening and interview process.

I'd also wager that very few tests are put forward with the expectation of exploiting candidates. The hit rate you'd achieve with respect to actually being able to harvest any usable work would be incredibly low relative to the investment you'd be making in terms of managing people through the process, making for a very inefficient and likely loss generating exercise. None of the tests we ask candidates to undertake are used for anything at all. They aren't even related to any of our IP in any way. They are designed purely to present a (small) generalized problem in a way that let's us examine the candidate's formal approach to a generalized problem.

I believe better advice that refusing to undertake tests outright would be to be watchful for companies asking people to undertake frivolous tests early in the screening process or overly onerous tests. Tests should only be asked of shortlisted candidates, and even then should only be a couple of hours to complete at most. If you are being asked to do a test before you've even interviewed, then chances are the studio in question isn't taking things very seriously and certainly not fairly.

Todd Cowden
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With this active a discussion, I'm a little floored that no one has spoken up from "the other side". To that end, I'll throw my two cents in.

Super quick background: 10+ years in the games industry (mostly on the creative side but I've also served as a developer, game designer, 3d artist, composer, sound engineer, writer), before that I headed up numerous creative and interactive departments. I've hired both creatives and developers of various skill levels. Clients have included Universal Pictures, LEGO, National Geographic, and many others.

Relating specifically to games and creatives, we didn't always use 'tests' like the one you described, it came out of necessity after too many hires were showing work in their portfolio that they clearly must have had lots of external help and guidance with (if they actually had any hand in it at all). So we did ultimately end up using these "tests" in our hiring process. However, it was always the FINAL part of the process.

After phone (or online) interviews and several face-to-face interviews, as a last step we did provide a certain set of criteria and ask them to design something (usually within two or three days). And honestly, these "tests" ended up telling us a lot.

Of course it showed basic design skills, but it also gave us insight on some of their creative thinking, how they went about solving problems, how they performed on a time schedule (If they couldn't get 4-6 hours of work done in 48-72 hours...then that would tell us a lot all by itself). For the record....we never had anyone not complete an assignment and we never had anyone refuse to do it. By the time he/she got the assignment, the potential employee had to know things were going pretty well.

These "tests" also gave us some comfort that the potential hires had a good understanding of games and how they worked. And yes, it also let us know they were serious about the job. If you're trying to get into the games industry and you have a problem working an extra 4-6 hours into your busy schedule...then you're probably looking in the wrong industry.

Did these 'test' ever change whether or not we hired someone. Yes, but not alone. At times it gave us points to talk through and try to determine why they did things the way they did (or did not).

Did we ever use any of these "test" in real world production work. Oddly enough 'yes'...once. Several years, 5 I believe, after we hired a Senior Art Director (and he was still employed with us at the time) we had the idea to do a pinball game and he reminded us that he did a pinball design prior to getting hired (and it was really good) so we talked about it and went with it. That was the ONLY time anything like that was even remotely discussed.

I'm not saying there aren't sleezy places out there that would basically steal your work and leave you high and dry, but I would like to think/hope that would be the extremely rare case.

Several people have posted above that the potential employer "isn't smart enough" to ask the right questions. As potential employees, I would definitely pay attention and trust your gut if something doesn't feel right about a company...then it's probably not a company you want to work with.

After using the "tests", I must admit they are very helpful in many different ways. And I don't think a few extra hours is too much to ask for someone who has already passed several hours of interviews. When I look for people, it's meant to be a long term relationship and not a 6 month (or less) gig. Almost every creative I hired stayed with the company for 5 or more years. Would I personally not hire someone who refused to take one of these "test". No. But I would think the time you were given the assignment, that you wouldn't mind.

In fact, I would hope that you'd even be able to have some fun with it. If you can't have fun doing the job you're applying for...then maybe it's not the job for you.


On a side note: I've had both design comps that I've pitched to CLIENTS, as well as more than one game design that I've pitched to CLIENTS stolen and produced in-house or overseas so I've been burned before....just never by a prospective employer.

Stephen Dinehart
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Hi Todd! Thanks for sharing your story. Nothing in this world is black and white, least of all hiring practices, but we do have a lot to learn. I think Clinton Kieth's link to Joel Spolsky's "The Guerrilla Guide to Interviewing" is probably the best response yet. I'd be interested to read what you think Cheers.

