Hi, its been a while.
A couple days ago this article was posted on 80.lv and this in a way is a response to it:https://80.lv/articles/game-art-tests-and-how-to-approach-them/
1. Select carefully who you are sending tests to, if the applicant is way below the required skill level there is no point to a Test
2. Make your Brief as detailed and specific as possible, look into ways to share workflow documentation with the applicant, censor sensible information in the documentation.
3. Allow artists to show atleast screenshots of the finished result
4. Give Feebdack
5. Instead of giving a Test consider giving Portfolio tips and tell them to reapply in the future.
Among all the toxic employment practices in the industry Art tests are definetly up there with the worst IMO, let me explain why.
Now preemtively let me say not all Art tests are bad, just roughly 80-90% if your tests belongs to the other 10-20% congrats on being nice
Now in order to line out why most Art tests are bad we have to clarify the purpose of an Art test:
The purpose of an Art test is to help you select the best suited Applicant for your Open Position.
So lets figure out why most Art test are very badly suited to fulfil that prupose and what we can do to improve that.
Issue NR. 1
Giving out Art Tests like candy
This is a probably the biggest Issue with the whole system, hence the first place.
Some companies automatically send out Art tests to all applicants of certain openings, now this is just deliberately wasting everyones time.
Chances are lower skilled applicants will not recognize their lacking skill to be even considered for a position.
But they will invest 2 weeks of their live into this test, burning themselves out, possibly learning absolutely nothing due to issues 2. 3. and 5. and when they send their test in, it either doesn't even get reviewed or the reviewers time is wasted since the candidate was no match which in probably 90% of cases could have been avoided by spending 1 minute to check the applicants portfolio first.
You can ignore applicants, reject them immideately, whatever, nothing beats this. If your company is doing this and you are responsible I urge you to explain yourself because I fail to think of any other reasons then lack of respect for other peoples time or straight up malice. (Perhaps laziness but in the end this will actually occupy more of the reviewers time, so that doesn't make too much sense)
Issue NR. 2
Vague Briefings, no Documentation
Most art tests have 1-2 pages of Briefings and absolutely no workflow documentation. Now lets put this into perspective, most companies have dozens if not hundreds of pages of internal workflow documentations for their employees to rely upon.
Now lets get this straight: you expect someone who has not worked for your company before to produce a result to the same specifications as your employees, who are already experienced and trained in your workflow, without any guidence? And you think that will select the best candidate for the Job? Sure some of the candidates will get lucky and produce something that is vaguely like what you expected. But can you be certain that some of the other candidates wouldn't have produced a better result given the right instructions?
Now let me adress the most likely counter points to this argument:
But my Documentation is a company secret!
We'll thats what you make people sign NDAs for isn't it? If its too revealing you censor some sensitive parts, also if this is not your first game the documentation will largely be based on previous released titles. Most workflows will not be unique to your studio yet being aware of them will help applicants deliver what you expect to see in their work.
I don't have time to write a good Briefing.
Yes and perhaps that will teach you how valuable peoples time is. If you can't invest a day into compiling a proper test Briefing you will be the one hiring subpar applicants or failing to hire in a timely fashion.
We got good candidates from our current test, why should I change it if it worked before?
Perhaps you got some good results, perhaps you don't care about other peoples time, perhaps you have years to find the right applicant.
Or perhaps you are actually part of the 10-20% good tests. Its hard to falsify the possibility of a better candidate for the opening.
But if you ever had a candidate you hired after he passed the test who didn't pass probation or you missed your Growth Projection Target, then you have no one to blame but your test and yourself.
All I ask of my applicants is to use common industry workflows and deliver work that holds up to industry standarts.
This is a funny thing I noticed over the years, most companies think their workflow is THE industry standart and constantly are baffled by weird practices of applicants with industry experience, who should have known better.
If you have ever switched companies, and since you are a hiring manager and have been around for a while you probably have, you should be aware that every company has sometimes slightly, sometimes drastically different workflows.
So applicants will work with the constraints they know since you are not giving them any documentation and those can be vastly different from whatever you are expecting.
To you an N-gon might be the gravest offense you have ever layed eyes upon, the environment artist might have 5 years of experience working in UE4 and is used to it triangulating on import, while your Engine might crash, erase the subversion history, set the servers on fire and burn down the building as soon as it gets the faintest smell of a pentagonal shape.
Issue NR. 3
Alright so you are telling me you think a candidate who spent months or years building their Portfolio is going to produce something in 2 weeks that is going to change your view of his abilities?
I think that is highly optimistic.
Additionaly you are not only judging a persons artistic skill, but also their ability to carve out time form their lives. Is that really a quality you are looking for in your artists?
Someone who is working his 9-5 to make a living will be at a massive dissadvantage compared to a freelancer who can just take off work for 2 weeks whenever he wants to apply for a job. And if you think someone should take their 10 days of annual leave off to burn themselfes out for your test, for a chance to get a job, I truly have no words for you.
The usual justification for this point is:
We want to see how you perform under pressure.
Thats an easy question to answer I'll do it right here for you:
What result do you get if you give an Artist a task but only half the usual time to complete it?
A Bad result.
Corners can be cut, shortcuts can be taken, but is he going to produce his best work? Hell no, but thats what you want to see isn't it?
