I promised some tips on getting hired as a junior writer, and here they are.
1. The Cover Letter: A cover letter / email might seem old-fashioned, but I (and many other writing hiring managers I know) do read them. Especially for junior candidates, where the resume does not necessarily give me a lot to go from, the cover letter can capture my interest. What am I looking for:
- What are you going to bring to the table that might not be evident from your resume (and no, having played lots of games as a kid isn't it)
- Why do you want to work for my company specifically, in the listed role (and no, I've just always wanted to write video games isn't it - show me that you know where you're applying)
The cover letter is the chance to clearly, succinctly (in a half a page, ideally) tell me the story of why you'd be a good fit for my team.
That's it. That's all you need. I don't need a clever format, or long personal anecdotes, or an exhaustive summary of your work experience.
2. The Samples: If you're looking for a junior role, the odds are you have little to no professional experience. So you need to have great writing samples. What are great writing samples? That will vary from company to company, but you can already start to figure it out based on what kinds of games the company has released in the past.
If you're applying to work on a AAA RPG with branching dialogue, for example, you should have a branching dialogue sample in your portfolio, and it should show that you know how to create compelling player choices: from fun roleplaying lines to choices that will shift how the story plays out (without blowing scope out of the water, requiring essentially two different games to be built.)
Now, I know that if you're looking for your first break, you're likely applying to as many jobs as you can find. That's not a bad strategy, but you should already be thinking about what types of games you want to write, and be creating work that feels like it could be in those games. Spend time analyzing them, taking them apart, and putting them back together until you understand what makes a great cutscene in The Last of Us, and how it differs from what makes a fun event text in Crusader Kings III.
Pay attention to what the job listing requests: if the listing specifies dramatic dialogue scenes, for example, don't submit item descriptions or character barks. If the listing asks for branching dialogue, even if the company hasn't released a game with branching dialogue before, assume they know what they want to see.
Great samples from a junior writer show me that whatever they might not yet know about the realities of making games, they have talent, the drive to get better at their craft, and have most likely used feedback from others to make their work better. That's a strong foundation to work with.
3. The Screening Call(s): Let's say you do get a company interested in your application. Great. The first step is very likely to be an initial screening call with a recruiter. The recruiter is mainly going to be looking to measure your professional bona fides, such as your communication style, and to guage whether you'll be a good fit or add for the company.
If you pass this stage, it really varies from company to company what comes next. These days, I like to do a personal screening call next. I'd rather invest a little bit of my time at this stage than ask someone I've never met (who has no idea if they'd even like working for me!) to do a test.
In this call, I dig deeper into writing craft, narrative design thinking, and collaboration. From a junior candidate, I don't expect them to have all the answers (in fact, a junior candidate who acts like they have all the answers is usually a warning sign), but I do want to see that they are invested in how game writing differs from other forms of writing--both in how collaborative it is (how do you work with artists?) and how the writing is just part of a player's overall narrative experience.
I'm looking to have a good conversation, not to trip you up. I know you're likely to be nervous enough already. (I even get nervous going into these calls, because I'm always so eager for them to go well.)
I also want to know that you've played our most recent games and have something meaningful to say about them: they are entirely free to download, so it's the bare minimum of research you should have done to prepare.
4. The Test: Sometimes there's a test, sometimes there isn't, but for a junior role it's more likely than not, since the candidate generally doesn't have demonstrable experience. The test will vary widely from company to company, and the one I give is always evolving, but I try to keep it short and sweet these days, and I'm primarily interested in seeing three things from junior candidates:
- How well they follow the brief
- Their narrative design thinking: are they considering the player's experience
- How well they respond to feedback
I admit that in the past, response times on my end for feedback on tests have been slower than I liked. It's one reason I've been working to streamline and shorten this step. The reason it can take a while is because sometimes I want to have multiple people review and give feedback on it.
5. The Interview Panel: A candidate that advances to the next stage will get to meet the team they'd be working on if hired. I try to keep my panels small, but I know some companies have huge panels or even do trial days. The panel is designed to see if there's anything we missed in the screening & test process, to dig deeper into your answers on the test, and to see how well you can work with other disciplines. We are trying to identify where your strengths lie, what you bring to the table as an individual, and where you might need support or training if you joined the team.
Again, from a junior candidate, we don't expect all the answers. One of the best things you can do is come in prepared with good questions about how we work & what would be expected of you, and if you don't understand what's being asked of you at any point in the interview, ask. We'll tell you if we'd like you to guess, but curiosity is a good trait in someone who is just starting out (actually it's a great trait in seniors as well, but that's another topic.) It puts you in a geat position to learn.
6. The result: Maybe you get an offer. Yay! Remember it's always fair to ask questions about the offer, take some time to review it, and even make a (reasonable) counter-offer. Any studio that would pressure you to accept an offer right away or turn you down for counter-offering isn't a good studio to work for.
But maybe you don't. First of all, if you haven't heard back after a couple of weeks, absolutely do email us. At this stage, we owe you a response.
If the response is rejection, please remember: don't take it personally. In fact, don't take any part of this process personally. Listen, I am 100% aware of how difficult it is, how disheartening it can be, how it can feel like you go for long stretches without any success, or good feedback on how to improve. I am aware from my own experience, and from the fact that as a hiring manager every time I open a role, I have hundreds of applications within 24 hours. That's hundreds of people I can't hire, no matter how good they are, or how much I like them.
But if you do not receive an offer after going through the interview process, if we don't provide feedback, feel free to ask. It's even appropriate to follow up with a question or two if the feedback is unclear. Do this through the professional channel (the recruiter or work email) not through our personal social media or email addresses.
In addition, you got this far, so don't let rejection deter you from applying in the future. Again we can usually only hire one candidate, our needs change over time, and people change, grow, and develop their skills, too.
I hope this helps give you a little insight into the interview process, and best of luck in your search.