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What to wear
How to compose yourself
When to talk
When not to talk
When to ask questions
Before the interview
During the interview
After the interview
An interview is more of a personality test than a skills test. Usually if you have made it far enough to be called for an interview your skills are sufficient for the task. It is your personality, your energy, your work ethic, and your compatibility which is being tested in an interview.
A game development studio can and should be thought of as a big family or a group of families. There are numerous personalities you must be able to interact with and deal with on a daily basis. It is like having a home away from home. Whether or not that is a happy or unhappy home depends upon your ability to fit in and work together. Now sometimes there is simply nothing that can be done about conflicting personalities, sometimes its just human nature that someone dislikes you or you them and you cant work together. That is an unfortunate reality that doesn't come out often but should be remembered. So your goal is to find a development family that you feel completely comfortable with and they you. Once personality conflicts are out of the way you are free to get on with the business at hand, and that is creating games.
How to approach an interview
The first test is going to be on the phone. When the company recruiter calls you they are testing your communication skills. Can you hold a conversation with them and do you show enough excitement that they are calling you for them to warrant further interests in you. I made a big mistake once with this. A few years back a recruiter from LucasArts called me. I was at home taking care of my son. He was 2 years old. The phone rang and he jumped up to get it. It was the recruiter lady from Lucas. My son is babbling on the phone and I grabbed it from him. I say hello and she tells me who she is and that they received my reel and are interested in interviewing me. Needless to say my son starts to cry and scream because I grabbed the phone from him. It was impossible to talk to the lady. I said can you call me back and she said yes. She never did.
I felt very let down by that. It was a lesson learned. Unavoidable but nevertheless it shouldn't have happened. They assumed I was living in a mad house I suppose.
The point being, your first test is on the phone call with the HR person or the producer/art director of the project. This is crucial, speak clearly and to the point. Let them know you are interested in them and thank them for getting in contact with you. Work with them on their schedule to set up an interview. Don't make it hard for them to bring you in.
Once you have everything set. Now is the time to prepare yourself mentally for the interview. One thing I learned is to try and think up every single possible question that a potential employer would ask. I'm serious, this is important. Take some time to write down questions you would think they would ask and try to get your answers solid in your mind. This will be good practice for the day ahead.
What to wear
I recommend wearing something nice that you would go out to dinner in. Don't wear shorts and a t-shirt. But DO NOT wear a suit unless your job calls for it. That is a no no. You want people to see you for who you really are, you don't want to give a false visual impression that doesn't match your verbal impression or your artistic impression. You want people to be able to get a feel for who you are. That way there will be no problems down the road. No ties, and no suits. Just a nice button up shirt, short or long sleeve and decent slacks. Remember first impressions count for a lot, you hear that a lot because it is true not because it sounds catchy.
Ok the day has come, interview time
Be sure to get yourself ready the night before. You want to be prepared and on time. The time a company schedules your interview for says a lot about what is too come. If they schedule it early in the morning that usually means you are going to have a long interview and they will take you out to lunch. This too is a very important part of the interview process, the lunch. If they take you out to lunch you know you are doing good and they really have an interest in you. If they schedule the interview late in the day then you can assume it is going to be a short one. Interviews will vary from company to company. When I interviewed at DreamWorks I met with 10 different people separately. Everyone grilling me with their own questions and concerns. The interview started at 10:30am and finished at 5:30pm. It was difficult but I aced it and got the job. I met with the designers and producers first, they are the core people you need to impress. They call most of the shots on who they want. The core interviews are usually first and then they send you through the rest of the team for compatibility and personality testing. This is where you will find your friends and foes. Be nice and respectful to everyone of them because they are all looking for the slightest thing to call out as a problem.
When going out to lunch don't be a pig and eat a big meal, this too is a test. They are seeing if you are the type of person they want to hang out with and be in an office with day and night. The lunch can believe it or not make or break an interview. Don't talk too much, listen to most of the team you are eating with and get a feel for there personalities so when you go back and meet with them later on you are that much more in.
