7 Common mistakes of students seeking jobs
1- Taking a break while seeking a job
This is the time where you should be the busiest! You are done with school, and not overwhelmed by your full-time job yet: take a hard look at your portfolio, assess the weaknesses, see what’s missing, redo the weaker pieces, post on professional websites to get feedback and exposure. Learn, learn, learn, and gather experience while you are looking.
2- Non curated social presence
If your portfolio makes an impression, the next step for recruiters will be to try to know who you are before having to make the commitment of an interview. Many will hunt down what they can find about you on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Make sure that what they find ladders back to the professional image you want to communicate. Don’t forget to set privacy settings in Facebook for what you share: that picture of your friend holding your head above the toilet may not “dress you up for success” (true story!)
3- Non curated Portfolio
If you aim to work for the gaming industry, your portfolio should reflect that! Look at your portfolio and ask yourself: Does this piece feels like it could be in a game? Generally, the answer should be yes. If you have too many no, then you know what to do!
The saying “your portfolio is as strong as your weakest piece” is also true: if a very average piece of work sits next to a stellar one, you really have two options from the standpoint of a recruiter: they will either think that the quality of your work is uneven, or at best they will think that you don’t have the professional maturity to distinguish good work from bad work – in any case, it doesn’t serve your cause.
3- over-reliance on school work
Think about it this way: when you pick a project for a class, it’s usually something you do while learning a new software, pipeline, etc.. You may be very proud of what you learned at the end of a quarter, but most of the time, the work you did is still at a “first steps” stage. Would you apply to a running team for a Olympic marathon by sending videos of your first steps as a baby?
Really question the quality of your class work, not from the standpoint of what you learned, or how far you’ve gone, but from the perspective of a professional that does that stuff everyday: does it hold up outside of the context of class work? Let’s be honest, most of the time, the answer will be no!
4- over-reliance on school work (again)
Recruiters see a LOT of resumes! After a while, they’ll become acquainted with the various assignments given by various schools. After seeing N variation of the same assignment, they’ll be hungry for something original, something different, and most importantly, something personal! That 3D crate you did when you first learned a 3D package has no business being on your portfolio.
Let’s not kid ourselves: most creative industries have very high and dysfunctional work demands – you will most likely work a LOT – so you better have a burning passion for your trade. And if you do, then your work is your hobby, and your hobbies your work. Showing personal projects, game jam projects will show that you have the passion and drive that will be needed for you to successfully integrate a workplace. Showing just class work in your portfolio puts you at a disadvantage against more passionate and more driven people.
5- Nothing’s ever finished
This one is debatable, but I strongly believe in it: most likely, the person that will look at your portfolio is a big-picture person (Art Director, Creative Director, Producer, etc). They will appreciate if you go the extra mile to show “finished” products. That means that some of your awesome characters would be even more impressive if they are rigged, and have a small animation cycle in engine, that your environment is playable, or that you spent the time to polish your Studio II game and publish it on steam…
The industry is all about complete and shipped products: show that you already align yourself with that philosophy by going the extra mile! You are straight out of school, everyone knows you don’t have much experience, but publishing a finished and polished project on steam will allow you to say that at your humble level, you took the time and necessary steps to actually ship something, however small it is.
6- waiting for the perfect job
Don’t pass an offer because you think it’s beneath you. One of the biggest hurdle you will have straight out of school is the lack of experience. Consider a less than ideal job as an investment for your career, something that will help you negotiate a better job in a better company down the line. That doesn’t mean you need to take anything without asking yourself questions, but keep in mind that no job is final, and that most are a gateway towards a more exciting future. Think about it that way: odds are that you are going to change company and job every 3 to 5 years (we are not in a world were people are employed at the same place for a lifetime, and professional mobility is good for you) – Does it really matter if your first experience isn’t in your ideal company?
7- waiting for an answer
I had discussions with students where they tell me: I stopped sending resumes because I’m waiting for company X to answer. It makes me cry inside, as they are making a double mistake!
First, it’s a waste of time – if the company says “no”, or most likely nothing at all, then all that time waiting has been wasted (it can be softened if you don’t do point#1).
But, even if the company says “yes”, you deprived yourself of the possibility of having choices, or negotiating the offers. There is nothing wrong turning down a job offer if you have several lined up – you will not hurt anybody’s feelings and make a mortal enemy – in the industry, it’s business as usual.