Networking to your first games user research job

Networking to get started in games user research

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Applying to your first games user research job is difficult. Despite putting hours into a CV or cover letter, you often don’t even get an interview, and never hear back. 

This is disheartening, and eventually leads to disillusionment, and giving up on your dreams to work in video games. 

The odds are stacked against you

I once read that 70% of jobs don’t make it to job sites – so most of the available opportunities you’re not even hearing about. 

And 80% of jobs are filled via personal and professional connections – again making it very hard to get your anonymous CV to be read.

This occurs not because hiring managers are bad people, or intentionally trying to give jobs to their friends. They are receiving hundreds of job applications every day, and that quickly becomes unmanageable. There are endless people out there who apply to every games job, regardless of their suitability for the role – and so hiring managers have a lot of noise to get through. 

This makes it very hard to quickly identify ‘this is a suitable person to interview’ vs ‘this is just someone who applies to all games jobs’ (or even ‘this is just someone who applies to all user research jobs’). 

Even very strong candidates will often be mis-identified, and not make it to interviews.

Increase the odds by making hiring managers jobs easier. 

Wouldn’t it be good if hiring managers always identified your relevance correctly, understood your expertise, and at least gave you an interview? 

In this article we’re going to look at effective networking. By the end of this article, you will understand how to get recognition in the industry (without awkward handshakes), in order to get more interviews.

Networking doesnt have to be awkward

People assume networking is going to conferences, interrupting a group of hiring managers talking together, and handing out your business cards. So awkward, intrusive and intimidating! 

Especially in an industry where a lot of people identify as introverted (👋) I couldn’t imagine anything worse – and I have often been in the situation where I don’t have anyone to talk to, don’t feel brave enough to approach strangers and so drink endless free coffee and wait…

These days, it is possible to build genuine connections virtually. We’ll look at some techniques for doing that, and some mistakes to avoid.

Getting the basics sorted

You need to create the impression that you want to work in games user research. LinkedIn is the most appropriate for professional contexts, but Twitter is where a lot of professional conversations happen already. You should consider having accounts for both.  

🚀 Do this now: Update or create your LinkedIn and Twitter profile, so that it reflects your interest in games user research

Be professional online

The industry is extremely small, and so always being professional and friendly is very important. This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be stuffy + business focused in how you communicate online, but do look out for red flag behaviours such as abuse or discrimination.

Especially in shared spaces, like conferences or the GRUX discord – a lot of very experienced industry people are lurking, and unprofessional conduct will be noticed. 

🚀 Do this now: Review your previous interactions on Twitter or LinkedIn, and identify whether your online presence is professionally appropriate. Change how you conduct yourself online if not! 

Join in with existing conversations

Every week, there are discussions on the Games Research + UX Discord, aimed to encourage contributions at all levels.

As well as the GRUX discord, games user research conversations are happening elsewhere online – the GamesUR twitter account does a great job at collating some of them

You can find more people talking about games user research by searching on the hashtags #gamesUR or #GRUX, and join in the conversations. Reply to other people’s threads and ask questions. Interactions grow familiarity, and will help people recognise you as a person interested in the industry. 

If you need a list of people to follow, I put together a quick list of people who tweet about games user research here. (I will add more when the spam limit calms down…)

Don’t hold back on asking questions. I believe that questions reflect well on the person asking them (it’s better to ask than to remain ignorant), and a lot of researchers active on social media have time to explain their points better online!

🚀 Do this now: Join the GRUX discord, and look at what is being talked about. Join in with a conversation

Make genuine connections on the internet

At its heart, networking is making friends. Or at least – making acquaintences. Treating making friends as a transaction is transparent and icky. I’ve seen juniors act in this predatory way at conferences, very consciously seeking out the people who work at big companies, and rejecting those who are not. It’s not subtle, and not good, and will set you back….

You’ll need to reframe your goal as ‘making genuine connections with games user researchers on the internet’. That may eventually create new opportunities, or reduce the number of times accidental rejections occur, but those are side benefits rather than our main objective.

