Baker’s Dozen

Is it the most wonderful time of the year?  I think it might just be.  It’s GDC time again!  How does this happen?  It seems like we just closed the booth, packed it up, got the labels on the cases, and walked out of the Moscone Center in the rain… and before you know it – UBM is asking for hotel reservations!  No joke I got the advanced reservation list of hotels for 2011 – on July 26th … in 2010.

As I write this, our booth has been verified as “delivered”, we have electrical, carpet, furniture, and a great reel  to share with everyone.  Our production art team has been hard at work, with Chris to make this one memorable!  I hope you will stop by to check out the magic, and to say “hey” to some of the hard working Insomniacs that I get the privilege of working with on a daily basis.  Our booth is in the Career Pavilion – Booth #2536, and I’ll be there to answer questions and share a bit about Insomniac and our culture.

I get a lot of questions at this time of year about how to apply for open positions, how our process works, why we don’t actually physically take resumes or reels, and what happens when we give you the web link to apply to.  We use the web link application for several reasons… but I think the most important is that it is the green way to go.  We as a company are really trying to be as green as possible, and shipping back to the office 300 lbs of paper and plastic that eventually will be recycled is not very ecologically minded.  We also have had the unlucky misfortune of having our giant box/es of resumes and reels get lost in transit.  It was an unfortunate event– one that we certainly learned a very hard lesson from –and one we are not eager to repeat.

Two reasons down, two more to go!  I don’t know about you – but paper can get lost on my desk, in the office and certainly when it’s being given to three or four people to review.  If we get an electronic application/resume/reel we can have multiple people looking at a candidate at the same time, and we won’t lose it!  And we can always come back to the document if we think a new position is a better fit for a specific skill set.  And one of the last reasons we do this is to actually save you.  How much easier is it to get a business card from us and write a quick note on the back of it, than to have to carry around 75 copies of your resume?  That is what I thought!

So now you have our card, you have our on-line application link in your hand, and you are ready to submit… but you pause and say “What happens when I hit submit?”  Excellent question!  We take recruitment very seriously here – and one that we work on EVERY day.  Once you hit the submit button, your resume and application are queued up for us to review.  We typically download resumes once or twice a day, and begin the task of parsing them for hiring managers.   We check for duplications, and then begin the process of looking at each and every application.  It’s a VERY time consuming process… but one that we take on with excitement as you just never know what each new application holds.  You could be the EXACT candidate we are looking for.

After each application and resume is looked at, if the skills and background are what we are looking for to fill the open position – the resume is sent then to the hiring manager.  At that point several things could take place.  You could be asked to take a test, we could schedule a phone conversation, we could have you come in the office.  It all depends on the position.  But one thing that does not change – we do review each and every application.  We typically get around 10,000 resumes a year… so that is a lot of reading!

One or two words of advice about applying for a position.  Carrie (our Chief People Officer) and I like to call it the 80/20 rule.  If 80% of the job sounds like the skills that you have, and 20% scares you to death… I think go for it.  Please don’t reverse this though!  If 80% of the job is stuff you have NEVER done, and 20% seems manageable… then I think you need to wait for a position that better suits your current skills, not those you hope to have one day.

I hope this sheds a little light on how we do what we do…and also reiterates how excited we are to see some of you at GDC!  I think it’s going to be a great show, and I do hope you drop by Booth 2536 and say “hey”… and check out Chris in a blond wig… oh yah, I said it!

Until next time…

Last time I talked about etiquette for interviewing.   Topics were – what to wear, how early is “too early”, etc.  In my follow up  – I’d like to put my two cents in on some other  tips/tricks/nuggets of info that might be helful.  As I mentioned last time – this is purely from my standpoint, and what flies here at Insomniac Games.  What happens here may not be the ideal for someplace else, but I would say that the main ideals are pretty common.  So let’s jump into this!

The “Thank You” note vs. email: I have to be honest in that this is actually a point of conversation in our HR dept on a regular basis.  I am a believer in the email – it’s the way most people communicate these days.  It can be sent rapidly, and then sent on to several individuals at the same time.  My boss- on the other hand is a fan of the hand written note.  Her thought is that it shows that you care enough to take the time to personally write out the note, and send your thanks.  I think both have valid points. I will not reject either.  The point here is – send one.  Do one or the other- but do one.  To come in and take at least 45 minutes of several peoples day is something to say “thanks” for.  It’s polite and shows that you know it’s a big commitment on everyone’s part to interview and make the right choice for a hire.  It also demonstrates that you’re interested and gives you a chance to express why you think you’re the right hire.  So send something to say “thanks for taking the time to meet with me”…either electronically, sky writing, smoke signals, pony express or the good old USPS.

