Getting a job in the games industry (Part 2)

Following last week’s blog post, Part 1 of How to get a job in the games industry (our jobs Q&A session can also be found here), this weekend we will cover how to write an effective and clear application for any position, as well as giving a few more details about what kind of person we look for at Arrowhead. A lot of the tips here will be mostly common sense, but it can definitely be a good reminder for some :)

Here’s part 2:

What we look for & How to write a good application

One important point to note about Arrowhead Game Studios, which plays a big part in what people we choose to join us, is that we are not a project based studio. This means that when we take on new employees we aim to keep them, even when a project has ended. It results in us looking for people with generalist skills, though it is great when you are a specialist in an area as well.

Most of our interns have joined us as full time employees after their internships have ended, which is why we require a longer period of time (20+ weeks) for interns to work with us. It normally takes a while for the correct synergy to build up, as well as seeing what you can really achieve given the right environment and direction.

Some studios put weight on schooling – at Arrowhead it does not matter what school you went to or what course you took, what matters is the quality of your work. We employ a wide range of different people from different backgrounds, some of whom studied at university and some of whom are self-taught. As long as you do great work it does not matter to us how you got here.

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Helldivers draws a game student crowd at SGA Conference

The people we’re looking for

When reviewing potential new employees, it’s important to us that you’re the type that sees the full picture. We’re generally not hiring you to work specifically on characters, weapons, ai, network, creature animation and so forth – we hire you to work on The Game.
Likewise we don’t actively split our employees into detailed titles like “environment artist” “character artist” “gameplay programmer” or “network programmer”. You will simply be an artist, designer, animator or programmer – and may work over varying areas on different projects or during a specific time frame.

It’s always useful to keep in mind when aiming for the games industry, that the game is everything. You can never get protective over “your” assets or stuck with getting only your particular task perfect, but must be aware of the complete product. A perfect looking grove of trees will never make the game work if the voice acting sounds terrible or the ai is behaving really unrealistic.

We expect each employee to feel that this is their responsibility. Even if the problem isn’t in their own area and they can’t fix it themselves, we are counting on each individual to bring the problem up and not just expect it to be solved by someone else.

We’re of course also hoping that you want to be social within the office (we play board games, card games, have beer or go to the movies) happy to help out (both in your work ethic and in general) and have good eye for detail. Good communication skills are important to get less friction between people in the team. An easy-going attitude will definitely show.

Where To Start

Start out by researching the studio you are applying for, their philosophy and style. Then really analyse yourself and ask yourself what you really want to do. Is it a match? Or are you mainly trying to get any job in the industry?

Arrowhead’s motto “A game for everyone is a game for no one” can be applied to the job here as well. We’re not a studio for everyone, even if you are very talented. Right from the beginning we had a strong vision for our game philosophy and what kind of studio we wanted to create. It is important that those who want to come along for the ride share that vision.

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The Showdown Effect business card wall

The Application Process

When To Apply

There is no real “suitable time” to apply unless we have a specific listing for open positions , but if you have a really mind blowing portfolio we most likely won’t pass you up – so basically any time is good!
There is also no specific deadlines for our job positions. We wait for the most suitable candidate to come along and when we get an awesome applicant who will fit in well within the studio, we will fill the position.

Often we get the question “Can I apply again if I have already applied once before?” The answer is “of course you can!” Just make sure your application/CV/portfolio etc is up to date and you are happy with your work. People can grow and improve with time, and this should be reflected in your application.

Review

So what happens after you click “send” on your email? Well, firstly you should get an auto response, letting you know we have received your email. If you don’t get an auto response something has gone wrong somewhere and you can try sending in your application again.
Your application is then discussed during weekly meetings with the Leads in your discipline. Sometimes due to the studio schedule, sick leave or holidays this meeting could vary from every few days to once every two weeks. We do try to aim to contact you back within 15 working days.

After a decision is made on your application you will be contacted back personally with the news.

The Interview

If you are then contacted for an interview, congratulations!

Our interview process is extremely relaxed. It’s an informal discussion – we just want to get to know you and get a feel for your character and personality. Everyone at the studios needs to get on well together, so it’s important to us that you are the right fit. Regardless of how amazing your work is, if we don’t feel you would be a good fit you won’t be taken on. Just relax and be yourself, that’s all we ask!

