How I Screwed Myself Out of a Job at Insomniac Games

Office Space, 20th Century Fox (1999)

Office Space, 20th Century Fox (1999)

Hiring is always a battle of good and evil. It’s trying to find the best candidate for the spot. Hiring managers anguish sometimes over which candidate to ultimately hire. It’s not a decision that we at Insomniac Games take lightly either. A lot of time, energy, conversation, training and money goes into every new hire here. And when its right- it’s like the clouds part and the sun is shining, birds are singing, and flowers are popping up. And when it’s wrong – and everyone makes a wrong choice once in a while, it can be like “The Shining” (kidding – it’s never been that scary here). But that’s a story for a different day. We’re here to talk about the initial application you submit for your dream job and what happens on our side once you hit submit when applying through an applicant tracking system. Yes, its resume and reel review time!

We recently had and opening to fill in HR. Our HR Assistant/Front Office position was vacant and we needed to find a qualified candidate. And so the recruiting process began; we went through all the questions about what would best fit our group, what skills we were ultimately looking for, and what role this particular opening would fulfill. We reviewed the job description, making sure to hit all the key responsibilities, chose assessment questions to help us assess relevant skill level and experience, and then waited. We did not have to wait long. Resumes came rolling in, in classic fashion. We saw candidates that were qualified, over qualified, under qualified and then not qualified at all. The worst offenders were guilty of what I’ll kindly refer to as application SPAM. APP SPAM is applying for a job the candidate is not really interested in or qualified for – case in point the environment artist or the game designer that applies for an HR Assistant/Front Office Administrator. WHY? Why would you apply to an HR job when what you really want is to be an artist or a designer? That has never really made sense to me and yet, it happened repeatedly throughout our most recent hiring process. I have heard hiring managers lament the strange candidates they get, and I have moved candidates from one job posting application to another when they have accidentally applied for the wrong position, but I’ve never really seen blatant random applications like this. We had animators apply, artists apply, and marketing people apply – for an entry level HR spot. Don’t get me wrong – HR IS where it’s at – but just because you want to work in games, heck, just because you want to work at INSOMNIAC GAMES, doesn’t mean you should apply to every position we have available. With a shotgun approach you’re only going to end up shooting yourself in the foot! Case in point – those people who thought – “Oh man- once they see my resume – they are TOTALLY going to see the talent here, and offer me a job regardless of what position I applied for”. Unfortunately, what actually happens is that you screwed yourself out of being an Insomniac job candidate for the next 12 months.

rejectWHAT?!?! Yup, you heard right. Why? If we reject your application, as being unqualified, we won’t review your resume for another 12 months. Think we’re taking a hard line? Perhaps we are but this is what it looks like on our side of the fence…we are going to see that you applied for HR, and art, and animation, and programming – all just hoping to get your resume seen by someone – anyone. What it shows us is that you are confused and perhaps a spammer of resumes. Did you read the posting? Did you really think that your skills were a match for the job? I’m not talking about the people who apply for a gameplay programming spot and also apply for a mobile gameplay spot. These jobs are similar and clearly have some similar skills and knowledge overlap. I’m talking radically different skills for each job. I don’t hire a plumber to work with electrical wiring in my house… even if s/he is an AMAZING plumber. Here’s what ultimately matters most: Do you have the skills to do the job? Is this the job you want to have? Did that artist really want to be in HR? Nope. Not when their objective stated – “to be a part of the Art team at Insomniac Games.”

The point is this, we want to hear from you, when our job openings match your skillset. Be a sharpshooter, not a shotgunner.

Until next time….

  • Eaglerufio

    Thank you, one of the most frustrating problems with the application process into the gaming industry is the lack of frank communication about what is happening on the hiring end and what the developers are looking for. It’s good to see this.

  • Good info to get from the opposite side. I’ve always tried to only apply for QA jobs without aiming for other departments, because QA is where I want to be. Only downside is companies wanting minimum amount of experience (which I understand), but I can’t get that experience without someone taking a chance haha.

  • Jp Self

    Yes. Thank you for illuminating this. Of course. I never adopted this method when applying. I only apply for what I believe is the position I can actually perform or have performed in the past.

    I wonder if other studios adopt this method.

  • Eric Durwald

    Nice post very true as well. I see it all the time people applying for jobs they are
    not qualified for just to get there resume in the door which is most definitely
    not the way to do it. I’m personally looking for jobs in Networking/ IT myself
    and took college courses on just this sort of application and interview etiquette.
    This is great advice which is useful almost any job especially an amazing place
    like Insomniac Games.

  • Evan Andre’ Williams

    I’ve been working hard to have a career in game design in the future, so thank you for making this article! I really want to learn how to code and actually MAKE the games, but even if I end up not having the talent, I have tons of art skills along with great ideas and I feel confident about my abilities to construct good game design.

    While I don’t plan on starting my career at Insomniac Games (It’s probably impossible anyway) I do hope I get to work with the awesome people who crafted my late childhood at one point in time.

