Common Issues with Student Portfolios and CV's
It's been a while - how are you? :D
I've been doing a lot of talks/portfolio reviews lately and I thought it might be useful to share common mistakes I see in student/beginner portfolios, in the hope that it will help people move forward with their portfolios/CV's and land that job interview!
I'd love to hear from fellow devs about what they also find to be a common issue in portfolios as well. Please keep in mind, I'm from the UK and portfolio/CV advice has cultural differences in places. For example, in the UK you'd usually not include a picture of yourself, but in some countries that is expected, so take my advice with that in mind!
Also, thank you to everyone on Twitter and the UK Games Industry Slack that contributed ideas to this post. <3
These are in no particular order!
Spreading Yourself Too Thin
This is probably the number one issue I see in student portfolios; basically, it's a portfolio that is trying to demonstrate skills in 3D Art/Design/Production/Programming or any combination of job roles. The problem is that it's hard for a recruiter to see what your main skillset/passion is, and often if you spread yourself across multiple disciplines in this way, you might struggle to develop industry-level skills because your portfolio has a lack of focus.
There are exceptions to this rule, very small indie companies may like someone who has cross-disciplinary skills - for example, a concept artist than can also do UI, but it's quite rare for a studio to want someone that can do art AND programming AND design. I totally understand why this happens, when you're a student it's sometimes hard to nail down what your true passion is, and honestly, sometimes the goal is just; I want to work in the game industry! I've been there, so I get it! But focusing your skillset really does help you land that first job. You can always change it later! My degree was in Animation and I haven't animated since, lol.
Everyone has seen these - I'm 20% good at Photoshop, 50% good at C++, 100% good at Javscript yadda yadda, please noooooo. It doesn't say anything or mean anything to us but it's done so commonly I want to cry. Skill bars are almost a meme now :( Haha.
Putting Education before Experience
I have seen CV's that have every grade of your GCSE's before - wait a second, you were a QA tester for 2 years and that's right at the bottom of the CV?! If you have direct, relevant work experience then it's useful to put that before education.
Remove Qualifying Language
Qualifying language includes things like, 'I just' or 'I think' or even a 'sorry to bother you!' Be confident about your skills and abilities, you've got this! :D Being humble is great, but don't put yourself down by undervaluing your own achievements and your own knowledge.
Your Contribution to the Group Project is Unclear
This is an extremely common one, because group projects, game jams etc. are often on portfolios but people forget to say what their contribution to the project was so I have no idea how much of it is yours! With that, I usually have no choice but to write the whole thing off because I just don't know what I can attribute to you. A paragraph or two about your process and contribution can remedy this easily.
Less is More, Quality over Quantity
Another simple one to make sure you do; it's better to have a small number of pieces that show you at your best than 10 than are just okay. Especially if you get to the interview stage, if you have to talk about projects that don't meet your own standards it's usually pretty obvious that you aren't 100% happy with a piece of work. So only show your best!
Difficult to Navigate Websites / Hard to read CV's / Key Links Missing
If you aren't someone who is great at web design, keep things simple! The golden rule is to try and optimise the number of clicks someone has to go through to get to the relevant detail, if your resume or contact details are 3-4 pages in, it's going to be difficult to reach you.
If you are an artist, you can add a little pizazz to your CV or website, but honestly, it's best to not go overboard because if the CV becomes illegible due to the design, or the CV is hard to print out (believe it or not sometimes people still print CV's off...) then that's going to just be an extra barrier for the recruiter to get your information.
And please please please put your portfolio link in an easy to find place on your application, don't forget it!
Pieces based on Tutorials or the Same University Brief
I have seen the blender doughnut 100 times. Plz no more. Also common things are barrels, tables, fruit bowls and guns. That doesn't mean if you model these things you won't get a job, it'll just be a little harder to stand out. There are so many interesting things out there in the world, try to do something a little different! Tutorials are excellent and wonderful, but if the result is the same as everyone else it's probably not appropriate for your portfolio - likewise, if the university brief has meant you all have similar pieces you might want to try and go against the grain.
Not doing a Cover Letter / Not Tailoring it to the Company
This is extra work, I know, I'm sorry. When you're applying for 100s of jobs it's really tiring to re-write it again and again, but people do, and game industry roles are super competitive to the point where this is now almost a requirement. Unless your portfolio is earth-shattering, writing a cover letter and tailoring your CV to the role is a way to stand out amongst applicants that sent a generic CV only.
Soft Skills are Important
I find it hard to engage with CV's and portfolios that are just straight to business and have zero information about the person other than their work. It's good to know situations where you've worked in teams, any extracurricular activities and hobbies that require organisational and communication skills. Include 'em, we love it! And if you're nervous in the interview I've got a list of your hobbies I can start with to make you feel a bit more chill :) (A minor contradiction though, don't make this a huge part of your portfolio or CV, especially if you're struggling to narrow down the focus.)
Please don't write in the third person
Honestly, it just scares me haha
Please Use a Professional Email Address
Save BestCODGamerx1995 and UwUKawaiiChan for your personal life haha.
Responding Rudely to a Rejection
This should be a very obvious thing to say, but no matter how disappointed or frustrated you are that you didn't get the job, you should always be professional and polite to the recruiter.
Basic grammar mistakes or spelling errors
Ohhh now I know this one upsets QA in particular! This should of course be obvious (please don't check my blog for typos please don't check my blog for typos haha) but it is unfortunate that we do get a lot of spelling errors in applications. Attention to detail is very important, so please use the tools you have to ensure you get this right! Of course if there are reasons grammar/spelling is tricky for you that's completely understandable but in those cases it's useful to get a friend to check it over for a second opinion.
Hope this helps! If anyone has any more suggestions, do leave a comment!