Career Tips From a Veteran Recruiter With Gina Jaio

Gina Jaio is the Director of Recruiting at Dreamhaven, an Irvine, California-based video game developer and publisher. Gina is an 18-year veteran in the talent and acquisitions industry, lending her talents at Fortune 500 companies like Sony, Warner Bros., Disney, and Blizzard. In addition to leading the recruitment team at Dreamhaven, Gina provides TA support and strategies for various partner studios.

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

  • What services does Dreamhaven offer?
  • Gina Jaio shares her career trajectory and role at Dreamhaven
  • Career search strategies
  • Gina highlights her LinkedIn’s “Career Tips Tuesday”
  • Transparency in the recruiting process
  • Evaluating job offers from small and large companies
  • Creating a positive candidate experience
  • What is the difference between mentors and sponsors?
  • Building a diverse and inclusive culture

In this episode…

Career searching can be monotonous and discouraging when opportunities fall short. Fortunately, professional recruiters are willing to share their knowledge, so what steps should you take if you struggle to find employment?

Seasoned recruiter Gina Jaio advises job seekers to leverage their networks by contacting colleagues and mutual connections and asking for introductions. When contacting companies, she recommends expressing how your values align with theirs. Applying for multiple jobs gets tedious, but Gina cautions job seekers to refrain from copying and pasting templates. Instead, impress recruiters and hiring managers by researching product releases, following company news and blogs, and being aware of company events. In addition, draft a concise, personalized cover letter. 

In this episode of the Here’s Waldo Podcast with Lizzie Mintus, Gina Jaio, Director of Recruiting at Dreamhaven, discusses career strategies for job seekers. Gina explains the importance of being transparent with recruiters, how to evaluate job offers, and the difference between mentors and sponsors.

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.

Lizzie Mintus: I'm Lizzie Mintus, founder and CEO of Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique video game recruitment firm. This is the Here's Waldo Podcast. In every episode, we dive deep into conversations 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.

Past guests include Ed Fries of 1UP, Eve Crevochet of Take This, and Bernie Yi of Wind Up Minds. This episode is brought to you by Here's Waldo Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm for the video game industry. We value quality over quantity, transparency, and 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 we have Gina Zhao on the show. She has been recruiting for over 18 years. The last nine years specifically, she's been supporting the video game industry. She's worked for several AAA studios such as Blizzard, NetherRealm, Monolith, Disney Interactive.

She is currently the head of recruiting at Dreamhaven. She firmly believes that anyone with a passion for game development can make games no matter who they are. Let's get started. Thanks for being here today. So excited to have another recruiting perspective.

Gina Jaio: Pleasure.

Lizzie Mintus: Thank you. For any of our listeners that aren't familiar with Dream Haven.

Can you give a little background?

Gina Jaio: Absolutely. We've been around for about three years now. We announced back in September of 2020, right during the pandemic, unfortunately, but it made a big splash in the kind of gaming circuit with all the news channels, IGN, and gamesRadar, et cetera, because, with the people who are behind DreamHaven, all the co founders are ex Blizzard, including Mike Morhaime, who was a former CEO and co founder of Blizzard Entertainment.

I'm sure everyone's dying to know what we're working on. Unfortunately, we can't share that today, but we've been at this for a little bit now. And so we hope to at least share something with the world sooner rather than later, but we're still stealth mode. And we haven't shared anything about our gameplay or the genre. But I'm happy to talk about the company, our goals, our values as well to get people a little bit more familiar. We are a values driven organization. We really want to support our developers. And so we've built the company around our development teams. We have two internal studios. Moonshot Games and Secret Door Games. They're very different from each other in terms of what they're working on and even size But we're all here to support each other. So that's two studios. We also have a publishing organization that will support the two studios as well with everything from go-to-market and marketing.

We're a very small organization. We don't want to get too big. I think we just hit our 100th people this year. So we're excited for that. We still want to make high quality AAA type games, but we feel that we could do with smaller teams. It gives people more ownership in what they're doing. It really allows people to make a bigger impact as well.

And so we have a very collaborative environment where everyone has a voice at the company. We're also very much focused on bringing people who also share our same values. We also value making a very safe and inclusive environment for all developers, no matter who they are, where they've come from.

