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Mini-postmortem #3: Job Search

For mini-postmortem #3 I decided to break my own rules a bit. Instead of focusing on a programming technique, I wrote about a time when I was looking for a job.

Gustavo Samour, Blogger

August 21, 2011

6 Min Read

When I started writing this series, I said I was going to post about programming techniques/algorithms only. I'm breaking my own rules this time, to address something I hope can be of value to job seekers. As I mentioned in my first mini-post-mortem, just a few months ago I was looking for a game programming job. Following is what I think went right and wrong during my search. The process was very helpful and I eventually did find a job :)

What went wrong


1. Working from home. Every time I turned on my home PC to write a cover letter, make changes to my resume, or do any other job-related task, I reminded myself that I didn't have a job. I also didn't feel pressure to finish tasks because, by already being at home, I felt I had all the time in the world. And when you're used to being outside for most of the day, it's easy to forget how many distractions there are at home: game consoles, phone calls, external noise, etc. It was nice to be at home longer than usual, but finding a job is a job on its own and should be treated as such.

2. Taking too long to decide what to send as a code sample. When you're a programmer looking for a job, many times companies will ask for a code sample. They want to get to know you through your code. One can tell many things about a programmer this way. Do they have a clean coding style? Do they have a good grasp of object-oriented-programming? Do they use hardcoded values a.k.a magic numbers? Do they check and handle errors gracefully? Is the code sample relevant to the company's current and future projects? I asked myself these questions as I tried to pick a good code sample to send. Unfortunately, I spent too much time trying to find a sample that fit, and ended up coding a new sample anyways. If I had made that decision from the start, I wouldn't have wasted so much time. Timing is key during a job search.

3. Not doing extensive research. Job finding revolves around knowledge. The more you know about your field, about the company... the more people you know - all this knowledge helps you find a job. I felt I did a good job at researching a company's past and present, once I had applied to that company. And I applied to many companies. But looking back, the list of companies I didn't apply to was much bigger. I wasn't aware of some companies, and had forgotten about others. My mistake was making a list of companies I wanted to apply to, by drawing from a list of companies I knew. A better approach would have been to first update the list of companies I was aware of. Things move quickly in the game industry. Companies shut down and others emerge in a very short time span. Stay in the loop regarding things you're familiar with, but always be on the lookout for new things. 

What went right

1. Working at the library. After having little success when working from home, I decided to treat my job search as an actual job. I left home to work at the local public library. I immediately noticed a difference in productivity. I was less distracted and felt more focused because other people gave off the "work" vibe I needed. I also felt a helpful pressure that I needed to get things done before going back home later in the day.

2. Taking a day or two to rest, tops. When I found out I was out of a job, I was obviously sad and worried. Losing a job can be emotionally exhausting, so I felt I could use a break. But I told myself I was going to take one or two days, no more than that. And it worked great. Had I taken a longer break before starting my job search, I would've grown more worried that time was passing too quickly which would have led to increased stress, which in turn, could have led to bad decisions. The actual amount of time off in between may not be that important. The takeaway is to "sign contracts" with yourself regarding when you will start doing things and when you expect to achieve milestones. I had a personal deadline I really needed to meet, and I was happy I managed to do it. A late start would have meant bad news for me.

3. Learning from the process. If you've watched The Matrix, you know that "no one's ever made the first jump". Or perhaps you're very talented and lucky and landed the first job you ever applied to... good for you! But for most of us, finding a job adheres to the "practice makes perfect" rule. Your application may not get a reply or your first interview may not be great. Perhaps you were nervous and said something you shouldn't have said. Or maybe you forgot to give a positive spin to your weaknesses. In fact, your first few interviews may not yield the results you're looking for. Are they failures? They shouldn't be! Learn from these attempts. You might have a clue as to why something went wrong, so dig deeper. Sometimes, companies will share some information as to why you weren't a good fit. Feel free to ask, but don't be rude. Like I said, this only happens sometimes. Also, try doing mock interviews with others and have people review your resume. After a while you'll start to notice a difference and hopefully be on your way toward that dream job of yours :)


Finding a job is not easy, especially if one is emotionally or mentally exhausted. Take some time to rest, but don't take more than you need. Once you begin your search, be committed to it. Sometimes, behaving in a similar way as you do at a job can help keep you motivated and productive. Do your homework on the companies you're interested in, but most important, make sure that list is up-to-date and you haven't missed anyone. Learn from the hiring process. You may not get far in your first attempts, but be sure to turn perceived failures into successes. Finally, if a company asks for a sample of your work (code, art, etc), make a quick evaluation of your current work to see if an existing piece fits. If not, get started on a new piece right away. Time is key. 

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