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Business Card Titles: The Dark Truth About Student Business Cards

January 19, 2008

A few of you have asked me to post on titles students should put on business cards. Should you use a post-college, desired job title such a “game designer”? Should you list your present “occupation” as an “animation student”? Should you put something clever like Darius Kazemi’s original line, “A generally useful guy to know”?

Before I answer these questions, let me confess something – as a game developer, I threw away student cards either at GDC or as soon as I got home. This line is probably causing more than one of you to think, “Are you serious!?! What’s the point in bringing business cards, then?”

First off, yes, I am serious. I trashed them. Let me tell you why.

  • Saying you’re a student advertises you as not available for employment, at least in my mind. If you wanted a job, you’d be giving HR your resume. So, I don’t need to worry about your card. Out it goes.
  • I perceive that there’s no reason for me to contact you. If I need animation help, I’ll ask someone in the industry, not a student. If I need animation interns, a single post on our company site will bring us dozens if not hundreds of applications. Out goes the card.
  • In a nutshell, there is no added value to me as a game developer, and I know I’m not even close to alone in this. It is a very common practice. I have seen people throw them in the garbage or on a table right after the students leave. There are some exceptions like the super networkers (and you know who you are). I know all of you, though, so if I really need that contact, I know where to go to get it.
  • People also pitch cards of people who seem undefined. If you’re John Carmack, you can put that and just that on your card. If you’re Bobby Smith from Duluth, and you don’t at least give me some way to define you, I will pitch it. (I will at least look you up online before I pitch it, but if I don’t find you, out it goes.)

Naturally, this leads you to think, “Hey Brenda, you idiot. About a week ago, you told us to order business cards. What’s up with that?”

Here’s what’s up with it, and it’s the single biggest point. It’s not about giving cards. It’s about getting them. Business cards get business cards. It is a reflex action. “Here’s my card,” you say, and out comes theirs automatically. Better yet, hand yours over while saying, “I’d love to get your card.” That card, that contact, could make a difference in your career. Now, the onus is on you to follow up, and well it should be. That person is already in the industry. They don’t need to contact you for a job.

In addition to giving cards to get cards, the business world’s form of grinding, having cards makes you look prepared. There are few people more embarrassed at GDC than those who don’t have cards or “forgot” their cards. When someone asks for yours, and you say, “I didn’t bring any,” or “I forgot mine,” you are also saying, “I didn’t do my homework, and I don’t understand that these cards are the economy at GDC. By the way, are you interested in hiring me?”

So what to put on those cards? Advice offered with a grain of salt follows:

  • Avoid the .edu email addresses, unless you’re a prof.
  • Be accurate. Don’t say, “Game designer.” Edited: Note that in business, the assumption is that these are professional titles – i.e. you work or have worked somewhere doing this for a living in a professional capacity just like a chef or a policeman is doing something for a living. Say, “Aspiring Game Designer” or “Game Design Student”. It doesn’t mean you don’t design games. You might do that like crazy.
  • Offer something. Darius Kazemi had “a generally useful guy to know” on his business card. I met Darius a three or four years ago at GDC, and he may even have been a student at that time. Anyway, it struck me as funny, but being funny isn’t enough. I can laugh and forget. About two days into the show, I was trying to connect with an old friend of mine, and I remembered Darius’ card. So, I called him and said, “Your card says you’re a generally useful guy to know, and I’d like to put that to the test.” He connected me with that friend the very same day. How successful was that card for him? Hard to say, but it worked for me. His site, Tiny Subversions, contains loads of info on networking stuff like this. Maybe he’ll chime in here.
  • Advertise. I remember another card that a graduating student was passing out. It said, “Will code for food.” On the back, it listed his key skills and willingness to relocate. I didn’t need a coder, but I knew a friend that did, so I gave her the card.

I bet my count of student cards goes way down this year.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2008 11:42 pm

    Well said. Another topic you might address, and one I can attest from personal experience is in much need of definition, is the after-GDC procedures: how to follow up, what to say, and how often to say it.