We're also trying to give back to the committee as well and helping organizations like Girls Who Code, even the local Children's Hospital as well. We're very involved with a lot of these kind of community things because we really care about the people in the community who surround us. We also have a number of partnership studios that we're helping, including Frost Giant and Lightforge- a lot of these very talented developers spinning off from the big companies as well, doing their own thing. You want to support them. And so writing, creative consultation or business consultation, helping them get off the ground investment opportunities.

We're very different from your typical Tripple A company. We're doing a lot of different things here. Excited to be in the space. But we again, of course, haven't announced our games yet, but that will be coming hopefully sooner or later at some point.

Lizzie Mintus: Exciting. I didn't realize you had so many different pockets. Tell us about your role at Dreamhaven and your past roles and how they tie into what you're doing today.

Gina Jaio: Sure. I'm head of recruiting. We're very small though. So it's just myself and my partner in crime, Jojo Rain, who's our senior recruiter on the team. We were just a team of two. We started just myself initially. I helped take what they've already had- very light recruiting practices, and really built the recruiting function here. Really think about how we could involve our hiring managers as well, in terms of making sure that we're having diversity in our candidates we talked to, all best practices, trying to avoid bias in our interview process.

So we really try our best to make sure that the process is equitable and fair to our candidates , and really leveling that up from all the stuff we've learned from other big AAA companies I bring to the to the board here.

Certainly with our company, we're trying to bring people who are super talented, but we also feel that it's important to look for potential. People who really care about the gaming space that it's player first, but also how we make games is really important. Will these people share the same values that we also have as well? Are they respectful people? Or can they collaborate with others? Those are the kind of things that we look for in our candidates.

So building that function up from the ground up has been part of what I've been really doing here. But also being involved in the community. We also are trying to do other events and conferences. Even though we're not doing a ton of hiring for these big AAA companies, we also still want to give back and help people realize, hey, you can actually have a really great career in games.

Especially, I would say non majority talent, women, don't realize that there's so many great opportunities for them in games. There's stereotypes exist in games, unfortunately. And we're trying to create a space where we can hopefully influence other companies to, hey, this is a safe space for women or non majority kids to come to as well.

Being able to build those best practices and share that with other companies is our goal. That's everything in a nutshell that we've been doing here. But again, very small team here, just team of 2 at this point.

Lizzie Mintus: You have a lot of influence fun to start from the ground up and be able to influence hiring practices and decisions.

And you post career tips every Tuesday. I want to highlight this first, your Career Tip Tuesday. What inspired you to start that?

Gina Jaio: I would get a lot of messages on LinkedIn, people asking for help. And I wish I could help every person that reaches out to me. But as you probably know, we can't answer every message of people reaching out to us.

And so I figured, you know what if I just start sharing my knowledge? I've been in this industry, 18 years at this point in recruiting and in Games Nine. I certainly have seen my fair share of things at different companies, different practices. Why don't I get back and help people with like their process of resume, cover letters, even thinking about their mindset when they're applying for opportunities, leveraging the networks.

So I really wanted to get back and help people. And DreamHaven gives me the opportunity to really have some bandwidth to be able to do that. Before I was so busy. I could not even spend like barely any time answering any messages on LinkedIn previously, but I really wanted to get back. I started the current opportunity, but also post other things along the week as well to help people out, especially now when it's been tougher for folks.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, we were just talking about that before the show. What advice would you have for somebody if they've been laid off, or if they're looking to just change jobs in general during this time.

Gina Jaio: Yeah, there's some great resources out there right now. I'm sure you've seen as well on Amir Satvat's spreadsheet. It's amazing. Mentors on there, opportunities that are constantly updated. That's a great start. I also mentioned in my Career Tip Tuesdays, is really leveraging your network. I think we don't want to bother people and inherently there's a sense of pride. I want to try to do it myself.

There is a point where you really do have to lean on other people and people are willing to help. Especially right now, we're seeing a lot of our friends and former colleagues unfortunately being impacted and all of us can really band together to help each other out this way and even sharing opportunities, commenting, tagging people.

I know it takes a little bit work, but there's a lot of things that we could do as a applicant, first of all, is really going out and seeing who you know at these different companies, asking for introductions as well. Leveraging your network because that's actually honestly how I was able to find my last three, four opportunities- through my network and word of mouth and talking to people and, getting buy in from people. Finding sponsors and mentors at companies to help really advocate for you is super helpful.

