Playing the recruitment game

Boom in video game market means manufacturer has to be creative in attracting top talent

“It’s in the game.” That’s the marketing slogan British Columbia-based video game manufacturer Electronic Arts uses to market its popular line of sports video games.

“Get in the game” is the message being sent to EA’s customers. In the instruction manuals of the games it sells, the company makes a recruiting pitch to encourage its customers to come work for it. It’s part of a comprehensive recruiting strategy designed to ensure EA gets the best staff as the video game market, which had about $7 billion (U.S.) in sales in 2000, continues to experience explosive growth.

“Right now I have about 130 full-time positions open in B.C.,” said Patricia York, senior director of HR for Electronic Arts at EA’s worldwide studio headquarters in Vancouver. There are about 900 employees in B.C. with a total of 3,800 worldwide. “We’re constantly growing, so that means we have to be pretty innovative in the way we’re attracting talent. Everything we do is linked to recruiting in one way or another.”

Here’s a look at what EA is doing:

In-game promotion. In the back of game manuals, EA has an ad that states “Get in the game. Want to join the #1 interactive entertainment company?” It lists the Web site for the company’s recruiting page and it also highlights a special page just for students. The page, which the company calls “EA Academy,” lists information about internships and the benefits of working for EA.

Trudy Muller, corporate communications manager for EA, said the in-game recruiting advertising has been in place for a number of years and is a great way to reach the consumer. The strategy was particularly effective before video games became so mainstream.

“People didn’t think they could earn a living making video games before,” said Muller. “It wasn’t quite as high profile as a cool job as it is today, and so it was a great way to reach our core gamer. Because the one thing that just about everyone in this company has in common is a passion for games.”

Web site. The number one source of resumes for EA is its recruiting Web site. York said she receives anywhere from 500 to 600 resumes in a typical week, and the vast majority are submitted online.

“Having a great Web site is really, really important,” she said. “There are a lot of techies that are applying with us, and that’s what they like is the online aspect and being able to take a look at the product and then take a look at what’s going on in the different studios and who’s hiring.”

Campus recruiting. Electronic Arts gears the vast majority of its recruiting efforts towards universities and colleges across Canada and around the world. York said the company will visit campuses once or twice a year.

“We do pizza and beer parties to get to know the students, meet them and get their resumes,” she said.

The company also sets up video games, information sessions, speeches — anything, York said, they can think of that’s fun they’ll do to attract attention and get students thinking about a career at EA.

Open house. EA invites the cream of the crop it finds during its campus recruiting tour to an open house at its studios in B.C. York selects about 125 people to attend the open house, where they are given tours of what she calls a “phenomenal” building, speeches and presentations by various leaders at EA. The company has talent scouts at the open house that chat-up the students to know them better.

“At the end of the evening, we have a pretty good idea from that group of people who we’d actually like to hire,” said York.

Internship program. A natural extension of EA’s campus recruiting and open house efforts is an internship program for university students. Last year, the company had 63 interns and is hoping to expand the program this year and take in anywhere from 75 to 80. And the internships are not just make-work projects either — the students are put to work helping out on actual video games.

“We put them on a game team, and they get to actually help build the game,” said York. “They’ll have their names on the credits, so their name will be on the box as well, so that’s pretty exciting for them.”

Star program. EA then takes a close look at the student interns it hires to identify outstanding performers.

“Some of those co-op students are just brilliant, and we want them when they graduate,” said York. “What we will do is pay for their last year of schooling, including tuition and books, and then they’ll have a guaranteed job at the end of it. We’ve been able to hire some phenomenal talent that way.”

Employee referrals. The company has a referral bonus program that pays staff anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 or more if they recommend a friend who is hired. EA has T-shirts that employees wear when they’re around town that read “Get in the game” and list the company’s recruiting page.

Developing relationships with schools. York said EA is working to develop relationships with colleges and universities across Canada to help ensure students are getting the training EA needs.

“We meet with the different heads of the departments and help to influence the curriculum for what we need in the business because there are so many jobs available for them if they have the right skills,” she said.

EA also uses its interns as campus reps when they return to school. The company gives them some EA freebies and the students pass out business cards and represent EA on campus.

“They help us out with different campus events when we’re coming there,” she said. “They put up posters and really help us promote EA hiring on campus.”

EA also offers “campus connection,” a regular e-mail that goes out to students who sign up for it. It features news from EA such as what new games are coming out, contests, puzzles and different problems students can try to solve.

“Then we’ll put them in touch with one of our software engineers so they can talk about how they solve that problem, so it helps to grow the campus recruitment,” said York.

All of it adds up to what York called a very effective and comprehensive approach to recruiting. Even high school students who see the in-game recruiting ads have been in touch.

“I run into kids all the time who say that their dream is to work at EA,” she said. The company doesn’t have many positions for high school students, but it’s part of the branding and getting young people to want to work for the company. “It’s a really vibrant and exciting atmosphere and that’s one of the things that really wows people when they first walk in the door. This is a group of really passionate people. It’s infectious and you can’t help but catch it when you walk in, so that makes it a really easy sell. What could be better than making games?”

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