Ethan Levy is currently a student at The University of Southern California, and holds an intern position at a game development studio which shall be known only as Super Duper Fun and Happy Game Co. for security reasons. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the fourth of a six-part series on breaking into the games industry.
Part V: Networking Right
I recently came back from the Game Developer Conference Europe, which I was able to attend thanks to an IGDA Student Scholarship, and while I was there, I witnessed a funny sight.
I watched and listened to people networking, but my absolute favorite moment came while listening to a young woman trying to make a connection with an older man who was working on a very prestigious team. She was being flirtatious with him, which is a fantastic maneuver if used subtlety, when she blurted out what I considered to be an embarrassing comment on her own personal hygiene. In a surprisinly cheery voice, and without any prompting or connection to the conversation, she said something to the effect of “I love wearing black because I just sweat so much, and that way no one can tell.”
“Oh no,” I thought after seeing the reaction on the older man’s face. While it was a fairly relaxed atmosphere after a long day of lectures, I thought it was a pretty unfortunate mistake. Now, I’m no master of schmoozing, but I think I’ve learned a few things over the years that are worth passing on.
If you know that you are attending an industry event where there will be a chance to network, make sure that you come prepared. One of the most important components is to come with plenty of good business cards.
It sounds remarkably simple, but you’d be surprised at general lack of preparation that usually goes into the simple act of creating and carrying business cards. Your business card design is very important, as it is the one tangible thing that a contact walks away with to remember you by.
Design and layout are matters of personal preference, but there are some important guidelines. First, it is of primary importance that your card has accurate contact information. If your card has old information which you have to cross out and rewrite, not only does it look unprofessional, but there’s a good chance that the recipient will not see or be able to read your correct information.
Don’t use crazy fonts or colors that you think will be cute or memorable, because they tend to make the card harder to read. Complicated background images are also a big mistake. I could go on for too long about proper business card design, but it all boils down to this: make sure your card is tastefully designed and easy to read.
Proper attire is also important while networking. One of the most vital elements to good networking is the first impression, the key component of which is the way you look. I prefer one of two approaches — either wearing something that makes you feel good or something that can provide an interesting topic of conversation, such as a “Trogdor the Burninator” T-shirt. But as I’ve said many times before, the most important thing to wear while networking is confidence.
There are two big mistakes that I see over and over again, usually in an unhealthy combination, which I have labeled Napalming and Premature Ejaculation. Napalming is the act of blanketing the room with your business cards, making sure that no one can escape without knowing how to get in contact with you. Premature Ejaculation is the act of beginning every conversation by exchanging business cards, having a short and meaningless conversation and promptly leaving. When used in combination, the conversation usually sounds like this:
NPE: “Hi, here’s my business card. My name is Napalming Premature Ejaculator (NPE).”
AHV: “Nice to meet you NPE. I’m Another Hapless Victim (AHV). Here’s my card. MEANINGLESS SMALLTALK QUESTION?”
NPE: “Well, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH.”
AHV: “That sure is interesting.”
NPE: “Anyways, nice to meet you. I’m going to go spread my business cards elsewhere, no one can escape my fury.”
After twenty or so of these conversations, I generally have a pocketful of business cards that I will invariably toss in the trash as soon as I get home.
You see, the key to networking is a meaningful connection that you can follow up on. Don’t come right out and say, “You should hire me,” which I have heard people say with absolutely no prompting. Instead, work on dropping something small that you hint at, something that gives you a reason to contact the person in the near future. Then, if you see interest, you’ve reached the climax of the conversation and it is time to exchange business cards. I think it’s a good idea to write something on the back of the card that serves as a reminder of your conversation, and perhaps add a mobile phone number. This way, when you do follow up, the contact can look at your business card to remember what it was you talked about.
And always follow up! Otherwise there’s no point of going through all the trouble of networking.