I think a good starting point is really like focusing on where you want to go in your career. I know it's tough right now. People are applying for everything, but if you have a couple of companies you really are targeting, take the time to get to know who's there and really see who else might know mutual connections there, really understand their values, and when you are reaching out to those folks, expressing how your values align with theirs as well is really important.

That's something that hiring managers I've experienced really pay attention to. When people are reaching out to them and writing cover letters, writing some kind of message to the high managers or myself as a recruiter. That's what makes people stand out. Really speaking to the company and what they do, what they're trying to accomplish is really important.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, definitely. Once you get into recruiting and it's like a recruiters perspective on it, but for sure, do a lot of research. I think you can also go through financials. I've heard that if the company is public, you can go check the shareholder meetings and all of the documentation.

And if you're really up to date on the status of the company. People will be so impressed with you.

Gina Jaio: 100 percent.

Lizzie Mintus: Like maybe there's this podcast, maybe there's a blog, maybe there's news information that you can read. There's something somewhere, right?

Gina Jaio: Absolutely. And I can't tell you how many times people have reached out to us and said Oh, I really love your games. But we don't have any games. What games? How did you play our games? They play our playtest and I don't even know about it? Clearly people are just putting the template out there and copying pasting messages. if they knew if they follow this from the beginning, that's super impressive.

They obviously know about us, kept watch of us since we announced. I know they're applying for multiple positions and it's very easy to copy and paste, but really digging in, doing the research, find the trends, find the latest news, follow their blogs, see what they've been up to. Maybe we haven't announced our games, but we recently we did Girls Who Code last summer. We're going to another conference very soon. It's hopper celebration if people are aware of that, it shows that they're paying attention to us. They actually do care about what we're doing in the space.

That's how you really make an impression, versus doing the blind: let's apply to hundreds of applications and copy paste everything. That's the least likely getting any attention at all. I would really just focus on a couple of places that people really want to work at and dig in and learn about what this company really does and what they've been up to.

Lizzie Mintus: Before you panic apply, do not get laid off and panic apply.

Gina Jaio: Exactly, because you've been doing it a long time ago.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, but it's the same thing for recruiting, just reverse. If you're a candidate and you get a bunch of garbage messages from recruiters that, I'm so impressed with your skills.

You're not. So its kind of the same thing applying for a job.

Gina Jaio: That's very true. Yeah, I think like crafting custom messages is always one that really gets people's attention, like you really read through their profiles. If I notice someone worked on a really awesome art piece, for example, I'll actually reference that art piece in my messages to them.

I'll be like, this piece that you did, and that gets people to respond right away, for sure. Like you said, on the other side of it, oh, I noticed the company did this, or I noticed that you were doing As a person at the company doing this work. And so that's how you really connect.

It's really like connecting people and telling a story is what really gets people to respond really quickly.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, regardless if you're a job seeker or candidate seeker.

What are some of the tips you feel have gotten the most positive response can you highlight from your Career Tip Tuesday?

Gina Jaio: Yeah, I think there's some parts are very controversial as well. There's always the controversy of cover letter versus non cover letter. And I think like any personal message, any way you can personalize- reaching out to a company is going to be effective. And people have gone really above and beyond with their messages because they really dig into our core values as a company in their message.

I'm not looking for the Magna Carta. I'm looking for a very short message that really speaks to the company. That clearly they've been paying attention, they clearly know that this is a position that's for them, and why this particular company is great for them in person, personality wise.

Maybe they also love the games that we've made in the past, the other companies, they pay attention to that. That also helps stand out as well, but obviously, not everyone agrees that cover letters, they think it's a waste of time. But from my experience and being in games, especially hiring managers from game companies, they really appreciate the personal touches that people put in. They actually do read down here. For example, even like personal work. Maybe they haven't worked on this particular game genre, but they actually worked on their own side project.

Hey, I did some experimentation. Professionally, I did not work in this game engine, but in my own time, Yes. I worked in Unreal 5. That really gets people impressed. This person went above and beyond to do the work, to do their homework, because they really want to learn this particular game engine.

They also want to learn the genre of the game, put in that extra effort. That makes such a difference. I think even at Blizzard, someone had created an entire level of Overwatch in their fan version of their own level, and people were just blown away.

Completely blown away, like an entire team was talking about it. Also concept art too, like people were doing their versions of concept art. The characters could actually live in the game itself because they really focused on the style of the game. They thought about the different game mechanics, how this character can fit in the ,ecosystem.