How to accept or decline an offer: This one seems like a no brainer – either you are going to take the job with a “yes!” or you are going to decline with a polite “thanks but no thanks”… or so you think.  I am shocked at how complicated this step has become.   First – ask as many questions as you like- if you are serious about the job.  If you’re not accepting on the spot – be clear in your questions – “I have a few questions on relocation – can you explain the following…” or “I have a question on how your benefit plan works.”   This is a big step and we want you to make the right one – but please, please be straightforward.   We want this to be the right choice for the studio and for you.  Be clear in your acceptance – “yes” is always a good one – no “well.. ummm…. I guess” or “sounds good”… or “I think so”.  This is an opportunity to show us the great communication skills that you possess.  It is perfectly acceptable to say “I’d like to think about this for day or two – and if I have any questions – I will let you know.”  Clear and to the point.  If you know the position is not for you – that’s ok too – and the sooner we know the better for everyone.  If you are interviewing at multiple places, weighing your options, we get it – just tell us and get back to us.  Disappearing into the ether is not a great way to decline a spot.  It tends to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth not to mention our desire to call 911 to make sure you’re ok.    A simple “Thanks for the opportunity, but at this time, it’s just not the right spot for me” is enough.  If calling and declining freaks you out – send an email, or leave a voicemail at 3:00 am… at least you are letting us know, and we can move on to the other candidates.

Following Up vs. Stalking: There is a fine line between the two  – and one that you want to make sure you are on the “just following up” side as opposed to having me put your name out to security.   It’s certainly acceptable to get contact info of the HR person or the person in charge of the interview process to follow up and touch base.  It’s fine to ask a timeframe for filling the position, and if there are other candidates in process.  It is not Ok to call every day of the week – checking in on your status, or to send emails to everyone who interviewed you asking if a decision has been made.  Sometimes things happen – the hiring manager goes on vacation or the project hits a critical spot and it takes a bit longer for us to get to the decision point.  The thing is – desperation does smell- and it’s not a good smell either.  If we’ve interviewed you, we will get back to you.  Promise.  And more often than not – more sooner than later.  We know it’s not polite to keep you waiting or guessing and we do our best to move relatively quickly.

And Finally….

Enjoy the Experience: This one might be easier said than done – but it should happen.  This is an exciting process to go through, where you get to meet interesting people, and have exciting conversations about what you are passionate about – video games!  The process should be better than a root canal by a long shot!  It is a serious one – don’t get me wrong – as it’s a big step to hire someone – but it should be more about a dialogue and an exchange of ideas, than say the Spanish Inquisition.  Relax, breathe, and be yourself.  We want to meet you, and see you in action, not the “interview persona” but the best version of you.

Until next time….

Etiquette.  It may seem old fashioned, and maybe some of the ways that etiquette is thought of are antiquated, but there is still a reason why it is around.  Etiquette here at Insomniac Games includes “Coffee Etiquette”… if you finish the pot, you start another one.  If you are the person brewing the coffee, you get the first cup, plain and simple.  We have people here who want to set up a coffee-cam to shame those who do not abide by these rules…. But I think that may be taking it a bit far… but just maybe.  There are also certain ways to handle situations, certain standards that should be considered when job hunting, interviewing and finally accepting (or declining) an offer as well, and that is where this blog comes in handy!  Since I meet with most of the candidates who come in to the Burbank office, I run into a lot of questions about what to do for an interview, what to wear, how early is too early,  what is too formal, what is too casual, and what is expected?  The examples and answers that I am going to share are clearly from an Insomniac perspective, but I think the major thread will be applicable for other studios, and publishers, etc.   So let’s jump in and work on avoiding those embarrassing faux pas!

“What should I wear to the interview?” I get this question a lot! We ride a fine line between the old school knowledge of a suit and tie, and then the reality that we are a creative entity and one that rejects the “corporateness” of said attire.  My best answer is this: know your audience. If you are meeting with an Indi developer – be comfortable.  Be clean, be presentable- jeans are going to be fine but not if they are ripped, dirty, or sitting below your hips.   I would always recommend wearing shoes as opposed to flip-flops.  T-shirts are fine, as well as any other shirt- just make it clean (ie – no naked ladies, no curse words, and no holes).  And in my opinion skip the tie, though if you are meeting with any of the business arms of the company (finance, marketing, PR, etc) you may want to step it up a notch… but I will say it’s been a while since I have been at one of those BIG companies – so take that with a grain of salt.