The easiest place to start is with your immediate peers – other people looking to start their own career in games user research. The people who were learning GUR when I started are still some of my most trusted and most closest industry friends, who I can (and have) asked to support me at different times in my career. That network will grow with you, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Connections don’t even have to be about career things. Why not make a smaller community inside the games user research community for those people who are interested in roguelikes? Or cosy games? Or baking?

Making connections, first with your immediate peers, and then with the wider community is a long term investment in your future.

🚀 Do this now: Make a list of the people you identify as your peers, and send one of them a nice message! 

Doing useful things to create an open

The first approach to talk to a stranger can be very difficult. That’s the kind of awkward interaction that I want to avoid. If you are doing something useful, or involved in an activity together that approach becomes much easier. It gives you a reason to be talking and something to talk about.

People new to the Games Research and UX community assume you have to be on the steering committee to start a new initiative or to help out. This is not the case – the conferences need volunteers, and the community welcomes new initiatives being led by anyone, regardless of experience. I started the mentoring scheme and jobs board, and both of these can always do with more support. As can the other initiatives that people have started, such as the reading club.

Join the discord, see what is going on, and then volunteer to help out or start something new. They don’t just help your CV, but also start to create genuine connections by working together with other researchers. As an added benefit people will start to come to you and open conversations, so you no longer need to make approaches yourself – people will approach you! 

Doing useful things doesn’t have to be a big initiative. It could just be writing an article about a topic that will interest the community, or something you have tried and how it went – again it gives people a prompt to talk to you, and will lead to discussions. Lots of small efforts build up over time, and start to build a strong network of people you know, and who know you. 

🚀 Do this now: Think about your interests, and consider what initiative you could start, or help with – or what article you could write. Share your thoughts publicly to create the opportunity for people to engage.

Ask genuine questions

I have found the games research community to be very friendly, and willing to give up their time to people interested in understanding the discipline better. This has been evident through events like the office-hours initiative in the GRUX community. If you are not already part of the mentoring scheme, sign up for the opportunity to meet someone in the industry and learn about it. Many researchers respond positively to  LinkedIn messages, to answer questions.

Meet existing researchers, ask them about their role, how they got into the industry and show a genuine interest. It’s often very obvious if you’re just interested in a job, rather than treating every conversation as a learning opportunity. Leave everyone you speak to with a positive impression about you and your enthusiasm for games user research – It’s a very small industry, and so you will bump into the same people again and again.

To stand out even further – show you’ve done your homework. Find something you think will be interesting or relevant to them, and be helpful by sharing it with them. Particularly for researchers who are active on social media, there are a lot of clues about what aspects of research they focus on, or find interesting, and being genuinely helpful is a great way to start a relationship.

Overall, your goal is to not be a burden. People who start by asking me for an hour long meeting know that it’ll take me months to schedule that – whereas emails usually get a much quicker response. Make your ask proportional to how well you know each other! 

This will start to make connections with people outside of the job application process, and can inspire some great ideas about what you can do to get into the industry. This interview with Tyler Sterle shows how he approached these exact challenges as a student hoping to work in games. 

🚀 Do this now: Add me on Twitter, and start a conversation. I like to hear people’s perspectives on “what are the hardest bits of the journey to becoming a games user researcher”, if a prompt is helpful!

Networking reduces the chance that you will get missed

You won’t get your first job by networking. But by making genuine connections with other members of the industry, you will increase the chance that your application will be recognised and not accidentally rejected too early in the application process.

That’ll give you the chance to get an interview, and impress them with your deep research experience and understanding. 

Starting networking as an ‘in’ for any specific role is much too late – you need to start making friends in the industry well before any roles are advertised. But that’s ok. As you’re really making friends, and the benefits of making friends go well beyond just applying for jobs. 

What skills do you need to show with your interview? I asked a bunch of people who work in the industry already for their career tips. If you haven’t read this already, sign up to get it below.

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Meet the author

Steve Bromley is an expert user researcher, who works with studios of all sizes to run playtests, and integrate user research into the game development process.

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