So it shows a lot of care about what the team's working on and the games that they've been working on as well. Obviously, we don't want people to always do this because that takes a lot of time, and we don't want people are not getting paid for this stuff. But some kind of personal journey or effort to show that they are willing to put in time for the things that they are maybe missing makes a huge difference.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I feel like you have to connect the dots. I talk to people a lot about this. I have a friend who's studio has shut down, like 10 of them.

But if you look at his resume, you'd say, this guy leaves the studio every year or two years, but that's not really the case. So in that case, you just have to connect the dots. This happened, and this is why, and this is why I'm looking for stability, which I believe is at your studio. But if you say nothing, then, like, how do I know?

Gina Jaio: People don't know. People make assumptions, and even though we shouldn't make assumptions, but people make assumptions. Is it because the person was let go, and they weren't that good, or they got bored. Job hop. Especially on the game side, because games take years to make, they want people who will stick it through, and so they'll make assumptions.

Unless you don't say anything, then we won't know. We'll say this person is not going to stick around. How do you know that? Writing some kind of cover letter, or even putting it in the resume saying the studio shut down.

We want to help the candidate and whatever information is on there can only help us sell better to the hiring managers.

Lizzie Mintus: Absolutely, and I saw one of your career tips is about being transparent with your recruiter, can you talk a little bit more about that?

Gina Jaio: This is a it's hard because I think it's a trust thing. I would want to build trust with my candidates and I want to trust you can as well. I always give the benefit of doubt. So I think candidates often will have multiple opportunities that they're considering and maybe 1 opportunity gives a lot more money or it's a different industry that they're not sure they maybe don't want to change industries. Like maybe have that conversation with the recruiter because I feel like we can help this person figure out, does it make sense for them to even continue this process?

Maybe this other opportunity is actually really good for them. And if you really trust a recruiter and you know for me, I'm thinking about the candidate. If it's not the right fit for us, I'm not gonna force it. Because At the end of the day, if it's not a good fit for the team, they're going to want to end the role. They're going to want to leave or the person will get let go. I don't want that to happen to the person either.

So I think it's better to be a friend saying, look, there's things I really like about the opportunity. There's also things I'm concerned about and we'll talk about it. It's like a sounding board. We can help them think through things.

If they're thinking about compensation, we could also be very honest with them. This is a range. We typically hire people at the midpoint. If you have a little bit of experience, you can maybe go a little bit more flexible. If you're more experienced, this is where we're at and we probably can't go much higher than X amount of dollars.

I'm in the corner of the candidate and if they realize that, they're going to be much more open. I don't force them share things they're not comfortable with. But whenever we do that though, I feel like it's a much easier process for them.

They're getting what they want out of the opportunity, the competition package. We get the understanding what their expectations are. It's just an easier process once we have those conversations and we can help them think them through.

I think we're like the middle person for them. We're here to advocate for them. That transparent interest is so important on both sides. And the company should also be transparent as well. If companies are hiding what their ranges are or if it's the whole remote situation, maybe it's a bait and switch and they said, actually, it's not remote.

 Like this candidate should not be talking to that company at all. They're being shady about that. So transparency on the company also is super important too.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, both sides. Remote work is such a thing right now, as we have so many return to office mandates.

But what I've seen from a candidate perspective, like the job is clearly listed as in office and people will apply and they're like, Oh I hope you can make it remote for me. Probably not. I guess it's worth trying, but you're right. It has to be honest on both sides. And we've seen so many companies that were remote and said...

Gina Jaio: change your mind.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. And then you've moved to whatever location and you have an RTL mandate. So that's really hard.

Gina Jaio: That is really hard. We can't predict that. When we're hiring for the role, we're being told like, okay, it's going to be remote. And so we were going off of what they're telling us.

And once the person comes in, they changed our mind. No one could predict that future. That part's really hard. As a candidate, they should always ask those questions. If they're applying for the role and they hope this role is remote, even though this is on site, just let the recruiter know.

Honestly, I have a lot of people do that too. We have roles that are ideally on site, but actually we post an onsite, but then we have some flexibility, depending on the person situation if they're more senior, if they worked remotely before, if they're in the same time zone that typically gives us a case to maybe try to fight for this person to stay remote.

It's not completely set in stone. But if the candidate's very honest with us on the front end, that helps the conversation. I can always go to the hiring like, look, this person's fantastic, but they really want to stay remote if possible. Here's the situation. They're in the same time zone. They're willing to come in for a quarterly basis.

