Five tips for breaking into the industry

Sega Europe recruitment manager shares advice for job seekers

Earlier this week as part of GamesIndustry International's ongoing Feature Focus: Careers coverage, we compiled some career advice from industry veterans and luminaries. Today we're narrowing the scope a little and moving from the inspirational to the practical, as Sega Europe HR & recruitment manager Ben Harrison tells us what he wants to see from candidates who come into his crosshairs.

1. Gain practical experience.

This is the single, most important piece of advice I would give to graduates. Gain practical experience at the earliest opportunity - whether it is a personal project, an unpaid internship or work experience, this will make you stand out from the crowd. Employers are, of course, looking for strong academics and theoretical knowledge, but it is the practical application of this that is key to getting the job you are looking for.

When it comes to the next generation of game makers, whilst competition has never been more fierce, it is equally true that there have never been more opportunities for budding developers; there is a whole host of different free software and tools that mean anyone can make their own website or mini game. Employers don't necessarily expect your work to be a commercial success but using the skills you have gained at Uni or from practicing at home and showcasing them in your own work shows proactivity, passion and skill, which is exactly what every games company is looking for.

2. Market yourself.

Remember that your CV is the key thing that a recruiter will look at and some recruiters will look at a CV for as little as 10 seconds.

It should go without saying but all too often applications can fall down on the simplest of things; make sure that your CV looks good, and has no spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. Also, ensure that you have all of the up to date contact details on there too. In the past, some of the worst examples include candidates forgetting to put their name on their CV, wrong contact email addresses or even no way of contacting them whatsoever.

More specifically, assuming that the CV looks good and is error-free, tailor your CV for different jobs and highlight your relevant experience. If you have undertaken a particular project or done something that is particularly relevant to the position then make sure that is prominent in your application. Always put relevant, key achievements/experience at the top of your CV so that the recruiter can easily view your key skills for the role.

3. Always write a cover letter.

All too often, a CV comes in with no explanation of the candidate's motivation for applying. Make sure you tell us why you want to work for us and why you would be suitable for this role. Remember that recruiters will see a lot of applications so make sure yours stands out from the crowd and that we want to hire people that are passionate about our product and working for us.

4. Do your research.

Understand what the company is all about and have a good idea of what the job entails. Get to know key products and the direction of the company to show you are proactive and keen on the opportunity. Thoroughly read the job description, get to grips with what you would be doing on a day-to-day basis, have an idea of what ideas you would bring and what you would like to achieve in the role. This approach shows proactivity and that you know what to expect from the job and the company.

5. Ask questions and engage in the process.

When it comes to an interview, one word answers to questions are a definite no; try to give detailed answers to questions and make sure that the interviewer knows how much you want the opportunity. Also, don't be afraid to ask questions and get a feel for the company, working environment and ways of working.

Importantly, make sure this is the right opportunity for you. Statistics suggest that the average person spends over 99,000 hours and 14 percent of their life at work so it goes without saying that finding the right "fit" is vital. If you buy into the culture and approach of a company and enjoy the work, then you'll invariably be happier, perform to a higher level and stay longer. Remember that this is a two-way process and don't be afraid to find out exactly what the company has to offer so that you can make a fully informed decision.

Finding the perfect job is not always straight forward, but following simple steps like the above will put you in a strong position; over and above that, having the tenacity and drive to get out there and find the right opportunity will maximise your chances. Sometimes it may be all about timing and a certain amount of patience may be required but if you are doing the right things and have the talent then this will shine through.

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Latest comments (24)

Craig Burkey Software Engineer 8 years ago
My question is that I've been in a C++ commercial development job for six and half years and would love to have the opportunity to work in the industry, however looking through the adverts they seem targeted to either fresh graduates or people with other titles on their CV's already, what sort of position should I really be on the look out for to get my foot in the door?
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Keldon Alleyne Strategic Keyboard Basher, Avasopht Development8 years ago
@Craig: don't worry about what they're asking for, just apply. They mainly want skilled programmers.
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Samuel Fiunte Matarredona QA Engineer, REPL Digital8 years ago
All those are great advices from Ben.

