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Pre-GDC: Career Pavilion Hints & Tips For Success

Pre-GDC: Career Pavilion Hints & Tips For Success Exclusive

March 3, 2010 | By Mathew Kumar

[GDC 2010's Career Pavilion offers an opportunity to meet recruiting studios and publishers -- in this guide, we get advice from hiring companies on what they're looking for, plus important do's and don'ts.]

2009 has been tough for the games industry. Layoffs, consolidations and reorganizations mean that not only have talented staff found themselves without jobs, but fresh graduates have found themselves entering into an uncertain future.

Game Developers Conference 2010's Career Pavilion (Thursday, March 11th—Saturday March 13th in Moscone South Hall, accessible with all GDC passes, including Expo or Student passes) presents an opportunity to receive face time with recruiting studios and publishers, and with only three days to make an impression it’s important to not waste any time.

We’ve talked to some of the top recruiters from companies including Blizzard, Ubisoft, and Sony to ask them what they’re looking for, and with that knowledge at hand, you can ensure that every impression you make can be positive.

Really! Be Prepared!

Not only the motto of the Boy Scouts, “Be prepared!” is also overwhelmingly the advice of every recruiter we talked to. Before even beginning to research the Career Pavilion, recruiters strongly advised that all job seekers have a specific position in mind, and organize their preparation toward getting it.

“Too many times folks come to a booth and say they want [work as] an artist, programmer, or a designer,” said Maggie Bohlen for High Voltage Software (a multiplatform developer that recently developed The Conduit for Sega). “Don’t expect to leave your choice of career in our hands—know where your strengths lie and focus on that specific direction.”

Once you know what you’re looking for, tailor not only your resume to the position, but your portfolio (consisting of art, code samples, audio work, or whatever is most relevant to the discipline) and remember that even within disciplines it helps to be as specific as possible.

"All too often I’ll have an artist walk up and say, ‘I’m a concept, environment, and character artist, I can do it all!’,” said Kraig Docherty for Blue Castle Games (currently working on Dead Rising 2 for Capcom). “This will not help your case.”

Once you’ve got your tailored resume and portfolio, strip it down. Ensure your resume is as clear and as short as possible (recruiters advise it must always fit on two sides of one sheet of paper) with no spelling mistakes, typos, or formatting mistakes (every single recruiter told us this very important).

Whittle down your portfolio to only the absolute peak of your output—your best work and the work you are most passionate about, and include descriptions. Then, though this may seem awkward, make sure that you are prepared to offer both your resume and portfolio to recruiters in a format that suits them—because if there’s one thing our recruiters couldn’t agree on, it was their preferred method to receive business cards, resumes, and portfolios.

All recruiters informed us they appreciated having a paper resume and portfolio to check out during any scheduled interviews. Business cards, however, were considered unnecessary unless you are applying for a position of seniority (“They just get lost,” confided an anonymous recruiter).

If you are unable to schedule an interview, recruiters were most positive about receiving a traditionally laid-out (8.5” x 11” paper) resume that included a link to a personal website featuring your (tailored) portfolio (“put the link at the top of your resume in bold,” begged one).

However, a few recruiters stated they would happiest to receive CDs which contained both a resume and portfolio—as long as they were clearly labeled.

“If you’re an artist, take two or three screenshots from your portfolio along with your resume verbiage and display them inside the clear cover of the CD/DVD case. It’s very handy for instant recognition,” added a recruiter. Whatever you do—ensure all the information a company needs about you is provided to them in one single submission.

Research in Development

So you know what position you want, and you’ve tailored your resume and portfolio to the position, with plenty of paper copies of your resume, a nice portfolio website, and a few CDs for those who might want them. You’re ready to walk the Pavilion, right?

No matter how well you might know your own needs by this point, recruiters tell us they can spot someone a mile off that doesn’t recognize their company’s needs. Using GDC’s published list of companies who will be represented at the Career Pavilion, research each company to find out if they would be right for you—and you for them.

“Know the companies you are going to approach and do some research,” said Blizzard Entertainment’s Sumer Ortiz. “Know where they are located, the positions they have posted online, and their company culture. If you are armed with the basics, you can spend quality time talking to developers and recruiters about what it takes to get a job.”

