On the Subject of Interviews
Updated: May 21, 2021
[ Special thanks to my friend and Senior Lecturer at DigiPen, Sonia Michaels, for sharing some great info for this post! :) ]
The culture surrounding interviews is always changing. When I was job hunting in 2018, I got some "interview tips" that were very out-of-date... I'm glad I didn't follow every piece of advice, or else I'm pretty sure my interviewers would have kicked me out of the room!
At first I was hesitant to share my thoughts on the subject: I only got my first industry gig in 2018, so I'm no game industry Gandalf. And yet some of my mentors encouraged me to do it! They told me that the perspective of younger people is important and more representative of whatever current trend is in the industry right now. That does makes sense!
With that in mind I'd like to share what has worked very well for me in the past.
1) Be yourself, but be the best version of yourself.
Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Be polite. Say good morning to everyone (including cleaning/security/front desk staff!!). Just be a decent person for crying out loud! I guess that's difficult for some people, go figure!
2) Slow down your brain
I have a tendency to speak very fast if I'm nervous. I make a conscious effort to avoid it, even if I'm just presenting something random at our studio all-hands. Talking slowly ensures more clarity to the people listening, not to mention you'll be less likely to trip on your own words.
This is specially true for my fellow immigrant friends whose first language is not English. I try to be very careful to enunciate my words as clearly as possible, specially the sounds I know I have trouble with (I have trouble pronouncing "-th" and "-t" sounds, and sometimes when I say "beach" it sounds like another word that isn't very fun, the same goes for the word "third" :// ).
By the way, don't be afraid to make short pauses to think about your answer. It's really ok. You might want to say something like this to avoid an awkward surprise silence:
"Hmm, that's a good question. Give me a second to think here real quick."
3) Sense of humor and a smile
People really appreciate a good sense of humor, but you shouldn't feel compelled to do a whole improv act during your interview. If you're not good with cracking a joke or two, presenting yourself as an open individual with a smile should be more than enough!
NEVER make sexist jokes, homophobic jokes, transphobic jokes, ableist jokes or any joke at the expense of anyone. If you're into that get the hell out of my blog??
Also, if one of your INTERVIEWERS makes any of the above, that's a MAJOR RED FLAG. Candidates deserve respect just like anyone else.
4) Don't panic if you answer something wrong
It's ok if you get something wrong and they correct you. Turn it into an opportunity to show you're flexible and willing to learn!
When I was interviewing last year, someone asked me a question and I gave my answer very confidently, thinking it was the best answer ever (haha). He then responded with a very good counter-argument. Instead of panicking I managed to collect my thoughts and said something like:
"Ohh yea that is very true! I never thought about it that way, but that's a very good point."
I felt like my interviewers were pleased with that response, even if I did get the original answer "wrong". We continued to debate the topic for another minute or so, and then we moved on. See? Not a problem!
[Recently I was talking to a friend of mine about this strategy for programming interviews; could you do the same during a programming interview? I need to do some research to see if there is some sort of equivalent. ]
5a) Show a willingness to learn
THIS ONE IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR JUNIORS. Specially if you're applying to a position you're slightly underqualified for.
Tech art positions are usually open for loooong periods of time. Because these positions are so hard to fill, companies frequently decide that there's more worth in hiring a junior applicant and training them rather than waiting for the perfect candidate to show up. I'm pretty sure that happened in all three studios I was hired at.
That's why when you have your interview, you gotta tell them YOU WANT TO LEARN!
[The interviewers are describing a software/a concept you don't know]
"Oh! I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with [THING], but I'd love to learn more about it. Is that something you use in your studio? (...)"
[The interviewers ask if you know about XYZ]
"Unfortunately I don't! I'd love to do some research on it if you're comfortable sharing some resources though."
Look at job description and see if there are skills you're not fulfilling. Do some research on them and try to see what's up. For example, you might not know much about Unreal but you read online that Epic Games has a dedicated website with tutorials you can learn from. Or that they released their latest showcase video on their Youtube channel or something.
