Career Coach Sonia Michaels Explains Why “Soft Skills” Are Hard and Other Job and Interview Tips

Sonia Michaels

Sonia Michaels is a career coach and consultant for gaming professionals in Greater Seattle. Additionally, she serves as the Department Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences at DigiPen Institute of Technology, where she’s taught communications, public speaking, and English for over 30 years. As a sought-after speaker, Sonia has presented at various conferences, including the GDC Number One Career Talk. She completed a three-year elected term on the IGDA Board of Directors in April, showcasing her involvement and commitment to the gaming industry. Sonia also received the Excellence in Teaching Award in June at the Indiecade Horizons Showcase.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Sonia Michaels shares her career trajectory
  • Why interpersonal skills are essential in education and the workplace
  • How to recognize if a company is suitable for you
  • Tips for mastering interview questions
  • Sonia offers advice on resume best practices  
  • Why you should invest in creating a marketable LinkedIn profile
  • Should you use ChatGPT to draft a resume?
  • Suggestions on how to improve public speaking skills

In this episode…

With the recent layoffs in the tech world, learning the art of interviewing is crucial for standing out as a job candidate. However, job interviews can be intimidating, but interpersonal skills can improve your chances of success.

Career coach Sonia Michaels expresses the severity of mastering interpersonal skills, such as active listening, conflict resolution, and communication. Communication is vital because it allows individuals to develop relationships, build personal brand identity, and improve team collaboration. It also helps to reduce conflict. Sonia shares that pushing yourself to network and talk to more people is an effective practice to improve communication abilities.

In this episode of the Here’s Waldo Podcast, Lizzie Mintus interviews Sonia Michaels, career coach and consultant and Department Chair of Humanities and Social Sciences at DigiPen Institute of Technology, about career and interview tips. Sonia shares why interpersonal skills are essential in education and the workplace, how to recognize if a company suits you, resume best practices, and more.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode...

This episode is brought to you by Here’s Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm specializing in the video game industry that prioritizes quality over quantity and values transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs and provide a white-glove experience that ensures a win-win outcome.

The industry evolves. The market changes. But at Here’s Waldo Recruiting, our commitment to happy candidates and clients does not. 

We understand that searching for the best and brightest talent can be overwhelming, so let our customer-first staff of professionals do the leg work for you by heading over to

Episode Transcript

Welcome to the Here's Waldo podcast, where we sit down with top visionaries and creatives in the video game industry. Together, we'll unravel their journeys and learn more about the path they're forging ahead. Now, let's get started with the show. I'm

Lizzie Mintus, founder and CEO of Here's Waldo Recruiting. This is the Here's Waldo podcast. In every episode, we dive deep into conversation with creatives, founders, and executives about what it takes to be successful. You can expect to hear valuable lessons from their journey and get a glimpse into the future of the video game industry.

This episode is brought to you by Heroes Valdez Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm for the game industry. We value quality over quantity, transparency, communication, and diversity. We partner with companies, creatives, and programmers to understand the why behind their needs. We provide a white glove experience that ensures a win outcome.

Today's introduction thank you goes to LinkedIn. Post on LinkedIn, you never know who will end up seeing your post. It might be Sonia Michaels, so thank you for reaching out. Sonia has taught professional communication, public speaking, and English for over 30 years and has also worked extensively as a career coach and admissions consultant.

Sonia has presented at GDC, number one career talk of 2023, FactsDev, FactsWest, and more. In April 2023, she completed a three year elected term on the Board of Directors of the IGDA. And in June 2023, she received the Excellence in Teaching Award at the IndyCade Horizons Showcase.

Let's get started. Thank you so much for being here. I'm excited to talk about all things career coaching, all things hiring in the game industry. It's just the perfect time.

Sonia Michaels: It's a lot right now. Yep.

Lizzie Mintus: A lot. It's, it's always important to talk about, but especially now with all of the layoffs before we get started, can you just share a bit about your background and what brought you to become a career advisor in games?

Sonia Michaels: Oh, goodness. I started out as an English teacher and just tripped and fell into this. I was teaching and my department chair started wanting me to do Business English and career communications. And I said, I don't really know how to do that. And they said go get a book and you will figure it out.

And I loved it because there's that instant gratification of somebody coming back to you and going, that resume! It helped me, I got this job, the interview, whatever. And so it was very different. And so I spent the last, close to 35 years teaching both English and communications and the last 16 of them working with the game industry because I've been teaching at DigiPen up in in Redmond just across the lake from here.

Lizzie Mintus: And you are there today.

Sonia Michaels: I'm still there. I am at the end of this semester. Terrifying big change. I'm going to step back from teaching and start to do some of the other stuff I want to do. Write the book I've been meaning to write, do more talks, more webinars. More coaching all of that stuff. I love teaching. It's just it's been a long haul.

After 35 years, I'm ready to stop grading. I think I want to keep teaching and just never grade anything ever again.

Lizzie Mintus: That's funny, but I'm happy that you are doing your own thing and following your heart and your path. I think that's so well received whatever business you're in when your heart's in it.

I know you've talked a lot in some of your talks about the importance of soft skills in the interview process. Can you get a bit into that?

Sonia Michaels: The first thing I should say is that whenever I say soft skills, I do it with little airy quotes because I hate the term soft skills. There's really nothing soft about them.

They're incredibly important skills. And one of the things I'm always reminding people I work with and students is that when a project crashes and burns, like when a team falls apart, it's actually not usually because people don't have the skills they need to do it. It's usually because of some kind of breakdown in communication, in leadership, in connection between the people among people on the team.