I can help pitch that to the hiring managers. And usually they'll be willing to at least have an initial conversation with them, and that's a good fit. We're willing to make this remote for you after they talk to the hiring manager.

So just be upfront. You don't want to share that some information with the hiring managers and it gets really late in the process and you pull out and you at that point wasted everyone's time and essentially you can burn a bridge that way.

I would hate for that to happen for any candidates. We've had people come all the way through the last bit of the process what's wrong because of something and they did not disclose to us. It doesn't feel good to the hiring managers and people remember those people.

You have a reputation, especially it's a very small industry. Be really careful and what you do and how you navigate companies, because honesty is the best policy on both sides. And people remember when someone's being dishonest.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, I think especially if you have money that you're leaving, that's so important to disclose. Super early in my recruiting career, I had this candidate who the team loved, they were making an offer. At the offer stage, and I'd ask him, but he didn't say anything, but at the end, he's like, by the way, I have $100,000 sign on bonus that I'm going to leave and I need that to be made up to me. So I had to have a conversation with the SVP who obviously is so annoyed. If you asked us at the beginning and I had anticipated it through the process, within the realm of possibility. But if you pull this out at the end, it's not going to happen.

Gina Jaio: Yeah, it makes them look really bad. And companies have the right to rescind an offer if they can't even get close to that. There's no way. If you're forcing that conversation and that's a that's not a small amount. If it's like $10,000 or $15,000 maybe, but still being honest on the front end, you look like I really hope you guys can do this. Usually there's no surprises at the end and recruiters want to help the candidates.

So we'll tell the hiring manager. We should really consider giving them some kind of coverage for their sign on bonus or whatever they're walking away from. We want to help and if we know the information ahead and we can we have time to work that into the compensation package and make the pitch. And then hopefully come out with something compelling. But if we don't know about it, we're in a really bad situation that happens. I can't defend the candidate at that point. Yeah,

Lizzie Mintus: I feel like sometimes people don't know for sure. You talk to people, and they tell you they might have stock. You ask how much, and they say, I don't know.

So I feel like if you're a candidate, and you think you're going to interview or if you have a call with your recruiter, any part of the recruiting process, get super clear on where you currently are financially. And what that's going to look like for the next few years. It's your responsibility.

Gina Jaio: Yeah. We deal with a lot of creatives and they might not know or really care about those details. And so I asked them, could you actually

go into your account share that information? Because it's really important that we try to at least cover some of that for you. Unfortunately, because again, we're dealing with a lot of creatives who don't really think of those kind of things. It's totally fine to take a couple of days to get back to recruiter with that information. I can't tell you how many times that's happened to me. Person not knowing and then coming back to me with that information that I could take and hopefully like make a competitive package that would be reasonable to move forward.

Otherwise, we're wasting everyone's time. We're wasting the candidates time. We're hiring managers time. Other interviewers, if we can't even get close to whatever they're walking away from.

Lizzie Mintus: Absolutely. Okay. You've worked for larger companies, Blizzard, Sony in the past, and now you're working for a smaller company, which is a totally different comp package, but like motivations package too. It's just different to work at a startup.

Can you talk to us about how candidates can properly evaluate offers from large companies versus small?

Gina Jaio: Yeah, I think it can be very tricky. So you have to know what to ask. I think certainly with big companies, the Disney's, the Sony's or the Warner Brothers. You have benefits and you have a very standard packages and usually they can tell you straight away what you're potentially getting. They're being traded. So it's very clear what you're going to make.

We're talking to startup companies. Unfortunately, some candidates do get taking advantage of because they don't know what to ask. They don't dig in and they trust what people are telling them. So really finding out what that full package looks like. When you talk about RSUs or stock options, it's obviously not going to materialize anytime soon. So you'd be really careful. You can't bank on those kinds of things, like really for smaller companies, making sure that your base pay is pretty comparable and compelling and you can live off of that because I would not bank on pocket sharing bonuses or stock options or anything else because you really do not know what that's going to look like in the future.

Especially now that I would say the startup space, it's very volatile and we're seeing more conservative approaches. Now, there's less investments than there were last year. Being very sure that if you're jumping from a big company to a small company that you're really focusing on that base pay because usually they're not going to be shipping a game into anytime soon. There's a big gap probably from walking away from your annual bonuses at EA or what have you.