  2. January 20, 2008 1:02 am

    Oye, I really need to get to this conference. The anticipation is killing me.

  3. gmunster permalink
    January 20, 2008 2:30 am

    Thank you soooo much for posting this. Today I was trying think of what to do about my own business cards and getting all anxious about it, so this reeeeally helped me out. It definitely makes me feel a lot more confident about GDC and how to successfully network! And I agree with David McD, a follow-up GDC post would be greatly appreciated as well. Thanks again!

  4. January 20, 2008 5:40 am

    And the truth comes out! 🙂

    I completely thought that my cards won’t be kept. I put I was a student – an honest fact, I am not employable yet, at least until August or something anyway (and I haven’t got any demos to prove my worth ready yet anyway 🙂 ).

    So it’s good you throw them away – like emails which clog up the inbox, there’s no real point in keeping something you’ll never use, especially if you get hundreds. Depends on the people you meet though – I suppose if the student was researching a relevant area of your work, you’d want to contact them and see how it was going (or check their site).

    And my line says: “Student, AI programmer”, not exactly the best grammar, but oh well, I’m doing Computer Science and not much else fits.

    And the whole “after GDC” thing would be useful if you could do a post on it 🙂

  5. January 21, 2008 3:58 am

    A very interesting post. But I think it might depend where are you residing and the type of people you’re giving your card to. I’m studying Interactive Design in Mexico and a year ago I had to print out contact cards for a big event I was to attend. A couple of days after I have out just a couple of this cards I received a call from a Museum here in Mexico who hired me for the fall-winter semester as a Interactive Developer for a few projects they had in mind.

    Even if, for personal reasons, I’m not working anymore with them, that business card did get me a job. And just as that call I’ve received 4 in the last 4 months asking for web design or intermediate computing classes. They are all small works, but I’m still a student and they have all given me some economic incomes and work experience with different types of bosses.

  6. January 21, 2008 7:51 am

    @Ryoku – Good point there. People have different objectives, and clearly some are coming to the conference looking for employees or potential interns.

  7. January 23, 2008 10:40 am

    I can attest from personal experience that not having a business card can end up being pretty embarrassing. At my first Post Mortem, I didn’t have a card and no one had any way of knowing my e-mail or cell. When I got home that night, I immediately looked up tips for designing business cards and even analyzed Darius’s and other Post Mortem people’s cards. Made mine the next day (with my mod team’s name) and it’s a good feeling to be able to just whip them out when I need to, whether or not there’s a job in it for me.

  8. ThomasJLKastner permalink
    January 28, 2008 7:13 am

    Why shouldn’t I say Game Designer? So now all the sudden you have to actually be working for a big developer or released games to actually design them? A group of my friends and I are trying to get a company started. How am I not a game designer if I am designing games? It just seems counter productive to not take pride in the fact that I make games.

    You should probably add that you shouldn’t be an ass while talking to people. Seems like that is a completely obvious statement but I’m a student and I’ve thrown away cards of people in the industry simply because I remember their name and their company and I have no interest in even seeing them again. I could tell you a story about how during the early morning hours a big time art director was drinking outside of the hotel, crapping on random people that were entering the building. I was one of those people. I was really nice to him and gave him one of my business cards after he pretty much forced one of his on me. But really I wanted to go get sleep, not sit there and have this drunken idiot talk about how he has godly skills in Maya/Max/Photoshop and I’ll never amount to anything. He hasn’t seen my work, how the hell would he know? His card ended up in the garbage and I’d rather not be in the game industry than work as an artist for that company. I was really nice to him so he wouldn’t even know that I was a little upset because he was trying to ruin a good night for me. Actually I’d be surprised if he even remembered anything because he was pretty wasted.

    Maybe it is stating the obvious but not being a jerk and not standing in front of the entrance to your hotel talking to everyone that walks by might be a good idea if you want to meet people interested in talking to you. People are tired and likely want to go to sleep when arriving at a hotel after 12am. But if you are victim to this type of behavior it is best to just smile and try to end the conversation as soon as you can. Don’t give them anything to remember.

