With almost two decades of experience in the video game industry, Sushama Chakraverty, CG Spectrum mentor of the game programming courses, is no stranger to the interviewing process.
She outlines some key things to consider when going for an interview at a games studio based on her experience interviewing for and working at studios like Ubisoft, Bedlam Games, Cyberlore Studios, and Infogrames (Atari).
Interviewing for a position in the video games industry
I started my career as an intern before moving up to Team Lead Programmer and Architect/Technical Director roles. I am currently the Senior UI Engineering Manager at Sledgehammer Games in Toronto.
I interviewed for my first game development job without having played a single console game, knowing nothing about consoles. And I got it.
That’s right. I went for something I knew nothing about. Thinking back to that time, I did, however, have confidence that I could totally do what was required for the job. And I did have a relevant degree. Since then, I have interviewed for multiple jobs over the years and also interviewed people for positions on my own team.
What to consider when interviewing for a position that you may not feel entirely qualified for?
1. Find a position that you feel you would enjoy.
Ideally, the job will be in line with your career aspirations. If the posting speaks to you, you will be able to portray your interest in that position to the interviewers.
2. Try not to let yourself be overwhelmed by the long list of requirements and desired skill sets usually noted on job descriptions.
No one can possibly know everything; very few people can check off everything on a requirements list. If you meet some of the "must-haves" and some of the "should-haves," and know that you can handle the rest that you don’t know much about at that time, apply!
There have been studies conducted on how men and women approach job applications. I won’t go into those, though, and will state this based on my experience: Men and women do approach job applications differently!
I have received a staggeringly small number of resumes from women compared to men, particularly from among those looking to enter the games industry. Does that mean there are no qualified women or that women don’t want to make games? Certainly not! Quite the contrary, actually! I have had a lot of young college girls ask me about how they can get their foot in the door. I have interacted with little girls who had created games with web-based tools, for example, who want to make video games and can clearly solve problems that are applicable to game development.
I have worked with some amazing women across multiple game development disciplines who rocked at their work.
Why don’t more women apply for positions within video games? The answer is complex and deals with a lot of other topics. However, this post is about interview considerations, so I will stick to it. Generally – and this is very general indeed – women tend to be very self-critical and don’t feel comfortable applying for a position unless they meet a large chunk of the listed must-haves.
Where am I going with this, you ask? Put very simply: If you have a background that you can leverage to make a video game and are interested in making a career in games, apply for positions that seem interesting and relevant to you.
Sushama worked on Splinter Cell: Blacklist while at Ubisoft in Toronto.
When we interview candidates for programming positions, for example, we look for:
Problem-solving skills, logical thinking
Domain knowledge, be it physics, math, or another domain directly related to computer science
Soft skills (communication, willingness, and ability to work within teams)
Game programmers: The last item on my list above said “programming skills.” Usually, in AAA studios, this means C++ for game-related programming, C#, Python, Lua, etc. (for tools). These requirements can be flexible based on the candidate. I have interviewed candidates who have had mediocre C++ skills but strong problem-solving skills. Show demos of games or systems you have worked on if you have these.
All game development roles: Prepare to showcase your technical and personal strengths. It’s easy to go too far, though, so be genuine. Bluffing will only take you so far and will come back to bite you.
You could have a background in a different industry. You could be male, female, or non-binary. What matters at interviews is to show the interviewers how you can translate your experience into something that will enable you to work with their teams.
Artists in particular: Build and show off a portfolio. See my blog post about game dev portfolio tips for more information.
Another one of Sushama's game credits is Watch Dogs: Legion.
3. Pick your job carefully.
By this, I mean if you are fortunate to be presented with multiple offers, pick only after careful consideration. I hope to write a post specifically about this later. In the meantime, here are some things you should consider:
Does the position offer you what you are looking for in terms of full-time/part-time/contract work?
Will the position offer you professional and personal growth?
What is the company’s culture like? Ask questions about this when you interview.
How does the team like to work?
What is the senior management like? If the company is a well-established and known one, you can get a sense of this along with the company’s culture from articles online. Do your research.
Does the company value its employees? What’s the attrition rate like?
Do employees work overtime often? How much? How often? What’s the company and management policy on working extra time?
4. Consider the salary
You have bills to pay! Look to be compensated fairly. It shouldn’t be the biggest or only consideration unless you’re badly in need of that money or you are willing to work at a job or company you don’t like for a certain period, make a lot of money in that time and then move on.
To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s some background: I started as an intern with nominal pay. I didn’t make much money at my first couple of jobs, but it was enough to cover my bills and enable me to live comfortably. However, the work I got to do at those positions and the contacts I made at those companies made those decisions worth it in the long run for my career—more on that in a later post.
Top job interview tips for success at a game studio
Interviews can be stressful! But you can get through them and get the job you want. Getting through the interview process can be nerve-racking. Technical interviews can be tough and detailed. Keep in mind, though, that interviewers are looking to get a sense of your strengths and ability to work in diverse teams.
Sushama also worked on the popular Farcry franchise.
Some things to keep in mind when interviewing at a game studio:
Bring your best self to the interview.
Speak to your accomplishments, potential, and interests.
You will do poorly at some interviews and excellently at others. The important thing is not to let the “bad” interviews bring you down. The job may not have been a good fit, and the company may not have been for you for various reasons.
Learn from any mistakes you made then and improve on your answers for future interviews.
When you have offers on the table, consider factors like the ones I mentioned above before making your decision.
One more thing to note: Interviews for fresh graduates differ from interviews for experienced candidates. Interviewers will tailor their hiring process and questions based on the experience of the candidate.
So go to your interview prepared to talk about yourself, your experience, and your strengths. Give it your best shot.
To learn more about Sushama, check out her website (which includes more great industry advice) or find out what she's up to on her LinkedIn.
CG Spectrum gets you ready for a job in the video games industry!
Led by game industry experts (like Sushama!), CG Spectrum's Game Programming Course dedicates a whole term to developing your portfolio and getting you job-ready, including interview prep!
You'll learn advanced uses of Unreal Engine's interface and tools and explore complex techniques such as particle effects, serialization, loading, and streaming levels. Graduate with a playable game—made from scratch—with input, collision, basic AI, user interface (UI), and audio.
Gain the skills that will help you prepare for your first interview at a video games studio.
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