Professionals in the video game industry are recognizing the tangible value that recruiting agencies can provide. Just like the school guidance counselor, real estate agent, investment advisor, or talent manager that you might have turned to for direction and advice throughout your life, professional recruiters consistently prove themselves to be enormous assets to career-minded individuals.
As you'll learn, a quality recruiter is part manager, part confidant, and your biggest fan, all rolled in to one well-connected energetic person. An experienced, ethical, and competent recruiter can help you find the right job in the right place, and most importantly, at the right compensation level!
A strong word of caution to readers just graduating from college and looking to break into the video game industry: using a recruiter before you have worked for at least one game company and have had one professional title published would be a disaster akin to Britney Spears' recent performance on MTV's Video Music Awards. Job-hunting is really difficult, believe me I know, but there are no free lunches and no shortcuts. Think of how hard you worked to get your degree, or remember that time you stayed up for two days trying to shave a half second off your race time on Need for Speed -- that's the dedication your job hunt requires. And just like that tricky hairpin turn, you can rely on only yourself to pull through.
What is a recruiter?
Because recruiters' reputations have been somewhat maligned (we'll get to the reason why a little later) it's good to offer a bias-free definition. Basically speaking, a recruiter matches job candidates with open positions. If Real Hot Games, Inc. is looking for a producer, the recruiter helps the company find a suitable candidate. Red Hot Games then pays the recruiter a fee. When talking to recruiter, if that person asks you to pay the fee instead of the company, back away slowly. This is not someone you want to be dealing with.
Why would someone need a recruiter?
You're resourceful, you're personable, perhaps you've got a skill set that lines you up for a high demand, low supply niche -- why would you need a recruiter? If you go to Red Hot Games' web site there's a link to Employment Opportunities, and you can send your resume right to the company. Where's the need for a recruiter?
The answer to that question has several parts. Using a recruiter can be like using the warp flute in Super Mario Bros. 3 -- namely, it can save you a lot of time and lets you bypass some of the more mundane levels in the job-hunting game. You won't waste your time looking for job postings, company contact information, or application requirements.
Good recruiters have knowledge of hundreds of job openings and already know exactly how Red Hot Games wants your resume to look. Using a recruiter also allows you to leapfrog (or warp flute, if you will) past the pile of resumes in the human resources office. Recruiters have already made relationships with hiring managers and can put you in touch with the right person immediately. Otherwise, you might find yourself calling hiring managers just to find them perpetually away from their desk. To be honest, you can't blame them. They're surveying a pile of resumes as if it were Mt. Anguish, and there's only so much time in the day to respond to the myriad inquires the HR office gets. In short, a recruiter helps hiring managers cut to the chase.
Another great service recruiters provide has two complementary parts: honest feedback and savvy spin control. Recruiters get frank feedback from the company you're interviewing with and in turn can clean up any mess you may have gotten yourself into. For example, one recruiter represented a well-qualified candidate with a bad attitude gleaned from past work experiences -- not Russell Crowe telephone-chucking bad, but ugly enough to leave a bad impression. The hiring manager passed up the candidate. Upon hearing the rejection, the recruiter called to find out what went wrong. Because of the recruiter's strong knowledge of the candidate, Mr. Attitude got a second chance (and another interview). This time, the interview was a success and Mr. New Attitude was hired.
In the same vein, because recruiters take their fee from the company and not you, they'll know which companies are likely to be financially stable. That way, you won't have the experience of moving from San Francisco to Austin to see your position get cut two weeks later. Recruiters can also use their knowledge to inform you of unadvertised and unique opportunities. (However, if Take-Two is looking for a programmer to do something "Hot Coffee-esque," politely decline.)
Good recruiters will also be able to determine your salary level compared with those with similar skills. If you've had trouble in the past negotiating salary or benefits, a recruiter can help. They'll know all about vacation time, stock benefits, bonus percentages, office perks, and how far to push a salary negotiation. If you're wondering why your less-qualified office mate has a better compensation package than you, it's probably because there was a strong recruiter negotiating the employment package.
Recruiters from the Dark Side
I bet you're thinking, "Wow, these people sound like they offer a lot. Why do some recruiters seem to have a mixed reputation?"