I can say I owe my career to him (thanks, Ben!), so I will add that as all those tips are great sometimes a tiny bit of luck is neccesary to get in touch with people who understand how is to be trying to get into a very competitive industry and who is open and receptive,

I will also advice that if there is a job position you really want it's also a good idea to try to interact with the company in a non invasive way. being that through Linkedin, company forums, twitter etc but always being respectful and wary about boundaries of course.
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Show all comments (24)
Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts8 years ago
Great stuff couldn't agree more with the advice above!
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@Craig - Drop me your CV - - we have a client at the moment actively on the lookout - and openly recruits for people that are just "relly good C++ coders"...can't promise obviously but we'll try our best for you.

There are other studios as well that are open minded - we can advise on this. When it comes to getting people into the industry - you'll see from our Graduate recruitment activities and Search for a Star competition - NOBODY does more...
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Rolf Klischewski Founder & CEO, gameslocalization.com8 years ago
6. Be prepared to work for less than in other comparable industries.
7. Be prepared to work 60-80 hours a week, because, hey, you're in games.
8. Be prepared to relocate, because working from home is not an option.

Sorry for being so negative about this, but that's the kind of impression I got ever since I started working in this industry back in 1999. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with wanting to get into the games industry. But, to me, it's not very helpful to create an image of this indutry which looks more like a Media Molecule intro than what's actually going to be your job.
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Greg Knight Freelance Developer 8 years ago
The pay is crap, the hours are scandalous, and you've got almost zero percent chance of ever working on a GTA, Battlefield or COD. But if you want a career that is more than just creating reports, meeting targets or worrying about your KPI's then you won't find a more rewarding industry out there.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 8 years ago
Part of an article I wrote in 2009.

Playing video games is fun, it is entertainment. So you might think that making video games is fun. It isnít. Not more or less than other jobs. Because that is what it is, just another job.
People who are industry wannabes always say that they want to be game designers. This is because they donít know how a game is made. In fact there are very few game designers involved. On any development team the main sort of people are artists (of different sorts) and programmers (of different sorts).
Being keen about video games is no qualification whatsoever for working in the industry. Being a good computer programmer or artist is a much better basis. Even better is to be very good at maths. Game companies want people with the skills to make games and being an enthusiast isnít a skill.
The competition to get into the game industry is fierce because there are so many wannabes. So the industry can be very, very choosy. When I was at Codemasters the minimum degree to get in was a 2.1 and you had to score over 130 in an IQ test.
Because so many people want in the wages are terrible. Similarly qualified graduates going into other industries will typically earn a lot more.
If the wages are bad then the working conditions are worse. Crunch is a widespread practice in the industry. Huge numbers of hours of unpaid overtime.
Career advancement is typically very, very slow. This is because most of the jobs are at a similar level, programming and creating art.
The work itself is often tedious, repetitive and boring. It is a hard slog to create all the dots that you see on the screen. There really are lots of better and more interesting jobs in the world.
Job security is awful. Companies routinely get rid of people as the work flow fluctuates. No matter how good you are it is ridiculously easy to find yourself out of a job.
The training industry has jumped onto exploiting the wannabe. Lots of colleges and universities have jumped on the bandwagon. There are now hundreds of supposed game industry courses in the UK. Yet amazingly only 6 of these are accredited by Skillset! There are now more people in training for the video game industry than there are in the industry. The vast majority of these people are wasting their time and money.
Game companies are mainly not very well run. This is because it is an immature industry and the management skills and practices are just not there. It is much, much nicer working in an organisation that is run properly. Which you are far more likely to find outside gaming.
The industry is firing, not hiring. Lots of game studios have closed, many have shed jobs. Electronic Arts alone is shedding 1,500 people. There are lots of very good, very experienced game developers who canít get a job. Against that newbies donít stand a chance.
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Gary LaRochelle Digital Artist / UI/UX Designer / Game Designer, Flea Ranch Games8 years ago
Bruce hits the nail right on the head.