And this produces another angle of uncertainty, cause ofcourse you don't say where to cut the corners, so Artist A might save time on the lowpoly while Artist B chooses to save time on the Highpoly or the Texture.
So wich one is more forgivalbe? a lacking technical execution or a lacking presentation? Probably neither, but the time has to come from somewhere.
Issue NR. 4
So you make people work 14 days for you for free and then they are not even allowed to show what they did.
There is a multitude of possible reasons for this that make this simultanously the easiest and hardest issue to fix.
Is it so that people can't "cheat" by looking at other peoples results?
That seems pretty weird, I can look at Michael Angelo's David, that doesn't mean I am able to sculpt it.
Is it because you are sending them a concept from your unanounced Game?
Well maybe use a concept that has already been released to the public.
I don't want people to show it so they can't get an unfair headstart on the Test!
We'll your time constraint is already unfair as lined out in Issue NR.3 so why do you suddenly care about fairness?
Additionally you can put everything under NDA except the finished Screenshots, selected and authorized by you. That way future applicants don't know about technical restrictions and chances are they will have to redo most of their work for the test if it wasn't created using your technical specifications.
Issue NR. 5
You don't give feedback
So I have worked on perhaps roughly 20 different Games over the course of my Career, it has NEVER happened to me that the first asset produced for a new project was accepted without any feedback.
Thats right, you can give the most detailed specifications in the world, whatever you imagine the Applicant to produce, its basically impossible the result will be exactly like your expectation.
This is where the helpful process of giving feedback comes in handy, you might not get exactly what you wanted in the end, but atleast it will be closer to your expectations then whatever was delivered at first.
+ I imagine your daily routine does involve the application of feedback in some form, so it would be pretty handy to know how well an artist can implement direct feedback before hiring him?
How to Improve your Art test practices:
Okay so maybe you acknowledge now your Art test is not the best to select the most suitable candidates.
What can I do to improve it then?
1. Screen your Applicants before sending out a test
This will actually save you time, you should only send out a Test if a Applicant looks promising and his portfolio is only lacking a crucial element you need to ensur the candidate is able to deliver before starting his employment with you.
2. Make sure your instructions are as clear as possible, send censored internal Documentation if possible
If an Applicant is only missing a certain skill you don't think is displayed adequately in her/his Portfolio you should give him a taylored test for that skill, or atleast give him additional instructions to focus on that part of the Test.
Don't just give out the same blanket Test to everyone without any other instructions.
3. Allow Artists to share the results of the Test
You can specifically point out which shots Artists are allowed to share, so you can ensure they don't show anything revealing about the requirements or your workflow.
4. Tailor your NDA to your Test
You should adjust your NDA to allow you to fulfil 3. I suggest putting all provided and produced materials under NDA except the screenshots authorized by you.
5. Give Feedback
Shockingly I have never seen this done, ideally you should provide 1 round of feedback to promising candidates with atleast a 24 hour deadline to implement it. The feedback doesn't have to be given immideately after completion of the test I'm sure if you provide some feedback at an opportune time within the next month Applicants will still be grateful for it.
Again you don't need to give feedback to everyone, but if you see a promising result but the candidate is just a bit off from your expectation you are doing yourself a disservice by not giving him a chance to adjust his work.
I personally have received feedback after I failed a test, which makes me question even more why it was not given during the test since it could have helped me provide the expected result.
6. Give suggestions for Portfolio improvements instead of a Test
If you applicant doesn't have a good anatomy sculpt in his Portfolio, its highly unlikely he will suddenly be able to produce one in a week.
The same goes for a lot of other skills.
In most of those cases you will help yourself and the appliant more by just giving them some pointers on what you would like to see in their Portfolio and tell them reapply once they have improved their Portfolio (or just pointing them towards common Portfolio Guides like http://wiki.polycount.com/wiki/Portfolio
Alright lastly I will present and counter some common arguments I am anticipating:
All of these suggestions take time, I don't have time
In the end you get what you give, the more time you put into making a better test the better the results you will get and chances are by having a fair testing practice you will also end up selecting more suitable applicants for the Job.
A lot of theese adjustments don't take much time, infact more carefully selecting who you give out tests to will help you save a lot of time reviewing tests and having more specific guidelines will help you find the right applicant faster, again saving you time in total applicants you need to review.
I am giving everyone a fair chance by giving a test to everyone.
Are you even looking at all the tests you get send? Is it faster to download a file, extract it, open it up in the software then just looking at a Website?
If your reply to the first Question is no, then how is that fair if you are not even reviewing everyones work?
The thruth is you are wasting your Applicants time and your time.
If you really are reviewing everyones tests I imagine thats not your favorite activity of the day and you'd rather be doing something else so saving time on that should be in your own interest.
I get 500 Applications a week I need to filter them somehow.
Again, is it faster to download a file, extract it, open it up in the software then just looking at a Website? Also if you get that many applicants why do you even need a Test? If its for some highly specific skill you are unable to judge from peoples Portfolios maybe that makes sense, in any other case it probably does not.
Okay so that was a lot of Text, I understand that for a lot of especially smaller companies its unreasonable to implement all of these adjustments to the process. All I ask is that you consider atleast some of these adjustments and ask yourself if they could enhance your hiring process somehow.
I just want to clarify I am not attacking anyone or any company specifically, this is an industry wide issue. My only interest is to improve the whole process for Applicants and save some of the Reviewers time.
I'm curious to see what you guys think.