And so that's why I think it's so important to focus on that interpersonal stuff, as well as on getting the very specific skills you need.

My students are brilliant. I look at their art. They do stuff that I don't even understand what they're talking about, which is amazing.

And they also need to get the job and talk to people and work across functions and, programmers need to know how to talk to artists, different languages. And so that's what I've been working on for a very long time now is I actually created the class that I've been teaching for. little over a decade now, which is just basically all of the communication challenges that will hit you when you are ready to go get a job.

Everything from your resumes, your cover letters, your interviews to stuff like onboarding and performance reviews and leadership, like all of the communication challenges that people call soft skills, but they're really hard. So that's why my GDC talks we on: soft skills are hard.

Lizzie Mintus: They are hard. Can you get a bit more into that?

What specific ways can people improve their air quotes soft skills?

Sonia Michaels: Talking to people. Networking and a lot of my students have this kind of visceral, like ick reaction when I say networking. They're like, ooh, that's using people. No, it's not. It's actually making friends and you go out there, you go to something like GDC or PAX or whatever. And everyone out there in the game industry is exactly as weird and awkward as everyone in here in the classroom, including myself. I'm counting myself in that. And it's just make friends, talk to people, and when it comes to interviews, I think a lot of the time, people prepare too much for the technical stuff and not enough for the interpersonal stuff, because that's where people get to see what kind of teammate you're going to be and what your values are and whether you're going to be a good fit with the team.

And so that's why I focus so much on that stuff, because there's other people who can teach them about the whiteboard interviews and all of that. But I'm like, when you are asked to talk about a failure or a weakness, that feels like a trap, but it's so not a trap. It's a golden opportunity to show that something went wrong and how you reacted in a time of crisis and what you learned. You can tell a growth story out of it. And so I spend a lot of time talking to people about the fact that everything they say doesn't have to be shiny and perfect because sometimes talking about the weaknesses and the things that didn't go well, that's what's going to make someone go, okay, on this team, sometimes stuff falls apart and we need somebody who can roll with it.

That's always my focus when working with people is that these are going to be your colleagues and your friends and your teammates. So you might as well bring your authentic self, get to know them, let them know what kind of person you are.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, absolutely. But I think being vulnerable is scary and people feel especially scared to be vulnerable in an interview process. And I've had feedback, I've been a recruiter seven plus years, and sometimes the feedback is that the candidate seems arrogant, but I know that they are not arrogant.

They're just really insecure and projecting this big projection, but it ends up hurting them in the end.

Sonia Michaels: It does, which always makes me sad because I I love it when somebody tells me a personal story, when somebody is vulnerable enough to trust you with a part of themselves.

I love that so much and I'm always going to pick the person who will talk to me and be real with me. I understand where that impulse comes from. That kind of I'm going to tense up and I'm going to project this facade, but then not only do they not get to see the real you, you don't get to see the real them.

You don't know if you want to work with them, right? It's a two way street. And so I think that's also so important. If you're bringing yourself and you're being vulnerable and you're being open and honest and whatever, you should be getting that back, and in a professional sense, of course, from the people you're talking with. They should be honoring that and listening to you and asking you follow up questions rather than just brushing you aside and fine, let's move on.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I would agree. And I did want to talk about interviewing being a two way street, because I think that's a really common mistake. People get interviewed, but they don't interview the company.

So how do you recommend, are there certain questions or how do you recommend people discern if the company is the company for them or not.

I know that's a big question.

Sonia Michaels: It's tricky. And part of the reason it's tricky is because so many young people get into this because they love the product that a particular company makes. But loving the game doesn't necessarily mean you're going to love the culture or fit in with that company culture.

I want people to do a lot of homework. I want them to talk to people, connect with people on LinkedIn, talk to people they might know who've worked for the company, find out what it's really like there and figure out. The difference between fan and colleague. Same goes for interviews, cover letters, and so on.

If you write a cover letter, and it's all oh, I've been playing your games since I was 5 years old or whatever. 1, you're going to make people feel old. And then, 2, it's you're now a fan. You're not a prospective peer and colleague. And I want people to come at this as a colleague and find out ask questions about, the team and What's the day in the life like? Who would I be, who would I be reporting to? How many people would be on the team? When are the standups and how does everything work?

People should show that they're trying to visualize themselves doing the job. Yeah. And that, okay, that this person's actually interested in the job.

I think that's a really good way to approach it.

Lizzie Mintus: Exactly. And it's so important to have questions. When they ask you, do you have any questions? No is the wrong answer.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah, that's a wasted opportunity. And oh, I have a favorite question, though, and it's not mine. It's something that I got from actually from Katie Golden, who runs the Safe Point Industry Gathering, which is a wonderful nonprofit group.

Katie came in and talked about interviews to my class lunch, and she said that her favorite question is, at the end of the interview, you say, at this time are there any concerns that you still have about me as a candidate? Because I'd love the opportunity to address that now. Power move question, right?

It's terrifying for people to ask, but I always tell students, if you go ask that question, let me know how it goes. And some of them have messaged me like in the break between sections of the interview and, Oh my God, I asked the question and it was amazing. And I got to talk about stuff, so I love that question.

That is the best question. Thanks, Katie.

Lizzie Mintus: That's a good question. And it shows. What that you are open to hearing feedback and taking constructive criticism and you have a growth mindset, which I think probably every company is hoping to hire somebody with these fundamentals.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah. How can I do better? What can I do better to convince you that I should work here? And I love that question so much.