All recruiters surveyed agreed with this—”it’s really as easy as checking out our website,” said one—Ubisoft’s Stephanie Franco expanding that prospective employees should “Research recent job postings and the corporate website (including key titles)” using this information to prepare a “30 second pitch outlining what experience and skills you offer in relation to their current hiring needs. Be prepared to explain what special skills you can offer to their team.”

Lack of research into a company was considered the most egregious error that an applicant could make, one that would absolutely destroy any potential for a good first impression (and woe betide if you’ve also managed to make spelling mistakes on your resume). Not only that, it pays to consider the recruiter’s time just as valuable as yours.

“It’s very important that job-seekers focus on companies that are located in areas in which they wish to live,” said High Voltage's Bohlen. “It’s deflating when you spend time with a candidate and then they ask you at the end of the conversation where the office is located, and when they realize we are in Chicagoland they shiver and say ‘No thank you!’”

Present Yourself Professionally

With portfolio and resume in hand and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the companies you have focused on, the final thing to ensure before stepping into the Career Pavilion—or anywhere within San Francisco county during GDC week—is that in all cases you present yourself professionally.

“Never forget that you’re interviewing—even if it’s just a two minute conversation,” said Karen Chellini, Sony’s director of talent acquisition. “You must always be ready to engage with a prospective employer.”

While the game industry is generally casual, and during GDC week can get a little raucous, job-seekers have to hold themselves up to a slightly higher standard, and consider themselves to be under scrutiny even at the wildest GDC party—after all, you never know who you’re going to bump into, and at what time.

Don’t overcompensate, though. Game recruiters surveyed valued looking neat, clean, and presentable in smart casual clothes over wearing a suit—if you’re not natural in a suit, or it’s ill-fitting, it comes across as recognizably false.

First impressions were also strongly led by how confident, concise, and friendly applicants were according to recruiters. While that may seem less obvious to job seekers looking for work such as programming where you might imagine your communication skills are less valued, recruiters argued that video games are created by teams, not individuals.

Remember to smile and look people in the eye, and if you’re shy, practice what you think you want to say to potential employers (but not what you think they want to hear—be honest).

“Practice interviews with a friend beforehand,” advised Renee Scott at Gazillion Entertainment (an MMO developer headquartered in the Bay Area). “Try to eliminate all the ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ and have answers for harder questions like ‘why did you leave your last job?’"

But if you’re a comfortable communicator, be wary of letting your mouth run off. “Treat any discussion like a professional interview,” continued Scott. “Be respectful, don’t swear or trash talk, and while being chatty is fine, remember that everyone at GDC is on a schedule and has more to do there than there is time for.”

Don’t Panic—Network

Recruiters will be there for three days—you don’t have to talk to everyone on the first day. Taking your time to scout out the pavilion and talk to people at booths that may not have been your first choice during your initial research period can be invaluable, and at those booths you were interested in, there is often non-recruiter company staff available to answer more in-depth questions before you make a serious attempt to apply for a job.

Remember—you don’t want to waste anyone’s time, especially not your own, so take the time to make sure a company is right for you, and perhaps you’ll find out new things while networking.

Whether you’re new to the industry or a well-established veteran, networking is important—try and hook up with people in the industry you know and people you want to know for casual discussions that don’t need to relate to getting a job—a good impression in a chat about a GDC seminar you both attended is still a good impression. Don’t be shy to talk to companies or individuals that you respect or admire—just don’t fawn or ramble!

The Morning After

Once GDC is over, even if you’ve had a good experience at the Career Pavilion with plenty of new connections via savvy networking, lots of resumes distributed and maybe a few interviews, don’t expect to be able to sit back and wait for the job offers to roll in.

With thousands of others applicants in the same market, “relying on a resume that may have been buried under 200 others in a pile can mean never getting a call back,” said Gazillion’s Scott. So be sure that if you were asked to fill out an online application, you do, and if you feel you made a connection with a recruiter or another GDC attendee (and were given their contact details) send them a polite follow-up e-mail to solidify that connection.

Preparing for the Career Pavilion is all about giving a great first impression, but it’s equally important that you keep it up—that way you’ll be sure to stand out and get the job you worked so hard for.

[Mathew Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Toronto and a contributing editor at]

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