However, it is a good thing if you do a little research about us before your interview. We aren’t going to test your knowledge but you will get a better feel for our studios which may be to your benefit. Try out our games, read a few of our more interesting blogs for company history etc.
We also don’t pull any surprises on you during the interview. You won’t be made to take a weird drawing test to prove your skills or answer ‘quirky’ questions like “If you were a product what would your motto be?”. However, some questions you may be asked are: What are your aspirations? What are you good at? (It’s interesting to know if you are a FX artist but really want to work with animations for example). What games do you play? How do you feel about games like
this?

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Gaming with office friends

The Decision

Everything about job applications is about timing. Don’t get too upset if you receive a rejection email – it doesn’t necessarily mean you are bad or your work was not up to par. Sometimes it is just about the studio not being able to take on any more applicants at the moment. This is because every employee needs physical office space, hardware, software and also mentoring and guidance if you’re an intern. At crucial stages in a project we can’t always spare the resources to provide that, or aren’t planning to grow the studio more at the moment.

Our advice would be to read the news, read industry websites, follow your studios and companies on social media to learn about what they are up to and get a sense of the timing of their projects. If you know a company has announced they are beginning working on a new project, there is likely to be more opportunity for a position. If a company has just launched a new game then they are likely to be extremely busy and would not have a lot of time to dedicate resources to a new intern. Obviously this varies from studio to studio and role to role.

Feedback

As much as we would love to we can’t give feedback on each application. A lot of people ask for this but we just don’t have the time. Please understand, ask friends or online forums, there’s a lot of good resources out there.

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The content of your application

Introduction Email

Companies can receive hundreds of applications a week, which is why there can be delay when waiting for a response. Smaller studios may also have very little personnel dedicated for this. To make the whole process smoother and consequently faster, your application needs to be concise and easy to digest.

Get The Right Email Address

The first mistake that many people make is not sending their email to the correct address! Most companies these days make email addresses and contact information extremely accessible so if we receive an application to our “PR” address instead of the “jobs” address we normally assume that person has not bothered to read the instructions properly. While this isn’t necessarily something which would cause an automatic rejection, it is something we definitely notice.
It does not help sending your application to every address of ours you can find.

Cc and Bcc

Do you already know someone in the company or have a contact or friendly face? That’s great! You can definitely cc them on your email application. They can often give a heads up to HR or casually remind them about your application during busy periods at the studio. However spamming your contact and asking about your application will only annoy. In the end the decision needs to come from HR and employees often are not allowed to give out sensitive information about the hiring process.

We often get emails where we can see ALL of the other studios where the applicants has applied because “cc” has been used instead of “bcc”. Bcc means “blind carbon copy” and allows the sender of the email to conceal the recipients entered in the Bcc field from the other recipients. Anyone sending a “reply all” back to a cc’d email will let every other cc’d recipient read their answer to you. Make sure to use your cc and bcc carefully otherwise you run the risk of looking careless or create a spam chain with your message.

Subject Line

Often subject lines are not written very clearly. It is not sufficient to just put “Internship” or “Application” in the subject as we get so many. The best information to include in a subject line would be indicative of your field of studies or position.

Examples:
FX Artist Internship – Summer 2016
6 month internship – Animator
Programmer – Open Application

Email Body Content

You really do not need to write much in the email, it is good if you can keep it brief and concise. We want to be able to see practical and relevant details at a glance as well as why you want to work at Arrowhead specifically. For example, what school do you go to? What subject you specialize in? What position are you applying for? How long will your internship be for and what are the dates?

One thing to always include in the body of your email is a link to your portfolio, website, hobby project or anything you want to show off (even if the links are already included in an attached file like your CV). For programmers this could be a GitHub link, for sound engineers it could be a dropbox link, for artists their portfolios etc. We want easy access without having to click on an attachment or to download something.

You can also mention briefly if you have met anyone from the company before, whether at events, parties, game jams etc., as it’s always good to try and put a face to a name. What we are not interested in at this stage is your extensive history or how you have been an avid gamer since you were five years old. We can find all this out in an interview – at this stage we want your work to do the talking.

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Tone

These days using Mr/Mrs/Sir/Madam is very old fashioned and does not always fit in with the company culture of where you are applying. You could either look up the recruiter/HR person’s first name and address it to them or alternatively if you are unsure of who exactly to address the other option would to be to address the company as a whole.

