For most people starting a new career, the thought of interviewing causes fear, uncertainty and doubt. But you can’t get hired at your dream job if you don’t ace your interviews. So it’s critical to understand the process, and then prep yourself so you can nail it.
For starters, there are several different types of interviews. And in some cases, you might not realize you’re being interviewed until it’s too late. So let’s go over the types of interviews, why they’re important, and how you can prepare for them.
Type 1: Informal Interview
An informal interview is the “stealth” interview type, because it can sneak up on you when you don’t expect it. Maybe you’re attending a game conference like PAX or GDC, and you’re at an after-party, talking to somebody you’ve just met over drinks. They start asking perfectly normal questions like “what do you do?” or “what kind of job do you want after you graduate?”
In this scenario, it’s totally possible that they’re asking questions to assess whether they want to work with you. They could be a recruiter, a hiring manager, or just somebody who’s influential in their studio and has been asked to scope out promising candidates.
In other words, you’re being interviewed!
The first step is to realize that you’re now in an interview situation. Stay cool. Keep your responses short and focused. Don’t ramble, it’s better to give a shorter response and then let them dig deeper if they want more info.
Informal interviews can happen when you least expect it, so you need to prepare ahead of time:
- Think about how you’ll answer when they ask about your career aspirations, talents, and skills. It will help you focus if you write it down and practice it like a little sales pitch. You don’t want your responses to sound scripted, but most people will just ramble if they don’t have their responses prepared, so it’s best to prepare.
- If you tend to get nervous or flustered when talking about yourself, you can practice on your family or friends, or practice in front of a mirror. (Seriously! It sounds weird, but it actually works.)
- While you’re practicing, also be sure to practice standing up straight, talking clearly, and looking the other person in the eye. Perfect practice makes perfect.
Remember, it doesn’t do any good to have an informal interview if you don’t build a connection with the interviewer. Always carry a clean, wrinkle-free business card that you can hand them at the end of the conversation. And if they ask you to send them any info or a resume, remember to do it! Don’t wait, send it the very next day.
Type 2: Pre-Screen Interview
The purpose of the pre-screen is to “weed out” candidates that obviously aren’t a fit. It’s usually short — anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes — and could be over the phone, via Skype, or on campus.
It usually starts with “administrative” questions to make sure you can legally work in the country and are available to start on the needed date, things like that. Then it moves to short, easy questions to make sure you’re a decent candidate. Programmers might be asked some simple code-related questions, or designers might be asked some lightweight design questions.
The interviewer will also be assessing your attitude and communication skills, so speak clearly and keep a good, positive attitude.
To nail your pre-screen interview, remember to:
- Do it in an ideal location. Make sure your phone reception or Internet connection is solid, and your area is free from distractions: no ringing phones, no roommates barging in, no pets barking in the background or spilling your drink in your lap.
- Review your resume and cover letter. It’s possible that you sent your application days or weeks before the call, so be sure to look them over to jog your memory in case you need to refer to them during the interview.
- Know the company. Play some of their games, check out their web site, catch up on any recent articles in the news. Nothing looks worse to a potential employer than a candidate who doesn’t seem to know anything about the company they’ve applied to.
- Focus on the conversation! Give all of your attention to the interviewer, their questions, and your answers.
Type 3: Formal Interview
At last, the formal interview! This is what you normally think of when you imagine interviewing, so it’s important to ace this one. They’re done on-site at the game studio, and can last anywhere from 1-2 hours to an entire day, depending on the company.
An on-site, formal interview typically looks something like this:
- Building tour: They’ll show you around the building or team areas. This is to “warm you up” to help you be more comfortable in the interview, but it’s also an opportunity for them to sell you on their company. (“Isn’t this place cool? Wouldn’t you love to work here?”)
- Interview loop: When the interview portion starts, you’ll be in a conference room with a single person or a group of interviewers. This is when they ask you the “hard questions” that you’ll need to prepare for ahead of time. If they ask you questions that you can’t answer, just do your best to talk through it and be up-front about what you know and what you don’t. It’s okay to get a few wrong, and some don’t even have correct answers… they’re just trying to understand how you think about the problem.
- Informal Q&A: Toward the end, you may be asked if you have any questions for them. This is a great opportunity for you to ask about the studio culture, what it’s like to work there, or why they like the studio.
It’s critical to remember that they’re assessing your personality and “team fit,” not just your skills. So be sure to dress the part and nail the interview questions, but also keep a good, positive attitude. Most of the interviewers are just programmers, producers, artists, and other gamers just like you — so present yourself like somebody they’d want to work with!
After the Interviews
When you’ve finished going through the informal, pre-screen, and formal interviews, it’s a good idea to send a “thank you” note. Don’t wait — do it the very next day.
It may take a week or more for the company to get back with you. It just depends on how many candidates they’re interviewing, and how overworked the hiring managers are at the time. You should check in with your contact once a week to ask about your status as a candidate.
And, last but not least, be proud of yourself! The interview process is a lot of work, and it can be really stressful. Minimize your stress by understanding these different types of interviews, and by being prepared.
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