If you are consistently getting to the interview stage of the game design hiring process, then congratulations!
This means you’ve passed the previous stages which filtered out 90% of applications.
You are at the stage of the hiring process where you will start to interact directly with game developers who are actually working on the game they want to hire for. Up to this point the candidates are filtered at scale by a combination of ATS system, recruiters, and hiring managers.
Use the following table of contents to keep track of this 7-part blog post series on how to get your first video game design job:
- How to Apply and Increase Your Odds (Part 1)
- Game Design Cover Letter (Part 2)
- Game Design Resume (Part 3)
- Game Design Portfolio (Part 4)
- Game Design Tests (Part 5)
- Game Design Job Interview Guide (Part 6) – this post
- Game Design Job Interview Questions (Part 7)
At its core, the game design interview process has two purposes:
- Help the interviewer to get to know you.
- Learn about the company and the team you might be working for.
With the right kind of prep, you’ll come across as a better candidate, and you’ll walk away with more information. We’ll cover how does the interview process work and provide some interview tips to improve your passing rate.
- Breaking into the industry
- Your resume/CV, Portfolio, design skill test, interviews, negotiations
- Navigating your current career path
You can also get notified each week on the latest game design job listings and actionable tips here 👇
How does the game design interview process work?
This will vary depending on the studio’s size, culture, and growth stage. In addition, the context of this process is game design with an emphasis on entry level game design job position.
First when you’re invited to interview, you will likely be told who is interviewing you, or what type of interview it is. If you aren’t told this ahead of time, then feel free to ask the recruiter so you aren’t caught off guard.
You should expect the following formats in the sequential order (that may vary) as the typical studio hiring practice for as you move closer to job offer:
- Interview Prep – Quick chat with a recruiter, who can help you navigate the interview process.
- Questions and answers – They ask questions, you answer (we’ll get into in a bit)
- Experience and Background Interview – An interview with the hiring manager, typically your future team leader and an expert on the project and job position
- Live mock design session(s) – These are live interactive game design tests to gauge you skills by simulating a scenario where you can demonstrate how you identify and solve design problems, which is hard to fake.
- [Group] Skill fit interview – A group of game devs working on the project will interview you to see if your skills and experience fits their context. This one is more optional for entry level positions.
- [Group] Cultural fit interview – The game devs your position will work closely with will interview you to see if they like to work with you.
In a small studio, you might only meet with one or two people and might even be offered a job right away! These interviews might cover a wide range of topics, so it’s still a good idea to prep for each type of interview format.
Multiple rounds of interviews aren’t just there to make the process more competitive, or to make you wait even longer for the job offer you’ve been dreaming of. Often, these interviews have different goals.
To help you prepare, I’ll cover each stage and give you a heads up on what you can expect.
Stage 1: Experience and background
The first job interview is usually about your past experience and and background.
This is rather straightforward, focusing on
- What have you done
- How did handled past challenges
- Are you who you claim you are
Remember that a large part of working as a designer is working within limits, and sharing how you have handled these kinds of situations gives a great idea of what you are like to work with and find out how did your design change over time, why, and how did you adapt to it
Example questions about your experience:
- “Tell me about a time when you had to change your design due to constraints?”
- “Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a lead or member of your team?”
- “What was your favorite part of working on X?”
- “What is something you wish you could change about X or wish you would have done differently?”
Here are some examples on how to answer these types of interview questions.
Stage 2: Live design sessions (skill tests)
Expect to frequently experience small, impromptu mock design sessions, where you chat through a challenge or come up with a design on the spot. These are similar to the written game design tests except they are live, verbal, interactive, and on the spot.
The reason why they do these simulations is because it’s a lot harder to fake action than to answer questions like:
- Are you good at what you do?
- Can you do it well with our game and dev?
This is something that Richard Carillo also recommended about when he is giving advice to better filter and hire game design candidates:
“If you’re trying to figure out what their process is, don’t ask them what their processes is, give them a scenario and have them step through that scenario”
Don’t worry too much about the quality of your ideas. No one expects you to have an amazing design with just a few seconds of thinking.
What the interviewers want to see is your design process:
- Do you jump on the first solution you think of?
- Do you have a method for evaluating these designs and identify root problems vs symptoms?
- How do you critique a design?
- What is your thought process and approach on design decisions?
Start by asking a few clarifying questions first. Make sure you understand the goals and constraints, and design with those in mind. The better you understand the context, the better fit your solutions are.