A lot of times these small companies can't cover that even in a sign on bonus. You can ask for sign on bonuses, but don't expect them to potentially be able to cover all of that as well. So definitely making sure that you know, from your own financial situation- can you take that risk? And did not bank on that. I can't tell you how many people or stories I've heard of people who would bank on these potential bonuses coming down and that does not materialize. They really were hoping for that to happen. It's super risky.

Now, certainly ask the questions like, what's the investments like for the company? What's the roadmap? How long? What's there the one way asking this? Because you never know. Unfortunately, there's people that are not so honest about the kind of things too. Making sure you get references and the people behind the company- those kind of questions I would ask if I were people. Now, my perspective. I've never worked for a small company before like DreamHaven before. It's always been in the big companies that are publicly traded. But I went this direction. I was actually called by Chris Sigaty from Segador, who I worked with at Blizzard, and I know the people here. I trust them. Mike Morehine's an awesome dude and a good person, and Amy morehine's great as well. And so I trust these people, I've worked with them at Blizzard. I know who they are, I know their values, and I'm willing to put that risk.

I also asked those questions when before we got to the offer stage, make sure to understand their direction their investments and all that, too.

So it's a very different space. So we're also investing other companies. So we're not your typical small startup either, so I think it's very unique situation here. But I wouldn't have gone to another startup company. I think DreamHaven is the only place I would go to. But now looking back, I would probably not go back to a big Triple A company either. I think I really enjoy like being able to make a bigger impact here, having a voice.

It's a little scary because you're bringing the tracks down as the trains coming along and first time creating things from scratch. It's super fun. It's also a little scary, but it also pushes you to think differently. We are multiple behalf, which is really fun. I get to work with the development team really closely. There's a lot of pluses and work life balance is really important to this company, too.

They really care about the people, and that's a huge difference, especially now with all the things happening right now in the space. Our values are really strong so I think at this point, I probably couldn't go back to AAA, honestly speaking.

Lizzie Mintus: That's exciting. You do get to wear so many different hats and I feel like people get so tied up in the compensation. Especially if they've been working at probably monsters or Amazon or Meta and they're at this really high bar. They say they don't want to take a step back, but there's always a point. There's so much money you need to live and maintain your lifestyle. And then after that, I think it's really important to figure out what you value. And if you have a bunch of kids going to college or personal financial obligations that you really need to take care of. That is one thing, but that's not always everything.

Gina Jaio: Exactly. Definitely a fraction of it is living, but also the ability to give back, to make an impact, to see your work pan out as well and to be respected and to collaborate with others. That's a big difference. At least for me personally speaking.

Lizzie Mintus: And have a lot more ownership too. I think a lot of times at a big company are doing one specific thing and at a small company you can try out a lot of different things.

Gina Jaio: It's super fun. It's absolutely every day's different. That's the beauty of working for a smaller company.

Lizzie Mintus: Yes. Every day is definitely different. Can you share some tips for creating a positive candidate experience, even for somebody who might not necessarily get hired?

Gina Jaio: Yeah, I think as a candidate, it's always good to build relationships. I can't tell you, when I was early in my career, like how many rejections I was a coordinator, I went through a ton of interviews, but I met a lot of great people and kept in touch with them.

And so when they did have an opportunity, I was on top of their mind because they remember me. And so I think it's really important that candidates cultivate the relationships. It's very common that for the job that you really want, you won't get it initially. It'll take a couple of tries and also coming back with more experience or more skills, with more maturity- at that point you're a better candidate and actually having a lot of Blizzard, a lot of people not get the job initially. They would come back maybe another year after doing another test and really putting in their skills and they also live with the relationships with the hiring managers and interviewers.

It's important to continue to cultivate those relationships, especially in games, where it's such a small industry. Everyone knows each other.

That's what I've found to be super successful on the company side, but also as a candidate side- being able to leverage those relationships. That's one key thing to remember as a candidate.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, and that's why it's so important to be transparent and leave on a good note and just not surprise the company because you're probably going to work with somebody that you've interviewed with again in the near future, either at your studio or you're going to work for them. It's crazy.

Gina Jaio: It's very possible. Absolutely. I can't tell you how many people I've run into. Even here at Dreamhaven, there's a couple people who I've worked with at WB.

Like 10 years ago, almost at this point. Keeping great relationships at that point. That it's challenging also when you're a candidate, especially in this environment to not take it personally.

