Breaking In: Cover Letters

by Darius Kazemi on January 16, 2007

in breakingin

When you’re looking for your first game job, a cover letter is an extremely important thing. You need to stand out from the piles and piles of resumes that game companies get for entry-level positions, and the cover letter is the place to do it.

Here’s a story I heard from a guy who worked at Infocom waaay back in the day (pre-Activision). They had some form of fan newsletter, and in it they put a job posting for a QA tester position. Before they knew it, they had literally hundreds of resumes to go through, and they had no idea how to handle it. Well, this guy started looking through the resumes and cover letters. He hadn’t gotten through many when he found a cover letter with a little cartoon saying, “Hello Sailor! At that point, the guy had had enough of staring at resumes and said, “This guy has a sense of humor, and he likes our games. He should fit in pretty well here.” And then he threw away the rest of the resumes.

Always, always, always tailor your resume to the company you’re applying to.

A cartoon saying “Hello Sailor” worked for Infocom, because the guy applying to the company understood that most of the employees were wacky bastards. A similar, humorous approach would probably work for a company like Double Fine, who have the best job listing page ever… come on, who doesn’t want to be a bunny?

On the other hand, if you were applying to Microsoft for a testing position or something, wacky probably won’t do the trick.

A better, more general solution to this problem is to spend about one paragraph of your cover letter talking about how awesome the company is, and more importantly, why you want to work there as opposed to somewhere else. Now, don’t go naming names and say, “You guys are way better than company X.” Just say something like “Your company has made some very exciting games–I thought it was cool that game X did Y, and that your advertising campaign made a lot of sense.”

Also, if you’ve done a bunch of networking and you know someone who works at that company, be sure to mention it. “I met John Doe at an IGDA chapter meeting, and from what we talked about it sounds like your company is a great place to work.”

So there you go. Tailor your cover letter, or be doomed to failure.

{ 1 comment }

Aleks January 17, 2007 at 3:21 am

Just a note that for a large company (such as Microsoft) namedropping would only help greatly if the person works somewhere close to the position. For example, dropping a name from Rare studio while applying to Ensemble studio (both part of Microsoft) is less likely to work because of large geographic/work subject separation. They may know some people from each studio, but since they are located in different countries and haven’t had a cross-studio development/IP they would be less likely to know anyone.

And from personal experience of trying to find a developer – please put details of what you worked on in the past. Putting something like “worked on developing a program for So-And-So” really does not tell anything. From reading that line I can not tell if you were the code-monkey responsible for making sure the ‘TPS report’ printed with .5″ border and not .45″ border or you were the one responsible for the really cool feature in that program. I would rather hear the details about your job than know you were a boyscout or competed in math olympiad in 9th grade.

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