During the interview
Be sure to have these things in mind: Speak clearly, speak properly, no swearing or vulgar talk. Stay on topic. Knowing when to speak is as important as knowing when NOT to speak. A big problem I had early in my interview days was talking too much. Answering the question and then going off into other areas. That's bad. Stick to the question, answer it fully, honestly and to the best of your ability and then shut up. You don't want to ramble and babble on, that is bad.
Ask questions about the company and the team. Every interview will end with them saying "Well do you have any questions you would like to ask us?" The worst thing to say is "no". Learn about the company and what products they make, be sure to have some good (short) questions to ask them. Show that you are interested in them and their future and that you can become a part of that future.
The wrong time to ask questions is after the interview in an email or phone call to the company. You don't want to ask about what stock options and royalties you can get, post interview and say things like "you need that info to help you decide on if you want to work there". You want to find out everything that concerns you during the interview and not after.
Be sure to be humble in an interview. A lot of times you will be more talented than a member on their team, however don't let people know you think that. Don't say things like "oh I can do better than Joe Blow sitting there". They wont think that was good. They want people who are team players and not solo performers. Even if you are the top person in town don't let them know it verbally, let them know it with the work you have brought or have done. Let them know you are eager to learn and grow no matter how talented or great you may be.
Each interview is different. Be prepared for the unexpected. Be very willing to bend with the wind and not fight it. Go into each interview with the same goals, to speak clear and concise and to give a positive image about yourself. Let them know you are ready, willing and able to get the job done and done right. Some interviews will be very difficult and stressful and some will be a piece of cake. Some are serious and some are a joke session with the team.
For instance when I interviewed at 3DO (laugh) they were so serious and (for lack of a better term) anal, like I was there to deliver the child of Tripp Hawkins. It was like interviewing at a top accounting firm. It was not a creative feeling environment.
Then the next day I interviewed at Crystal Dynamics and what a difference. These people actually had personality and spirit. (Too much in fact). The interview was a breeze, they took me out to lunch and all met with me in one room at the same time. I took that job. 3DO was a joke compared to Crystal's environment. Crystal knew what they were doing though. They knew I was interviewing at 3DO the day before and played the cards exactly like they should. Impress the potential employee and don't suppress him with a stressed interview.
So each interview is different. I flew to Virginia and interviewed at Legend. This began as an email from me to them and then to a phone call and then me sending them my demo reel and then to a plane ticket out. They were a great bunch of talented people. They gave me a stress-free interview and let me spend time with the team. They took me out to a 5 star looking restaurant (I say looking because the food was 2 star ) and I had great conversation with the lead designer and the president. They offered me the job ($20k less than I asked for) and I took it.
Their mistake was in not keeping me posted to what was going on after being hired. As I sat at home idle wondering when I was going to move, they just kept saying "You have to wait until Wheel of Time is finished." Sorry guys but I couldn't wait. I was all set and ready to move but never did. The point is you never know where you will end up.
Now when I recently interviewed at Maxis. That was great. I instantly clicked with the team and was equally impressed with their work. I met with every one of the various team leads and did my best to give them a look at who I am. They liked me, I liked them now I'm working on the Sims for a bit.
You want to let the team get to know you as a person and as an artist. It's important to show a sense of humor and be friendly. No one wants to work with a self centered jerk no matter how good you are. (Something I've learned.)
Ok so you've gone through the interview and you've gone out to lunch. Everything went well and you feel positive that you've got the position. What now? Well be sure to genuinely thank them for taking the time to meet with you. Let them know you were impressed with the project they showed you and that you feel like you can be an integral part of the development of it. They want people who make things happen and not expect things to happen. Be sure to find out exactly what the next step is, don't let them do like Legend did to me and have you wait around without knowing what's going on. Find out exactly what they have in mind for you. Is it going to be long term or project based. Do they see a great future at their company for you or are you there to simply fit a current need. And what is your personal goal, do you want to be at this company for a long time or do you just need the job to pay the bills.
Remember being happy in your working environment is the single most important goal as a productive developer. You cannot reach your potential and output if you are unhappy and have to fight with your coworkers to get things done. Don't take a job just to take a job, make sure it is a right fit that will benefit you and your future. (Unless of course you have kids to feed and need to work, thus you have to turn down that great Pixar opportunity and take a friggin job at Blam!)