Using Game Job Boards the Right Way

By Brice Morrison [10.29.13]

[Looking for a job in games? The Game Prodigy author Brice Morrison will help you use advanced job board techniques.] 

If you're in school and looking towards getting a job in the games industry, then you've likely thought of looking at online job boards. Studios big and small use job boards to find new talent for their upcoming game projects, and so perusing the Gamasutra Job Boards and postings regularly is a great way to round out any job search.

But too many students make common mistakes when they're looking for jobs online. The worst thing is, they don't even know they're making them, because they haven't really applied to jobs at a game studio before. Making these mistakes narrows their opportunities and may prevent them from getting a job, or worse, landing them in a job that isn't for them.

As someone who has looked at resumes coming into a studio as well as applied for jobs myself, I've learned the ins and outs of using job boards for all their worth. There are simple strategies that you can use to turn online job boards into an asset for you, instead of a task that you need to trudge through. By using job boards right you can build your skills, improve your chances, and eventually get the perfect job for you.

So let's take a look at what you can do to be successful in getting your first game gig. There are three main stages: first, you want to use job boards to target your skills and grow as a future game developer. Second, you want to find the jobs that are right for you and get over the common "1-2 years experience" hump. Finally, you want to use what I like to call the "Studio Checklist Method" to stand out on your application and make sure you're a perfect match.

Step 1: Use Job Boards to Target Your Skill Development

That's right - you can actually use job boards to build your skills and gain more experience, even before setting your foot in a studio. I'll explain how.

I'm a big believer in the concept of "career capital" - in order to get great jobs and build a successful career, you need to learn valuable skills that others will pay for. The better you get at these skills, the easier it will be to trade in your "career capital" to get a great job. People who become Design or Art Directors have tons of career capital that they've built up over time. They have skills that studios need to make great games.

But how to you know what kinds of skills game studios want? Sure, they want someone who can "program", but what languages specifically? What frameworks, what engines, what types of tasks? Sure they need someone who can "draw", but what techniques and styles specifically?

Well there's two ways to find out. You can ask someone who works at a game studio (which may be difficult, especially if you don't know many people) or you can, you guessed it, use the job boards.

Job boards are a great resource for learning about what skills are currently valuable out there in the "real world". It's like being given the answers to an exam - even if you don't have the skills now, the skills you need are laid right out there for you. It's just up to you to study and put in the time to develop them. 

Let's look at an example job posting:

Knowledge of 2D/3D programming
Knowledge of C / C++
Strong math and engineering background
Bachelor's degree in Computer Science or Computer Engineering preferred
2+ years of programming experience
Significant experience in hobby or professional game development
Good communication skills

Each of these items are something that this company wants, the career capital that's needed in order to get this job. And these are all very actionable. If you're looking at this example job posting and this is the type of job you'd like to have, then pick a few items on the list and start teaching yourself. Let's break it down:

These skills are what you want to go after. While you can't change your skill set overnight or even over a week, in the course of a few months to a year you can learn a substantial amount of valuable skills. 

The key to understand is that if several companies are posting jobs that all require skill X, then several months or a year from now, there will be lots of other companies posting jobs that require skills X as well. This is your career capital that you want to build up. Then in a few months when the next job posting comes up, you will have invested in yourself and will be ready to apply for those jobs - and they'll likely be ready to talk to you!

This brings us to that last point, what do you do it all the posting require 2+ years of experience?

Step 2: Get Over the "1-2 Year" Requirement

One thing that I hear all the time with students at The Game Prodigy is "All the jobs I look at require 1-2 years experience! How am I supposed to break in?"

It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem. But I'll tell you how to tackle it. When companies say they are looking for 1-2 years experience, they are just saying that they want a person of a certain caliber. They don't want a programmer who barely knows any C++. They don't want an artist who doesn't know how to use Illustrator. And they don't want a designer who has never made a single game before. They are looking for people who know what they are doing.

So the best way to overcome these obstacles is to make sure that you are experienced through your own personal projects. 

Take this example: Let's say you are hiring someone to work for your game studio. You see two resumes come to your desk. The first is a guy who has worked for 2 years at some no name game company where he basically did nothing. It's really even clear he did anything at all. But the second is a girl who has made a Top 100 iPhone game, made a 3D game that was nominated for an indie game award, and led a project for a game jam that got over 100,000 plays - in fact you've heard of it.

Who would you hire? The answer is obvious - the second person.

But see what's happened here? The first person may have had experience sitting at a job, but the second person made their own experience. 

The best way to do this is by working on your own personal projects and going above and beyond in courses
So when you see jobs that require 1-2 or 2-3 years of experience, reframe it as, "This is a job for someone who has the same skill level as someone who has been in the industry 1-2 years". Then put in the work (as we discussed in step 1) to make it happen.

Now that you've been reading the job boards to find your marketable skills and found a few jobs to apply for, it's time to use the Studio Checklist Method to close the deal.

Step 3: Use the Studio Checklist Method to Stand Out

[Image by mistersnappy, used under Creative Commons License]

Here's some advice I bet you've heard before: "When you're applying to jobs, use a custom resume and cover letter for each company."

But what does that mean exactly?

I'll tell you exactly what it means - it means that when you apply to each company, your resume should reflect what that company and job posting is looking for. To do this, you'll want to use what we at The Game Prodigy call "The Studio Checklist Method".

This means that when you are surfing on job boards, you need to use their job posting as a checklist to build your cover letter and resume. 

Let's use the example again from earlier:

Knowledge of 2D/3D programming
Knowledge of C / C++
Strong math and engineering background
Bachelor's degree in Computer Science or Computer Engineering preferred
2+ years of programming experience
Significant experience in hobby or professional game development
Good communication skills

Upon reading this, you should literally make it a checklist. The most important items that the studio wants are typically going to be at the top or mentioned two or three times, while the least important items will be at the bottom. With that in mind, an example cover letter might look like this:

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is Brice Morrison and I'm excited to apply for the position of Game Programmer. I believe my experience matches what you are looking for. I was the creator of "Mega Banana", a 3D game that was entered into the Independent Games Festival, and "Legend of Melba" a 2D open world exploration game that received over 50,000 plays online. Last year, I was in charge of a semester long C++ project with 3 other students where we made an inventory management program of over 10,000 lines of code. I believe my schoolwork has prepared me well for this position - I currently hold a 3.7 GPA in my math and engineering courses and am majoring in computer science. With my hobby

Now let's break this down using the Studio Checklist Method to make sure we have everything covered. Look back at the job posting and see if it's all there:

You get the idea.

This should be done for both the cover letter and for the resume, and as a result, each one you send out should be totally unique. After going through each item and searching in your own experience to find matches where possible, you give yourself a much higher chance of success. The studio will see your resume and say, "Wow! This is exactly the guy we are looking for!" This is also the reason you want to build up your skills and career capital as much as you can, so that you have a lot of experiences to pull from to match job board postings you see.

One important point is that you don't want to lie or exaggerate your skills. Never ever. But what you do want to do is use the job posting to decide which of your skills and experience you want to emphasize on your 

Don't Stop at the Job Board

Many students think that job postings are the end of their job search - far from it, they are actually just the beginning. There's one other key technique that I teach my students to find jobs and get offers in our Game Prodigy Newsletter. If you're interested in learning more, head over to The Game Prodigy at the bottom of this article.

Best of luck!

[Brice Morrison is a Lead Game Designer and Editor of The Game Prodigy a site for building your game career. Visit for more strategies on how to become a pro game developer.]

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