We finished a busy week at the Game Developer Conference, where we met many high caliber people looking for jobs. This made me reflect on how I found my first two jobs – which were both terrible – and how I would advise others to go about finding their first few jobs after coming out of school. Some people start companies immediately after graduating (or even before), which is also a viable option.
Get in touch with what you are interested in
I remember creating spreadsheets and ranking them by categories, in an effort to figure out whether I should be an inventor, designer, or computer programmer. I should have listened to my intuition. My hobby had been writing games on my 6502 Apple II, which was a good indication of what I was passionate about.
For most interests, there will be a chance to make significant earnings, if you are good at it. You can make adjustments a few years later if your quest to be an actor or artist does not pan out. Following your passion will give you the tenacity to keep pushing ahead when times become difficult.
One way to validate your passion: ask yourself whether you have a body of work or experience that naturally flowed from your interests. Do you have a collection of games you created in high school? Are you running a website for budding roller coaster designers where you have been posting your work? Do you have a slew of videos from the high school musicals that you stared in?
I recommend against blasting out your resume. Now it’s time to do some research. Identify 20-50 potential companies that you think are aligned with your interests. This will be work. If your dream is to be a roller coast designer, you will need to find the best companies that develop amusement park rides (not just Disney).
Delve into the history, management, products, and strategy of these companies. You should become a mini-expert at the industry you are interested in, and get to the point where you think some of the companies in the industry are great, and some are not.
Contact the CEO
Try to meet with someone at all the good/great companies that interest you. At this point you need to use any contact you have, no matter how tenuous, to arrange a meeting. If someone in your high school has an uncle working at Acme Roller Coaster design, use the connection to attempt an informal meeting.
For those target companies where you have no connection (most probably), I recommend sending a brief hand-written note to the CEO. Include a resume and a link to a website giving a showcase of your high quality work. Explain why you have chosen the company (from your research), and why you are a perfect potential employee. Ask for a meeting with the senior person in charge of the area that interests you.
If you haven’t heard back after two weeks, call the company and ask to speak to the CEO (by name). When asked “what is this about”, by his or her assistant, you might offer:
“Hi – this is John Doe. I’m following up on a note I mailed to CEO_name about arranging a meeting with TechLead_name”.
When asked what the meeting is about, be confident:
“I have been following Company_name for a while, and I think it’s a perfect match for my skills. I’ve been designing roller coasters since I was 14, and have recently graduated from Purdue with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I would like to arrange a meeting with TechLead_name to show my portfolio of roller coaster designs and discuss potential employment.”
You may be nervous
It might seem brazen to push for a meeting. What makes it ok?
- You are honestly passionate about the subject matter
- You have a body of work showcasing your passion
- You have identified the best companies and can explain why each is great
- You are taking the offensive in arranging meetings with leadership at these companies
You have credibility. You are not some fly-by-night salesperson. You are working to make both your life and the company better. Push.