GameSpy have posted the 21st part of their Gaming University Articles. This time, Kenn Hoekstra gives some advice on breaking into the gaming industry:
Q: I'm currently at university earning a degree in Interactive Systems and Video Games Design. This covers a pretty broad range of subjects, including programming, 3D modeling and animation, game design, sound implementation, and group projects. I'm also working on several mods for Bethesda Softwork's Morrowind as part of modding teams and by myself. I've started a small portfolio, and will be adding my mods and university work as they are finished. Do you have any suggestions for other things I could work on in order to increase my chances of getting a job in the industry after university? I'm looking to get a job as a designer/programmer, are there any other things I could be doing to give me an edge over the competition? -- Gary Chambers
A: Ultimately, the strength of your portfolio and the quality of your work are what's going to secure the job for you. However, if it comes down to a choice between you and someone of similar ability, the things that companies look at that could tip the scales in your favor include the professional appearance and presentation of your resume and portfolio, the strength of your phone and in-person interviews, your location and/or willingness to relocate, your salary requirements and/or references or recommendations from gaming professionals already working in the business.
The relevance of your mod work to what the company you're applying to is already working and is key. For example, if you submit Morrowind mods to a company that's making FPS games, that probably won't help you secure a design job. As another example, if you submit Unreal levels to a company that's using Quake technology and the quality of your work is similar to another applicant who submitted Quake-tech levels, odds are the Quake guy's going to get the job. You should customize and tailor your job search and your portfolio as much as you can to meet the needs of the company you're applying to. The better your work translates into what the company needs, the better your chances are.
You also don't want to appear like you're sending out a mass-mailing to get a job. Research the companies you apply to and include information about the company in your cover letter. Find out who reviews applicants and address the person by name when applying. Convince the company that they're the only company you want to work for and the only company you're applying to. First impressions are important and you should do everything in your power to make a good one.