When I applied for my first game studio job back in 2001, I knew that a good resume was important. Naturally I searched the Internet, hoping to find good advice and resume samples that worked. There wasn’t much out there back then. But what little I did find was conflicting and contradictory. Not helpful.
Functional or chronological? Combination or targeted? Formal or creative? MS Word or PDF? It shouldn’t have been so hard to get a straight answer.
That was a long time ago. Today, there’s 100 times more advice out there and it’s 1,000 times more conflicting and contradictory. Still not helpful!
Nothing speaks louder than an example that worked. So I dug through my archives to find actual resumes from people that applied while I was running the engineering department at a mid-sized game studio. They’re all very different in terms of layout, organization and styling, but they all have one important thing in common: They all got hired.
Let’s take a look and see what we can learn from these resumes that are – by definition – winners. I think we’ll see some surprising patterns that can get you hired, too.
(Note: I’ve changed the details of the names/genders, schools, games, and so on to protect the privacy of the applicants. But the layouts, overall structure and tone are intact.)
Video Game Resume #1: Game student with broad tastes and diverse systems experience
Why did this game programmer resume catch my eye?
- It’s hard to find a candidate who’s good at programming systems as well as gameplay. This candidate has done both.
- He lists a fairly diverse batch of genres and scopes in his “favorite games” section. The studio I was hiring for had 12 teams all working on different types of games, so I wanted somebody who wouldn’t be a snob about what kinds of games they worked on.
- I gravitate toward coders that have experience in different roles on a team, such as designer and producer. It helps them see things from the viewpoint of the non-engineers on their team, which makes them a better communicator.
Video Game Resume #2: Computer geek with leadership potential
What did I find intriguing about this engineering resume?
- I often look for candidates that could become lead programmers later in their career. This candidate was working at a retail store, and hints that leadership and customer support – two things that make for a great team lead – might be a strong suit.
- There are hints that the candidate might enjoy the process of planning software – UML, task lists, etc. – in addition to coding it. That’s a good sign for a potential project lead.
- I’m not thrilled with the giant “core competencies” section that lists every piece of software ever touched. I get it, it’s not for me. It’s for the search engines. But I don’t recommend it. It wastes a lot of space without helping me understand what makes the candidate special.
Video Game Resume #3: Graphics specialist with strong 3D math chops
This is a really strong game developer resume.
- For starters, he has a degree from a game school and experience in QA on a professional game team. His time in QA will have given him insight into the game dev process, and shows he’s passionate enough to do a non-programming job if that’s what it takes to break in.
- Through all of his projects, he tackled complicated 3D-math-heavy features. That’s a good sign that he’s smart and motivated. Also, a surprising number of game programmers aren’t great with 3D math, so it’s always handy to have a ringer on the team.
- He’s heavy on graphics experience. At the time, the studio I was hiring for was low on good graphics programmers. He’s applied at the right place at the right time.
These game developer resumes are very different. And in reality, the candidates went on to have very different career paths, each built around their individual strengths and interests. So at first it might seem there’s not a lot you can learn by studying them.
But from a higher-level view, they actually have a lot in common.
- They all have a degree from a video game school. That’s not a requirement, but it helped me feel more confident that they know what they’re doing.
- They all have experience working on real projects with real teams. Even if it’s just part of their schooling, it’s important to show they have the social and team skills to work under a deadline – without killing themselves or their teammates.
- They all have qualities that I was specifically looking for, for my specific studio and teams. It might seem that it’s hard to know what a hiring manager is looking for. But you can always do a little research to find out what a studio needs, then orient your resume to highlight that portion of your skill set.
The Surprising Lesson
Those are the similarities. But maybe there’s something to learn from the differences? Sure, they all have completely different layouts and formatting. But they all get their point across. They show who they are, and what they can do.
And they all got hired.
So the real lesson might be this: The layout of your resume isn’t as important as everyone wants you to think. It’s the content that counts, not the tabs, fonts and margins. Fonts don’t get you hired! Being awesome gets you hired. Show them who you are, why you’re great, and why they should hire you. Get that part right, and nothing else matters.
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