The one advantage that someone fresh out of school has is that studios want low skilled labor so they can pay the employee on the low end of the pay scale. The ideal candidate is someone fresh out of school with 2-3 years experience (try and figure that one out). Very rarely will you see a job posting for someone with over 5 years experience. If you do land a job, you better know your stuff. Because there is a good chance that no one will hold your hand and show you the ropes. One comment often expressed by those who do land a job for the first time is: "I wish I had a mentor".
If you are lucky, the studio will move you onto another game after the one you worked on is finished. But don't be surprised if you get laid off after the game is finished (or close to finished). Quite a few studios do contract hiring just for the one game. Make sure you ask if the job is a one time contract job or an on going job.
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Rolf Klischewski Founder & CEO, gameslocalization.com8 years ago
Bruce, that's the most honest and well-written bit on this subject I've ever read. Kudos to you.
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Simon Miles Senior Talent Acquisition Manager, Jagex Games Studio8 years ago
@Craig We would also welcome your C.V Craig. We have openings in Warwickshire and Birmingham for C++ coders

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Simon Miles on 21st February 2014 8:27am

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Lindsay Cox Games Programmer, Mediatonic8 years ago
@Bruce I love coming into work and doing what i do, to me it is not just another job, I have had other jobs before, they were nothing compared to what i do everyday, I enjoy it and look forward to coming into work. In my short time in industry (nearly a couple of years), there was only one period where things were slightly tedious and boring at the start of my career and then that was only one particular bit of the game, the rest has been real interesting and rewarding. Similarly I have never had to do a 60 hour week, let alone a 40 hour week. I know this is an old article from 2009 that you have referred to but I don't think it accurately represents the industry anymore

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Lindsay Cox on 21st February 2014 12:12pm

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Can I smell smoke because it seems like thereís a whole lot of burn-out in this comments thread.
Overtime? Low pay? Everyone in their job has to worry about being paid too little for their long unappreciated efforts. A cynical truth of capitalism is that people will allow themselves to be exploited, in the hopes of one day exploiting others.
You make entertainment products for a living; donít weaken your resolve by becoming victim monetary woes or the cruel elapsing of time, both are less than trivial and completely out of your control. Surely what originally drew you to this industry were the hopes of one day creating for the simple act of creating alone.
This is the most passionate industry I have worked in, and though that passion will sometimes be channeled negatively (many times rightly so), it is a rare thing to be seen present in the age of databases and cold calling.
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Rolf Klischewski Founder & CEO, gameslocalization.com8 years ago
I wish I'd get a quid for every time I had to listen to this "Oh, you're burnt out" or "Oh, you're too weak for the games industry" routine.

I really hope for your sake and those you hold dear that you'll never have to sleep in your office for a year, work 80 hours a week, watch kids come into the office to see their dad at least once a week, coders having a stroke at their desk and still working one and all those other things that make the games industry such a rewarding and cheerful place to work, where creativity knows no bounds.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd8 years ago
It's great that working in the games industry doesn't automatically mean being a cog in a much larger organisation any more. The giant sausage factory studios have been in decline in the UK for many years now.

Mismanagement has been the root of many ills in the games industry, but badly mismanaged companies don't tend to survive in the long term.
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Lindsay Cox Games Programmer, Mediatonic8 years ago
When going for a job then, the questions that should be asked should include, how much crunch will you do? etc. Similarly if that is how things are going all the time, then maybe move job? It isn't like that everywhere in the industry. Yes in cases it may not be that simple, but at least look elsewhere.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Lindsay Cox on 21st February 2014 2:16pm

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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital8 years ago
Speaking for smaller studios, we don't really have problems with hiring people who have little or no experience in game making, as long as they are good at what they do.
The smaller the studio is, the more versatile the people in it have to be. So it is quite often very good to hire a good programmer who hasn't yet been burdened with coding pathfinding for two years in a major studio, but instead someone who is opened to work with everything - from game logic, to network and graphics. The same thing applies for graphics designers, etc.
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Lindsay Cox Games Programmer, Mediatonic8 years ago
Which is really good from a development perspective as you learn about a variety of things from Gameplay to UI to Build Systems

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Lindsay Cox on 21st February 2014 2:52pm

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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee8 years ago
I know full well about the downsides of the videogames industry, but I have to re-enforce Lindsay's comments in saying that 60 hour weeks, poor pay and little to no career advancement do not apply to all companies out there.

