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Putting Together a Compelling Resume and Demo

July 11, 2005
 

A Big Pool

Game industry Human Resources (HR) offices are popular places. Every job listing you see gets dozens of responses per day. Do the math - that is hundreds of resumes in the system per week, and for the very large or very hot companies, thousands. There are a few, well-tested recommendations that will get your resume seen and produce results. Your resume should compel someone to contact you to learn more about you. It doesn't need to land you the job.

Follow the Rules

Employment web pages and job postings are usually pretty clear about how they want you to submit your resume and samples. If the site says "text resumes only," that means exactly what it says. Resumes and samples that don't follow the rules, whatever they are, get about as far as the delete folder. Follow any and all directions given, whether that is a file-naming convention, a delivery method, or a file type. Understand that the rules are there to make hiring you easier for everyone.

Easy to Read

It is commonly said that you have about 10 seconds to impress. Remember that most resumes are scanned by HR and hiring managers before they are ever thoroughly read. Make sure your resume is easy to scan. Highlight the main ideas -- use bullet points, numbering and bold headings. Eyes glaze over at the sight of many paragraphs - a bulleted format can be read much faster and more easily. Don't use too small a font size (anything less than 10 is too small!). Be sure to leave plenty of white space. Most importantly, stress your competitive advantage and differentiate yourself from the competition right off the top with a short list of relevant skills, or two or three achievement highlight bullets.

Don't go overboard on fancy graphic design. Many hiring managers agree that the resume is the place for information, not artistic expression. Your portfolio is the place for art. However, do try to use larger fonts for the more important lines on your resume (name, job title, categories, etc.). Use tabs to have important elements line up so they are easy to scan - for instance, have your employment dates all aligned on the left or right border. When in doubt, a professional resume service, such as Blue Sky Resumes ( www.blueskyresumes.com ), can help pull all your information together into a cohesive format.

Length

A resume should be as long as it needs to be. If you are cutting important details to get all your information on one page, then that is too short. On the other hand, if you are padding your resume with how much you like to water ski, then that's a little long. Be succinct, but get all of your information across. If your resume does end up longer than one page, make sure to put your name and contact information on every page. If your pages get separated, an unidentified page gets tossed.

The Medium

Most resumes these days are emailed, either in the body of the email or as a Word .doc attachment. Most hiring managers do not prefer .pdf format, since not everyone uses it, and it takes a long time to load up. Always give your file names descriptive names and never send your resume in a file called "resume.doc." Remember your other files too - don't use "samples.jpg," "projects.xls" or "references.doc" either. Think about the thousands of files that get emailed to companies every day, and make sure all your files are named with your first and last name: JaneSmithResume.doc is a great way to start.

When you do deliver a printed out resume, it will be part of a larger package that probably includes a CD of samples, and a personalized cover letter. Stick with good quality white paper, and make sure everything is neatly and correctly printed. Make a printed label for your disk, and give your presentation a lot of polish.

Standard Resume Format

  1.   Name & Contact Info
  2. Job Title
  3. Objective/Executive Summary
  4. Skill Set/Areas of Expertise
    1. Specific Skills: Technical, Artistic, Marketing, Platforms, Programming Languages
  5. Employment History
    1. Position, Company, Location, Dates -- just years not months
    2. Bullet items of responsibility.
  6. Other Relevant Experience
  7. Education -- leave off the dates

Additional Information:
Chart of Projects
References

Name and Job Title

Your name should be the first thing on the resume. Immediately after your name should be a job title. This will allow the person viewing the resume to instantly know what sort of job you are applying for. The most effective resumes clearly focus on a specific job title and tailor their contents to that position. If you are applying for more than one type of position, you will want to create more than one resume. Your contact information should also be featured at this point in the resume. In fact, it is always a good idea to have your name, contact information, and a page number on each page of your resume.

Objectives vs Executive Summary

A typical resume lists a stated Objective just below the name. While this is a matter of individual preference, and it can be helpful to lay out exactly what you are looking for, many times this portion of the resume is just a waste of space. In this way, a job title just below your name eliminates the need to compose something that is rarely read. In lieu of a stated Objective, consider a Key Points or "Executive" Summary. Think of this as your "Elevator Pitch." This short list or statement is for the hiring manager to quickly scan and know exactly what you are good at and how you can fit into their organization. It should be an easy to read, bullet point list of the skills you have, or the achievements you have made that are the most important to the hiring manager. Items may include years in related industries, project management, software design, leadership/management ability, technical knowledge and/or other advanced knowledge/skillsets. It does not have to be professional experience, either. This is also a good place to begin talking about the class project you led, or the mod team you put together. An Executive Summary is about conciseness and focus - don't use this area to discuss each aspect of your previous projects or to expound upon every programming language you know.

