This week each day of my blog is aiming to impart some sort of wisdom onto any would-be games journos. It’ll be a collection of experiences that I hope will educate. Most likely you’ll realise I’m a complete plank.
I’ve had a few industry job interviews over the last couple of years and some have been more successful than others. Not that I ever got one of the jobs…I promised myself I wouldn’t cry writing this…
Okay, I’m over my failure as a human being, but that’s kind of the point of this post: a job interview is an emotional experience. Before I went off like a gibbering wreck to any of these companies to promote myself, I would prepare myself (especially in the first instance) by scouring the net for any relevent information. I found zilch. Well, nothing specific for the video games journalism anyway.
This is where I come in. Standing heroically on top of a mountain, cape billowing in the wind like a wisdom crusader. I’ll detail some of my experiences and hopefully it’ll give an idea about what to expect and how best prepare for such a occasion. Some of it may seem simple. But then I’m quite simple, so a lot of this didn’t occur to me.
Firstly, it’s very likely that you’ll apply for any appropriate position (let’s say ‘Staff Writer’ in this occasion) that may crop up online. Sometimes it’ll be with an outlet that you may be familiar with but the likelihood is that you’ll come across a job for a magazine/website you’re not familiar with (at least in style). Now, as I’m talking about interviews, I’m assuming that you’ve enamoured the Editor/HR gatekeeper sufficiently to the point where they think you have an understanding of their cherished publication (hint: you may want to mention you like it because of A, B and C in the cover letter). So, on to preparation it is.
Step 1: Buy the magazine/find website. Step 2: Read the magazine/website. Step 3: Read it again. Now you need to understand its style, its content. What type of features it runs, how different writers read. It seems rather obvious but it’s something that some may overlook and a quick way to make you look like a plank. A little knowledge of history is an advantage but not always as easily accessible.
Here’s a weird point that nobody gave me a straight answer to: dress code. Suit and tie? Smart-casual? Or do you just stride in with a comedy shirt sporting some HI-LARIOUS tagline, such as ‘Beavers Eat Wood’? I’ve always gone in with a shirt and tie, smart trousers and smart shoes. I know others have gone in their traditional journo garb (jeans, fairly smart-casual shirt, trainers and a little bit of beard clinging to the bottom of their lips). My choice is based purely on risk factor. Who knows what the person interviewing you prefers and it’s a smart enough option not to offend either way.
There’s always one aspect of an interview that is sure to get me in a mild sweat before I arrive: the handshake. Sure, easy enough you may think. Mis-time it and you could be grasping the fingers in a rather strange manner; go in too strong and you could risk overpowering your potential boss. The urban clinch is usually out of the question as well, unless they instigate it.
Once you’ve introduced yourself (usually in a squeaky voice, considering your throat has probably turned into a desert due to nerves) you’ll sit down and be facing (very likely) the Editor and the HR administrator. This is, most likely, the first half of the interview process.
The Editor will have a checklist of questions he’ll go through. Most of which will be questions you may have heard in a job built for ‘norms’ (name a stressful situation you’ve been in; where do you see yourself in five years; and, the always horrifying to which there is no easy answer, name some of your faults) but some of which will be geared for what could potentially be your new job. Nothing too much to worry about if you know your games stuff. Still, if you no shit-all about the industry, then you might want to buff-up on some names. Nerves can get the better of you and I found myself in one situation totally going blank at half of the industry names that I had interviewed in my experience.
The second half of the process is what caught me off-guard in my first interview, which was a written test. Now, I know some people say this part of the interview isn’t as important as the first. A couple have even mentioned that, after getting the job in question, their new employers said that this area didn’t even factor into their decision. But I’m saying that it does.
I’ve been given an hour to play a game and write a 500 word review for it. Another gave me a press release and asked me to write a 250 word preview based on it within 40mins. I’ve also had a second interview that asked for a 200 word news item, along with an outline for a feature idea. It’s always a good idea to go in prepared to write, get yourself in the right mentality and not over think it. If I’m honest, the last job interview I went for I totally blew on the written test. It’s something that should’ve come naturally but in my crippling anxiety I found that the time evaporated. I turned to the clock to begin and I’m calm; turned back after what felt like two minutes and all the time had disappeared. Before I knew it I was rushing. Putting words together with all the grace of a child fishing in alphabet spaghetti. It lost me the job and I knew it instantly.
That’s pretty much the gist of the whole experience. Sometimes you’ll hear back instantly, other times it’ll be a couple of weeks. Once it was over a month before I got a second interview. If you are called back it’ll be more of the same, except you might meet the Big Boss. Still, it turns out, at least from my experience, is to remain calm. No amount of preparation will help you with this of course. Unless you get drunk, perhaps. Good luck!