Lizzie Mintus: I like to ask, or advise, what does this job expect from me in the first 30, 60, 90 days? What would be doing a good job here? And is there anything I can do ahead of time?

Is there any skill that I could work on in the meantime? And that really shows that you're dedicated, you're interested, and that you're going to take it upon yourself, not that you need to work crazy hours, but you do need to have passion and the be personally connected and interested in the company enough.

Sonia Michaels: Ready to learn what you need to learn and like to know when you're doing it right. Like, how will I know when I've got it? How will I know when I'm up to speed? I love that.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. I hear that a lot of times people from school. I'm a very direct person. I'm going to go for it. People from school have a lot of experience. Let's say they made their own game in school and then they come in and they tell someone very senior about all the stuff they've done.

But it makes the senior person feel like they think that they've done all this stuff. But the senior person thinks that they haven't actually worked in a production environment and it's very different. How do you coach people through that scenario?

Sonia Michaels: Okay first of all when I'm working with students and I've worked with so many students and I love it. Our students at DigiPen, they work on projects. Every year, they've got team projects that they do and they have to do all the roles. And so some of them have like titles on their school projects, like creative director or lead. And I'm like, okay, first of all these are really load, this is loaded language and yes, somebody is going to look at this resume and go, Oh dear.

Lizzie Mintus: You're not a creative director.

Sonia Michaels: You're really not a creative director. So yes, if that was your official title, you also did other stuff. Maybe you were the VFX artist or you were the tools programmer. So lead with that. If you are going to use the word, lead, you have to show somewhere on your bullets and whenever you're talking about what you've done, you have to show what that leading actually involved. Guided a team of four other artists to do this thing. You can't just say, I was a lead and we expect people to accept that. There's absolutely this thing and it's 3 years of experience is not 3 years of academic experience. It's like dog years, and so I'm always telling people be careful around that stuff.

Make sure it's clear. You're not trying to pass off academic projects as professional projects, and you're not trying to claim experience that you don't actually have. But I think, again, as long as they telegraph all of that clearly and, don't come across, I am ready for a senior role, they're generally okay.

Lizzie Mintus: That is such an issue. I remember I had a more junior candidate interview once, and they put C++ expert on their resume. They had one of those charts and that was their expertise because that was their expertise. But the hiring manager told me this kid thinks that they're an expert in C++. How could that be? They're just graduating school.

Sonia Michaels: That's why I like one of my absolute pet peeves on resumes is when people try to do that thing where they have like life bars. Like four stars or diamonds or whatever, because if you give yourself four out of four stars, first of all, what is a star?

If you give yourself four out of four stars, you're saying that you are the expert. You're a junior in college, but if you're honest, then you give yourself what one and a half, two and a half stars. That looks mediocre. You don't want to look mediocre either. So ditch the little life bars and present the skills in the order in which you're prepared to talk about them.

There are ways to show your expertise level that aren't stars, hearts, or diamonds.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, how would you recommend articulating it into your resume?

Sonia Michaels: Again, because years are so complicated, I know that some people are like, just put the number of years and if you're a student, we'll realize that they're academic years, which is fine. Otherwise, I think basically cross referencing between the job posting, the skills that they're looking for, the skills that you have in the order in which you're comfortable with them... put that together and then, we've got something in order that isn't just a huge laundry list of skills. That is something that's clearly targeted to the position. And if I see something at the top of the resume, I'm like, okay, they put that there because they're really comfortable with it, and then down at the bottom, there's the stuff that maybe you you did a little project with. It's not the main thing. If you're not even that comfortable with it, don't even put it on your resume. Leave it off because if they say, let's solve a problem using this thing, you're going to be in trouble.

Lizzie Mintus: I had a very senior executive level person I was talking to, and they put that they were proficient in JIRA on their resume. And we talked about it and I was like, at your level, I think you could remove that. That's not going to be a make or break for the job. So I think there are skills, very fundamental, like a programming language or an art software that you're really proficient in that matter, but I think basic stuff like PowerPoint or any of the Microsoft products, for instance.

Sonia Michaels: Exactly. In some cases, it's if you're a systems designer, okay, maybe there's a reason that you're going to put Excel on there, but you have to be able to make it sing and dance. If you're a producer, there's different things that you need to show that you know how to use. Take off all the filler, take out all the strong work ethic. And that's table stakes, right? That's expected.

When I teach resumes, we actually do it all on the screen. We go through people's resumes together on the screen. We share them. We talk about them. The whole class, the whole group has suggestions to offer.

And it makes such a huge difference because you've got artists and programmers and designers and sound design, all in the same room. And they're seeing things that the one person alone just doesn't see. So it's fun to do it that way. I love group reviews.

Lizzie Mintus: I think that everybody needs that. Student, not student, everybody at some point in their life needs help with their resume and I wish there were better.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah. And I love doing that also because it reminds them still to collaborate. You know that it's not like this is the time when you're all competing for the jobs or whatever. These are still your people and you can work together and the designer can say, I don't understand what's that software you're talking about.

I've never heard of it. And then the artist can explain and so on. It's you're still collaborating with people, which is absolutely the best way. This is networking.

Lizzie Mintus: What other resume tips do you have?

Sonia Michaels: Oh, artists love to do this thing sometimes. Sorry, calling out my BFAs.

I love my BFAs. I love them beyond all reason. They're wonderful. But they do this thing where they put the icon for the software that they know how to use, and they don't put the word for the software they know how to use, which means that anything that's scanning the resume is not going to see the word.