Skills Checklist

On a typical resume, the employment history is the next item. However, if you have specialized knowledge or abilities, you will want to have a Skills Checklist included in your resume. This list is especially crucial for Engineers. While often this goes either at the end of the resume or after the employment history, play around with it and see if this might be a good spot for yours. The Skills Checklist, unlike the Executive Summary, should expound on every programming language you know and every tool you can use. Be sure to include each area of expertise, all specific technical skills, platforms, programming languages, etc. Define how well you know each particular tool. This is the one area on your resume where you want to go into great detail on the depth of your knowledge! In time, this may take up a full page of your resume. Where the Executive Summary should evoke a feeling of "Look how well this person would fit into our company!" the Skills Checklist should prompt a feeling of sheer awe at your technical prowess.

A warning - if you say you are an Expert at something, be prepared to be tested on that. Game industry professionals take great pleasure in testing "expert" knowledge. Other terms you can use include "proficient," "experienced," and "intermediate." Make sure your level of knowledge is consistent with how many years of experience you have. One year's experience with C++ does not make anyone an expert.

Employment History

Whether you include the Skills Checklist before or after your employment history, it is important to format the employment history in a concise, easy-to-read manner. Key elements to include in the first line of each history item are company name, dates, and title/position. Again, it is a matter of personal preference as to whether you list the company name first, the date first, or the position first. Use years, not months, working in reverse chronological order. Treat multiple positions at the same company as separate entries, either by using the company name and overall dates in the first line, with each position as a separate entry under the header, or by making a completely separate category for each position. After each entry, provide a bullet point list of achievements or responsibilities. Be sure to include management of personnel, projects, finances, or any aspects of those, but keep in mind that often a hiring manager is a non-technical person. Try to arrange the bullet points in order of relevancy to the job you are applying for. You should aim for having at least three bullet points for each position (assuming they are all relevant), but no more than 9 or 10. If you feel that a paragraph describing your function suits the position better than bullet points, by all means experiment with it. Just keep in mind that the faster and easier to read your resume is, the more likely it is to catch the reader's attention. If the reader has to really dig to see if you have a certain set of skills, he or she is likely to move on to the next resume. Again, remember that you want the resume to get you an interview. You can go into that extra level of detail and depth in the interview.

If you have no previous relevant employment history, then this is the place to talk about internships, your class work, projects in which you have participated, independent study, relevant volunteer work, or other history items that have been instrumental in the beginning of your game industry career. Outline each item in a similar fashion as a previous job, and give details that describe your contribution in a professional manner.

If your employment history is not relevant to the games industry, it is okay to include that as well, within reason. Employers want to see that you have been employed successfully, and that you are a reliable worker. It is not necessary to go into a lot of detail about non-related job history, except where management and responsibility are concerned.

Chart of Projects

Once you have been in the industry for a few years, you will have a list of projects. These should be included either after the Skills checklist or after the employment history. If your list of projects is long enough, you may want to include it as a separate document. Again, for the most punch, they should be bullet pointed, preferably with a single bullet point line for each project worked on. An effective format is: Title (Role) - Publisher/Developer (Platform). ["Die Commie Die" (Co-designer) - Great Games/Total Entertainment (PS2)]

This is a great place to list out student games or mods. Make sure to discuss your contribution as well as what tools were used in the creation of your project. [Student Project "Die Commie Die" (Level Designer) - Unreal UT3 Technology, 3DStudio Max, Photoshop - 5 person team]

Education

If you have a degree that is of utmost importance to the job for which you are applying, you will want to emphasize that fact. If you are a recent graduate, you may even choose to put your education at the top of your resume. You do not need to include the dates of your degrees, academic honors (unless relevant to the position), memberships in collegiate organizations, etc.

Attending a game-related school or achieving a game-related degree is a great way to front-load a lot of relevant training and experience to your career. No particular type of education is a guarantee of a game industry job, though. What you bring to the party - your talent, your determination, your involvement - is what gets you the job you are seeking.

Other Relevant Experience

This is where you can bullet point list things like being on a relevant board or committee.

Omit items such as unrelated organizations and activities, publications and memberships, outside interests and anything else that does not directly relate to the job you seek.

Last but Not Least

Proofread, proofread, proofread! Have a trusted friend (or several) read your resume and give you honest feedback. Never, ever submit a resume with spelling errors. Always perform a virus check on any files you email.

Professional References

During your work experience or education, you will have gained the respect of team members, professors, mentors, and other people who can give a strong reference for your ability to do the job. Seek out 3 to 5 of these people and present their contact information on a separate page from your resume. You should use people who are the most familiar with your work experience, so don't list relatives. Always ask permission from the people you use as references, and let them know they may be contacted. It is not necessary to use anyone who you don't think will give you a positive reference.

Demo Reels

For artists and designers, the demo reel stands equal in importance with the resume. A resume talks about a developer's experience, but the reel shows it. Both presentation - how a studio sees your work - and content - what a studio sees - are critical.

