Applying to be a Game Artist: Things You Should Know
Whether you’re being recruited or applying for a role, we’ll cover what Art recruiters want to see in your portfolio, profile and application, as well as what turns them off.
Why am I writing this?
I’ve been in the games industry for more than 15 years now, working with some great companies like Gameloft, King, LucasArts, and Ubisoft before founding two game studios.
After years of Games Artist recruitment, I keep seeing the same simple mistakes — mistakes I committed myself many times over when I was in those shoes many years ago. Now on the other side, I review hundreds of applications every month, and I have compiled most of the things I wish I had known years ago.
You could take this post as a checklist of sorts when you’re putting together your portfolio, resume and cover letter and I hope my mistakes will help you build a strong profile that will make Art recruiters love what they see, and reach out to you for more!
Here are the two “simple” things you need to achieve with your portfolio, profile and application:
- Make sure you create an impact, through clarity and focus. For an application, it includes showcasing an understanding of the requirements. If you’re being scouted, it means making sure your work is up to date. Finally, only showcase the best you have to offer, and nothing else.
- Make it as easy as possible to get in touch with you. Your contact information should be up-to-date, working and easy to find. A surprising proportion of portfolios I have seen have either broken links or missing contact information.
The vast majority of the portfolios I see and applications I receive do fail on both counts. Fortunately, they’re easy to fix.
Understanding who you’re talking to
It is important to understand who will be reviewing your applications or scouting your online presence. We’re not all the same:
- In large companies, this person will probably be a recruiter. Some are specialised in Art recruitment, some are not. Most have no artistic sensibility.
- In large/medium scale companies, some are Art Managers. Those people would have an artistic sensibility, but are not necessarily hands-on during production.
- In smaller scale or leaner companies, it’ll often be the Art Director or Art Leads themselves. These people are production artists, so they’ll know exactly what they’re looking for.
In our studio, whoever is in charge of the Art team will handle applications reviews and recruiting. And I personally scout websites, portfolios, etc…, review all applications and reach out to people. More about this later.
Do some research on the company’s structure on LinkedIn to better understand who is the first person likely to review your application. With that knowledge, you can tune your application accordingly. Put in the effort and write your introduction/cover differently when you address a recruiter or when you are writing to a production artist or Art Director.
As an example, a recruiter is likely to care about academic qualifications, your resume, and specific role experiences, but won’t be able to really analyse a portfolio. Production artists will appreciate a very short cover letter, and usually won’t care much about academic qualifications. They will jump straight into your portfolio before even looking at your resume.
Before we get into more details, here are two high level items that, if ignored, could hurt you if you’re applying to a role:
- Read the job listing carefully and be sure about what the company does. This is a really big one. We do stylised games, while others do realistic games. Make sure your work and interests fit with what the studio you’re applying to does.
- Please do not apply to multiple roles in a single application. This can be quite frustrating for a recruiter. When you apply to a specific role, we will get to know who you are and where your skills and interests lie, and this will let us find out if you might be a good fit for another role. E.g.: we can see if you also have the ability to execute concepts in your portfolio, even if you applied for a 3D generalist role. If your portfolio and work experience is good, you will be considered, no matter what the open roles are.
What do Art recruiters want to see most?
- First and foremost, an application that understands what the studio is looking for. Meaning the candidate should demonstrate an understanding of the Job Description’s requirements, knows about the skillset the studio is looking for, and is aware of what art style the studio is generally producing.
A majority of the applications I receive only showcase realistic works, with little to no personal interest for stylised designs. This shows no understanding of what our studio does and that leads to an automatic rejection.
- Second, a solid portfolio, aligned with the first point.
- Third, a good resume — one page is ideal.
- Finally, a simple, to the point, cover letter — not more than two paragraphs to introduce yourself.
Tip: From an applicant’s perspective, your goal is to make it as easy as possible for a recruiter and an Art team to assess, share your work and contact you.
Remove as much friction as possible to access and assess your work and get to the point with your skillset and relevant experience. Not much else matters. Finally, make sure links to your work/profile are easy to collect and share.
For context, when I am doing recruitment for Mighty Bear Games, I usually have 100 to 200 applications to review, depending on the number of open roles. So, the easier you make it for anyone to review your work, the higher the chances they’ll come back to you.
Cover letter Do’s and Don’ts
- The cover letter should be integrated in your email. Don’t attach it as a separate document — that’s an outdated practice.
- Keep your mail/cover letter brief, within one to two paragraphs. Get to the point and introduce yourself, mention why you’re applying and why you think you’re a good fit. Follow up with links to your online presence . Then, if your resume or portfolio doesn’t showcase clearly why you’re a match, you can address this now. Remember that a bad cover letter or introduction mail can hurt your application, so keep it simple and to the point. Be motivated but not overzealous.
- Don’t overuse buzzwords. It doesn’t help in raising your profile or make you look any better, and on the contrary, it creates noise that affects the clarity of your message.
- Always have a link to your portfolio in the mail body. Make it very visible. We will click on this before reading anything else. Many applicants do not place a link in the mail and I won’t have time to look for it.
