So we’ve failed miserably to update the blog since the launch of the new site, but we’ve been super-busy. Specifically, we’ve been working through the 400+ applicants we got for the four posts we advertised a month ago, and thought it was probably worth giving out some feedback on those to everyone.
This is particularly because we’re a small, young studio (the studio that is, not us) and so we kind of feel we owe it to put something back. So for warts and all, given that we are figuring this stuff out as we go, and taking on board that we’re not apparently a typical studio, here’s a few things we clocked when applying for a job at The Chinese Room (or another small studio like us)
1. We’re pretty informal, but not that informal. So if you are applying for a job with a, say, £30,000+ salary bracket, the actual cost to the company is nearer £40,000+ over 12 months. That’s a really hefty amount of cash for a small company, so even if we are really easy going, etc, starting an email “Hey dudes!” isn’t going to cut it. There’s a gap between easy and unprofessional, and if we have to invest a massive chunk of cash into you, we need to see that you are treating this as a significant investment too. That’s not being square. Just imagine it’s your rent/mortgage/car/kid’s school for a year +++ and then think how you’d want that email to start. 2. Read the job description. If we’re asking for an Environment Artist and you send us an email saying you are a Designer, with the best will in the world, we’re going to put that on the reject pile, because we’re a small company and if we needed a designer... That’s not to say don’t put in speculative job letters, we’re all for that, but not in the middle of a targeted recruitment push please, we can’t cope with that. 3. Don’t spam us. If we didn’t respond, we might just be working our way to it. That’s really hard, we understand that, and sending another email or LinkedIn or Twitter message a week later asking if we got it is completely cool. One of our interviewees didn’t respond and we realised there was a cock-up on the email. It happens. Sending three emails a day until you get a response does not say “I’m keen” however, it says “I’m a diva”. Which is a BAD THING 4. Research us. Nothing says “don’t give me a job” to a small company than the impression that you are just a blank line in a standard email. That might work for big companies, but at our scale, the fact you want to work for us, specifically, because of the games we make, specifically, goes a long, long way. After all, we’re small and can’t pay so well. So we want you to be in it for what we do, to make sure it’s the best fit for you as well as us. 5. Spelling and grammar. Ok, so look, I’m a writer, and my spelling and grammar are pretty poor, which is kind of unforgivable. But I’ve got a business partner (Jessica) who spell-checks what I produce, because a) she’s brilliant and b) we’re married and c) it's professional. The point is, in a small company, attention to detail really counts, and these kind of errors mean you haven’t checked your work, and that makes a big, big difference if there isn’t the chain of management or QA above you. 6. Same thing. Comedy email addresses and hyperlinks, or worse still, dead links, will see you onto the reject pile. A dead link is an instant reject, for the same reasons as above. An email address of Hugh.Jass99@hotmail.com doesn’t suggest you are taking things entirely seriously. We might be working with a publisher. They might ask who we are considering for a pivotal role. If we ask them to check out www.spamfacedcameron.com it might not appear hugely professional. This matters. Apologies to Hugh Jass and the owners of www.spamfacedcameron.com. But it matters. 7. We don’t have time to read a 20+ page CV. If you can’t narrow down your work to your greatest hits of the last couple of years, that says something about you. Again, small company, tight turnaround, focus is critical. 8. BUT, and it’s a big but, we’re not necessarily looking to be knocked down by experience. To put this in perspective, of the 200+ environment artist applications we received, we shortlisted eight. Of these, four had graduated in the last year. So lack of experience is not a deal-breaker. What made these candidates stand-out? They specifically wanted to work for US, the way WE work, making the type of games WE make. And their portfolios were excellent. 9. Your portfolio is worth more than your CV. Really, it is. Particularly artists. We didn’t even look at CVs until we were sold on the portfolio. You can tell us a million times you are great, but what we actually want you to do is show us it ONCE. Invest in the right places. And please, please, please make sure that in a showreel, we know exactly what you, specifically, personally, did. It’s not viable for us to try and guess which textures/VFX/audio you made in a corporate trailer for a game. You must signpost. 10. On those lines, one of the things we really struggled with in terms of showreels is bog-standard footage. This relates back to point 4. We don’t currently make games with a) car chases, b) explosions or c) gun battles. So they don’t tell us a great deal about you. Actually, that’s not strictly true. Our shortlists were comprised of people whose personalities and particularly, aesthetic drives shone past the car chases, explosions and gun battles. But that relied on us seeing through the standard stuff. The question is whether you want to rely on us seeing through it. Put it another way, if you were applying for a job with Mind Candy, you might want to put something that at least showcased your affinity with Moshi Monsters on your showreel/portfolio, right? 11. Damn, it’s tough. We were totally unprepared for either the number, or the sheer quality of candidates we got. It was frankly terrifying. The pressure to sift and shortlist was crazy for a company our size. You are basically up against a ton of competition, and a lacklustre or de-focused application will get you precisely nowhere. Speculative applications are a thing of the past. But, and again, it’s a big but, we are idealistic believers that quality and integrity will ultimately out, and passion, focus, drive, honesty – these are the things that shine though and make a difference. And at the end of the day, it’s about the company that deserves you, not just the company that will take you, and a good company wants YOU not just a standard set of skills. So you are the asset, ultimately. Be that asset. Be you, and whether or not your application is successful or not, know that you stood or fell as yourself, not a sales pitch version of yourself you don’t actually want to be.
A caveat on that last point. I got a job in academia at the University of Portsmouth when I was 27 years old, when Jessica was seven months pregnant with our son and I’d just been made redundant. We started The Chinese Room about eighteen months afterwards. Prior to that, we’d both made a decision early on in our lives that being happy in your job was the thing, and we’d stuck with that even when we were basically broke. I spent nearly two years unemployed trying to make ends meet and trying to make it as an artist and actor before I got anywhere – my break was an internship running PR for an arts festival I was forced onto (or I lost my benefit) and I worked a load of low-paid jobs to climb from there. So this doesn’t all come from a position of privilege, where we didn’t have to make ends meet and all of that. We both believe that doing what you believe in is absolutely the route to happiness – we’ve made those sacrifices, we’ve worked factory and bar jobs to pay the rent, we’ve ultimately reached a point where we are lucky to do what we do because we stayed true to our principles. We try and employ people who share that passion and commitment because they have the talent but also the attitude. It’s great and amazing and fun to make games, but if it’s just a job, there are other studios better suited for you. We’ve got a shortlist of people as committed to our world-view as they are talented, and we could fill all of these posts many times over, and we’re not unusual in terms of the level of competition that is out there. Aim high, be true to yourself, be honest, demonstrate passion and integrity.
Reading back over this, I worry it makes us sound like a bit of a cult. Weird how trying to say “we’re idealists and want to employ talented idealists” makes you feel all Noel Edmonds about things. But I guess that’s how it is. It was pretty humbling reading those applications and I wish we could respond to everyone, and employ half the people who applied. For everyone who we couldn’t start a studio. Make your games. Follow your passions. Lots of people told us that we were stupid and doomed when we started making Dear Esther
(incidentally, that's a sketch from Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. That's what the team have to contend with when they say things like "do you have any ideas what it could look like Dan?")