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How to Love Your Game Design CV (or at Least Hate it a Bit Less)

06 Mar 2019

How to Love Your Game Design CV (or at Least Hate it a Bit Less)

The following article has been written by Derek Littlewood who is Studio Design Director for Sumo Digital.  You can view the original article in Dereks blog here, where he offers Game Design insights and job hunting tips.

How to Love Your Game Design CV (or at Least Hate it a Bit Less)

I’m guessing there aren’t many folks out there who don’t have a somewhat fractious relationship with their CV. And that’s understandable. They’re the mini boss of game job applications — annoying to deal with and no matter how many times you put them down, you just know they’ll be back.

Awkward gaming metaphors aside, they’re also unfortunately still one of the key tools to getting the job you want.

I’ve now spent more than a decade reviewing game design CVs, so here I present five tips (plus a few bonus mini tips) for getting your CV into better shape. I can’t promise to make the prospect of updating your CV a joyful experience, exactly, but maybe I can at least ease the pain a little.

For reference, I use the term ‘game design’ as an umbrella term for all sub-categories of videogame design (systems, level, narrative, tech, etc.) These tips mainly come from a game design viewpoint, but many of them may be applicable to other roles too!

1. Your CV is an advert
A common misconception is that a CV is ‘merely’ a list of information about you. It is, but only in the same way that a movie trailer is a list of characters, locations and scenarios you’ll see in the film. Which is to say — yes, CVs are factual, but that’s not the point of them.

That point is instead to sell you as a great candidate for the job you’re applying for. Your CV is, to all intents and purposes, an advert.

Now, like real world adverts (at least in theory), this isn’t to say you should lie or exaggerate your skills and achievements. But getting into a more ‘marketing’ mindset can help, because what information you present and howyou present it matters. What is most important for the company to know about you? What are your greatest strengths, your greatest achievements? And are those things clear and prominent on your CV? Which brings me on to…

2. Present yourself as a great candidate for the role you’re applying for
This might seem face-slappingly obvious but I frequently see CVs where, for example, the role is as a level designer but the candidate’s actual level design experience is buried somewhere on page 2. In these instances it’s very easy to miss the relevant experience, meaning the application ends up rejected.

So at the risk of stating the obvious — if you’re applying to be, say, a level designer, the first job of your CV is to show that you have some level design skills. Similarly, if you know the company you’re applying to is working on a racing game, for example, then make sure your CV shows any relevant experience and enthusiasm for the genre.

When I was freelancing I had at least three versions of my CV depending on whether I was applying for design, programming or management work, and I would frequently tweak each of these when applying for specific roles. It’s time consuming, but think of them like different character builds — you wouldn’t try to use your tank as a support character now, would you?

(A final point — you probably won’t have all the skills and experience they’re looking for, and that’s fine! Your aim is not to present yourself as the ideal candidate, who probably doesn’t exist, but rather as the closest thing they’ll find to the ideal. See my previous article for more on this point).

3. Show, don’t tell
I find this little bit of storytelling wisdom is applicable to many areas of game design, even here. Saying you’re hardworking, or a great team player, costs nothing. And unfortunately it earns you nothing either.

Instead, don’t tell the reader your virtues, show them instead. If you’re hardworking, list the many things you’ve worked on. If you’re great in a team, highlight the places where you worked in a team to deliver something awesome. Presented effectively, your experience and achievements should speak for themselves.

4. Don’t just say what you worked on, say what you did
I’ve lost count of the number of CVs (and portfolios) I’ve seen that simply list a game title and job role and leave it at that. In certain cases — mainly really senior roles — this can be enough. But most of the time, it isn’t. If you were a level designer on a given title, what levels did you work on? Did you whitebox the levels? Script them? Populate them with objects? Implement narrative beats? Etc.

This is particularly essential advice for those with only a little experience or coming straight out of University, since it can separate great candidates from those who were carried along by the rest of their team. Also note it’s good to remember this advice when putting together your portfolio too.

5. Show you love games!
This is more of a personal preference, but what I really like to see in designers of all varieties is a genuine excitement for gaming. I want to find people who believe the potential of games as a medium has only barely begun to be tapped. People who believe the best games have yet to be made. And people who still dedicate plenty of their spare time to playing a wide variety of games.

Candidates who haven’t played a new game in several years, or who constantly hark back to how games used to be better in the old days are not, in my view, people who are likely to go out and make the best games in the future.

Quickfire Tip Boss Rush
Finally here’s a combo of special attacks to help get your CV in shape…

  • Keep it up to date — CVs with out of date information (e.g. Stating a game is ‘Due to be released’ on a date already passed) just look careless. Make sure to quickly review this before sending it out.
  • Keep it short — nobody, no matter how expansive their career, needs a CV longer than three pages. Most people can get away with two, and anyone just starting out can definitely manage with just one. The longer your CV, the more likely it is that people will skim it and miss important information. So keep it short and to the point.
  • Put experience and skills first, qualifications second — unless you have several PhDs in game design, your skills and experience are more important, so put them first.
  • Nobody is fooled by squeezing the margins or paragraph spacing — whilst a little tweaking of whitespace is okay, the more you reduce your whitespace, the harder your CV will be to read. So if you’re having to decimate your margins to cram everything on the page, your problem is not whitespace — it’s that you’re not editing aggressively enough. So take another look and let the whitespace determine how much you can fit on the page, not the other way round.
  • You don’t need a profile photo — I know this is more common in some countries than it is in the UK. But at least if you’re applying for UK dev jobs, it’s not necessary.
  • Avoid dark backgrounds — a dark background can really make a CV stand out digitally, so I understand the appeal. But when printed out they hate the environment and the company’s printer toner. So you’re better off always sticking with a white background, and if you really want to have blocks of background colour, at least don’t make them page-sized.
  • Make sure you say what you’ve actually done with different software tools — there’s a recent trend for summarising your skills with software on an arbitrary point or star scale — four out of five with UE4, three out of five with Unity, etc. Whilst this is an appealing shorthand, it answers none of my questions about what you’ve actually /done/ with that software. My advice would be that if you want to do use that approach, make sure you’ve also said elsewhere what you actually did with the software.
  • Always send it in PDF format — it’s the best way to ensure the company will see the CV as it’s meant to be seen. Image formats can work too, but avoid anything that might lose your fonts or formatting.


So there you have it.  Some brilliant tips from Derek to help you on your jobsearch.


If you would like to explore opportunities at Sumo Digital, then you can find a link to their profile page and job opportunities here.

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