And if they don't see the word, if it's through an automated system, that's just tragic. So I'm reminding people to have those key words in your resume.

Look at the job posting. Read it like you'd read a Shakespeare sonnet. Take it apart, look at what they want, look at the positioning of things, give them that. I think that's really important is that tailored resume there's the master document that you have somewhere that's three pages long. But that one page you're going to send out has to be focused on what this position is.

Lizzie Mintus: I would say one to two pages.

Sonia Michaels: Depending on level of experience.

Lizzie Mintus: One page for a student. Please take that you worked at McDonald's or Wendy's or Subway off of your resume.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah, I always figure you get a second page around 5 years or so of experience. When you've got enough experience that it's really getting cramped in there. But before that let's keep it on one page because recruiters are exhausted and overworked, too, and want to read all of the things. Just want to read the important things.

Lizzie Mintus: Make it really easy when I started recruiting. My manager told me that the average recruiter spends 7 seconds on a resume and I was appalled. But as I have become a very proficient recruiter, you do scan and you don't spend that long. And I really need to understand what you have done and also what you want to do, because sometimes that's super unclear. Like you said, if you're in school and you've done all the roles and you've been a VFX artist and you've been a designer or even in your career, it's super confusing for me to know what you want to do now.

Sonia Michaels: They got to have that title up there. What is the job that you want here? Make life easy for the person who's going to read this. One recruiter isn't just going, I'm going to spend all day recruiting for this one single position. There's all kinds of stuff. So yeah making it easy for the reader is so important.

So positioning things, formatting things so that the reader can go, okay, I know where I'm supposed to look now. There is a sort of a level of. soMetimes a little bit of creative formatting, okay, that's nice, but not when it kills the readability of the document. And that's what happens so often.

And I don't need to tell you, I'm sure you've seen it all, but yeah, I want everything to be readable because I want people to have some compassion for the person who's the end user of this document,.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, you have to make it easy. I think when you start interviewing to and you read a lot of resumes, it becomes clear.

But if you're not in an interview position, it's can be a mystery. Is there a resume that you as your go to template, where do you suggest people even start on the Internet?

Sonia Michaels: I hate templates. I think templates are evil. I think there are some really good formats that work beautifully. But what I find is that a lot of people go to a pre made template and it's pretty, but it's really hard to get your hands into it and change it. When you're ready for it to grow with you. It's oops, I can't change this font or this color blocking or whatever.

Templates often end up costing people a lot more time. I think that for game industry, specifically, the usual college advice is put your education at the top, but I often suggest that people put their projects higher up and, move their education down because just showing that you've done full cycle projects is really important.

Some schools do a bunch of them. Some do 1 or 2 as a capstone or something, but that's what's going to show people, not just that theoretically, how to do the thing, but that you've done the thing. So I usually try to get people to slide that stuff up. Any good resume is modular, right? It's got components and it's got, a nice, easy to read guilds list, which separates the kinds of things, software tools and skills and so on.

I don't think there's any one format that's perfect for anyone, but I want people to be really mindful about it. I want them to think, why am I putting this list here? Why am I putting these things in this list and not in that list? I want them to spend enough time on that. And I know it's time and I know it's extra work, but it's so worth it for the results at the other end when you come up with something that's like really clear and readable and elegant to look at.

Lizzie Mintus: Yes, you must take it very seriously because it's a ticket and the door just like a test from a company, within reason. I like when people have links to their portfolio as well and projects that they've done. They hyperlink it, but I'm always irritated if they hyperlink and the link doesn't work, or it's just a blank website, or they let go of the domain.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah, the dead links. And the other thing that I usually suggest, for the beautifully formatted resume, there are ways to make it so that the link is still clickable, but it's not like blue and underlined and ugly, right? You can actually make it so that the whole thing still works with your theme, with your colors. It takes five minutes. I always forget how to do it in between doing it because it's a little bit fiddly, but it looks so much nicer and sleeker and more professional when it's not just like hyperlink all over the place. Stuff like editing your LinkedIn link so that it doesn't have all the random stuff at the end of, after your name, little things like that, that add polish. I think are so important.

I love to see a resume where I don't even know why I like it so much. But, when you look into it a little bit deeper, it's because everything is just really polished and all the divider lines are the same width and the spacing's nice and all the end punctuation's nice. It's not even my conscious brain that's seeing it. It's my lizard brain. It's ooh, pretty, shiny. So I think it's just so worth spending the time doing that to just make it really beautiful and polished.

Lizzie Mintus: I agree, and I think that your LinkedIn is just as important, maybe more important than your resume and should be exactly the same things that you have on your resume.

Maybe you could expand and add more if you'd like, but everything should be there. I often see a beautiful resume with no LinkedIn or a great LinkedIn with no resume. And then people say, Oh, I'll just download my LinkedIn for you. But the format's all wonky. And that's just putting no effort into the interview process.

You can't even make a resume? You're just going to download your LinkedIn?

Sonia Michaels: How long does it take to just copy paste and, tidy it up a little bit? And I think sometimes the issue is that a lot of times people don't really understand what LinkedIn can do for them. And I've found that I have to talk with people a lot about that because they're like, oh, it's just one more, social media thing that I have to mess about with and so on, but I tried to remind them that this is actually a way for you. You've got all your active job searching, but then this allows you to put it out there and have people come to you and have people find you. So you better give them something to find. Sometimes people will submit a LinkedIn assignment to me and it'll be completely recursive. The only thing in the contact information will be the LinkedIn. You just trapped me in an eternal loop. I'll never forgive you. I want to go here and instantly I want to go, ooh, resume is over there, but projects are down here. And if I click, that's portfolio right there. And there's a featured link and it brings it to life. It can help so much, especially right now when there's just ridiculous levels of competition and layoffs and so on. It's your LinkedIn has to be alive.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, it's your personal brand. It's so important to keep it updated, keep it active, have a picture, make sure your title is correct. Because as a recruiter, I'm going to find you in a few different ways.

