Interviewing for creative positions is kind of bizarre. You’re being asked to demonstrate in less than a day that you have a creative drive that will hold up for months or years. Game design positions are especially troublesome, since as a hiring manager, I want to hire someone who has a vision of what makes a good player experience that is both complete, and to a reasonable extent, compatible with my own.
In short, the task of the hiring manager is almost impossible. In fact, many interviewers and interviewees are struck with the same question – what exactly is the point of this? Well, I have some help for you. Interviews are a game. Games have rules. Games can be won.
1. Do your homework.
This is the one bit of traditional interview advice that really holds up. Interviews are about people, so make sure you learn as much as you can (without being creepy) about the people you’re going to be interviewing with.
Before the interview, email the nice HR person and ask for the names of the people you’ll be interviewing with. Do some quick searches. Linkedin, Mobygames, and of course, consult Professor Google’s Knowledge Emporium. Take notes. (And bring your notebook with you to the interview itself.) For all the people you’re going to talk to, find out where they’ve worked, what notable titles they’ve worked on, read their blog if you can find it – you’re not looking to impress them with your knowledge of their history (see: creepy) but instead to get a sense of what kind of design and development philosophy they hold. If there’s time and they’re accessible, make sure you’ve played some of the games that your interviewers have made. Be prepared to talk about them – have a thing you liked, and a thing you’d improve already picked out.
2. Wear A Suit
No, really. Even if they explicitly say you don’t have to do it, do it. If you don’t think you look good in a suit, find a fashionable person of the opposite sex and ask them why you don’t look good in a suit, then do whatever they tell you until you do look good in a suit.
You wouldn’t go on a raid wearing mismatched armor, so why would you go to an interview looking anything but your sharpest? Equip the right gear for the quest. Wear the damn suit.
3. Be Bold
The meek have to inherit the earth, because that’s the only way they’re ever going to get anything.
Most people don’t have meaningful relationships with people who they agree with all the time. You goal is to establish your own identity, personality, and views. You don’t want to come off as overbearing, but much of a design interview comes down to “Who is this guy/gal? Will having them on the team enhance, or detract from our process?” This is a question your interviewer deserves an answer to, so it’s your job to answer it for them in no uncertain terms. If you believe something, say so. Don’t put a lot of qualifiers and caveats on it. If you disagree with something, say so. Explain your reasons. Represent yourself as an equal in the conversation. And if you don’t know the answer to something, say that you don’t know. Ignorance of any particular issue is probably no big deal. Misrepresenting yourself is. In poker, bluffing will win little hands and lose big hands. Interviews are the wrong place to make that kind of gamble.
4. Get Out Of The Box
One of the first challenges you face as an interviewee is to stop being a resume, and start being a person as soon as possible. In the world of design, life experiences matter. As a systems designer, it matters what sorts of non-game systems you understand well. As a content designer, it matters how broad a knowledge you have of stories and narratives of all forms. As a level designer, it matters how much of the world and its infinite strangeness you have seen, just to name a few examples.
People need to hire for a role, but they need to hire a person. A person they’re going to need to spend a lot of time with. In your interview, try to bring up some interests and skills you have that are not directly related to game design. The things that make you interesting and unique are going to be the things that your co-workers will appreciate when you bring different perspectives to the discussion. Don’t force yourself to keep the conversation to just your work experiences. Conversely, don’t get too far off on tangents. Just present yourself as a complete person.
5. Flip The Question
Your goal in an interview is to reframe the question on your interviewer’s mind. The interviewer will start off with the question, “Should I hire this person?” Instead, you want to reframe the question as “Why shouldn’t I hire this person?”
Use “we” and “us” as pronouns when discussing you and the potential team working on a particular problem. Talk about the project as if you’re already working on it. It’s subtle, and it should be; don’t actually draw attention to your word choice, but consistently try to put yourself on the other side of the table, and avoid “us versus them” language.
This is a large enough topic that I intend to come back to it, but my top five should be enough to get a discussion started.