This blog post is aimed primarily at new graduates or anyone applying for a Junior art position in the games industry. As such, much of what is in here should be common knowledge to any Senior or experienced artist, however what I am aiming to provide is something of a jumping off point for anyone trying to enter the industry. Of course what is written here should not be taken as gospel, these are merely my experiences and what I have come to look for in applicants over the years. The unfortunate aspect when applying for jobs, especially creative ones, is that everyone has their own tastes and preferences as to how things should be presented. Your job as a fresh faced young applicant is to find the method which successfully manages to capture the recipient’s attention. You may have heard of the old notion that people make up their minds on whether or not to hire you within the first thirty seconds of an interview, this can also be true of people viewing your portfolio and whether or not to call you in for an interview. The reason for this is simple, everyone is busy and looking at your portfolio is taking time away from the work they are currently doing, which often if you are a Lead or in Management is not usually work that can or will be picked up by anyone else and so the time will have to be made up elsewhere. And so your first goal is to interest the recipient enough to actually make it through your entire portfolio or bookmark it to come back to later. Any excuse to disregard an application and get back to work will be leapt upon. Now in general instant dismissal can in fact easily be avoided simply by adhering to a few simple rules which will firstly make people want to actually look at your work and secondly give them all the information they need in order to judge it, hopefully taking you through to the next stage.
Due to the fact that my three partners and I decided to go down the route of setting up our own studio, I personally have never had to create a portfolio or applied for any jobs in the games industry. I have however created personal portfolios many times during my previous career in Interior Architecture when applying for work, and I myself committed many of naive mistakes that I see today. I do receive and review applications on an almost weekly basis. This combined with my work with Universities; Abertay, Glasgow Caledonian and more recently DJCAD has given me a rather good perspective on where students are when they are graduating and the common mistakes they make when sending applications or creating portfolios. In order to keep this post as easily digestible as possible I shall break it down to three parts. In part 1 will be covering CV & Covering Letter, moving onto Portfolio & Showreel and finally Web Presence & Social Media in parts 2 and 3. So without further ado let’s begin.
CV & Covering Letter
I want to avoid detailing exactly what to include in a CV here but rather focus on how it is presented. As a professional, or aspiring artist, your job at its very basic level, is to make things that not only look good but keep people engaged for as long as required. Looking deeper into this, and this applies even more so in the games industry, it is your job to take huge amounts of very complicated information and present it to the viewer in a manner that is; accessible, aesthetically pleasing and intuitive.
As such you should view your CV not as a formality but as a collection of information that needs to be delivered in such a manner. The CV is often the first thing I look at when someone applies, not the covering letter but we shall get to that, and the very first thing I am looking for is, has this person actually demonstrated an understanding of how to use their skills in the creation of their CV? When I see a word doc attached to the email application instantly my opinion goes through the floor, and I haven’t even read a word yet. I know as soon as I open that document I’m going to assaulted with multiple pages of 11pt Times New Roman. Remember the very basic level job description as an artist, walls of text may be functional and a lot of the time necessary but they are definitely not pretty and to be honest their necessity does not carry over into CV creation so my first suggestion is simple, don’t do it. As an artist you will have developed skills in a multitude of tools which will allow you do everything that a word processor can do, however further to that they also provide you the means to actually incorporate some design into your CV, making the audience’s experience much more of a pleasure rather than a chore.
A while ago I was discussing the state of certain CVs with a colleague who works in the film industry. He in fact disagreed with my disapproval of word docs. In his experience, whenever he had received applications that were anything more than the applicant merely throwing random images with little thought, ultimately distracting from the information that he was interested in. And he was right, that is a terrible way to go about creating a CV. What I am talking about however is not simply throwing in a few images and saving it out as a PDF, it’s quite the opposite in fact. I never expect nor want to see portfolio images in a CV. I explained that in fact I agreed with his sentiments and he had in fact brought up another very common issue. The type of CV I love to receive is one which employs some very well thought out visual communication; if don’t know what that is look it up…you’re going to need it! Visual communication and design are not about throwing in a few random images and calling it a done. Successful design, especially that of a CV, should draw strongly from the sentiment that “Less is more”. Your viewer should be able to extract all of the information they need exerting the least amount of effort possible because you have already made all of the effort for them.
Now putting aside the fact that this particular style may not necessarily be to your taste or you may dislike the rather ‘on the nose’ Swiss Army Knife reference, take a few minutes look it over. The first thing you will notice is that you are not instantly bored by it; there is a quality which compels you to look at it. Secondly and most importantly look at the amount of information…on one page! Now I don’t expect you to simply copy this example of course, your job is to take it, and others you find successful, as a basis. Find their flaws and rectify them, find their strengths and improve on them.
Finally onto your covering letter, I will keep this short much in the same way you should your covering letter. If I’m being honest, of all the applications I have received I have read exactly zero covering letters in full. At most I and probably many others will skim read it, unless it is ridiculously stupid in which case it gets passed around the office as the afternoon’s entertainment. Your best bet is keep it as concise as you possibly can, half a page max, that way people are far more likely to actually read it in full and there is far less margin for error.
The very last thing I will say regarding the CV and covering letter is this. If you are emailing multiple companies at one time, which you should really be doing, under no circumstances send it to every company in one email. We have had too many applications sent to us where alongside Guerilla Tea is every other games company in Scotland. It sounds stupid but I assure you it happens more than you would care to believe, and there is no quicker path to the trash folder.
In Part 2 I shall be talking about Portfolio & Showreels, covering common mistakes and what to include in order to allow your recipient to accurately judge your work.
– Matt (CCO)