I know it's really tough right now and you want to, people are upset, they're angry with the system, they're angry at the situation that they're in, but not to take it on people, not to take it on the recruiter, not to take it on the hiring manager, if they're not the one, to not take the news personally.

It's hard for the hiring manager right now. They've got a lot of great talent right now. They only have one or two positions to fill. They have to make a tough decision. It might be the person that gets selected because maybe the person is not local. Or maybe the person is missing X skill.

And the person has to realize, you know what, it was really close. I got to the interview stage. I met some people, and try to stay positive. I'm not trying to be a toxic positivity either, but... Taking what you've learned from that process and maybe also learning from it. Owning your skills is the best way to approach the interview process if you don't get the job.

And also being gracious. Take your time knowing that everyone also on their end spent the time to meet with the person as well.


Lizzie Mintus: And interviewing is practice too.

So if you can learn from that interview and learn what didn't go wrong. Ask for feedback. I know there are some legal issues around that, but sometimes there is feedback that can be shared.

Gina Jaio: Absolutely. During every process, people tend to not be great at active listening too. They're not listening to what the person's asking. For example, they're not making sure that the question was answered correctly. So those kind of things I can easily tackle. I can say, hey just letting you know that during the interview process, it didn't go well because of this. They were asking the questions and they were asking different ways and you weren't getting to the point and taking that feedback and not making it personal. Saying, okay, I need to fix that problem going forward in future interviews. So, those people who are really adaptable, who can take feedback are the ones who are the most successful I've seen and coming back finding opportunities shortly after that.

Lizzie Mintus: You talked about having mentors and sponsors and how that's the game changer. And I think for me too, personally, that's like how I've had any success ever.

Can you go into that a little bit more, what the difference is and how people can find them?

Gina Jaio: Yeah. I've had several mentors and also sponsors. I think people also don't realize that there is a difference. Sponsors are usually at a higher level at a company. They're not your like manager or anything like that, but you can help advocate for opportunities in the future for you. But they also expect something back. Like you might give back with sharing latest trends. For example, I had a great sponsor and it wasn't something Hey, can you be my sponsor? That's not usually how it goes.

You basically build a relationship. You have coffee chats with them and say, look, I really value your strategies. You've been in the company for a very long time. Do you have a couple minutes? And so building that relationship and if they're willing to meet with you regularly.

And then you can also say, hey I really want potentially to move over to this other department. Or I want to get in this particular area. Is there anything you can do to guide me? What I need to do that. And then, of course, coming in with a fresh perspective, you can also provide them with the latest, greatest trends of things that you're noticing in your discipline, as well as to give back. If they're going to advocate for you, they want something ideally return.

So my situation, it was one of the heads of HR, and he knew how passionate I was in games. I wasn't supporting the game development teams directly at that point so I said I would love to support developers at some point.

Obviously, they were fully staffed at that point, but he knew how passionate I was. I always try to give him updates on the latest and greatest trends in games. Because I was a huge gamer, always kept with the latest and greatest news. And then when an opportunity did come, I didn't have to ask. He had already thought of me for the role and asked me if I wanted to move into that role. It just so happened because I built that relationship and also just having the courage to reach out to other people around the organizations that you're in. If you're interested in a specific area, or someone potentially could give you more insights on skill set. You're reaching out to me having a quick coffee chat to spark that conversation.

So it's been certainly helping helpful to me in my career. I think people are probably I don't want to buy that person. No, just have the conversation, take them out for coffee and figure out what their favorite like drink is and then treat them to a coffee. Say, I just need 20 and see how it goes from there.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. I talked to Bernie on one of my first podcasts and he said he had somebody ask him for his time, but then never followed up. Because they're like, I thought you were too busy. And you said, I've already agreed to do this with you. I'm in control of my own schedule. Ask and then follow up.

Gina Jaio: Yeah, and just put something on their calendar organize the time and maybe find out what their favorite treat is as well.

I've had a funny story at Disney. I had a new hire that started with me and we were just chatting about how she got the job and she said she was in a different department and she was really gunning for this department. I think it was in PR and she found out who the hiring manager was, found out like their favorite drink. She talked to their assistant and she gave them all the details. Got time with them. Treated them. They were like, how did you know what my favorite drink was? She was really impressed how much digging she did to find out like all this information. And eventually she got the job. Once the opportunity came up there, she was on top of their mind.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah. I love that. And it's really sweet. What's the most heartwarming hire that you've ever made that really sticks with you. I'm sure there are a ton and feel free to anonymize it.