    • Good luck! We hope to see you here someday!

  • Koz Le

    Artists, designers and musicians… The unfortunately reality is their careers are very financially unstable, so they need a steady side job to make ends meet. For some, any side job will do.

    • Working for Insomniac shouldn’t be a side job 🙂 That is what we are saying. If you are a designer and there is no positions open and you apply for something like QA, that is different than applying for a HR role. Plenty of QA folks move over to other positions. What she is saying is stay within roles you are qualified and don’t spam resumes.

  • maximus prime

    Guy: hey wanna go out on a date?
    Girl: aah no I have a boyfriend
    Guy: dawn I have a math test in the morning.
    Girl: what?
    Guy: I thought we We’re talking about things we could cheat on.

    But seriously I have been playing games since I was a child, and on the plus side I have grown extremely large hands… I feel that most gaming industries are putting out the same stuff over and over again, nothing is changing. Graphics are updated for the wow factor, but gameplay is still the same. Shoot move level and throw away. Hence why It’s called recycled warfare. I believe in games that make the player feel it’s there world that they develop that they create. That they own. That they can keep playing and exploring.
    Needless to say nothing seems orginal. Same game. Same song.

    maximus prime

  • Thomas

    You know, I worked in the games industry for several years and shipped quite a few titles. But I’ve also been unable to secure a new position in 18 months since getting laid off – so I see this from both sides.

    On the one hand, I absolutely sympathize with the studio; having to sort out candidates that aren’t really qualified and haven’t even read the job description is annoying. I know this because I’ve solicited sub-contractors whilst freelancing and invariably get a bunch of responses from people who are offering services that I explicitly said I don’t need.

    On the other hand, navigating the waters of employment in this industry can be a demoralizing (if not soul crushing) process. From being strung along by recruiters, spending every available minute on skill tests that lead nowhere, interviews that drag on for months, being lowballed in salary negotiations, the constant studio closures and layoffs that hemorrhage thousands of other competitors into an already flooded job market will wear you down after a while.

    What happens is you start to feel your own specialized skill-set and experience becoming less relevant as time passes. So the thought process is: “well, if I can’t get a job doing what I’m best at / want to do, maybe I can learn ancillary skills doing something else like production, co-ordination or QA and make a contribution until I DO find the right job – and then be equipped to do it better because I learned something else along the way.”

    Really, I’d wager that most of those animators and artists who are applying for HR jobs aren’t doing so because they believe their amazing talent will be more visible to you or because they’re trying to “trojan horse” their resume to the top of the candidacy stack.
    They’re doing it because they’re trying to stay afloat like millions of others and don’t want to completely abandon their field, throwing away whatever years of progress they’ve already accrued. I mean, no, working in HR isn’t going to directly help one become a better animator, but I’m sure it will help more than just going completely off the path and taking a McJob in retail where you’re learning NOTHING related to your field, nor contributing in any way. Or at least that’s how I suspect much of the reasoning with these applicants goes.

    So I doubt they’re as “confused” as you think. They’re probably just job seekers who want to keep working in games, however they can – and they sincerely don’t mean to be as big of a pain in your ass as you’re clearly letting us know they are.

    But, yeah, I get it. It’s frustrating for the HR team to sort the wheat from the chaff. But that’s part of your job, isn’t it? It sucks, but why not just look at those applicants in the context of how insane this industry is rather than taking some obnoxiously arrogant hardline where you label them as interlopers who deserve to be penalized for 12 months just because they made your job a little harder.

    I’m not saying you should consider them as viable candidates for HR, I’m just saying you’re making a lot of (probably incorrect) assumptions about their motivations for applying and then behaving like a presumptuous ivory-tower dickhead on how to best handle it.

    • I think you are misunderstanding what she is saying. It doesn’t matter if you are spamming your resume or just not qualified. No matter what, we don’t review again for 12 months. Therefore it is best to try and apply to jobs where you are more qualified, wait for one that you are (if none are open), or create a Job Agent search for when one is open. That way you aren’t putting yourself in that 12 month hold if you apply for something you clearly aren’t qualified for. Our HR is anything but “presumptuous ivory-tower dickheads” 🙂 We don’t even have a tower. They also review every resume no matter what. So it’s not like they are just trying to make their job easier. They are simply letting people know the best way to apply (or not apply) at Insomniac. That is what this blog is about. Helping people understand how we work (and in some cases the Game industry in general).

  • Charles Borner

    Yet I know quite a few people working in the industry who dropped into designer positions just this way.
    No, not by spamming their resumes. But by having another job at the company, being involved in some way, and being willing to learn, leading to a job-switch down the road.

    Maybe this doesn’t work this way at Insomniac. But that could also mean that Insomniac is okay with possibly passing over nascent talent.

    Whatever works for them.

    • If they got the other job because they were qualified for it and then move over to a designer that is not the same thing we are talking about here. We have a ton of people move positions/department within the company. But they were hired because they were qualified for the role they applied for.