I'm going to search you through your company. At a well known company, you're more likely to get pinged because that's the way. I could look by degree, but I'm probably going to look by keywords. So just like you said, whatever keywords are on the job that you want should also be on your LinkedIn profile if you've actually done those things. So I can find you from the words.

Sonia Michaels: Words are really important. I've spent my life dealing with words. They're so important because nobody's going to know that you have the skills and you're really good at what you do unless you show them, unless you have it there for them to look at.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. I just saw a Volition had a big layoff and a sweet individual posted: I never post on LinkedIn, but I figured I'm updating my portfolio, so I just wanted to post it here. It had a ton of traction and I liked it and commented so it would get more traction. But I've had so many people. tell me they're uncomfortable with putting themselves out there like that, which I do... I guess I don't really relate to because that's what I do all the time. I have this podcast, I have my business, that's okay for me.

But I understand how some people might feel that way. But the amount of views, the amount of traction you're going to get, you never know who's going to look at your LinkedIn post or your LinkedIn profile. We got connected from LinkedIn.

That's amazing.

Sonia Michaels: Exactly. Because like in times of layoffs, it makes everyone really miserable. But then every now and then I see a post, I think my favorite layoff post, probably of all time, did you see the guy who did the baby's first layoff post? No, it was brilliant.

I connected with him on LinkedIn because I was doing a talk on layoffs for PAX and I was like, please, can I use your post? He was like, sure, as long as you give me credit. I think his name is Lee Moskowitz. And he like he's not in games, but I just saw this thing. It was like baby's first layoff. And it was this little pastel thing that was so brilliant and it made me smile. I thought that's so good. It humanized him and it showed that even though he was in a rough place, he was able to have a sense of humor, some resilience, all of that stuff. And I was just so impressed by the presence of mind to do something like that. He had a t shirt, baby's first layoff, and I just thought it was adorable. His LinkedIn is fantastic. He's got a podcast now too. I don't even know the guy, but but he seems like he's doing it right.

Lizzie Mintus: He is doing it right. I like that a lot. I always like the creative posts people have, or even when they're real.

Hey, I've been searching for three months. Here's some feedback I've gotten. Let me know if you have any leads. I really appreciate that.

There's a few people on my LinkedIn who both just found jobs, but I always read their posts and I always follow along. I have a couple of final interviews. I'm nervous. I like to read it, even if I'm not commenting or engaging.

Sonia Michaels: It's a story. By the end of it you have a stake in it.

Lizzie Mintus: I was pretty invested.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah, and I love how the community comes together, Amir Satvat's big game industry job list and so on, like the things that people are doing to help each other, it's so hopeful at a time when that things can be really disheartening for people. It's so nice that people are out there offering their time and mentoring and putting together these wonderful lists and resources.

There's a lot of stuff about the game industry that has traditionally not been that great, but this is one of the great things. Anytime there's a layoff or a studio closure, like the industry comes together to help people. And I love it.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. Amir has been amazing.

I want to give him a shout out. If you don't follow Amir, check him out here. I'll post it on the website so you can find it. And if you're a good recruiter, you'll definitely find it. But he has a whole list of all the studios that are hiring, but what's really important and what I think is impactful is he has the list of people that have volunteered their time to be mentors, from recruitment to design to engineering anything games. And these are people that are have opted in and are willing to talk to you and help you. Don't feel bad. Just reach out. They really love to help. They want to talk to you. They've signed up on the list, but nothing could help more than people that will volunteer their time and give you some perspective for free.

Sonia Michaels: I love that. There's another guy who did something similar. Started a couple years back on Twitter. His name is Joe Hobbs, and he's an artist. He basically said, hey, game industry people, if you're willing to offer some mentoring to early career people and students, hit me up. And so there's also this spreadsheet of all of these people that Joe Hub's big list of connections. So between that, between Amir's list and so on there are so many people who just want to talk to you that it's amazing.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. I think if you post on LinkedIn to and ask, say that you're looking for mentorship, or could you use some guidance that people will reach out. I was really surprised when I joined the industry, people are just. Kind and passionate and really willing to help.

Sonia Michaels: They are. And it's I think it's so important for people younger as they're coming up to really understand what mentoring is. It's not just, I'm going to ask you a bunch of questions. It goes so much deeper than that. Knowing how to find a good mentor, knowing if it's a good fit, figuring out the kinds of questions you should be asking. Figuring out, in a mentor role, how you can give advice that's really actionable, not just keep doing what you're doing, which is thanks. But giving actual advice, receiving critique and so on. These are all things that you can get from mentoring relationships. Whenever you can get mentoring, take it all and then give it back, reach down behind you and pull people up the same way.

Lizzie Mintus: How would you discern if a mentor is the right mentor for you?

Sonia Michaels: I think that, wanting to help is a fantastic 1st step, but beyond that, I think a good mentor also needs to be able to empathize and understand the person that they're mentoring. If they might be for a really different background, right? There's some advice that might land differently coming from different types of people and, saying different things.