Professional, ethical, and well-established recruiters play the game as I've outlined it above. Any bad reputation recruiters get comes from certain head-hunters who steal your resume off Monster (please avoid posting your resume there to begin with) and scan job ads, search for buzzwords, and throw your information around carelessly, often without your permission.
Another river of criticism flows from the game industry itself. It's a hiring war in our market, with high demand for highly qualified talent. It's lame, for sure, but management will badmouth recruiters because they can't afford to have working-level staff leave their current jobs. These are the managers who, ironically enough, use recruiters to manage their own careers.
How to find a good recruiter
The best way to find a good recruiter is through word of mouth. An established firm should be known and have a reputation in the industry. Looking for a job can be a confidential thing, I know, so turn to the people you trust in the industry (this is part of what a mentor does) and don't be afraid to use the internet to your advantage. Well-established recruiters appear often in industry publications like Gamasutra.com, GameDaily.biz, and others. A web search for "game jobs" or "game recruiters" is also a good start.
How to work with a recruiter
As many successful managers who bash game recruiters could tell you, establishing and maintaining a long-term relationship with a recruiter is one the most beneficial connections you can have -- and it's simple.
If a recruiter contacts you, keep these three steps in mind:
When forming a relationship with a recruiter, remember it's important to keep an ongoing dialog. Feel comfortable addressing questions and concerns with you recruiter, and after a job interview, always have a follow-up conversation with him or her. That way, when the recruiter contacts the company, he'll know what to expect and can work his spin control magic if need be.
Above all else, always be open and honest with your recruiter. To paraphrase Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, "Help your recruiter help you."
What to expect from a recruiter
Good recruiters aren't going to process your resume like an android. Rather, they'll actively seek your insight and help you work on a presentation package. This will include a resume, of course, but your recruiter will work to tailor your resume so it highlights your experience as it relates to the job. A recruiter who simply ships your resume out to as many game companies as can be found is not a recruiter worth your time.
Your recruiter will also work with you to create a job search strategy that considers location (if you hate the cold you certainly don't want a job at EA's new office in Chicago), salary requirements, and career objectives. This way you'll both be on the same page and never wondering, "What is that recruiter doing for me?"
Once you've settled on a job strategy, your recruiter should provide you with job descriptions from a variety of companies. A good recruiter will also be able to educate you about the company's financial strength, how management works, short-term and long-term company plans, the bonus program, and if there are any mandatory Hawaiian shirt Fridays you need to be aware of. That way, you can decide your level of interest in the job before your resume is sent out. A good recruiter will always update your search status and inform you of new opportunities.
If you're actively looking for a job, expect to hear from your recruiter at least once a week, if not more. If you're casually looking for another gig, expect to hear from the recruiter every other month or so.
After you've decided to go after a job, your recruiter can help you prepare for the interview and will function as your support system. Job-hunting can be stressful. A good recruiter knows this and can alleviate that stress by scheduling your interviews as well as managing the flow of communication with the prospective companies. Your recruiter will also keep you on track and in the parameters of your search strategy. Finally, a recruiter will help you resign from your current job and relocate. A recruiter will check in on you periodically after you've started the new job and can trouble-shoot any problems at the new company (like those mandatory Hawaiian shirt Fridays).
Perhaps most important, the relationship with your recruiter can be extremely beneficial when executing your long-term career trajectory. If you've got dreams of becoming a senior project manager at Sony or vice president of development at Ubisoft, a recruiter can be a big help in formulating the plan to reach those goals. Remember, career growth does not simply happen on a wish and a prayer. Like those hairpin turns in Need for Speed, you need to work at it! Think of your recruiter as your pit manager. She's in there, surveying the scene, giving you the information you need to stay ahead of the pack and race to victory.
Always remember, it's no coincidence that most managers, directors, and vice president-level people at your company have long-standing relationships and obtained their senior level position through a recruiter.
Marc Mencher is CEO of GameRecruiter.com and a game industry career specialist who has helped thousands of jobseekers land positions with leading game companies. He will be a featured keynote speaker at CMP's Game Career Seminar, October 18 and 19 in Los Angeles. Marc also fields questions from readers on GameCareerGuide.com's forum.