Blogs are about sharing wisdom and opinions. One thing I have collected a lot of wisdom about is interning in children’s television. I began my career working in children’s television, before I transitioned into video games. All of my experience with internships, both being an intern, and hiring and supervising interns, is in children’s television. I believe much of the advice in this article would apply to finding an internship in the video game industry as well.
1) Have a concise, one page resume. If you're just starting your career, you should be able to summarize your relevant experience on one sheet. Getting to the point is a virtue in all media. Don't use your resume to tell your life story. You must realize that the employer will receive hundreds of resumes in response to an advertisement.
Keep in mind that whoever looks at your resume will only glance at it for a few seconds before moving on to the next one. You have precious little time to show them that you are the intern they’re looking for. List your most relevant qualifications first, even if they are projects you completed for a class or school club. Work experience is great to mention too, but if thus far you’ve only worked at the Dairy Queen or a local grocery store, the employer may be more interested in projects you produced in class. This is especially true if they won awards or special recognition. Put those things up top. I'm not talking about listing courses you took. I'm suggesting you list the works you completed.
2) Don’t just submit resumes to advertised internships. Do whatever you can to pursue other avenues as well.
- Ask your professors if they have colleagues in the industry they would be willing to introduce you to. If those people are not personally hiring interns, interview them about their career anyway. At the end of the interview, ask if they have a colleague who might be hiring interns.
- For the television industry, you can pick a show you’re interested in and watch that show’s credits. Write directly to production coordinators and production assistants by name. People in those positions are usually involved in hiring interns. Once you have some names, you can either:
- Contact them via LinkedIn or email. See more on this below.
- Search the internet for the production company's postal address. People enjoy receiving mail, and chances are good they’ll open your envelope. I’m a big fan of the old-fashioned paper resume. In this email heavy culture, they help you stand apart. Plus, your resume will now be taking up physical space on the recipient's desk. Small, yes, but it's more difficult for them to ignore than a one line entry in an email inbox.
- Find the main phone number for the production company and ask the receptionist for the production coordinator or production assistant by name. It's important to use that name you found in the credits, because receptionists are usually strong gatekeepers. If you know who you want to talk to, they're not likely to question you about it. If you get voice mail, don’t leave a message. Try again later. When you do get through, be very brief. Introduce yourself by name as a student at X University and ask if this is a good time to talk for a moment. If it is (or even if they say it isn’t) ask if they are hiring interns at the moment, and if so, may you send a resume direct to their attention? At which address or fax number? Now you can begin your cover letter by thanking them for the phone conversation. Hopefully they will remember your name, which should help raise you to the top of the pile.
3) Consider an internship in research. Research departments are responsible for making sure the target audience will enjoy, understand and be able to use the media that is created for them. Watching children interact with shows and games first hand is invaluable to developing your understanding and making you a better writer or producer. And who knows, you may decide to pursue a career in research! Even if you still have your heart set on production or writing, you can use your internship in research as an opportunity to meet people in those departments.
Some kids’ TV shows and video game licenses are researched on the academic level, to prove that media can truly benefit the children that use them. Sometimes these studies are run by university professors, but often they are run by researchers who work for the production companies. Search your college library for scholarly journal articles about current shows like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and Blue’s Clues. Read video game research put out by places like EDC, and the Institute of Play. Contact authors you’d like to work with, talk about what you found interesting in their report, and ask if they’re hiring interns.
4) Pick one or two companies you’re particularly passionate about working for, and focus your energies on getting an internship there. If you don’t get hired this semester, just try again next semester and the next until you get through. But remember that big name places like EA or Nickelodeon can afford to be choosy and often prefer candidates with an internship or two already under their belt. Apply to your dream companies, but also apply at smaller companies to get your feet wet.
5) Apply early. Companies don’t all hire interns the same way colleges admit new students. The application deadline isn’t set in stone. If a producer happens to meet a great intern in January or February who will be available in the summer, then in the producer’s mind, the summer internship is already full. That said, many places will have rolling openings, or many availabilities, so submit your resume often. Hiring an intern is something that often gets pushed to the bottom of the to-do list over and over again until it becomes a last minute scramble. Apply early, but be patient.
6) If at all possible, use an address that’s local (within commuting distance) to the place you are applying. Many internships are unpaid. A hiring supervisor in New York City may feel guilty about bringing someone all the way from the middle of the country to earn a $10 a day stipend, and their guilt might keep you from rising to the top of the pile. This isn’t fair to you, but remember too that hiring managers are burdened with the responsibility of making sure someone good fills the position. They may worry that if they hire you, you’ll bail out at the last minute once you face the realities of how expensive it is to live in the city. That will leave them in the lurch. If you are planning to live with your Aunt Tilly while you intern, use Aunt Tilly’s address on your resume. You can explain in the job interview, if the topic comes up.
A note on contacting someone via email:
First, try LinkedIn. LinkedIn is an increasingly popular social networking site that is specifically focused on making career related connections. Some LinkedIn users have their permissions set so anyone with an account may send them a message. Use this to your advantage. It’s what LinkedIn was created for. Sending someone a message on LinkedIn should not be confused for trying to add a person to your network. As LinkedIn states in many places, network connections are for people who already know one another. Similarly, contacting someone on Facebook for the purposes of finding a job or internship might not be well received, because Facebook is an environment for people who already know one another.
If you’re unable to contact the person you’re trying to reach via LinkedIn, you may be able to figure out what their email address is. Most large companies assign every employee’s email address according to the same schema, like firstname.lastname@example.org. So, if you have an email address for one employee, you’ll be able to make an educated guess at what another employee’s email address will be.
First, figure out the domain name the company uses for email. This is often the same domain the company’s website appears under, but not always. Once you know it, Google that domain name and the word ‘email’. Right now, we’re looking for any employee who has published his work email address on the web, maybe in a conference proceeding or presentation slideshow. So for example, if I was targeting Ubisoft, I’d search “email ubisoft.com” and browse results. If you’re unsure of the email domain name, you can use the company name instead. If that doesn't work, look for conference presentation slides (on SlideShare and conference websites) from anyone at the target company, and see if there's an email address on the last slide in the deck.
Once you have located one employee’s email address, copy that format with the name of the person you’re trying to reach. For example, if I dug up Joe.Smith@ubisoft.com, and I’m trying to reach Sally Simpson, I would send an email to Sally.Simpson@ubisoft.com
Whether you're contacting someone on LinkedIn or via email, remember not to make a pest of yourself. Be brief, and send one message. If you don't hear a response, follow up in two or three weeks. If you still don't hear anything back, let it go.
Once you've snagged that internship, check out my follow up article on how to succeed as an intern and make them want to hire you full time.