The Medium

The presentation of your reel can take many forms. Some game companies want artists to show their work on a web site and send the URL with the cover letter and resume. Others will accept a website as the first step, but will also want to see a high-resolution demo on CD-ROM. The resolution and speed of a web site is often insufficient to show really fine detail; many art directors viewing demos are seeking a candidate with the chops to do movie-quality work. You may be asked to present your reel on VHS tape or DVD. Tapes or DVDs do not require a particular operating system or installed software to run - just a player.

Cover your bases by having a demo reel ready both on the web and on CD-ROM. There are also many video transfer services that can put a demo reel file onto VHS tape or DVD. Having a good reel file ready in multiple file formats (Quicktime, Real, Windows Media, for instance) is a good idea. You can present it on any media on short notice and prospective employers can view whatever file format they need with ease. The bottom line is to test your demo so that it can run on as many different systems as possible.

Providing your demo on CD-ROM allows a greater opportunity to show the breadth and depth of your work. Many artists create Flash sites that will run off a CD. Others use HTML files to make their CDs more easily navigated. The clearer and more easily used your CD is, the better your results.

Only the Best

Now that you have determined how to best present your work, it's time to put the content together. The demo should be 2-5 minutes long, and it should begin with your absolute best work. Just as your resume should start with a compelling summary, your demo should begin with the work that will keep the watcher watching. Your demo reel is one of many hundreds that your intended audience will play. Only the demos that stand out, are original, and show incredible skill and talent will be viewed to the end.

Substance over style will get you hired. The strongest reels show a variety of genres and styles, illustrating your well-rounded talents. Animations should show unique moves on organic life forms. If your strengths are in modeling, show your unique models, textured and lighted, if you can. Strong texture artists should present a variety of textures and their uses. An environment artist would want to have a great fly-through of environments. Portraying different art styles is paramount. Save 2D art and stills for the end of your reel, but do show your strongest work there, as well, including life drawings or pencil sketches. Let your reel emphasize that you can do whatever the job needs you to do.

Many game companies have very detailed descriptions of, or advice about, what they would like to see in a candidate's demo. Before you make or re-make your demo, go see what your audiences, the game companies, are seeking. Be ready to submit specific pieces to a prospective employer to show that you can do the exact thing they want.

Tell the Story

Always give credit where credit is due. If you use a scene in your demo that includes the work of other artists, designers or programmers, you must make it abundantly clear at the outset that the scene is collaborative, and fully describe your contribution. Include a complete shot-by-shot credit list with your demo, unless all the work presented is your own. There is nothing more frustrating to a hiring manager than to discover too late in the process that the candidate in whom he had interest is not as well-rounded as his demo has portrayed. Have some samples of your work flow - showing the steps you took to get from concept drawing to fully executed finished piece can be very impressive.

All of these tools and tips apply equally to Game Designer demos and Level Designer demos. Game companies are always interested in seeing a level designer's skill. Show your levels in a movie file, as well as in the editor. Talk about which editor you used to build your level and why. Give credit to the builders of your models, textures and characters if you did not create them all from scratch. While a level designer is not always required to have the same artistic skill as a qualified game artist, you should still endeavor to show your artistic prowess alongside your writing abilities. The game level designer is a jack- or jill-of-all-trades, using art, writing, organizational and technical skills. Other art careers like graphic design, architecture, web design, scene design, and illustration all have parallels to the game industry, but none of them individually represents the wide scope of competencies needed to be a game artist or designer. Building a great graphical demo reel to complement your resume and writing samples will only strengthen your position.

Coders

Engineers should supply sample code and/or working game pieces as part of your submission, or on your personal web site. Show well-organized and well-documented code. Do not submit code that is part of a project that is copyrighted by another company. You should always ask before sending over a code sample. Some companies are very careful about what they receive, so make sure you are only sending what they want to see. Present your samples on CD, following the guidelines above, for a professional presentation.

What Not to Do

When you are seeking your first game job, don't send game idea submissions. All game companies have a careful process they go through when considering new ideas for new games, and they generally do not include unsolicited ideas from random applicants.

Always do your homework, and know as much as possible about a company you are applying to. But, don't be arrogant, and don't assume that they want to know right up front everything they did wrong on their last 5 titles. Critical assessment of game development is an important skill, but so is tact.

You should also avoid many of the pitfalls of job seeking in any industry: don't include a picture of yourself on your resume; don't give away your age, marital status, or any other personal information, other than contact information, on a resume meant for a US company. There are different protocols for other countries.

Have an email address and web site domain name that are professional in nature. "Chickmagnet66@aol.com" is not a professional sounding email address, and is destined to make people wonder about your intentions!

Finally

Getting a job in the game industry requires talent, creativity, perseverance and commitment. It also requires common sense, communication skills, and demonstrable proof of your abilities. Putting together a compelling resume and demo is just the first step to achieving greatness in your new career!

______________________________________________________



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