How early should I be to an interview? There was actually an article on this the other day on Yahoo news…they say no more than 15 minutes early.  I agree.  There is such a thing as getting to a place too early.  We want you to be prompt, ready, paperwork filled out, and ready to roll, but we also don’t want you to be sitting for hours in our lobby.  We love to see you – but our front office person does have things to do.  The 15 minute window is the perfect amount of time to have all this happen, to get you a drink, and get you settled in a conference room or office, and then start the interview on time.   If you arrive super early, relax in your car, drive around the block, and see what is around the office… check out the area.   If you are going to be late- you should also call.  Even one minute late warrants a call.  It shows that you know time is valuable, and that you are taking this seriously.  Good communication skills are a huge plus for anyone- so put them to use!

Can you be too casual in an interview? Ummm the simple answer is yes!  We work in a creative environment and business, but this is still a business.  Slouching in your chair, chewing on gum, pen caps or your fingers is not the person I want to see in an interview.  We want the interview to be a dialogue, a big conversation – it’s not meant to be an interrogation, but this is an interview.  You want to be putting your best foot/feet forward.   Remember you are interviewing us – just as much as we are interviewing you.  So relax, but be your BEST relaxed self.

How to close an interview? I think candidates get nervous about how to finish an interview.  What questions can you ask?  What should you ask? I think that you should have a couple of questions prepared for the recruiter/ HR rep that you meet with.  Ask them what the time frame is on the position- are they filling right away or are there tons of candidates yet to meet and process, is the hiring manager going out of town and the decision will not be made for two weeks?  What are the next steps- should you as a candidate prep your references?  Should you be expecting another round of interviews?  Is there a background check?  These are things that give you an idea of what to expect or not expect.   The more in control of the process you feel the better.  We are talking about your next career move- right?

And on that note- we close this edition of Baker’s Dozen… There will be a part deux – that deals with thanks you notes vs. emails, offers- either accepting or declining, and how to make the whole experience fun… ok maybe not that – but we will follow up.

Insomniac Games’s HR guru Angela Baker blogs about working in the industry, getting jobs, dealing with recruiters and all sorts of other cool things that are great to know if you are considering a career in the gaming industry. Here’s here latest blog!

So I noticed that the last blog was all about “What NOT to do”…well what about “What TO DO”? I don’t always want to be a Negative Nelly… if you meet me in person – I think I’m kind of nice. So let’s dispel this negativity and get with the positive. Maybe we need to take to the Mary Poppins School of Discipline “A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down”. As a total side note – was anyone at the Swell Season concert last year when Glenn and Co brought out the man who with his co-writer wrote “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and had all of us at the Greek singing till our hearts were content? That is what I love about concerts and live events – the total spontaneity of it all. Anyway I completely digress… the positive!

So here we go – what TO DO:

• Show off! Your resume is your space to really tell us/show us why we should hire you. IF you don’t toot your own horn – who will? So be sure to highlight all the great things that you do, have done and can do. Do a little strutting. Key word here being little. There is a fine line between being confident and being arrogant. Be sure to be on the right side of that line.

• Have a fantastic reel or link. Only show the best, completed artwork/animations/designs. Make me want to see more of your work. Make me wonder what amazing thing you will do next, and hope that I can hire you before someone else does. Also be aware of length. It’s better to err on the side of brief than on the side of epic. Also please credit the work of others that you collaborated with or used elements of their work.

• Show us how you work in a team. Did you do a class project? Did you work with a team to make a function or asset look or feel like it was the best element in the game? What did you learn from that? What worked and why?

• Make sure that I can contact you. Please make sure to have a name, address, phone number, and email address on a resume. You might be shocked to see how many people don’t put that on their resume, or omit some of this info. My crystal ball is usually not working – and it’s tough for me to know where you are, or how to contact you.

• Please do attach a resume, or a link to a resume. Make it easy for me to read what you have done/accomplished. If hunting around a website for a resume takes too long, I may just pass you by. Be proud to display your resume!

• Follow the Boy Scout motto – and be prepared! Keep your resume current. Everyone should have a current copy of their resume ready to go at a moment’s notice. You just never know when you will be asked for one, or when that dream job is going to pop up on Gamasutra, and you want to be in the first wave of candidates.

