Brian Phillips and few members of the Basement recently got the chance to talk as a panel to the local SIGGRAPH group. There were a lot of specific questions about our company, our projects, and what not... but throughout the entire QA session there was a strong underlying theme of "How do I become a _________". Fill in the blank with any multimedia job... be it 3D, design, project management, development, entrepreneur, etc.
When I was in college I had the same question. Its almost something that you won't understand the answer to until you just do it, but there are a few tips that you can keep in mind that should help steer you in the right direction.
1. You absolutely have to learn to learn. Make sense? Good. What I mean is, you have to be able to teach yourself and not depend on a professor to push you. If you want something then get it. You want to be good at Flash? Buy some books, look up tutorials, follow the blogs, and give yourself assignments that will give you new skills and set you apart from your peers. Start the habit early and continue it throughout your entire career.
2. Internships. Do as many as you can. Besides being a great experience and chance to check out the "real world", its also a great networking tool that will drastically increase your chance of getting a job. Even if you don't get a job at that immediate company, you should still be able to make connections within that company who may know of a place that is hiring and can put in a good word for you. On that same note, make sure you maintain your contacts by touching base every once in awhile.
3. Build a portfolio. Sorry to say it, but unlike what you may have heard, your GPA and degree mean absolutely bupkiss. If you don't have a portfolio then you don't have an interview. In our field, your portfolio is your first impression, not your resume. Unfortunately I did not learn this until after I graduated. I spent the summer after graduation making my online portfolio, which is dated now, but at the time it allowed me to get my foot in the door. Don't wait. Start putting it together as soon as possible. Also, on that same note, treat every project as a portfolio piece. Your work is your resume... its a reflection of yourself... treat it as such.
4. Once you have a solid portfolio, reach out to companies in your area of interest. Don't wait for job postings (although look there as well). Find companies, send them your work and see if they are interested. They may not have something now but it could lead to something later. Also, they may be able to help in other ways by giving you feedback on your portfolio or giving you the contact information of other companies who may be hiring.
5. Lets say you can't find the perfect job. Do it anyways. Huh? You'll obviously have to do what you have to in order to pay the bills (and no, I am not talking about prostitution). Either get a job close to what you want or a job that pays well so you don't have to work that much. Then do whatever it is you really want to do at night and on weekends. Spend your free time freelancing for companies, doing projects for family/friends, or even making up companies and making website comps for them just to expand your portfolio. Always continue doing what you want to do and eventually you will end up doing it for real. Your hobby/night job will eventually catch a break and become your day job.
That should be enough to get the ball moving. Feel free to reach out if you have any specific questions.
And on that note I will leave you with an inspirational quote...
"All you have to do is want it". - Palin / Fey