  • johnqp11

    Every hiring manager who thinks they know the one true way to apply for a job. When those managers start writing advice, it’s amazing how rarely they agree with others doing the same. Some companies are fine with sitting on talent until they find a need for it. It doesn’t always work out. Sometimes it works well for both parties in ways neither imagined.

    • That is why we said “at Insomniac”. 🙂 We realize other companies do things differently.

  • David Landau

    Nice post. I’m still very early in my career but I have already noticed that one of the things to watch out for in our studio interviews is stuff like this.

    I’ve found it is about identifying the people who actually want the job they are applying for. If they are looking to grow/move it will happen naturally throughout their time at the company (or when it is time for them to move on after fulfilling your needs and absorbing what they want) vs those who are applying for a job with the sole purpose of trying to do something else and not fulfill the responsibilities of the job or will leave/complain if they don’t get what they want.

    Nothing wrong with hiring people who are talented at many things as long as they realize that you are hiring them to fill a specific need for the company, not something else. It is clear you need someone to fill a HR role so that would be the primary concern in hiring and anyone not looking to do that is a waste of time/money/effort to even speak with.

  • This really scared me as I applied for gameplay AND mobile, and then that paragraph in the end removed some of the dread in my heart.
    *sets up google alert for 12 months just in case and crosses fingers*

  • JC

    Part of the problem is if you pick up a book or read a web page on getting a job in the game industry, they specifically and repeatedly say this very thing… apply for any job, get your foot in the door as QA or something and then you can move up.

    I think this article is a bit harsh, maybe you guys are a bit out of touch with what it’s like to want to be where you are.

    One thing is for sure, if I ever had any interest in your company, I’d have much less now.

    I finally gave up on getting any sort of job in the game industry because I’m stuck in a state that has about two game companies and there is no chance of me leaving. Even for $100k/yr.

    It’s for the best, you read nothing except how horrible the game industry treats its employees.

    Oddly enough, I landed a job (still 2 years from my bachelor’s of CS) programming educational games for a community college.

    • Yes. You are correct. QA IS a great way to get your foot in the door. This article is not about QA (which is usually temp/contract). This article is about applying for a full-time position you are not qualified for. It is about making sure you read and compare job descriptions before applying so that you don’t end up in the wrong queue.

      • eryc duhart

        “Always hungry, never thirsty”

        It’s a crude phrase, but the notion that you have to want something enough to put in a genuine effort, but never be desperate enough to compromise good principles is something we tend to take for granted everyone knows

  • shango livingston

    how can i get an internship there

  • Jon Doe

    A skilled qa, developer, programmer, etc will have enough of a logical analytical mindset they should be able to read resumes and compare to qualifications in their sleep.
    Does resume list reference to ‘Job requirements 1 thru 37’? Yes/No

    How dare someone think they can have the skills to perform managerial duties AND know how to program!!! BLASPHEMY!!!!
    Take that arrogant ass’s resume and put it in the trash for 12 months!! That will teach them from thinking they can do anything under the sun. Don’t they know people are only good at one or MAYBE two things ever?

    • We hire the best qualified person for the job. If you are a programmer going up against someone who has HR/Front desk experience, you are likely not going to get that particular job. Apply for the positions you are qualified for or the career path you want to go down. Or simply try for a QA job and work your way into development. That makes much more sense than trying for a full-time HR role when you want to be in gameplay. This article is merely stating how to best avoid missing out on a future position you may be more qualified for.

      • Kristen

        As a fellow recruiter, AMEN! This was a great and truthful post. The truth is hard to hear sometimes, but I appreciate candid honesty, and candidates should as well. I only want to help people gain the right positions, and I also think people are unclear about what they want when they apply for more than a couple jobs in a six month period. Thanks for shedding light on this!

  • Frank

    If you want to be ‘in’ video games, first and foremost you have to be very good at what you do. ie: You actually have to *be* an artist with the passion (dare I say obsession?) to burn hard (wife calls to say it’s time to come home for dinner – wha-huh? Man that day went FAST) *and* get a ‘wow’ now and then.. from other artists. You have to be the person who doodled on their math homework all through school .. a person who can visualize an idea so well it blows away the original idea completely. -Frank P. ‘Gray Eagle’ Williamson (hired out of a CAD Engineering program to be Lead Artist for Air Warrior, by Kesmai, 1995 ..because I am very good at what I do) -just sayin

  • Alexis Montiel Villatoro

    I actually have a question, hopefully someone can guide me in the right direction. i would really appreciate it! (: well i wanted to ask, how am I suppose to become a QA tester? I’m really interested in this position and want to know how i can get my foot in the door. i can never find a legit place to start unfortunatly. Please if any one can help, i really want and am passionate about this career path. Thank you!

  • Josh Norman

    Hi, I’m wondering what matters the most on my resume here in terms of a submission for the Art department, so I can work towards the most important aspects. I’m only 20 and have no prior experience in the industry. If needed you can view my work at http://www.artstation.com/artist/joshnorman. Thanks!