• This may not be part of the resume or reel branch – but this kept coming up at GDC this past year- so I will mention it here. Business Cards. It’s all good to have a creative business card and one that shows who and what you do – but I highly recommend having a blank, white back side to your cards. It’s a handy place for a message to be written on, a website link or a separate contact number. It can even be used when we run out of business cards for us to write our contact info on. When the back of the card is black, or full of graphics- it’s tough, and then the game of “who has a piece of paper” starts. Make it easy for us, and for you. Keep it clean and simple.

Maybe that will do for this week… it’s pretty sugary sweet… so until next time..

Recruiting can be a shocking, interesting, fascinating and always entertaining aspect of my job. Add in the creative and the artistic elements, and you have a fantastic storm that is recruiting in the video game world. I have to say right up front – that I LOVE my job. I think I have the best job at the company- but that does not mean that it is always the easiest.

Sometimes I have to speak another language- the language of resumes. Resumes should be easy to read, easy to follow, and have some sort of chronological, experience, or project- based pattern. I understand that we work in a creative space. I get that sometimes our job titles don’t always best represent what we do/did or how we pulled it all together – but please get it pulled together on a resume. It’s your calling card. Your resume is the first (and sometimes the last) impression that we get to see of you.

There are some common mistakes or just poor choices that seem to permeate the resume-writing world right now – and I want to dispel the myths, rumors and poor grammar in one swoop of my giant red editing pen… This is your resume writing tip sheet.

Tip #1: Resumes need to follow a pattern. Make it chronological, or informational, but make sure it has a flow that anyone picking it up and reading it can follow. If I have to hunt for your current position, or what you did- it’s too much work already.

Tip #2: Whoever said open space is a bad thing should be shot! I’d rather see bullet points, those fancy diamonds, or even indent and use the tab button. But make sure there is some white space on the page. The eyes need a break – and it will also create the much needed pattern listed in Tip #1…

Tip#3: Grammar/Spell Check –simple and to the point – USE IT. You would be amazed at how many spelling and grammatical errors there are in resumes these days! I thought the computer was supposed to eliminate the majority of these issues. Read your resume out loud to yourself. If you pause, stumble or if your word choice sounds funny to you – guess what – it will happen to me as well. And then I question what you were thinking… A second set of editing eyes won’t hurt either.

Tip#4: Emoticons/Slang /Texting language- this one is easy. Don’t use them. I don’t need smiley-faces or laughing cats in a cover letter or on your resume. This is business. This is not the time to have a LOL, LMAO, BRT, BRB, or a WTF. Save that for our witty banter in emails or IM’s when we start working together. It’s really about knowing the time and the place for things. This is not the place for initials. The only time it is acceptable is for known industry terms like PS3, MS office, 360, LUA, UI, MEL, etc. Those are common industry abbreviations and therefore acceptable.

Tip#5: Have your name on your resume, along with a current address, phone number and email address. Either at the top, or at the bottom in a footer, but put it on the resume itself. Cover letters get separated and not knowing who or what I am looking at spells trouble for you.

Tip#6: Running is not skill, nor is the “internet”. Come on people- we all can do this. In this age, especially at a technology company – I expect that everyone can navigate the internet. My mom can do it… and she sometimes talks to the computer –so your computer-savvy does not make you special. Unless you’re programming in C++, Sql, php, and all the other fancy acronyms that we DO look for on your resume.

Tip#7: Last but not least- the “objective” line. It’s useless. No-one puts “I want to work for a crap company, putting out crap games”… everyone wants to work on a great title, at a great company, with great people- blah, blah, blah. You can leave out the platitudes. We know we rock. 🙂

Have a good one, hope this helps, and until next time….

Well…the first posting went well! Got positive responses, so I see this as a smashing success!! I’m really excited to be writing this next blog posting – and I feel more in the groove, I kind of get why people write blogs. So we’ll see how this one goes!

Topic #2, Blog #2… GDC 2010 (insert “Ride of the Valkyries” music here).

GDC 2010 is literally just around the corner – and while I somehow feel like it snuck up on me this year, I am excited and looking forward to it. I think GDC is a great time for everyone to get together under one BIG roof (Thanks Moscone Center!!) to meet, discuss, share stories and exchange ideas. It’s also a great time to catch up with all the industry people who you only really get to see once a year or so, when said GDC happens. I’m sure it is a totally different experience to attend the conference and seminars as it is to be “working” the show. That said- I think there are a couple of hints or tips I want to share – to maybe shed some light on, and help navigate the Career section of the show.