Talk through your thinking, and be ready to scrap your idea or build it into something better on the spot. It is totally ok to say something along the lines of “I’m thinking X or Y, but they have some problems with Z.” This shows that you understand your gut reaction is a starting point.
Pro tip: During the session, the interviewer might respond to an idea with “no, we can’t do that because of X.” This is to see how you handle feedback, and how you adapt.
I encourage you to work with your interviewer here, bounce some ideas around and talk through the problem. It’s important to know you don’t have to have all the answers, and your interviewer is more experienced. You should be okay with utilizing that.
Just make sure that you are the one guiding the design and ultimately making the calls.
Example questions during a skill test:
- “What changes would you make to a game you are currently playing?”
- “Give us an example of a challenging game design problem you’ve encountered.”
- “If I asked you about adding X to our game, how would you go about designing it?”
Stage 3: Culture fit interviews
Culture fit interviews are also very important and very common. These are about finding out whether you are someone worth working with.
Game development is a collaborative team sport. There isn’t much room for a genius asshole, and no one wants to work with someone who is going to make coming into work dreadful no matter how good they are.
But besides general personality, there are a lot of important attributes that game designers are looking for in this interview:
- Are you comfortable with pushing your ideas forward when important?
- Can you toss your ideas aside gracefully when you’re overruled?
- How do you work with others? Are you competitive or collaborative?
There’s a balance between rolling over at the first sign of criticism and being too arrogant to accept feedback. Experience will teach you when to push for a design and when to set it aside, but even early on, being able to handle both these situations is very important.
You won’t always be asked questions directly about this, and culture fit is something that shows up indirectly as a part of every interview.
Example culture fit questions:
- “How would you handle a situation where a feature you had been working on needed to be cut?”
- “Why do you want to work here?”
To better prep for the cultural fit part of the interview, checkout these game design interview questions and example answers.
Stage 4: Ask the interviewer questions
An interview is also your chance to learn more about the position, the team and the company. Don’t leave the interview without asking at least a couple questions to show that you are taking the studio seriously, and to help you make a decision if you do get an offer.
Some of the questions you might have are practical. You might be speaking with a studio that expects you to work 60 hours a week, are you okay with that?
Maybe you want to know more about the team’s production schedule, or more clarity on the role’s responsibilities.
I also like to get a feel for what the game company culture is like, what would be expected of me, and how my job might overlap with the person I am talking to.
I also ask about what the interviewer enjoys working on, which teaches me about them as a person, but also about how the studio views its own games.
The questions you ask them really comes down to what you what to know, but here are some that I like to ask:
- “What does your day-to-day typically look like, and what would you expect mine to be like?”
- “How do you and your team feel about crunch? Or How do you handle upcoming deadlines?”
- “What is your favorite part of the game, or favorite thing you have worked on?”
Here is a more comprehensive list of interview question to ask the studio.
Now that you understood how the interview process works, you can follow these tips to improve your interview passing rate 👇
9 Practical game design interview tips:
After participating in the interview process on both the hiring and getting hired sides, here are some impactful actions and mindsets that will help you systematically pass the interview process without depending on luck.
Tip 1: Treat it like a skill
Getting hired is a whole skills set of its own and passing interviews is one of the skills.
Like learning any other new skills, you will suck at it before you get good at it and to get good at it, you have to it repeatedly and make iterative improvements.
Here is what you should expect:
First, you’ll get lots of rejection.
Then, you start to pass more stages of the interview as you get better.
Next, you keep doing this until you get an offer.
Tip 2: Improve your core game design skillset
In the end of the day, the point of the interview is to confirm that you have the core design skills to participate and collaborate competently with the studios’ game development team.
The entire hiring process specifically designed the process to vet for this. A mis hire is very costly. The estimated cost of a bad hire ranges from 5 to 27 times the amount of the person’s actual salary.
In addition, no matter how good you become at interviewing, you won’t pass without the design skills.
Even if somehow you faked your way in, you won’t last, because you’ll be obviously out of your depth the moment you have to execute. The point is to stay hired.
See How You Can Learn the Gameplay Design Abilities Game Studios Are After To...
If you don’t have clear framework to make clear design analysis and decisions, you can use this one.