Katie Lucas
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I don't mind spending an hour in an interview running through some exercise.

What bothers me is the number of companies who send out the tests BEFORE speaking to people. Before letting me find out if their job is one I want and think I can do -- they seem to forget they're trying to tempt me away from $CURRENT_PLACE.


Or there's worse...

A company had me do a 3-day dev task. After submission, they thrashed around for a while before fessing up that they actually didn't have authority from the US parent company to hire anyone.

Stephen Dinehart
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Thanks for sharing your stories Katie. Both situations are quite familiar to me and are great indicators of the rampant poor hiring practices in our industry. Keep going! You'll make it.

Clinton Keith
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Good read.

We adopted some patterns similar to what Joel Spolsky described for his company

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/GuerrillaInterviewing3.htm
l (plus the links).

Stephen Dinehart
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Thanks Clinton (and to all commenters). The article you linked is great! "The trick is telling the difference between the superstars and the maybes, because the secret is that you don’t want to hire any of the maybes. Ever.... In principle, it’s simple. You’re looking for people who are Smart, and Get things done."

Curtiss Murphy
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"Smart and gets things done."

I have found the interview process is not a telling picture of the company. I've had crappy interviews that turned into good jobs, and great interviews that ... well ... no need to name names.

I've read Spoelsky's interview article at least 5 times and somehow still found it useful this time too. Classic.

Allen Danklefsen
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There was another article on here recently that said about the same: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/AnthonyFarmer/20140304/212281/Plea
se_fix_your_hiring_practices.php

I agree with both.

Stephen Dinehart
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Missed that entirely. Thanks Allen!

Julianne Harty
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I'll speak from the other side too. There's reams of academic research dedicated to how to find the best candidate, because the wrong hire for a job is very expensive. The most common finding? If you use objective criteria to assess candidates on his/her ability to perform the job, you would have the greatest chance of getting a good hire. Tests are the second best measure of objectivity, because then the person is showing their capability to perform the tasks. (the first is on-the-job performance for a period of time, which is seriously unlikely in this day and age)

Interviews are so easy to game, especially the unstructured interviews that are so common in this industry. We, as humans, have so many biases that affect our decision-making. You look like me/We have similar interests/We have similar backgrounds/We went to the same school/etc? I like you already and already more favorably inclined to hire you. You are personable, affable, and willing to talk, especially selling to me promises on performance? I like you even more than the other fellow we interviewed earlier this week who was quiet and reserved.
If an interviewee knows the tricks to exploit these interviewer fallacies - which a few people do - then the risk of a bad hire dramatically increases since then the interviewer is assessing a person on their personality and not on their ability to do the work required.

People lie on their resume all the time; people get significant external help on their portfolio all the time. You don't buy a car or a house by looking just at the sales brochure; you shouldn't expect a similarly expensive investment of an employee to be hired just on the resume. Just as you would give the car a testdrive, or pay for a house inspection, hiring managers ask for evidence to back up the claims in the resume.

Daniel Gutierrez
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Seconded, as someone on the hiring side you need some type of objective view.

The article talks about "trial periods" where they actually go in and do normal work. That's ridiculous, pay a consulting hourly or something, don't have people work for free. But the comments changed topics to interview tests... which I agree with you.

You need some objective basis, having been on both sides that "gut feeling" you get after a minute of conversation can be accurate... but it can also be horribly, horribly wrong.

We did it backwards at my previous company, where they'd do phone, in-person interview, then we'd do a code check or test (depending on the relevancy of code they could provide us). And many applicants turned out to just be good talkers and we wasted 10+ hours on each...

Juliette Dupre
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It's not HR or recruiters who want to make candidates test. It's you all. What I mean is, no recruiter I know likes administering tests. It's a huge hassle and then doubly annoying when a test is passed but subsequently the candidate doesn't make it all the way through. Recruiters I know apply pressure to reduce that test burden when possible, sometimes even with some success.

But we don't make those decisions, senior talent and management do, the people at the top of the departments in most cases, people who make games at the highest senior level. Award-winning experts. People like you. So change the minds of your colleagues and you might see some real change.

Also, watch that line about giving up games for girls please, I found it a bit offensive and I may not be the only one.

