You should be hiring more junior team members.

I mean, I don’t know you personally. But the industry as a whole should be hiring more juniors. I’m often told that it takes too much work to properly train someone up when you need them on a task right that very second. And, okay, sure, this industry is nothing but ticking clocks and thousand yard stares sometimes, but putting in that effort to properly train, guide, and mentor juniors is so worth it in so many ways. Not just for your team, but for the industry as a whole!

I assume you have everything covered when it comes to onboarding and task lists, but you might not be considering some other ways you could be setting your new team members up for success.

The Buddy System

Everyone loves documentation, but it’s hard to beat actually seeing something in action for real context into any task. That’s why I recommend getting into the habit of inviting them to tag along whenever you’re working on something relevant. This might look like actively working through something with you, which takes more prep to set up, but it’s also just as valuable to share your screen with them and let them watch while you do something and ask questions as needed. 

This is also a good opportunity to allow a junior to tag along on tasks (where appropriate) that aren’t specifically related to them to get some better understanding about how your team works, as well as more insight into the industry as a whole. Let them sit in on a meeting in the art department even if they’re working in release management, or see how you review and plan milestones even if they’re working in marketing. Demystifying how all these different departments work separately but together is not only helpful, it’s also good enrichment to someone who is just starting out in this industry [.c-highlight]so they can see what else is out there and how they fit into it.[.c-highlight]

Context is King

You know how to do your job. I mean, presumably. You know whether something should take you fifteen minutes, or if it’s a three hour task. But you probably didn’t know that when you started, and this is routinely one of the biggest things people forget when training juniors. 

If I tell a junior to, say, put together a list of similar titles to help with comps and projections, I might be thinking that’s something I wouldn’t be spending more than half an hour tops on, but they might be thinking, “That sounds like something I should put an entire day of research and care into!” They might need to get some more experience under their belt until they can knock out a task in the time it would take you, but knowing the benchmarks for it helps ensure they’re heading in the right direction.

Provide Benchmarks and Goals

This goes hand in solemn hand with the note above. One of the first things I like to do is put together a list of priority tasks and goals, and a shorter list of secondary long-term items. This gives your junior an idea of what they’ll be working on in the first few months, and bigger picture items you want them working up to. 

This is also helpful in letting them understand what your idea of a successful production assistant/marketing intern/whatever looks like. Once these are in place, set up a few informal check-ins one month, three months, and six months out, so you can sit down and discuss how things are progressing, figure out any spots they might need more support in, and figure out if certain priorities need to be shifted. Make it a conversation, not a scary review, and [.c-highlight]be sure to solicit feedback on how you’re doing, too![.c-highlight]

Give Clear Feedback

If you’re mentoring a junior as their manager, you might be tempted to just quietly fix a minor error or edit something without calling it out - after all, it’s just quicker, and it was something totally minor, right? The problem with that is, besides how much all those little things can add up over time if they keep happening, your junior will never know unless you clearly call out when they need to do something differently, and how. (And besides, there’s nothing more frustrating than a manager who doesn’t give you actionable notes to improve, right?).

Don’t just hope the issue corrects itself, or that they’ll notice on their own. [.c-highlight]Be kind, but direct.[.c-highlight] Point out the issue, what you typically do to correct it, and give them some guidance on doing so themselves. Then follow up with them the next time they do that task; if they’ve adjusted to your feedback, thank them for it and continue on! If the issue is still occurring, use this as an opportunity to talk about it.

Give Them the Safety to Fail

Look, we’ve all screwed up before. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We all have, and probably all will again. While failure is never fun, however, it tends to be terrifying for juniors who fear that one mistake is going to torpedo their career. Not only can that hold them back from growing and becoming more autonomous, it’s also an incredibly unhealthy and stressful mindset to exist in.

So tell them that when it happens, you’re in their corner. Tell them that everyone fails or messes up, and that they have a safety net to catch them. The goal is not to enable mistakes, or to free someone from repercussions for something truly extreme, but both not to paralyze a junior in fear of them, and for them to also not be in fear of coming to you to resolve it. [.c-highlight]It’s you and your team against your problems, not against each other.[.c-highlight]

Hands Off, but Nearby

I don’t know about you, but I really value working with people who can be autonomous. It lets both you and them work independently with the confidence that the other is keeping their plates spinning. This is obviously something that will take a junior some time (and training) to achieve, but even early on you can and should provide opportunities for them to work solo on tasks with you checking in periodically once a day or so, and available for questions as needed. There’s nothing worse than a satellite manager, except maybe a manager that is never around when you need them, either.

Don’t forget to encourage them to be honest with you about how they’re feeling, either. Juniors often want to please, and can be reluctant to surface when they feel overwhelmed or overloaded just because they don’t want to disappoint. Assure them that this is not about you doubting their abilities; this is about you acknowledging that making video games is a very hard, complicated job and everyone wears a lot of hats, and [.c-highlight]you want to ensure they feel comfortable with coming to you when they need support.[.c-highlight] That’s what you’re there for!

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Man, isn’t it the worst when you’re working with someone who doesn’t keep you in the loop? When you find out only at the last minute that they won’t be able to hit a deadline, or maybe, worse, that they forgot about it entirely? This isn’t to say that you should be telling your juniors to keep you up to date on every single thing they’re working on every single second of every single day. But ingraining a tendency to manage up and forecast means that you can ensure everyone is on the same page, and you can spot (some) problems before they turn into disasters.

In practice this should look very simple. “Hey, just letting you know I’m still working on that draft for you, and you’ll have it by EOD Thursday.” “Hey, I had some extra priority items pop up, and I won’t be able to get to that draft before next Monday. Is that still okay?” “Hey, I am still on track for that draft, but I am still waiting on some necessary information from a colleague I haven’t gotten yet.” These are great working habits to build whether you’re a junior or a manager, and someone who internalizes these early on will make everyone’s lives easier in the long run.

Positive Reinforcement

I often hear people say, “Why should I thank someone for doing their job?” And, okay, sure, you old miser. But this industry is so hard, and often so cold and thankless from without as well as within. And it’s scary when you’re starting out in it, and everything is new and unfamiliar and you’re struggling with imposter syndrome - good thing that goes away really quickly right ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

My point is, we all know what this is like, and we all know that sometimes someone telling you that you’ve done a good job, or that they appreciate something you did, can have a big impact on how you feel about yourself and your work. [.c-highlight]Take the opportunity to celebrate your junior’s successes[.c-highlight], even if it’s as simple as “Hey, thanks for taking the initiative to get that form filled out,” or “You handled that patch submission without any of my help, awesome job!” [.c-highlight]Appreciate the people around you who make your life easier and better[.c-highlight] by their contributions whether they’re juniors or not, and you’ll find your work atmosphere is a lot more positive. Besides, were you raised in a barn?! Please and thank you are common courtesy, geez louise.