Whilst we warn about the potential for crunch, the lower pay compared to similar industries and potential for layoffs after project completion, we could also speak about games companies being host to some of the 'best places to work' in the UK, increasingly good benefits on offer from many studios (big and small) and places that keep and develop talent.

I would definitely tell people not to hang onto the overly negative comments, without taking a deeper look into what you can get out of being part of the videogames industry. Of course, there's no harm in spreading your net wide and weighing up the pros and cons of taking on any position.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 23rd February 2014 12:11am

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Renaud Charpentier Game Director, The Creative Assembly8 years ago
@Bruce I have to disagree on 3 important points: 1 - if you are a designer it is NOT just another job, or you should really quit it, effectively. If you don't design games out of passion, because you want to wake up to do that and nothing else, you won't do it well, it's too hard. 2 - As others said here, there are good studios that treat their employees well. And I tend to think only these ones will survive as the best staff can choose and will leave abusing sheds. 3 - There might be many ppl willing to enter the industry, it is still hard to find good candidates, persons that will actually be capable of doing the more and more complex job. Good studios are spending fortunes on HR and recruitment fees for a good reason.

Times are changing and "digital" pressure is killing the abusive systems that were surviving by controlling physical shelves access.
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I would ask yourself this.. why are you applying for a job in a game company? is it you want to get a paycheck, possibly learn some new skills, network with other employees etc? that is all valid and fine reasons to apply. If its to make your dream game etc, well be honest with yourself, that isnt gonna happen, your are going to make someone elses game. Remember .. You dont need to join a company to make games.

If you are talented in the software arena you have options, business software is very lucrative, much more stable and still allows you plenty of time to make games on the side.

There is a reason tons of older talent are leaving companies and striking out on their own the first chance they get. making games for a living is awesome, IF its your game, your ideas, your team etc. Making someone elses games.. well often thats just a job.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 21st February 2014 6:59pm

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Jamie Read 3D Artist, Neon Play Ltd8 years ago
This is good advice and I would give others this same advice, as it helped me.
The article is about breaking in to the industry besides, not potential downsides. People trying to break in need to be aware of that themselves from finding out about the games industry from various sources.
From what I can tell, the 'AAA' games industry is much more prone to the employees being that small cog in the big machine, working ridiculous crunch hours and having higher rates of redundancies.
I think working in the industry is great overall and it's definitely not just another job. It may take some people to actually go into some really crappy jobs to realise that the games industry isn't perfect, but it's exciting and rewarding most of the time. That's taking from my own experiences with working before breaking in to the industry anyway.
I guess if you do find yourself unhappy in your role, find a job at a studio where these bad conditions aren't an issue, start your own company, or just move into an entirely different industry all together.
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Andrew Animator 8 years ago
People should be made fully aware of what they are getting into when joining the industry. It is all well and good to say that not all studios are like this or proclaim you have never done crunch, but it is unlikely other people will be as lucky as you. Don't get me wrong, studios and mentalities need to change and it is great that there are places out there that are mature in their approach to their staff. However, the vast majority of people working in this industry will do crunch, they will not be paid for overtime, their salaries will be low, and sadly, they will almost certainly face redundancy at least once in their careers. Is it right, no, is it the way it is, yes. Will it change? Not quickly.

At one point or another in my career I have pretty much seen it all, or worse still been involved in it all, and I still love this industry. As much as we need to be honest about the negatives we need to be clear about the positives too. What other industry is as relaxed as ours?, Where else can you get the kind of creative and technical chalenges that feel so great when you beat them? What other job gives you a sense of satisfaction when you see someone really enjoying something you made. It's great.

You need a certain type of personality to work in games and it is not for everyone.
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Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd8 years ago
It's amazing how few people come to interviews with demonstrable work. One of our best design candidates did a simple black and white game where you control a rolling white dot with a single keyboard button to jump. He finished the game experience, small as it was, and it was good fun.

You don't need to make the next Skyrim to get a foot in the door, you don't need to do 60 hour weeks and wages can be very the right company.

In any industry there are companies that exploit graduates with pitiful wages, burn them out, and replace them with new blood. Most good companies that do quality games that have been around for a while learnt long ago that this is a road to ruin.

Don't believe all the negativity. If you are passionate, committed and talented, you will stand a very good chance of both finding a great career and having a good quality of life.
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