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Getting A Job in the Game Industry

Graduating game design students are competing with industry veterans for jobs in a down economy. Here are some ways to stand out in the crowd.

As schools prepare to graduate a fresh batch of game design students, my LinkedIn groups are filled with questions from former students already searching for a way in.  Competing with all of these fresh faces are industry veterans who have found themselves out of work after shipping their latest project.  The games industry is project-based, after all.  

Graduates do have a few things going for them.  They are fresh, eager, filled with ideas, armed with knowledge of some of the newest technology, and they can work for less money.  How can this be put to work for them?

Make The Most Of School

If you are still in school, don’t waste it.  Every single project should be done with an eye toward using it in your portfolio.  Every piece of code, every work of art, must be portfolio-quality.  Treat school as if you are working toward a job, because you are.  This is your job, right now, and your instructors are your project managers.  Make the most of your education.  

Use this time to network, as well.  Join with other students in working on a full, completed project.  If the school has the rights to projects that are completed for the school, this will have to be done outside of school jurisdiction.  If that violates a school edict, remember these connections once you graduate.  While you are searching for a job, the network you develop in school is an excellent source for project work.  These people, people who know your work, may also assist in securing a position later on, so make friends with them.  The industry is smaller than it would appear.  Don’t view each other as competition, but rather as a connected team.  

Attend GDC and other industry events. It’s a continuation of your education.  Treat it as such.  Be willing to learn from others.  Begin to network outside of your small circle.  Keep your circle of friends in mind, when you are networking, however.  It won’t be long until you are the one crunching and perhaps a little tired of being seen as what you do instead of who you are.  The people you meet at GDC are people first, game developers second.  Connect on a personal level instead of barraging them with questions about game development.  

Keep learning, even after graduation.  The industry changes faster than schools can keep up and much too fast for an idle game development student.  Become more proficient in all of the programs available to your discipline.  Work on projects.  Keep up your skills.  Learn Unity, UDK, Maya, iPhone development tools, the Aurora Toolset.  Many game developers got their starts by working on mods and familiarizing themselves with  open source software.

Consider Your Image

Use every resource you have to rise above the rest of the applicants.  The HR department at any given company gets 100 to 1000 applications per job listing.  Your resume absolutely has to stand out in some way, but make sure it’s in a positive way.  Check your spelling and grammar.  Check your facts and make sure that your links work.  

Your resume should be factual and facts should be backed up.  Saying “I’m a team player”, “I’m a hard worker”, or “I have a passion for games” is not helpful.  This is on every resume; don’t say it, prove it.  

Your portfolio should have projects that you’ve worked on in it.  Include that example.  It should be clear which part of that project is yours.  Remember those 100-1000 applicants.  Don’t make a prospective boss hunt or guess.  Make your role clear.  Also, let them know about how you worked together as a team, what went right and wrong.  If you’ve done something outstanding or freelance, include that.  Your portfolio should have completed projects in it.  This not only shows what you can do, it speaks to your ability to finish the job.  

An artist’s portfolio should be a slideshow or reel.  Programmers should have code that thinks six months ahead.  Everything changes so fast.  Make sure you’re ahead of the game.  Think again of the over-worked HR person.  Make it easy for them to skim your resume.  Think about click-budgeting in your portfolio.  You don’t want them to have to hunt for anything.  Make your ability to contribute to their team obvious.

Add your resume, on it’s own page, to your website.  Obtain at least 50 links back to your resume so that you come up on the first page in Google searches.  To do this, answer questions on forums using a link back to your resume at the bottom of your signature line.  Ask questions on LinkedIn, or answer them, using the same link back to your resume.  Remember that a prospective employer or a recruiter is not going to know your name.  You must make it easy for them to find you based on what you can do for them.

Build a LinkedIn profile rich in keywords so that you come up in searches.  Make sure the keywords fit you and are appropriately placed.  Max out your LinkedIn groups and build a big network.  Again, the industry is relatively small.  You never know when you might be in a position to help someone else or they may be in a position to help you.  Use your status updates regularly.  This shows that you are interested in working and that you are active in your field.  Do not use it to seem like a desperate job seeker, however.  Instead of “looking for work”, your status updates should be ‘this is what I’m working on.’

Expand Your Search

Research company culture and make sure you fit in before you apply for a job.  It is easier to do anything just to find a job, any job.  In the long run, however, this won’t make you happy and, if the company is not a good fit for you, it won’t make you the strongest member of the team.  It’s not enough to shine just for the interview.  For a successful career, you need to be able to stand out on the job.  Give yourself the opportunity to do that.  

Apply for jobs even if you don’t have all of the qualities the ad says the company is seeking.  The “ideal candidate” may have 2 years of experience, but the company may not find that “ideal candidate.” Do make sure that you can actually do the work, however.  If you are qualified for the job, despite shortcomings such as experience, apply.

Use Twitter and LinkedIn’s Signal to find postings.  Some companies will try this first.  It’s free and quick.  You don’t have to have a Twitter account.  Simply go to http://search.twitter.com/ .  You can search for a particular company, such as Insomniac; or for job listings, such as Lead Artist.  Signal provides a similar search service,  combining LinkedIn’s status updates with real time Twitter tweets.

Be prepared to move, perhaps on your own dime.

You Have An Interview, Now What?

Make sure you understand the company culture before you go in for the interview.  You don’t want to be over-dressed but, you also won’t want to show up in jeans if it’s not regular office wear.  A safe bet is probably a collared shirt and khaki pants.  

Don’t bash your former employer, ever.  Even if you bussed tables, never burn a bridge.  Stress the positive, especially about the dark times.  

Bring a portfolio and make it easy for them to see your work.  Put your best foot forward.  

If you don’t get the job, it’s ok to graciously ask for advice for going forward.  Don’t take it personally.  Remember that you are up against very stiff competition.  You might not have been the best candidate.  But, your interviewer may be able to give you some tips for improving your chances in the future.  Do not forget to thank them for their time and the opportunity to interview. Thank them for any advice they give you.

Good luck out there.  Whatever happens, don’t take it personally and try not to get discouraged.  It will happen for you.  Never give up.  

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