I've talked with so many guys who've just been like just tell them how you feel about the situation and put your foot down and don't stand for any of this. And I'm like, yeah, but then people are going to say, damn, she's an aggressive, whatever. I like it when people are self aware and give advice that's this might not work for you, but here's how I did it. Here's how I did it, and you might want to try it, and if you're not comfortable with that, maybe try this.

Again, it's got to be an organic relationship based on people actually getting to know each other, below the superficial.

Lizzie Mintus: I agree. I'm in a CEO group with a n organization called EO entrepreneur organization and in EO, we're paired with 8 to 10 people and you meet every month.

It's like CEO therapy, but 1 of the rules is that you're not allowed to give advice. You're only allowed to give what are called experience shares. And so somebody will say, here's my problem. And then everybody gives an experience share about something that resonates with them within the problem.

And that way you're not giving saying, hey, you should do this with your business. And then I do it and something really bad happens. And I'm still upset. But I like experience shows too, and just hearing how other people navigated similar situations because your problems are probably not unique.

There's only so many types of problems that you have, and so many people have the same problems.

Sonia Michaels: And so many people have been there from, any different angle that you could perceive. One of the greatest things I learned from a coach that I've worked with is that unsolicited advice is completely useless.

Because I'm a fixer, I'm that person who's Oh, you have a problem? And talking to him, then I was like, now I have to say, would you like to know what I think, or would you like to know what I would do in this situation or what I've done in this situation?

Especially with parenting, it's so hard, but it's so good to just like back off and wait until your advice is welcome.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I listened to a great podcast by Mel Robbins, and it's called The Let Them Theory. And I'm also a fixer, and I like to have things go smoothly according to schedule.

In the optimal way. So that's my nature and the let them theory is incredible. It's a really good podcast and she talks about how her son was going to prom and he hadn't booked a restaurant for his group and he was going to go to a stand up taco place that sat 10 people with a much larger group.

And her instinct was to say. No, let me help you get you in at whatever restaurant, but then she's been practicing "let them" and she let him do it and she let him make his own mistake. It's probably a really memorable experience that you will have and it's okay, right?

Sonia Michaels: Yep. And hey, maybe it was great. Maybe it was like, let's sit on the curb and eat tacos. It's so hard because you can see what's coming sometimes, but if somebody is not ready to listen, why risk the relationship you have with them to beat them down into doing things your way. So I think mentoring is also not do things my way, but here's what's worked for me. Like you said, share the experience and and acknowledge that things don't work the same ways for every person.

Lizzie Mintus: Absolutely. I think people are also hesitant to be mentors because of imposter syndrome. Even really successful people think, hey, what's somebody going to learn from me, but you can learn from anybody and you can have small takeaways.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah, absolutely. Imposter syndrome is endemic, right? It's all of us. There's times when, it's still rears up in my life and so on. But a few years ago, a friend and I started doing this little accountability thing where when we're having a day like that, and somebody types at you and Facebook Messenger, Discord, Oh, I'm such a useless, whatever. We just keep in a text file on our desktop. We keep their bio, their professional bio, paste it into the chat, and then say nothing for 10 minutes. And so they have to go and look at their bio, and then they come back and go, okay, I've done some really cool stuff, and so we do that for each other. And it might sound silly, but it's actually worked. Really well to just remind someone to go look at their own accomplishment.

Lizzie Mintus: That's a great theory. I had Linda Shad on the podcast who started Void Pets, which is a mental health game. And she said she named her imposter syndrome, Chad, and she like has a little character out of it.

Sonia Michaels: I love that. It's like naming your sourdough starter or something.

Lizzie Mintus: The Chad's imposter syndrome sourdough starter.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah that's pretty cool.

Lizzie Mintus: That's very pandemic of you to make sourdough or maybe just Pacific Northwest.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah, it's probably very Seattle. But yes, for a while there, there was Bob, but I let him die.

Lizzie Mintus: How do you think the job search approach has changed in the last couple of years? Do you think it's the same or was it updated?

Sonia Michaels: Oh, boy. It's a can of worms because it's the supply and demand thing, right? There's so many people looking for junior roles right now and so few junior roles to actually have. And still you'll see job postings and it'll say junior entry level must have shipped a AAA titlers. Okay, where would you like me to find that AAA title? I'm constantly reminding people that this is a wish list and that it's still okay to apply, even if you don't have 100 percent of the things, because it might be their wish list.

Honestly, if you could do a hundred percent of the things on that list up to this expert standard, this isn't the job for you. You're not going to be challenged, right? So people should apply to jobs that are going to be challenging that they can do well, but haven't done so completely that they're just ready to move on to the next thing before they get started.

Lizzie Mintus: I would say as somebody who counsels with many founders, CEO, CTO, hiring manager, people that are writing the jobs, often the job is copied from somebody else's job listing and then updated slightly. Not a lot of thought is put into it. And then it's posted on the internet. So definitely take the job description with a grain of salt.

And if you don't have something, I think you could. If you want to make a cover letter, you could explain I don't have three years or I don't have a triple A title shift. Here are some personal products I've done, and I'm very eager to learn.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah. And I like my favorite thing to tell people when they're just starting out is to get out of their own way. Don't spend an entire pile of time apologizing for the things you don't have.

Focus on the things you do have. And yes, acknowledge where you're coming from, but let the people at the other end decide. Don't just start tearing yourself down before you even start, because they get to decide, are they going to interview you or not.

It's so hard because, People are getting desperate for jobs and so they're starting to apply for things that are like at that next level up. And so I'm always trying to help people understand, if it says 1 to 3 years, you can, if you have a bunch of good projects, like you said, a bunch of stuff you've been working on. You're not going to annoy anyone by applying. If it's senior level, please don't, because you might know how to use whatever the software is. But you don't know how to use it at that level. You don't have the experience that people are looking for. So there's always this kind of calibration that people have to do.