  9. January 28, 2008 10:54 am

    “Why shouldn’t I say Game Designer? So now all the sudden you have to actually be working for a big developer or released games to actually design them?”

    Thanks for bringing that up. You can, of course, put whatever you like on your business card. The presumption is that the title on your business card is a professional title – something that is providing you a revenue stream. It’s what you do for a business.

    I brought this up because it was a running joke at GDC a couple years ago. 12 million (or maybe it just felt like that) students all showed up with “Game Designer” on their cards. Maybe they designed games, but they were not yet doing so in a professional capacity. Again, that’s the assumption, but ultimately, you can put Zoo Curator on your card if you want.

  10. January 28, 2008 8:02 pm

    Ah, the Zoo Curator, AKA Lead position!

    Great article/rant on student business cards. I recently graduated from college and thankfully enough our professional development teacher had enough sense to specifically tell everyone not to put ‘student’ or ‘in training’ or any variation on their business corrospondence or cards.

    Another thing that could be addressed is not just the titles on business cards, but also the overall design and layout. Nothing turns me off more than a business card that is too busy for it’s own good. It makes me think that someone is trying to distract the receiver from lack of content or they are just tryng too hard.

  11. April 10, 2008 6:47 pm

    A bit late posting here, but I thought I’d throw in my two cents as a professional game developer.

    First of all, your business cards are still important, students. The main thing you should be doing is trying to network. Yeah, some developers will get more student “contacts” than they really care to, but your business cards should also be going to other students. Other students at the event are probably interested in breaking into the industry just like you. Maintain contact with them and you might be the “friend” they recommend when they get an industry job and hear about job openings at the company. The industry is still rather small, so if you make friends early it can help you through your whole career.

    Also, you should be working on a demo or portfolio. Finding other eager students that are willing to work on a project should be a priority. Especially if you’re not at a school that has a degree relating to game development, finding other people can be difficult, especially to fill in some specialized roles.

    Finally, don’t assume all professionals will throw away your card if it says “student”. Some of us, particularly smaller ‘indie’ developers, may want interns or people willing to work on the cheap. For example, I’m looking for an experienced Flash developer, and I’ll take a student (or anyone) that can commit to a certain minimum number of hours per week for minimum wages. The important thing is to mention what you’re studying and what skills you have. Also, don’t try to hide the fact you’re a student, despite the advice here; the person you’re trying to woo might get even more upset if the fact you’re “just a student” comes out later. Better to let them dismiss you out of hand instead of “wasting their time” and having them hold a grudge about this.

    IMHO, any good game developer should always be learning (that is, “a student”), so just because you’re younger doesn’t mean you’re not a possibly valuable member of a team. But, obviously, not every professional developer is looking for the same thing. Make sure to network with your peers who probably won’t be tossing your card instead of hoping to get a “lucky break” by handing your card to someone with a big name.

    My thoughts.

  12. Alicia permalink
    June 26, 2008 1:41 pm

    Thanks SO MUCH for posting this. I really helps.

  13. May 26, 2010 10:29 pm

    This article (as well as the follow-up comments) helped me get an insider’s point of view. I attend a game school where half of the student population went to GDC, and this is the advice I’d regretfully like to tack on:

    Bathe. And wash your clothes. If people can smell you before they see you, there’s something wrong. I’m not joking, I’ve seen this at conferences before, thankfully mostly on the student side of the floor, but it’s a horrible, horrible thing. When events say “casual” it does not mean you should show up in stained t-shirts and holy jeans – or the dreaded ill-fitting knit shorts. If you are looking to make professional contacts, be decently dressed. Wear a nice shirt that fits you, and the same with bottoms. Make sure you take a shower, brush your hair and teeth, and don’t look like you spent all night in a hotel party even if you have.

    Casual does not mean unprofessional.

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  1. GDC Advice for Students « Applied Game Design
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