1) It’s loud… it’s really loud, (and it might be even louder this year with everyone on one floor!) Sometimes I can hardly hear my own voice – let alone the person who is right in front of me. So if I ask you to repeat yourself –I promise – I did not faze out on you- I just cannot hear a thing going on in there.

2) For Insomniac Games – we are going to ask you to apply directly to our website. This is not a personal thing – it’s a green thing. We could/would be shipping home crate after crate of paper and plastics… and risk losing all that vital info in the mail – so we ask you to submit on-line. Go GREEN! (This will also save you from lugging around a huge backpack of paperwork too!)

3) There are lots of people. LOTS. I would love to spend all the time I can with everyone who comes up to the booth – but it’s just not possible. Both Julie (our HR rep in the NC office) and I would love to gab for days – but there are just TONS of people… Come on by, we are there to see you, we WANT chat with you – but know that this is not the time for an in depth interview- we’ll call you after the show for that!

4) A pet-peeve of mine that happens every year, one person will come up to the booth and ask “So… Insomniac Games… what do you do?” Now if you are reading this blog- you are well informed! But just feel my pain on that one for a moment. I will be honest … I usually claim something crazy, and then say the truth. “We make mind controlled peripherals that can only be used at night hence the name … but we are really known for Ratchet and Clank, Spyro and Resistance”… it might be wrong – but it is funny. So check out who is going to be there – and if you don’t recognize the name – look them up – the internet is pretty handy for that. Every exhibitor is listed on the GDC website.

5) Enjoy yourself! Have fun – talk with every booth, get as much info as you can, absorb everything. We are there for three days! There is plenty of time to take it all in. We work in an amazing industry, and we are really lucky that we get to get together like this!

Until next time…

It’s a new year, and a new decade so in honor of that, we are starting something new here as well. HOORAY! Welcome to the inaugural edition of a new blog here on the Insomniac Games website, called “Baker’s Dozen”! First – let me introduce myself- I’m Angela Baker – the HR Generalist/Recruiter/cat-herder here in the Burbank office, and I will be the primary voice/sanity check for this space. A little bit about me- I’ve been with Insomniac for 3+ years now, and before that I was at G4TV, a major publisher, and major talent agency.

I have always worked in HR, and have seen some CRAZY things happen- some in a good way- getting caught up in a Royal Family members security detail (good) and some not so great- seeing friends (and myself) go through layoffs. The idea behind this blog is to share what info I and the whole team here have on subjects like:

• What to include on a resume
• What to put on a reel (or to have a totally awesome reel)
• What’s the difference between an internship and a co-op
• Interview attire
• Why “sexybeast@gmail “ is not really a great email address when looking for a job
• Why or why not attend game conferences
• Why companies send out tests
• Are game colleges hooey
• Why 6% of our company got engaged over the weekend
• What hiring managers are looking for, etc…

There is tons of stuff to cover – and we are going to try and cover all of it. Some of it will be serious info, some not so serious, and other bits will be downright useless (but only in a funny “makes me say huh?” way). I hope you find the info helpful, insightful or at least mildly entertaining.

I have to be honest- I’ve never done anything like this – I usually shy away from having anything written and then sent out into the blogosphere – but I think there is a lot of good and bad info out there, and it’s important to be part of the dialogue. So here we go!

Before I forget – if you have any questions, feedback, or just want to comment on whatever nonsense you think I’m sharing – your space is here. You can also shoot an email to bakersdozen@insomniacgames.com and I’ll hit you back with a response- but be kind – I did admit to being new to all this.

The first topic I’ll tackle here is a basic one – and an easy one. It’s about email addresses and outgoing voice mail messages when looking for a job. My two cents on the whole situation is this: You want to get hired. You want to appear as capable and hardworking as possible. Having an email address that is “golddigger@yahoo” or “iseenakedpeople@aol” is not really what you want to project. Ditto for voicemail messages. Screaming into the phone and saying “YO YO YO playa …whatz up?” is not really what I want to hear either when calling you about coming in for an interview or to ask for references. I suggest (and I did do research on this – so thanks to the other recruiters I talked with!) that for the purposes of job hunting – you select an email address that is yourname@hotmail or firstinitiallastname@aol, etc… just something simple, to the point, and easy to identify. Use it just for job hunting. Again – ditto for the voicemail- “Hi, you’ve reached John, please leave a message and I’ll get back to you”… much easier to digest and listen to.

Then once you have the job, be my guest to have whatever you want for an email address and voicemail message– the crazier the better…

More to come in the following months- and looking forward to the conversations to come!