How You Can Swim With the Big Fish

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Big and Small Goldfish

There are advantages to being a small fish in a big pond.

Without a doubt, this is a tough time to look for a new job in the game industry. Dozens of studios have have been hit by layoffs or have been shut down. Many others are barely treading water. From smaller shops like Harmonix and OMGPOP all the way up to big industry fixtures like EA, LucasArts, and SEGA, nobody has been immune to cuts. As a result, the job market is flooded with veteran game developers, and they’re fighting against fresh-out-of-school newcomers for many of the same jobs.

If you’re a recent graduate, you might be thinking: How can I get hired when I’m just a guppy going up against so many sharks? Is the pond big enough for everybody? How can I compete with established developers that have years of experience?

You might not know it yet, but as a newcomer to the industry, you have specific strengths that employers are looking for. Strengths that give you a good chance of beating out your competition, even against applicants with years of experience. Hard to believe? Here are 4 great reasons why a studio might just hire you instead of an industry veteran.

1. Salary Requirements

This is the proverbial “elephant in the room,” so let’s get it out of the way first. As a newbie, your salary will be lower – maybe much lower – than established developers. It’s not the most important advantage you have, but employee salary is the single biggest expense for any game studio. In this time of fat-trimming and belt-tightening, every hiring manager is thinking this could be just the right time to add some new – and less expensive – development talent. It’s a great way to grow a team without growing the budget.

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2. Fire in the Belly

Starting a career in game development is exciting! It’s a dream job that we’ve aspired to since the first time we picked up a controller and got lost in an epic adventure. (For me, it was ever since I plunked my first quarter into Battle Zone.) But like any job, it’s easy to lose that passion after you’ve been doing it for years. The sad fact is that many established game developers aren’t very passionate anymore, for a number of reasons.

That’s where you can shine! While you may lack experience, you can make up for it in passion, intensity and drive. Let your enthusiasm show through in your phone screens and interviews. Be a rock star. You’re sure to stand out from the crowd of jaded veterans that are jockeying, halfheartedly, for the same job.

3. No Baggage

As a hiring manager, one of the things I love best about recent grads is their lack of “baggage.” They don’t have preconceptions about how they should work, how they should interact with a team or how they want to be managed. In general, they’re just more open to trying new things. And also less cranky when they don’t get to do things “their way.”

I’m reminded of a senior dev who quit his job because I moved him out of his office and into a cube area to be closer to his team. Or another dev who didn’t like the architecture of one of our major tools, so he re-wrote it from scratch to be “just the way he likes it.” Without telling anybody until he was already done. Which took several weeks. Not surprisingly, his game shipped late! Compared to the hassles of working with veteran developers that can be inflexible and opinionated, working with new devs open to new ideas is an attractive alternative.

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4. New Tricks

It’s true, a 10-year gaming veteran does have 10 years of experience over you. But it’s also been 10 years since they’ve been in school. Many devs try to keep up with the latest and greatest in programming languages, art tools or design paradigms. But the fact is that after a decade of 12-hour days while juggling a busy home life, learning can slow down. It’s just easier to keep using the same old familiar tools, patterns and techniques. Even if they’re outdated and less efficient.

So when you’re writing your resume or doing an interview, show your passion! Show that you’re open to new ideas and you’re eager to adapt. And build interest by talking about the cutting-edge tools and techniques you’ve been using at school – tools that your more senior competition can only look at and say “Yeah, I’ve been meaning to learn that… but I haven’t had time.”

Image: SOMMAI / freedigitalphotos.net

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Posted in Interviewing, Resume
2 comments on “How You Can Swim With the Big Fish
  1. Garron Johnson says:

    I wonder if this will apply in the early 2020s

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