They reach the point where they're like, oh, there's something with my keywords. I'm going to grab it. And I was like, slow down. Let's look at this. Let's find out if it's actually worth your time or if it's just going to be something that you put three hours into it and it comes to nothing.

Lizzie Mintus: I thought the other day about this. As a candidate, you don't like to be spammed. You don't like getting a bunch of messages from ChatGPT that don't have anything to do with you and they haven't even looked at your profile. It's the same thing for applying for a job. They don't want you to make this ChatGPT cover letter for a job that you're not qualified for.

In both circumstances, you should research and maybe tailor your resume depending on the job. I'm also blown away by the LinkedIn posts I see that say, I've applied for a thousand jobs don't exist that you're qualified for. And blasting is not going to help you find a job at all.

Sonia Michaels: It's really not. Shortcuts generally aren't. Generally aren't shortcuts. ChatGPT is all anyone's talking about, whether it's industry or academia. So I did an experiment and over the summer, I fed a bunch of really good cover letters into ChatGPT and said, make this better. And it stripped out everything that was personal and real and replaced it with latitudes and cliches and garbage.

If people want to use it, they can use it, but it's not going to make their applications better. It's going to take out everything that humanizes them.

Lizzie Mintus: I do think it's a probably a good starting point, though.

Here's the job description. What things would this company like to see in my resume? And like everything, take it with a grain of salt.

Sonia Michaels: And that's the thing. It is a tool that you should use. Don't let it use you.

Lizzie Mintus: For sure. And don't always just blindly trust the output either.

Sonia Michaels: Because it hallucinates, it lies.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. Since YGBT began, the amount of junk that I get in terms of people selling to me... I block like a hundred people. It's just wild. I hate it.

Sonia Michaels: And the amount of LinkedIn posts I see that are clearly just some ChatGPT generated Thing. It gets old.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, it does. It is important to figure out how you can stand out, and that's probably not making a robot ChatGPT cover it.

Sonia Michaels: Like you said, for people who need a jumping off point- I cannot start this, start it for me, right? Do the intro or something. As long as then you bring it back to yourself, and for people who might not have 100 percent command of fluent English or whatever. There are times when it can file down some of the rough edges of things. But it's when you get something and clearly somebody has just pressed the button and sent it, you are wasting people's time with this.

Lizzie Mintus: That must be really hard in teaching as well.

Sonia Michaels: It is. Fortunately, once you explain to them, this is actually going to hurt your chances, most of them get it. Those who are listening will get it.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, just like applications. Those that are listening, they'll get it.

Sonia Michaels: Those that are always the trick, isn't it?

Lizzie Mintus: It's a numbers game right now, though. I've heard of a thousand people applying in a day. Just hundreds and hundreds. It's crazy. But like you said, if you can really make your resume beautiful and articulate what you did and make the words match, out of lack for a more eloquent term.

Sonia Michaels: Yep, make the words match and I'm always telling people, if you have a list of skills on your resume, and then your bullet points in your resume don't mention any of these skills, who are you? Is this two people on this resume? What tool did you use to do this thing that you said you did?

I figure I want to look at it and I want to go, okay, they can use Maya and ZBrush. And then I want to look over at a project and go use ZBrush to do this thing.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, and have a few bullet points, right? I worked on this project using X. The output was X. And I also see people talk about what their team did, even in the interview, even recruiting, right?

And it's No, what did you personally do? I do want to understand one, what your company does. Two, what your team does. And then three, what you personally did within both of those and the impact that it had.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah, because I'm not hiring the team. I'm hiring you maybe.

Lizzie Mintus: They're like, oh my team did this big thing, and my contribution was X, and that feels like a bait and switch as somebody interviewing, so I always like to have transparency just tell me the thing that you did.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah, just tell me what you contributed to this. If you don't know what you contributed to this because of impostor syndrome, ask your teammates. They'll tell you.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, they will. You are an expert at public speaking. This is also my own curiosity. How did you get so good at it?

And I'm assuming that you feel comfortable doing it, but that is an assumption.

Sonia Michaels: Okay, first of all, I was that theater kid in high school and college, right? So put me on a stage and let me go. But I think, from teaching, I pretty quickly figured out that teaching was something that I liked to do. And teaching is essentially public speaking. Pretty soon I was teaching public speaking classes and figuring it out as I go along. But still, the first time I did a GDC talk, I thought I was going to die because it's different. Teaching students is so different from, I am among an audience of my peers and also I'm not a game developer. I dont make games. Develop game devs, maybe.

Lizzie Mintus: That's the imposter syndrome!

Sonia Michaels: That's the imposter syndrome!

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, get out!

Sonia Michaels: And because I taught public speaking for so long, I was literally up there, doing the talk and going, your hand is in your pocket. You would deduct points for some of that. It was like talking to myself, critiquing myself during it until I finally went, stop, you have to just go get through this.

But now it's like whatever, four talks and panels of talks. It's easy because it's just people. When I did my talk on layoffs at PAX last month, time is meaningless these days, I had a lot of alumni show up. Mostly, thank goodness, not because they'd been laid off, because they just wanted to come and say hi and so on.

I always love finding the friendly faces in the room. When you've got a whole pile of friendly faces in the room, it makes it so easy because you don't have to worry about everyone else. You just have to talk to 3 or 4 people. That's all this is, right? It's the same as anything else.