- I personally prefer a link to your Linkedin resume over an attached PDF resume. Some companies prefer a PDF for the ease of forwarding the application by mail. I really don’t. I prefer to forward a Linkedin link. PDFs also represent a security risk and a Linkedin link is an additional way for us to connect 🙂
- Do not attach your portfolio as a PDF, or videos, or large files. Firstly, it makes for a really heavy mail to open. Secondly, a lot of companies’ mail systems do not allow for ZIP files to be downloaded for security reasons. Finally, it’s a dead, static document. Online portfolios are live, (hopefully) up-to-date and easy to forward.
- If we’ve met or worked together before please do not write like you’re talking to someone you do not know. Mention our past collaborations and address me as someone you know.
Portfolio Do’s and Don’ts
- Collate your visual work in no more than 2 popular showcase platforms. I would suggest ArtStation or Behance. If not, a website is fine. Do a web search on yourself and make sure you do not have outdated portfolios lying around, like a 10 year old, outdated DeviantArt profile.
- Make sure one can go back and forth between your portfolio and your resume with working links in the right places.
- Always double-check that you provide a clear way to get in touch with you by filling up your contact details.
- Keep fan art to a minimum. Fan art can be awesome and give us an idea of what your influences are, but they don’t give a clear picture of your creative skills.
- If you opt for a personal website, your work should always come first. Avoid a full screen “Hello, I am Ben!”, with your photo. Reserve that for the end. Personal branding should not come in the way of showcasing your work. Unless you’re an animator, an animated introduction is just going to get in the way of seeing your work.
- Curate your portfolio. If you apply for a UI/UX role, make sure your website is showcasing that skillset at the forefront. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve opened a portfolio expecting to see UI work, and instead found heroic fantasy fan art making up 90% of the content.
- Curate your portfolio. Make sure you understand what the studio is doing. In our case, we do stylised games, with an accessible art style, so if your portfolio is mostly anime or realistic artwork, that probably will probably not work for us. It sends a strong signal: the applicant does not know what the studio is doing or doesn’t care enough to curate their portfolio when applying.
- Create an impactful portfolio. Do not showcase artwork that aren’t amongst your best. The reasoning is simple: A short but strong portfolio will showcase your ability to curate good artwork and achieve a direction. It’s a direct display of your standards and will likely make us ask you for more. Sub-standard pieces will not only lower the impression we get of your other, better pieces, but they will also send a signal that you might not be able to cut through the noise on your own. Good curation also shows confidence in your work and strengthens the direction of your portfolio. As with many other things, less is sometimes more.
- Trim anything that is not up-to-date or relevant. Recruiters usually do not want or need to see fan art that’s 10 years old.
Your Portfolio is really the first real impression we get of your application. Cover letter and resume are second only. So make sure you have an impactful, frictionless portfolio, with a solid and curated direction to it. Each piece you chose to leave in informs us about your artistic sensibility.
Linkedin and Resume Do’s and Don’t
- Have a public link to your portfolio in the dedicated section (Contact). Avoid having a link to your portfolio in the Summary section, it renders as text and forces us to copy/paste the link — remember we review hundreds of profiles.
- Have a publicly visible and up-to-date email address, and place it in your Summary. I can’t count the number of times I couldn’t contact an artist because they didn’t login to LinkedIn to accept the invite, the email address was unused, or simply because the email address was hidden in their private information.
- Check out how your profile displays from a public perspective. Make sure all your links work. I regularly encounter broken links and websites that are down. Is it easy to contact you, or find out more about your work?
- Succinctly break down your responsibilities in the sections of your LinkedIn timeline, and tell us what you did for each role — just enough to understand what you were responsible for and doing in those roles.
So, what happens if your application is of interest to the recruiter?
Each company is different, so I’ll talk about Mighty Bear Games. Assuming that your application is of interest to me after review, your profile and portfolio will make the rounds in the Art Team, often even with the rest of the studio. I will expect everyone to have some feedback as the team knows best what kind of skills we need. Also, the industry is small, so there’s usually someone within one or two degrees who knows the applicant.
And what‘s next?
If all goes well, here are what the next steps look like at Mighty Bear Games:
- Screening interview — with the Art manager, and possibly another senior artist. This usually takes place on-site, but can be done remotely. It is a high level, casual chat, getting to know you better, discussing your experience and portfolio, and for you to get to know us as well.
- Technical assessment — another chat about the technical aspects of your experience and the role, often coming with a technical assessment test. We usually keep our tests to half a day long at maximum. They’re meant to test very specific aspects of your skills and are assessed keeping in mind the limited amount of time you could spend on them.
- Culture interviews — usually involving most of the team, my colleagues will take turns to chat with you in small groups. This is on-site and we’ll fly you in if necessary. It usually takes a full day and is an opportunity for us, as much as it is for you, to get to know each other from a culture perspective.
- Final chat with our CEO — this is where your salary expectations and start date would be discussed.
That’s it! That’s literally all there is to standing out from 90% of the competition. So what are you waiting for!? If you’re interested in coming to work with us, then drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you applied to other studios, let us know how it went!
For more about who we are and the studio culture we’re building, have a look at our other Medium articles here.
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