It’s May, and all around the country Universities are getting ready to let their poor young #gamedev students out into the wild to fend for themselves. You might be one of those students, and chances are, you have no idea what to expect on your chase. Kick back in your chair and grab a cup of coffee, because I’ve got some interesting stats from my own job hunt to share with you!
I’m writing this post because I have a number of friends graduating soon who have expressed interest in my experience during the job hunt. Since I couldn’t find anything like this during my job search, I hope that it might help you in your search. Personally, I think Design Jobs are probably the hardest to catch in the industry, and entry-level Production jobs are of mythological rarity, so it’s going to be tricky for you. If nothing else, it might be good for perspective.
Before we get started, I want to explain the rules of my hunt:
- My qualifications open up Design, Production, and Scripting jobs with less than 2 years of experience (I consider this to be ‘entry-level’). Your experience probably provides different opportunities.
- I do not enjoy anything about working in Flash, and thus did not consider primarily flash development jobs. I also have very little experience in UDK, so did not consider jobs that had discrete requirements for UDK experience.
- I had 2 half-time jobs to support me so I was prepared for the long-haul and could afford to be patient. I recommend the same for you.
- Priority on multiple listings from the same company went to design jobs that included scripting.
- I did not apply to any unlisted positions. This included companies that simply advertise things like, “Send design resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org” or, “We are always looking for talented people”.
- I did not apply to any internships or QA positions. I felt that I was qualified enough with the work and skill set I had done while in college to get a full-time position.
OK, So how did I start my hunt? I picked a few areas that looked like particularly awesome places to live, Austin and Seattle. Using @JonManatee, who was looking for internships, to apply to at least one company every day until we found work. I definitely recommend finding a friend to search with, like a gym-buddy but way more important. You’ll keep each other motivated, and you could even make it into a competition to make it more interesting. Eventually, my search expanded to all over the nation, as the map to the right shows where I submitted applications by state.
What to look for
Design is easily the industry’s most varied and least standardized department. This makes it freaking hard to narrow down your job hunt. I applied to 51 jobs across as many companies, 35 of which were design positions. Of those 35 jobs, 15 of them were “Level Designer” positions (which I feel is the only standard position across the industry) and the rest were split into one of 9 other descriptions. I can’t think of any other industry where you could be split between 10 different entry-level positions. Production jobs are much more standardized, I applied to 16 of them and they were split between 6 different types, most of which variants on “Associate Producer.” Be prepared to read the description of any design job you see to get the full story, and don’t discount any particular position because you’re not X type of designer, as most of them overlap significantly with other fields of design. The exception being “Level Designer” positions, which are most common in studios working on FPS and pretty much only entail doing level design and world building.
Internships can help
Honestly, I discounted any internships I came across because I already had significant experience and a varied enough skill set to qualify for a full-time position. If your portfolio isn’t exactly where you want it to be, don’t be afraid to take an internship for a few months, as many companies use internships as gateway jobs. They want to make sure you’re good enough at what you do to work for them, but don’t want to take the financial risk of hiring a full-time employee unless you’ve got the experience to back it up. Don’t think of an internship as being below you, or settling for a lesser position, unless you can prove that you’re worth your salt before you even walk into the door. Take the internship, work your butt off and impress them with your eager thirst to improve yourself and the games you make, and you may be offered a full-time position sooner than you think.
The Designer 50
Don’t expect to hear back from anyone until you have applied to at least 50 jobs. Then, expect to hear back from several places at once. For me, I heard absolutely nothing until the week I hit 50 applications, and then I heard back from several companies at once. This also happened with several of my designer friends, so it seems to be a good rule of thumb. Regardless, it’s going to be a long, long time, seemingly forever, before anyone even gets back to you with something other than a ‘No’. Don’t be disheartened by this, game companies are very busy — big companies have HR departments that get swamped with resumes this time of year, and smaller companies are swamped with work (hopefully) so they don’t necessarily have time to go through resumes on a daily basis. In my job hunt, I started sending follow-up emails 3 – 4 weeks after I applied to a particular position, though to be honest, I never heard back from these either so I’m not entirely sold on them. It can’t hurt your chances to send a polite follow-up to companies to remind them that you’re still interested.
Don’t Give Up
This is the most important part of any job search. You will be rejected. You will be rejected more than once. You may get a phone interview, a second phone interview, get a flight out to california for an in-person interview, and then get rejected. That’s just how things work. You’re not a perfect fit at every company, and there will always be someone more qualified than you. That’s just the way of the world. Deal with it, move on, use whatever feedback you get to improve your skills and your portfolio, and keep up the hunt. Don’t fret about it! I worked a non-industry job for months and hopped between subleases before I finally found a position, but all the time I was improving my skillset — I learned to write Lua, took design tests, wrote mock documentation, experimented with UDK, and kept making games. You should be doing the same. Take that rejection, consume it, and let it drive you to improve and keep searching. That company is just missing out on all the awesome things you have to offer them, and that’s their loss.
If you’re in the industry already, how many applications/months did it take you to get your first job? Did you go through QA or a University or a Tech School?