It's trying to connect with people. It's trying to say something that's going to be meaningful. Seeing somebody respond, just those little nonverbal cues, anything like that, it just makes it so much easier. I always remind people want you to succeed. Most people don't want you to get up there and fail. They want you to do well. That helps a lot when you get up to talk is to realize that this is not some kind of, gladiator competition. This is you talking about something that matters to you, to a bunch of people that you hope it will matter to who want you to be okay.

 I know that public speaking is like a worse fear than death for a lot of people. I get so nervous before the first day of every class I teach. I get that little, ah, panic, what if everyone hates me thing. But then, after I get started, it's fine because I just find the friendly faces, whether it's people I know or people I don't. There's always going to be a friendly face in the room.

Lizzie Mintus: That's true. Great advice. Thank you. I have one last question. What is the best career advice you have ever been given and who gave it to you?

Sonia Michaels: That is a tricky one. I have a very close friend and close colleague that that used to work with me at DigiPen. She and I were in the same department. She was my chair for a number of years. She was laid off recently, unfortunately.

The advice came from her, but it was by way of one of her best friends who actually died way too young. I'm not sure of the entire story, but she always said, my friend Gilfrida basically always used to say, don't destroy yourself for the sake of somebody else's business. Don't burn yourself out. Don't destroy yourself because it's not going to love you back. It's the the same way that, businesses say we're a family. It's a red flag.

That's always been really meaningful to me. It's one of the reasons that I talk so much about burnout and focus so much on career longevity with people. I don't want them to destroy themselves for the job. We've seen so much of it. I don't know if you've watched that incredible occupational burnout talk from GDC from this year's GDC. It's one of the best talks I've ever seen.

It was Raphael from and Osama Doria's, wonderful game designer and this panel of 4 amazing people and it's 1 of the best talks I've ever seen GDC or otherwise on, on burnout. It was so good to see people up there, people that I admire and respect, just getting up there and being really honest about how the job was just destroying them.

 I think that's the best advice I ever got. I try to pass it forward to the people I work with and to students and so on. My thing lately is, I keep reminding students, don't work for free. Don't give the best of yourself to somebody who's not going to value you and compensate you properly. Because then you'll be burned out and your student loans won't be getting paid and it's terrible. I want to always carry that advice forward.

If it's not your own business, don't treat it like it's your own business. Do your work and do it well and use your passion for yourself. Don't let your passion be weaponized against you.

Lizzie Mintus: I had Eve Creche of take this on the podcast and she said something similar.

Sonia Michaels: Yeah, I saw that clip. It's absolutely true. I always tell students, in your cover letter you get exactly one. You can use that word or any part of it exactly once and then I'm gonna pull you away the hell back because your passion is what people will go, okay, we can pay you not enough money and work you way too many hours because you've got passion.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I think it is a balance though. You need to work hard. You need to make money and there's different stages in your life. I'm not saying you should work 80 hours at any point, unless as my friend Zach pointed out to me lately, he said, I love to work 60 hours a week. And he really does that's what's good for him.

But I think that you do have to take a job that is not necessarily your dream job sometimes at first and really start at the bottom and it might be terrible. It might not be what you want it. I just want to make sure those are not convoluted because I think sometimes you have big hopes.

Everybody has this entry level job. You might be doing some grunt work because you're an entry level person and you're not going to be there forever.

Sonia Michaels: And you still have to work hard. I kind of mistrust the whole idea of the dream job because I was telling people if your first job out of college is your dream job, you've peaked. Your dream job is the job that you get after you do that entry level stuff and you do your time. You put in your time, you earn your progress and your promotions.

What gets me is when I know somebody is profiting off the work of young people without compensating them.

Lizzie Mintus: Yes.

Sonia Michaels: Like volunteer for things you care about and work hard for the. For the job that's paying you, but not to the degree that it is using you up. Because the lifespan of a game developer isn't that long.

It's something like 7 to 10 years on average. And I've heard 3 to 5 for marginalized people. And that doesn't pay your student loans. Yes, I want people to have that passion and I want them to use it, but I don't want it to destroy them.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, it's a balance for sure. We've been talking to Sonya Michaels, who is a game industry educator, speaker and career coach. Sonya, where can people go to contact you, hear your talks and learn more about you?

Sonia Michaels: My LinkedIn page and I don't use Twitter much anymore because it's not great to use anymore. Find me on LinkedIn and connect with me there if anyone would like to talk to me. I'm always happy to chat with people.

And every time I do a talk, I get two dozen new LinkedIn connections and I love it because then I get to meet all these cool people.

Lizzie Mintus: LinkedIn's the best. I want to add a note on that. If you add someone on LinkedIn, sometimes people get a lot of LinkedIn requests a day, especially if they're a recruiter.

So if you put a personalized note, for instance, Hey, Sonia, heard you on the Here's Waldo Podcast, would love to connect. It's much more likely.

Sonia Michaels: Why does LinkedIn make it so hard to do that on your phone though? It's so much harder to ask for someone on your phone.

Lizzie Mintus: 'cause they have 21,000 employees and they just laid 600 off. Why do they have 21,000 employees?

Sonia Michaels: . Yeah. This is the question. People can reach out to me on LinkedIn and then from there, are links to other places that people can reach me in email.

Lizzie Mintus: Thank you so much.

Sonia Michaels: Thank you for your time.

Thanks so much for listening to the show this week. To catch all the latest from His Waldo, you can follow us on LinkedIn. Be sure to click subscribe to get future episodes. We'll see you next time.

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