Tip 3: Simulate the process with a friend
It’s great to practice for a job interview with a friend beforehand, especially if you’re looking for your first job in the game industry. It might feel uncomfortable, but these are the people who want you to succeed and can help push you to be better.
Ask your friend to try and ask interview questions to trip you up or catch you off guard. If you stumble, ask them to help you think about better ways to respond.
It’s also worth remembering that each real interview you do is also practice. Getting to the interview stage of a job opening is never a waste of time. Even if you don’t move forward with a company, that interview experience helps prepare you for the next.
Tip 4: Be truthful
Most of the times, you’ll get found out immediately because you just don’t have enough context and understanding to make up anything believable.
I’ve seen quite a few candidates who were doing great and gets rejected because they start making up stuff.
Even if you somehow got hired and you don’t have the actual experiences and skills to deliver what you claimed, then you’ll lose the gig and burn the bridge. Worst case scenario, you’ll even develop a bad reputation in the industry.
In addition, the studio loses as well since a bad hire costs a lot of time, money and resources. According to a CareerBuilder survey, companies lose an average of $14,900 per bad hire.
Remember, getting hired is just the first step. The goal is to keep your gig and turn it into a career.
Tip 5: Don’t be overtly humble
You don’t want to come off as arrogant, but don’t be afraid to be proud of what you have done.
Here is the nuance, respect and be humble about the problems the studios face. Coming of as though you’re under estimating them will make you look arrogant.
Tip 6: Get more real interviews
The more interviews you do the faster you improve and your odds increases (not that big of a secret). In the end of the day, it’s still a numbers game.
Your interview invites will increase as you improve communicating you capabilities in these talent filter points:
- Game design resume & cover letter – These are the initial touch points when recruiters are filtering for candidates.
- Game design portfolio – Before you get any reply, your portfolio has to catch their attention and show evidence of what they filter for.
- (written) Game design tests – Studios tend to send design tests before you even speak with anyone from the dev team.
Keep in mind that if you don’t pass these, you won’t even get to the interview stage.
Tip 7: Respect the amount of time and attention interviews take
Just like work, filling out applications and interviewing can lead to burn out. If you just feel like you can’t do it anymore, take a break! It is totally okay to choose a pace that’s right for your mental health.
For this reason, you don’t want to line up a bunch of interviews with different companies at the same time for this reason. You want to give each interview your all, and you can’t do that if you are spread thin.
Tip 8: Asking for feedback
Get and implementing feedback is crucial to level-up your interview skill faster, which in turn will get you hired faster. This is no different than getting player’s feedback to improve the gameplay.
By the way, if you need feedback from other professional game designers you can use the #career-guidance or #portfolio-feedback channels in the Funsmith Club Discord.
So it’s okay to ask the recruiter if the team has feedback on how you can improve, especially if you have been through a few interviews.
Here are two opportunities to ask:
- At the end of the interview, especially if you feel you’ll not be moving forward during the interview
- I’ve had a few interviews that I could tell I wouldn’t be moving past, and I used the remaining time to ask for how I could best improve.
- If you get a rejection email from the recruiter, reply and ask for feedback from the team
However not every studio will give feedback, don’t be too upset when this happens. Can’t hurt to ask, in fact you will always benefit, even if you don’t get actionable advice:
- More communication keeps you in the recruiter’s mind for when other positions open up night be a good fit for you.
- Find out that it’s not your fault that you didn’t get hired, because the rejection is often outside of your control.
Outside of your control:
- Something happened internally that caused the position to close.
- I have had position requirements change during the interview process, or even close completely.
- Mis-judgement – Studios often hiring the wrong people
- Not a cultural fit – Many elements of culture fit that are subjective outside of being a good collaborator.
- Someone may have a recommendation by a friend inside the studio
- Something happened internally that caused the position to close.
Within your control:
- How your interview went
- You lacked key skills
- Someone else was just a better skill fit
My colleague Candace Thomas, a principal designer at Riot Games also shares example of someone who applied 8 times before getting hired (then shortly after surpassed her in career growth):
Tip 9: Have fun
When you go into the interviews with the mentality of having fun rather than trying to achieve some results, you’ll be less hesitant and perform better because you’re in the moment.
The studio job interviewing process is as much about vetting your personality as your skillset.
All right, now you have a basic idea of what to expect in your interviews. While these will still vary with each company, and no two interviews will be the same, this should give you a leg up and a great starting point.
Here are some game design interview questions to help you better prepare for your game design interviews.