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How to Get Your 1st Game Design Job: Refine Portfolio, Resume, and Cover Letter for Results (Part 1 of 4)

How to Get Your 1st Game Design Job: Refine Portfolio, Resume, and Cover Letter for Results (Part 1 of 4)

Let’s face it: getting your first professional job in the video game development industry is one of the biggest hurdles for most people who are getting into the industry.

…It certainly was for me.

Where do you start?

Where should you apply?

What do you need to show?

You might have a few hand-picked favorite studios in mind but don’t know how to get a job, let alone know what they are looking for in a game designer.

Entering the game industry can be a challenging but exciting journey.

When I was starting out, I sent out hundreds of applications to many studios.

Sometimes I never heard back, other times I made it to the final round, and eventually, with much practice, guidance, and refinement, I finally secured my first position as an entry-level game designer focused on level and systems design at WPAvalanche.

I learned so much after finally coming out at the other end of this process, to the point where I’ve helped prepare applications and review resumes for many upcoming designers that have succeeded in breaking into the industry.

That’s why I’ve created this 4-part blog post series on how to get your first video game design job:

  1. Refine Portfolios, Resumes, and Cover Letters for Results (Part 1 of 4) – this post
  2. Where to Apply and How to Increase Your Odds (Part 2 of 4)
  3. Dealing with Interviews, Feedback and Rejections (Part 3 of 4)
  4. How to Pass Game Design Tests (Part 4 of 4)

You can subscribe to the Game Design Digest to get notified when I publish the other parts of this series.

My goal for this series is to give you an overview and to help circumvent mis-steps in the main application process, from putting together your resumes, to deciding where to apply, to nailing interviews and design tests.

Every person and every position is different, so this won’t be a complete guide for every situation. But it should help new game designers figure out the basics and approach applications with more confidence.

But, before you even start to apply, you have to make sure you optimize your resume, portfolio, and cover letter to what the studios are actually looking for.

How to Prepare and Optimize Your Game Design Portfolio?

You’ll want to put together an online portfolio of projects you have worked on. Even if you haven’t shipped any games, put together a showcase of your personal hobby-work.

This shows that you are passionate and have some understanding of what game development looks like.

Because game design is something that so many people want to do, studios get hundreds of applications for entry-level positions.

Having a portfolio helps show recruiters that you are a serious candidate with real capabilities, and don’t think of a designer as just an “idea person.”

Here are a few crucial details that will drastically improve your portfolio:

Details #1: Focus on your strengths and on the type of work you’ll be applying for.

Anyone looking at your portfolio should immediately see what role you’d be good in, whether that’s on the narrative team or designing card game mechanics.

Michael Levall’s portfolio uses a clean, simple layout for the overview. Each image links to its own project page with videos and a detailed list of Michael’s contributions.

Here are a few more examples you can reference:

Example 1: Bader AlQahtani’s combat design portfolio

Example 2: Joe Sopko’s game design portfolio

It’s also important to keep in mind that a portfolio is for your best work, not for everything you’ve ever made.

Detail #2: Keep iterating your portfolio. It’s not a one and done effort.

As you improve, you should replace older work. The last thing you want is for a studio to see one bad example and reject you before taking a look at your best stuff.

Detail #3: Make sure that you show and talk about the specifics of what you did.

Talk about a challenge you had to overcome, or why you made particular design decisions.

I recommend using videos as part of the portfolio. Videos are HUGE here for adding context.

Detail #4: It’s okay if you had big plans but ended up cutting back for a smaller finished project.

This actually works in your favor. Game development studios do this constantly, so showing that you can make tough adjustments is good.

Keep in mind that it’s also okay to bring up disagreements or directions that didn’t pan out, if this gives insight into your design approach and ability to iterate. Just make sure you don’t throw anyone under the bus.

Game development is collaborative and you won’t get anywhere if you come off as someone hard to work with.

Note: For more detailed advice on putting together a game design portfolio that studios are looking for, I recommend you to check out this guide on how to make a game design portfolio that studios want.

Prepare and Optimize Your Game Design Resume

While you will want to tailor your resume to each studio and each position you are applying to, building a template will give you an easy starting point.

We’ll get into how to tailor your resume a bit more in a later post, but for now, let’s start with the fundamentals.

Contact information is usually up top, and can include links to your LinkedIn and portfolio site as well as your email and phone number.

Keywords and skills. These days a large studio typically starts by having a machine or a hiring manager quickly review resumes for relevant skills. Typically, this section is a bullet point list for ease of reading.

Update this section for each position you apply to based on the skills the game studio is looking for. These skills can include general game design tasks (like PvP balancing or level design), as well as familiarity with specific software or programming languages.

Don’t lie here, as you’ll get found out quickly and burn some bridges along the way.

Work experience. If you haven’t worked in games yet, you can still include positions where you had significant responsibilities.

This section can also include personal projects that you did on your own time, whether that’s game design work or something else you’re proud of that shows relevant skills. I suggest embedding clickable links in your text to lead straight to your portfolio or Steam pages.

You should generally list your work experience in chronological order, with the most recent jobs first. That said, if you have a wide variety of jobs, it’s okay to put your most relevant, game-related work first.

Your resume is a snapshot of your professional experience, but also a great place to make yourself stand out from the get-go. If you hosted events or have experience as an actor or musician, mention it.

They might not be the most relevant points, but they help paint you as a real person.

Education is fine to include but don’t make it a large focus. Schooling can give a better idea of your skillset and helps show that you are driven, but it isn’t a requirement for being a good designer.

In the end keep your resume onto a single page.

Prepare and Optimize Your Game Design Cover Letter

Always include a cover letter unless specifically asked not to—it’s better to have one and not need it. Luckily, just like your resume, you can make a template here.

It’ll need a bit more adjustment for each application than your resume, but having a starting point goes a long way.

Start with a quick intro about why you think you are a great fit for the position and the company, and/or what makes you stand out.

Mention your reasons for applying, but don’t gush.

It’s often a plus to be a fan of their games, but the studio is looking for someone who can do a job.

That doesn’t always line up with someone who has hundreds of hours getting headshots.

Most importantly, talk about what you bring to the table. This can be a quality or unique history that you bring to the role, or an anecdote about previous work illustrating why you’d be a valuable asset and a good fit.

Your cover letter is also a chance to show you can communicate well and are pleasant to get along with. Your resume might show you have the skills to do the job, but no one wants to work with an ass.

If you don’t have any experience in game design yet, then writing a cover letter will be tough and I highly recommend getting some personal experience making your own hobby projects before applying.

However, if you have a good analytical mindset and can give a strong breakdown of a feature and how you might improve it, then put that in your portfolio and talk about it in your cover letter.

All in all, keep your cover letter to around 3/4 of a page.

By the way, I would highly recommend you to check out the following posts to help you become a better designer:

What is Video Game Mechanics (Beginner’s Guide)

How to Become a Video Game Designer

How to Write Game Design Document with Examples

Wrapping Up

Having these ready ahead of time will make applying to a newly posted position quick and easy. Have friends review your portfolio, resume, and cover letter for typos and wording improvements.

But there is more to come.

In the next article, I’m going to cover the following:

  1. Finding places to apply
  2. Tips for finding industry veterans
  3. Ways to grow your development skills while on the job hunt.

If you want to get notified when the next part of this series is published, you can join the Game Design Weekly Digest.

So, where are you stuck in your game application process?

Feel free to share your sticking points in the comments below and I’ll be more than happy to help!

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  • Land a job as a game designer
  • Avoid getting stuck scoping your game
  • Build an effective portfolio that actually works
  • Learn design fundamentals to help you excel in your career
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