The games industry in Finland has been on a growth spurt for a while now, and even though the amount of new companies founded every year is slowly declining, the growth still causes a common headache for all companies: recruiting. The successful companies compete to hire the rare and elusive seniors, and try make their company the most tempting option for them. For developers with less resources it basically means they can’t afford to compete for senior staff, and even bigger studios usually find their senior hires through word-of-mouth and personal contacts rather than through official hiring routes.
Seniors are not just hard to acquire, but also hard to keep: they know their worth and are ready to move elsewhere if the company doesn’t feel right. Other option out there is international hiring, but it’s time-consuming and costly, and once again not a viable option for most companies out there. As more and more game companies find success in this business, the problem called recruiting seems to be not going away.
What do game companies usually offer to attract senior hires? They compete with the obvious salary and perks, but that’s not enough anymore. You also need to show you have truly interesting and ambitious projects, both tech and design-wise. Company culture, vision and structure are also important, as more and more developers now appreciate modern, flat organisations with independent teams, lots of freedom and room for creativity. People in the games industry are not in it just for the money, but having a place where you actually enjoy spending 8 hours a day is paramount. Senior staff with families also appreciate things like good local schools, safe environment, healthcare benefits and possible company daycare, so the location of your studio also matters a great deal.
Our solution to the situation is this: instead of trying to find the most talented and experienced seniors, we grow our own. How do we do this? First, we drop the Senior and Junior definitions in our job postings. We look for people that match the job description, not the number of years or projects worked on. Instead we focus on identifying the type of personalities that fit our honest and learning oriented company culture – Those that show potential in becoming seniors with 3-4 years of work and tutelage. Portfolios and interviews are our main tools for figuring this out. The portfolios of potential hires need to show determined learning in quick intervals. In interviews we focus a lot on teamwork and communication skills, and on leadership potential.
To make our company a place where this type of systematic professional development is possible, we create a safe environment for learning, asking questions and being honest. We onboard new hires straight into ongoing projects, and give them responsibility from the get go, gradually increasing the responsibility level depending on each individual. Teams demand high quality and team effort, but offer the newcomers guidance and help. Seniors take the role of mentors and coaches, who make themselves available for the juniors. The responsibility the new hires are given is countered with relaxed, safe and flexible environment where mistakes are part of learning. It’s crucial to minimize the stress, fear and friction in the equation to enable people to reach their full potential.
As we get new hires to jump straight into projects, we also need to be able to communicate project goals and requirements quickly and comprehensively. Keeping and interpreting huge, hard-to-update design bibles is an outdated approach that complicates onboarding to new projects. Instead we communicate the project’s vision, focus and design with short, easy-to-digest presentations that help new people to jump into a project at any point. Our weekly update meetings, Monday Breakfast and Friday Open Mic are wonderful tools to get new people up-to-date on other things we are working on, and our team days, retrospectives, workshops and one-on-ones help them get immersed in our company culture straight away.
Our approach brings with it a unique set of challenges, and home-growing your own seniors is not the fast and easy fix to all your recruitment problems. It takes time and effort to build a company that enables people to grow from junior skills and mindset into leadership, great communication and true talent. We are encouraged by our experiences so far, and have already seen a handful of people grow in 3-4 years into central senior positions in different areas in the company. We are definitely excited to continue on this path, and build together an even better environment for growth and learning here at Traplight.