Re: What does it take to get that first job?
I'm in a similar situation. I'm graduated from college with a degree in game design. Currently working two part time jobs to pay the bills. I have applied to a ton of places, still no job (only one interview but had to cancel because it was only a temporary job and I couldn't risk the move at the time for a 2-3 month job). I'm currently working to put out some more quality portfolio pieces to showcase my skills.
I have a portfolio site through "Behance.net" It's $99 for a year or $11 for a month. There are some other good sites that can host your portfolio as well (carbonmade, for one). These are just some options in case you do not know how to make your own website (like me).
Employers definitely want to see your work and what you can do; I would get a portfolio site up as soon as you can.
You probably hear this a lot but Networking is a big help in getting a job as well. It sounds like you are off to a good start with this by attending conferences and by meeting with companies.
Last piece of advice is to try getting an entry level job (much like you are doing), this could be internships or QA. I have heard a lot of people getting their start in QA and getting experience and then working their way up.
Keep your head up! And if you don't mind when you get that portfolio site I would be interested in seeing some of your work. Or is there a place where I can see your gameplay video?