Andy Lundell
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As a programmer, I would be uncomfortable hiring someone without making them do a test. Especially an entry-level position, but mid or upper-level too.

There have been a number of times in the hiring process where after talking to a person first on the phone and then in person I was sure they were a hire, but when they completed (or tried to complete) our rather simple technical test it betrayed a surprising lack of understanding of fundamental concepts.

I'm forced to admit that some people are better at BSing to get a job then my coworkers and I are at detecting BS.

I wouldn't use a test for more than a pass/fail BS detector, because I know tests aren't a perfect representation of real work. But *AS* a pass/fail BS detector, they're super valuable.




(I don't recall if the test we gave had any clauses about legal ownership of the test material, but if it did it was only to protect the company. we certainly never used those tests for anything besides evaluating potential hires. I made a point of solving the test three different ways myself before giving it to any applicants.)

Ken Nakai
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I've had mixed experiences with this. I'd started using tests for that very reason: to weed out people who tapped away at a keyboard and flew under the radar because they worked on larger teams or were otherwise "averaged out".

But, I've also had people ace the test only to turn out to be just all over the place as a coder. They'd be smart enough to have a way to solve the problem in question but were so sloppy outside of that or were slackers when the spotlight was off of them that it didn't matter how good they were.

Of course, when hiring you don't want to just rely on basic fact checking and a test but tests don't address a simple fact: people can learn processes and also bring different perspectives. I'd hired a 15 year veteran coder who would get stuck for hours on a problem and hired someone without formal training who had innovative ways of solving programming problems.

Though, I will admit at least once I ran into someone who couldn't take a test I gave (even when I offered to let them just use pseudocode instead of whatever language they were comfortable with--I test less for language skills and more for process and problem solving). Thing was: I suspected they weren't really a programmer at heart so it didn't do much to teach me something new about them, just confirm what my gut already knew.

Horror story (not mine): I've heard of someone who had been working as a software engineer for YEARS and couldn't write a line of code. They actually shipped their work off to contractors overseas to deliver. And they worked in a frigging office, not as a virtual contractor! To me, that's less the fault of the employee and more the fault of the employer. If you can't get a sense for what your employees are doing and are capable of, you probably shouldn't be a manager hiring them...

greg ricker
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I develop software but not in the gaming world. I have had a few cases where I was asked technical "code" questions. The best ones were general, how would you solve this? They were looking for the terminology I used and not the syntax. I have been on the other side of the table doing the interviewing and never asked coding questions. Just talking to the person about what they have done or explaining what I was doing has been enough. If they jump in with technical ideas and suggestions I figure they know what they are doing. Most of the time the new person is not going to know our system, data model, framework,.... So the ability to get up to speed on the new stuff is more important. One time I agreed to do a coding test if they would do one of mine. I didn't get the job.....

Stephen Calender
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As a programmer, I really doubt that anyone has used any of my test submissions in development.

I have received tests, looked at what was asked of me, and then just not bother with it. Usually I just hope that the test is something similar to a previous work or some other test I have done.

I have received in my opinion, completely inappropriate tests in languages and systems irrelevant to the position.

However, my biggest frustration is completing tests, landing the interview, then finding out no one ever looked at my submission or even knew if I had taken the test. It is so incredibly insulting.

Jacek Wesolowski
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Another bit from "tests gone wrong" department:
In one of my jobs, we were working on a multiplayer mode for a first person shooter. I was asked to provide a list of ideas for improvements, where improvement was defined as "anything that makes the people who have bought the game more likely to play it in multiplayer". So I made a list of some 100-200 ideas divided into a few categories ("things that remove difficulty spikes", "things that remove losing for no apparent reason", "things that reduce opportunity for humiliation", "things that make the game easier to learn", etc.). I tried to be open-minded about it, so one entry said "no headshot instant kills", for example.

Less than a month later, a candidate for a designer visited. They let him play a build of the game, then they asked him what could be done to improve the multiplayer mode.

The candidate got rejected essentially because his ideas were not on the list. I suspect if they were on the list then he would get rejected for being unoriginal.

Let this serve as an illustration of one of (many) reasons why tests are there. Some people who do the hiring want to feel smart. They want to be the elite. They make you jump through hoops so that they can feel that you've *earned* the privilege of working with them. They want you to be at their mercy. They're the people who have you solve C++ syntax riddles.


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