Finding Your First Job

Photo Credit: Ivan Radic

Students or recent grads that I meet often ask me how to start-out in the games industry (or creative industries more generally). Typically I give the same advice so I thought it might be useful to share it here.

1 - Show that you can be flexible. People hiring for junior roles don't expect you to be an expert (even if they hope you'll become one later) but they do like you to be adaptable, willing to pitch-in anywhere you're useful and be able to understand the disciplines of the people you're working alongside.

2 - Understand that qualifications show what you know (hopefully!) but not what you can do. You need to find a way to demonstrate your skills and passions effectively, as it's those that will land you the career of your dreams.

So, whatever you want to do find a way to show it, for example:
  • Want to be a coder? Then make a game (or more!) and show it to as many people as you can for feedback. It doesn't matter much what you build it in - Unity, Scratch, GameMaker? I believe a recent Big Indie Pitch winner was built in Construct 3. Partner-up with an artist and a sound designer to show you can work in a team, or just do it all yourself to show your breadth of knowledge - no-one's going to expect it to be great art, just try and create something that's fun.
  • Want to write? Then write a basic setup and then use one of the many freely available text adventure engines to build a game based on it. That way you get to show your creativity at the same time as an understanding of what's involved in making a game.
  • Want to make music or sound? Put a collection of work together in a variety of styles and then use that to put a 45-60-second sound-reel together which you can quickly and easily share with anyone you meet.
But - importantly - make sure you get whatever you work on to a point where it could be considered "finished" or "playable" in some way. The most common mistake I've seen inexperienced (and experienced) people make is simply being too ambitious with what they want to achieve and not being able to finish it off. So start small, you can always add more later if you have time!

3 - Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. This could be on Linked-in, at events, via companies' contact forms or you could even go and knock on some doors.

In the latter case, one of the best bits of advice I ever had was from a lecturer at Art College. He told me:

"Don't knock on doors asking for a job Chris. What you do is say 'Hi, I've recently graduated and I was wondering if someone could spare me 10 minutes to tell me about what you do here?'. Creative people love to talk about themselves so you'll probably find is that they'll wheel you in, make you a cup of tea and talk about themselves for half an hour or so. After that they'll realise they have no clue who you are and ask out of politeness. That's your chance - you come back with something like 'oh well I've just graduated in [discipline] and I'm trying to work out how to get my first job. I have [my portfolio/showreel/prototype] with me if you'd like to take a look?' They'll take a look and, if you're lucky they'll give you a chance!"

I used that advice myself at the start of my career, I knocked on three doors:

  • The first apologised, said they were busy with a deadline and asked if I could come back another time.
  • The second brought me in, spent about three hours talking me through what they did and exactly how they worked before wishing me good luck and saying they'd bear me in mind if anything came up.
  • The third made me a cup of tea, told me all about their business and - after I'd shown them my portfolio - offered me a paid internship starting on the following Monday.
That internship led to a proper salaried role a month later, a decent pay-rise a six months following that and a job for a West End Creative Agency at the end of the following year. 

I'll always be grateful for that advice and I hope it helps you as much as it did me!