Would you like to apply for game jobs before they’re posted to the general public? Do you wish you had an “in” at your favorite game company? Do you wish you knew employees and hiring managers in the game industry who could help you get a job?
All of that is possible, through the magic of career networking.
If you’re like most people, the thought of doing “networking” seems awkward at best, and the stuff of nightmares at worst. But the fact remains, professional networking is an important part of your job search strategy that offers a huge advantage in finding your first game job. And it’s really not that hard, once you learn how to do it. In fact, if you know how to talk to other humans and take notes, then you already have most of the skills you need. Let’s learn how to apply those skills to landing a job in the game industry, through professional networking.
What Is Career Networking?
Career networking (also called “professional networking,” or just “networking”) is the process of making friends with people in your industry — people who can help you land a job. It really is that simple. You’re just meeting people, chatting about things that you’re both interested in (games and game development!), and learning about the game industry along the way to finding a job.
What is it not? It’s not talking to complete strangers. It’s not being fake or sales-y (just be yourself). It’s not walking up to a booth at a game convention and asking for a job. It’s not standing on a corner across the street from a game studio holding a sign that says, “Will code for Red Vines.”
Career networking is a lot more personal, and a lot more fun, than most people think. So if the thought of networking makes you cringe, I urge you to suspend your disbelief for a moment, and open up to the possibility of networking being not only useful, but also a great way to meet warm, interesting people who want to help you.
Why Is Networking Important?
If networking is simply meeting people in your industry, then why is it so important for your job search? There are several reasons.
It builds confidence
Most people starting their careers in games experience what psychologists call “impostor syndrome.” It’s the feeling that you’re not a “real” game developer, that you’re only pretending — and you’re afraid you’ll be discovered and called out as an impostor.
One way to conquer impostor syndrome is to build your self confidence through networking. As you meet and talk with professional developers, you’ll learn more about the industry, jobs, and companies, ad you’ll start to feel less like an outsider and more like an insider. That confidence will show through during your job interviews, and put you ahead of all the other candidates that still feel like impostors.
It helps you discover the “hidden” jobs
At any given time, there are dozens of jobs openings that game studios haven’t yet published to the public, often because they just haven’t gotten around to writing and posting the job opening. When you meet new people through professional networking, it gives you an opportunity to discover and discuss the hidden jobs, before anybody else does.
It engages your allies to help with your search
The game industry is a tight-knit community, and we all remember how hard it was to break in when we were just starting out. That’s why most developers are eager to “pay it forward” by helping out newcomers in the industry.
When you meet new people and they get to know you, you’ll find that they enjoy taking you under their wing to offer tips and suggestions on studios and jobs that you should look into. If you’re lucky, you might even meet the very person who can hire you.
It’s a virtuous cycle
An important part of professional networking is asking your contacts who else might be able to help you out. It’s like a snowball rolling downhill: If each person you talk to can introduce you to two or three other people who could help you out, then your network will quickly expand and grow. Before you know it, you’ll be meeting people from around the world, at dozens of game studios that need to hire a newcomer like you.
For all those reasons, networking is one of the most effective ways to find a great job in the game industry. But it can take time and practice before it starts to feel natural. The only way to get practice is to get out there and do it.
How to Network in 5 Steps
Step 1. Build your contact list
The best way to start networking, is to start with people you already know. So, make a list. Write down everybody you know who is somehow related to the game industry – teachers, developers, recruiters, anybody. These are the first people you’ll have networking meetings with. They can give you advice, but equally importantly, they can introduce you to even more people who can help you out.
A list of just a few people is a good starting point. In a pinch, you can even start with just one. With any luck, your list will quickly grow as you work through the following steps.
Step 2. Schedule the networking meeting
Once you’ve built your list, start calling, emailing, or messaging those contacts to set up meetings. You should be up-front about why you want to meet, and what your goals are. Here’s an example (phone or email) to get you started:
- Hey Meghan. What have you been up to? I’m graduating this year and I’m gathering info about game studios I might want to work at. Since you’re in the industry, I’m hoping you might have some info or advice for me. BTW I’m not asking for a job or anything, I’m just trying to learn more about the industry. Would you have time for a meeting or call next week?”
Step 3. Have a successful meeting
When you’re meeting your contact, the time can go quickly – be sure to use it wisely. First, thank the person for meeting with you. Then, to orient them on how they might be able to help you, give them a short (one minute) overview of your skills and talents. You can also mention the sorts of jobs you might be interested in.
During the conversation, be sure to take good notes. It will help you remember everything, and it demonstrates to your connection that you take their advice seriously.
Here are the key questions to ask at every networking meeting:
- Which types of job(s) in the game industry do you think would fit me the best?
- Which game studios do you think I should be targeting first in my search?
- Can you introduce me to 2 or 3 other people (hopefully at the target game studios) who might be able to help me out or provide advice?
The last question — the names of other people who can help you — is critical, because that’s how you build and grow your network with new people to meet. Remember to write everything down, because you’re unlikely to remember it all, especially after talking to dozens of people over several weeks of meetings.
Also, keep in mind that you’re there to get their advice, so let them do most of the talking. This can be hard, especially if you’re the kind of person (like me) who tends to talk nonstop when you get nervous. Try to keep reminding yourself that you’re here to learn. If the conversation stalls out, here are some questions you can ask to keep the conversation moving — and learn something useful about the game industry along the way.
- What’s the most challenging part of your job?
- What do you like most about working for your company?
- What’s the best book you’ve read about (game programming/art/design)?
- What advice do you wish you had when you were first starting your career?
Step 4. Rinse and repeat
For each name you get during your meetings, add them to your professional networking list. Then reach out to each one, and ask for their help. You should mention the name of the person who referred you, so they don’t think you’re just some random stranger. Here’s an example of how to do that.
- “Hi Mr. Gordons, our mutual friend Meghan Smith thought you’d be a good person to talk to about finding a job as a [programmer/artist/etc.] in the game industry. I’m graduating this year, and I’m trying to learn more about the industry, and about your game studio in particular. I’d appreciate any help or advice you might have to offer. Would you be up for coffee or a video call next week?”
Step 5. Say thank you
After each meeting, remember to send thank-you messages to each and every person who helped you out. Remember that they took time out of their busy day, and they shared information that may have been invaluable in starting your career in video games. There’s no reason to wait – send it the very next day.
And one day, when you’re a professional game developer yourself, you might receive a networking request from a young game developer just starting their own career. Think back to all the help you got when you were getting started, and pay it forward by accepting the meeting request, providing advice, and helping out the next generation of game developers.