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Networking: You’re Doing it Wrong

I have an awesome job. I seriously do. I can’t think of anything in the world I’d rather be doing to make ends meet. Every few months, (or weeks lately), I run into someone who asks me what sort of mystical forces I employed to secure my role at Harmonix. While I’d love to admit that I did indeed sell my soul, the truth is actually very simple. Like so many of my colleagues, I got my foot in the door through networking – meeting the right people, at the right time, in the right place.

While I really enjoy chatting with people about my work, about games, and about life in this crazy, eclectic, and frenetic industry, I’ve been finding that, lately, my encounters with wannabe developers are more and more … awkward. The market out there is tough for anyone job searching right now – it’s especially tough if you’ve been trying, as one of my friends has, for five solid years to get your foot in the door in games. But no matter how tough the times are, or how desperate you are to land your dream gig, there are some extremes to which you should never go. (Like you should never drunkenly message a developer on their pseudononymous facebook account, or muscle in on someone’s family time). The best advice I can give anyone who wants to start a career in this industry is to make connections – and do it in meaningful, unobtrusive, ways.

Based on my interactions with friends, students, and fans, at conventions, meetups, and in general social situations, I’ve come up with the following list of Dos and Don’ts for networking within the industry. While a lot of this is common sense, I’ve found that our field seems to be a place where enthusiasm (or general awkwardness) often trumps formality. If you’ve been looking for a push in the right direction – and want to ensure you’re seen as the potential colleague, rather than the creepy fan or friend-wannabe, check out the tips below.

(Also, this is just a quick and dirty list based on my own interactions. If you’d like a really intense guide to networking, specific to this industry, check out: http://tinysubversions.com/effective-networking/).

DON’T:

Approach a developer while you’re drunk:
There’s something to be said for liquid courage in certain situations (asking out one’s crush, singing karaoke, playing Rock Band in public), but when it comes to making professional inroads, leave the sauce on the side.

Ask for swag:
The best way to make yourself out to be more fan than potential colleague? Beg for free shit. If it’s offered, take it, but seriously, I’m not going to take you seriously if you’re that dude at E3 covered in gift bags and free shirts.

Demand the person prove their gamer cred:
Maybe this happens because I’m a woman, maybe it happens because I apparently can’t detect when people are assholes, but I’ve had multiple occasions where someone has grilled me about what games I play, on what difficulty, for how often, and why. There’s a difference between a friendly, “so what do you play in your spare time?” and the very aggressive, “oh really, so what games DO you play?…Really? You play those?” Be mindful of your tone when approaching someone who you might later want to use as a reference.

Use someone that you don’t know well as a reference:
There is nothing that makes me quite so ragey as when someone I don’t know (or who I’ve never met) tries to use me as a reference. If you want to use someone as a reference, you should have at least met them in person, or feel comfortable enough with your mutual acquaintances that you can ask for their rec. Using someone’s name when you don’t have a relationship with them (or you haven’t asked) is a surefire way to get your resume tossed out – even if you’re abundantly qualified for the job.

Call or text at inopportune times:
My first E3, someone who got my number lord knows how, called me at 5:30 am just to chat. I had gone to bed two hours prior. Recently a person that approached me for advice texted me a follow up question at 7am. I don’t have to be in the office until 10, I’m definitely not awake at 7. If you want to follow up with someone after a conversation, email is really the way to go. If you must use the phone, try to do it during normal work day hours.

Insult their games/work:
Again, this should be common sense, but it’s not. If you approach me, say, after I’ve given a talk at a small meetup, or at a networking event, and open with: “Rock Band sucks” or “Dance Central is wicked gay” I’m not going to be very inclined to listen to you let alone offer you advice. I wouldn’t include it if I hadn’t seen it happen, to a number of developers, on a variety of occasions. Critiques are awesome, insults are not.

"My default to stranger touching is an elbow jab."

Invade someone’s physical space:
A number of really awesome industry people have written about why this isn’t cool. One of my favorite synopses is included in @qort’s The People I Want To Stop Running Into At Video Game Industry Conferences . Seriously. I don’t care that we make jokes on twitter with each other – don’t assume you can hug me. My default to stranger touching is an elbow jab.

Get too familiar:
In very plain English: just because we had a great conversation does not mean a developer is now your BFF…or interested in dating you. Yeah, seriously, be professional, don’t ask a developer out right after you’ve grilled them about how to get a job. Just don’t.

Forget to introduce yourself:
A simple, “Hi, I’m _____” followed by a business card goes a long way.

DO

Make business cards:
The more creative, the better.

Approach someone in an appropriate setting:
Awesome places to approach someone: at a con, a meetup, a networking event, a charity drive.
Not awesome places to approach someone: in the bathroom, while they’re with their family, at a strip club, at a gig where they’re performing.

Be respectful of their time:
Keep this in mind especially if you’re approaching someone after a panel. Generally there’s a line of other folks waiting to talk with the speaker. Be considerate of them and of the fact that the person you’re approaching may be in a rush to hit up another appointment.

Stay on topic:
This ties into the point above. You may not have a ton of time to “pitch” yourself or your skills to someone. Don’t derail yourself with comments about their tshirt, tattoos, tweets, etc…

Ask for a reference:
If you’ve had an awesome, meaningful, conversation, follow up with the dev you’ve met later. Thank them for their time and ask if they’d be cool being your reference.

Heed their advice:
Don’t be a know-it-all. I can think of a very specific conversation where a young man, who was pretty aggressive in his tone, asked me for some pointers on getting his foot in the door. I asked him about his skills, interests, and hobbies, to get a better sense about his strong points. I made some recommendations based on our chat and his response was: “ugh, really? I’m already doing everything I need to do.” Seriously dude? If you were doing everything you needed to do, you wouldn’t be asking me for advice. If someone’s taking time out of their schedule to try to help you out, be courteous, listen, and give their suggestions a try before writing them off.

Follow up with an email:
And use your “grown up” email – you know, first name, last name.

Ask about open positions at their studio:
There might be a rec that has been posted but not publicized yet, or a position that you don’t even know you’re a fit for. Ask the person with whom you’re speaking about where you might fit in their organization.

Say “thank you”:
A little courtesy can go a really long way.

Here are some pertinent facts about Alli Thresher. She works on videogames, writes in her spare time, eats lots of vegan junk food, and quotes Metalocalypse with frightening regularity. Alli Thresher does not like writing bios or speaking in the third person.

Follow Allison HERE on Twitter.

Alli

Alli Thresher likes heavy metal way too much.
  • Ash

    Thanks so much for the article! These are some awesome tips that everyone should abide by. Can’t wait to see what you cook up next.

  • Extremely helpful, and we really appreciate you taking the time to write this. Beyond networking, I feel like there’s a little “life” advice in here too. It was good to formally meet you at East this year.

  • All excellent points!

    • Agreed, there is a ton if great info on here that folks should really pay attention to.

  • I know a few people who could benefit from this article. 🙂 Thanks for the fun read and good points.

  • MarcLynch

    This is a great foundation to build networking skills on. Even the common sense ones need to be talked about, sometimes. It’s kind of amazing how many people forget about those.