Expanding your team is exciting but risky. Getting the right people means you’ll be able to make better games faster, but get the wrong people and you’re heading for costly issues that will put a strain on you and the studio.
It’s a huge responsibility and you need to be as careful as possible. As with everything, the first time is the hardest and things get easier with each new hire.
In the previous article I explained how to ensure you get some great candidates applying for your clearly defined roles. I’ll now walk you through best practice in terms of selecting and hiring your new employees.
Choosing who to interview
Assuming you’ve advertised the position with good details of the role and what level of skills you expect from the successful applicant, hopefully anyone applying is potentially a good fit.
Unfortunately, there are always applicants who fail to read the spec or fail to comprehend the gap between their skills and your requirements. Hopefully from the CVs and portfolio work you’ll be able to narrow down to a few likely candidates worth interviewing.
It’s always best to have two or three good applicants for any role if you can. I personally hate a choice of one and feel much more comfortable about choosing between two or three candidates who look good on paper.
Review each CV as they come in, just in case there’s an absolute star. I had a policy that all CVs had to be reviewed on the day they were received, just in case.
Once you’ve decided who you’d like to call for an interview, drop them an email with a couple of possible dates and times. You need to make it at least a few days ahead, so they can make arrangements, and not too far in the future, as anyone who is really good will most likely have applied elsewhere also.
They won't wait around if they’re offered a good job by someone else!
Take this seriously and abide by traditional formalities. Ensure the date and time are very clear, have a tidy, private room and always have two interviewers.
It’s best that at least one of the interviewers has done interviews before and if not I’d strongly suggest that you attend an interviewer training day, especially as there are some legal pitfalls you need to be aware of.
It’s really important that new employees know what is expected of them, and it’s good practice to have an employee handbook.
Make sure you have access to online material and can review the candidate's portfolio. Set aside at least 15 minutes before the candidate is due to review the job description and the candidate's CV and portfolio. I also created a checklist of questions I wanted to ask.
Go through the usual formalities of introducing everyone first, and put them at ease, then ask them to walk you through the parts of the CV and then their portfolio pieces that are most relevant to the position. Ask questions as they do so, and make sure it doesn’t feel like an inquisition. You’re looking to assess where their skills and passion lie.
If it’s looking like a good fit, tell them more about the company and position, and maybe walk them around and allow them to talk to some of the other team members if they seem comfortable to do so. Encourage them to ask questions and wrap up by telling them when they’ll hear the outcome.
In most cases, I’d recommend you let them know the next day, but certainly as soon as possible after all interviews are complete.
Even if an interview goes really well, give yourself time to discuss internally and work out the package (starting salary and any benefits) you intend to offer them, and when you’d ideally like them to start. Let them know by email. Hopefully they will accept, allowing for tweaking the start date.
Note that in the UK, it’s now law to offer a pension and to make company contributions of three per cent of their salary into it. If this is your first employee, I strongly advise you take professional advice from an HR lawyer who can also provide you with a suitable employment contract.
Onboarding new team members
Set a good professional example by being prepared for them on their first day, with their desk set up and everything ready. Ensure the rest of the team knows they are coming and are ready to welcome them.
It’s really important that new employees know what is expected of them, and it’s good practice to have an employee handbook. Employment contracts often refer to these as documents that form part of the contract and can be continually updated as required for the smooth running of the business.
In the handbook, you define all the rules of expected behaviour, timekeeping, holidays, use of the internet, personal equipment, etcetera. These days many companies have this on a company intranet, but I personally think a printed copy should be given to all new starters to take away and read.
Ensure you have some work for them, even if it’s just example test work to get them up to speed.
During the first few days, maybe a week, don't put them under too much pressure whilst they get acclimatised to the new environment and people, but make sure they know this is not how it will always be. Explain that once this introductory period is over they will be set work and expected to complete it in the agreed times to high standards.
If there are any concerns, you need to raise them, however uncomfortable, since problems get worse the longer you leave them.
It’s a good idea to buddy them up with someone working in the same discipline so they have someone who isn’t their manager to turn to and ask questions.
As well as this, it’s really important that their manager check in from time to time to see how they are doing and have private one-to-one meetings at the end of each week to review how things are going.
If there are any concerns, you need to raise them, however uncomfortable, since problems get worse the longer you leave them. Once habits set in they are hard to change, so make sure only good habits stick!
Everyone expects a probation period in a new role and you need to have made this clear in your offer. It’s usually three months, which allows your new recruit to really get into the role and hopefully be producing the quality of work you’re expecting from them.
If you’re still unsure about them passing their probation, then you need to discuss it with them. It’s possible to extend by a month, making very clear what you expect from them during the extension, so that you are able to approve them becoming a permanent member of your team.
With the interview done, your new hire selected, the offer made and accepted, your team has now grown! That’s exciting, but also a huge responsibility.
In the next article, I’ll share some advice on how you can ensure your team is working well together and creating great games efficiently. This is where the long-term success of your studio will lie.
Are you from a studio looking for new hires, or are you seeking a job in the games industry? Check out the PocketGamer.biz jobs board to list a vacancy or discover a new job.