Feel free to add a sentence or two which is more playful and fun, but remember not to go over the top. The initial email application is just so we can get the bare facts about you – you can show your personality in the interview stage. Sometimes jokes don’t always come across as funny as you think they are, when they are written on screen. The same applies to flattery – it gets awkward when it’s too over the top or desperate.

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Double Check Everything

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This seems obvious, but the amount of people who can’t spell our studio name correctly or the games which we have made is a tad on the high side. We’ve even had emails which were addressed to different game studios! It’s also extremely noticeable and distracting when your font is different sizes in one email, making it appear messy. If we see any of these we assume you may have just copied and pasted different sections of your email from other place, or worse you just don’t pay attention to detail and are careless.

Cover letter and CV

Cover letters are not necessary and are often very repetitive if you’ve provided us with all the concise details in the email body. Your portfolio/website and CV should give us enough information and we can get a proper feel of your personality and history during the interview stage.

CVs are good to have, it gives us a nice overview of where your study and interests lay. It’s better to keep it relevant to the general area you are applying for. However, any experience in the games industry can also be relevant as it shows an interest and passion. For example you may be applying for a VFX position, but you have also volunteered for Dreamhack and Swedish Game Awards as a steward – this is great. What isn’t really relevant is “Dog Walker for 9 months”.

If you haven’t got much experience to list, that’s ok. Have you created anything in your spare time as a hobby project? This also counts! School projects can also be listed!

You can read a lot more about portfolios in Part 1 of the blog

Is there anything else you would like answered?

You can leave your questions in the comments section below and we will try to answer anything that you may throw our way.

Lastly, if you’re thinking about moving to Sweden, also make sure you enjoy weather like this occasionally  almost in May ;)

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We had some surprise weather today in the middle of spring finally arriving

Edit: Continue reading Part 3 here

  • Erik Öhman

    Just about how ‘generalist’ would you say a generalist artist is expected to be?
    As an artist with focus on FX (particles and such) and a decent, or even pretty good, set of skills in other areas, but terrible sculpting/anatomy and rigging skills, would such a skillset work out at a place like Arrowhead?

    – Erik

    • That’s super hard to judge – we can’t really say until we’ve seen that person’s portfolio and application. As long as we can see you have the basic art fundamentals nailed it shouldn’t matter too much if there is a weakness in one particular area. When you’re part of a team you’ll have other people to help compliment the game in the areas that others are perhaps weaker in.

  • KyerLebin

    Really nice article and encourages readers to really apply for the job. I would like to try but I’m afraid I do not have the skills needed for the job. Hopefully I’ll get there someday.

    • Patience, persistence and practice. No one should be afraid to try to apply – the worst that can happen is that we say no and you try again later! :)

  • TheNinth

    If you were to get a job at Arrowhead and move to Sweden, is the pay enough to live comfortably and be able to afford takeaway every day?

    …asking for a friend.

    • Totally depends on your position, salary and food preferences I guess :P Most of us seem to eat out everyday and no one seems malnourished at least…

      Stockholm is an expensive city to live in and there is an accommodation shortage, but generally the benefits of living and working here far outweigh the higher taxes which everyone pays. The city feels very safe, clean and you can always find whatever you need whether it be crazy night life, quiet parks or a good selection of activities and sports. Oh, and don’t forget the good summer weather!

  • cusman

    Daer Arrow Heat,

    Please release next Game soon. Thanks You

  • Angius

    Sounds like I’d love to get an internship at Arrowhead. Too bad it’s on the other side of Baltic sea…

  • Leandro Castagno

    Thank you so much guys for sharing this information to us. As much of us (Should i call us newbies xD), we don’t know how to apply by first time for a game industry job position. I’m a freelancer and currently student in 3D character modeling, and this is great for me to have a guide where to go and what to do. Not 100% sure i’ll get that job, but closely i am.
    Thanks again, please keep sharing this kind of info and congrats for your success.

    • Thank you. Good luck to you with your search!

      • Leandro Castagno

        Thanks!

  • Daniel Ström

    Good stuff! Hopefully this will improve the quality of applications not only at Arrow Head but other studios as well. We got one last week that did not even apply for a specific job, the person “just wanted to work with games” and had no prior experience or education.