[The interviewer asks if you know Unreal]
"I haven't had the chance to use it a lot myself, but I just saw their latest VFX showcase online and I thought it was awesome. I'd love to learn more about it soon. Are there any resources you'd recommend looking into?"
*In the case of Unreal and Unity being free, you can and should download them before your interview. No one's gonna turn into an expert in a few days, but if you don't know anything about these engines you should at least poke around and try a few tutorials before your big day.
5b) If you're presenting an art test, don't be afraid to point out what you could have done better
When I was presenting my last art test (a humanoid rig), I don't recall if I was asked or if I said it myself, but at the end I pointed out things that I wanted to learn to improve my rig. I don't see it as a weakness, but rather as showing your interviewers that you have the ambition to improve your work as much as possible, and that you have the willingness to learn.
As far as I can tell, it was received positively. Just be careful not to sound like you're shitting on your own work, don't say stuff like "Ohhhh this sucks" ya know? Be confident in your work, but let them know you're always trying to improve as much as possible! Ask for feedback even, what the hell!
6) Ask intelligent questions
Always keep in mind that interviews are a two-way conversation. It's not just the company interviewing you, you're interviewing the company! Of course, when you're just starting out and you're desperate for a job (like I was LOL), you're inclined to be a lot less picky. But it's not a bad idea to watch out for for potentially harmful environments. Besides, asking good questions makes you look hella smart!
Sonia told me about these a few days ago and I am loving them:
- Ask the interviewer what they appreciate most about working for their company.
- Ask what a “day in the life” looks like in the studio
- If the interviewer is in your field, ask them what they think makes a good designer/producer/whatever. << I LOVE this one
- Responsibilities of the role, number of team members, to whom you’d be reporting, which teams/team members you'd be interacting with frequently etc.
- Ask them if they have any concerns about your suitability for the position that they would allow you to address at this time. << major power move question
- Contract details like specific clauses or restrictions, your interviewers probably have no idea;
- Don't ask if you did okay, it sounds a bit weird and insecure;
- I'd avoid talking about payrate, hours and benefits; those questions are important, but better suited for the recruiting team handling your contract;
RED FLAG QUESTIONS Questions that signal a potentially toxic workplace environment, or that there's some shady stuff going on: - Are you able to work overtime, holidays, evenings and weekends?
- Do you have reliable child care arrangements?
- How is working with/supervising women different from working with/supervising men?
- Are you willing to put career interests before self-interest?
- How do you feel about gay marriage/booth babes/abortion/feminism?
- By the way, just how old are you?
- How do you define sexual harassment?
- What does your spouse think about your career?
- Have you ever brought a lawsuit against an employer?
- Where were you born? / What's your nationality? / What’s your ethnicity?
- Are you married, divorced, separated, or single?
- Are you living with anyone?
- What holidays do you celebrate?
- Where do you usually go on vacation?
- Do you have any disabilities that affect your work?
- What is your health situation like?/Are you on any medications?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- Do you like to go drinking?
- How many children do you have?/Do you plan to have children in the near future?
- What church do you attend?
- How do you think my older (/younger) employees would react if I hired you?
- Do you have many debts?/Do you own or rent your home?
- How much do you weigh? (or how tall are you, or ANYTHING inappropriately personal)
[Take it easy, dude. But TAKE IT.]
For game industry interviews, I always try to be somewhat laid back, but not in a way that is unprofessional. Approach the interview with confidence, but not arrogance. Don't beat yourself up if you don't get the job, but use it as a learning opportunity for the next interview. Don't be invasive if you get rejected, but politely ask for feedback.
A lot of companies will ghost you and that's normal. That happened to me more times than I can count. As a student on a visa, I wasn't treated very kindly sometimes. Nowadays, the same companies that ghosted me as a student slide into my LinkedIn DMs, and I take great pleasure in politely declining them. I'm aware that sounds somewhat bitter, but given how much I suffered under my visa I feel like it's a bit justified to be honest.............
Anyways, I hope this helps. Thanks again to Sonia for giving me some very helpful info. I'm hoping to do more posts on Contracts and Resumes in the near future as well.