Gina Jaio: Oh, my gosh. That's a tough one. I don't want to embarrass this person, but this is someone I had known from another company. They're really were heartbroken of all the, Kind of the negativity that they've seen in games and and all the difficulty, especially for women to get into games as well.

And so they actually started tearing up when they're talking to me at like how disappointed they were with these big Triple A companies and their approach.

Because even for me and some other companies, we really care about making a safe space for us. We really gravitated towards that.

And we talked about, how their values are aligned. They've been looking for a company that also really created that space for people that respected people, no matter who they were. So you can see how much they're pouring their heart out at me at this point. You could tell how genuine they were and went through the interview process also that they really talked about. They were the one who brought up the values that we had and clearly care about that. And so we hired them and they're so happy. And this person has been incredible. And helping us bring other talent as well into the company. It's really getting the core of who we are as a company and our values.

That really warms my heart when I think about that moment where they were looking for this type of company for my career, all the negativity that's happened.

Lizzie Mintus: It is so rewarding when it works and recruiting. There's lots of interesting journeys.

Gina Jaio: That's honestly why I do it. We're giving them their dream jobs and to face this lineup and they're so excited. That's the best part of the HR process, where the fun part of you're like super excited about joining the company. I think that's why what I do. Hearing people's stories and how they're doing something they're really passionate about.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, for sure. My favorite person I've ever hired accepted a different offer, and they were from this large company and both companies were giving them the same equity. But we talked about like the probability based on founders, based on past success and everything, and we had this big conversation. They ended up taking the offer and then following up later and being like, this is the best decision I ever made.

I love it so much. Like I'm so happy here. The other company crumbled. I'm so glad you helped me.

It's so rewarding. Yes, it is. But yeah, always. Ups and downs to be able to deal with them. I want to go back to something you said about DreamHaven and how you're really building a diverse and inclusive culture.

What tips do you have that companies could employ to make more of a diverse and inclusive culture both on the hiring side and on the retaining side?

Gina Jaio: Yeah, I could start with the hiring side.

1st of all, there should be an effort to not scare off non majority candidates when they're applying for the job. I think there's too many companies out there with their job description, I'm shaking my head because they have impossible list of requirements and they're like 10 years of experience. Honestly, that's just the CIS white men and that's the people that have the most experience.

 We actually made a very conscious effort to change the mindset of creating job descriptions to actually take out any mention of years of experience and really talk about like their responsibilities, what they're doing and try to keep it more light and that way it's not scary to go off. That's a good first step.

And secondly, to actually practically go out and talk to non majority candidates. And so the sourcing part comes in. And so we actually source for roles before they actually go live on job postings, talking to a lot of diverse talent out there because oftentimes they're not looking. Because they're really either happy where they are they're being well treated and so they're not actually out there or they won't apply because they're scared that they're not even qualified for this job, which happens, especially for women, they won't even apply because I don't have this particular skill set and I might be able to learn it. You guys probably want to go for another candidate.

No, you can actually do this job. And so we take the time to actually talk to these folks ahead of time and really helps all the opportunity to them. And so getting the the funnel itself, like open that up to diverse talent- is the second part that we try to focus on. Always advise other companies to do too.

Third part is the actual interview process. Really trying to remove biases is really important. It's hard because everyone has inherently biases. The thing I noticed about game industry is that everyone does backdoor references. They will call people like, hey, do this person at this company and or they work with them, the person and they will tell like everyone.

Okay. I work this person. They're great. Or this person was horrible. I'm trying to really not talk about the feedback of previous experiences until the end. The interview itself should be focused on interview. The feedback should really focus on the interview itself. Where this person's currently doing not what they did five, ten years ago. Maybe bring it up to the hiring manager directly, but not during the interview process work. You can actually inevitably create bias because if interviewer A talks to interview B and says, hey, actually I heard this person was like really bad and that was ten years ago, that's gonna create a bias automatically.

They're gonna shut the door on this person before they even have a chance to interview. Everyone should get a chance, an equal opportunity, a chance to interview, to talk about their current experiences. Those concerns, maybe they didn't know how to collaborate really well, maybe that was an isolated incident.

And talk about that in the interview, like, how do you collaborate with others? How do you work with others? What happens when you disagree with someone? Having hiring manager really pinpoint those kind of things, but, not talking about that with other people ahead of time, because again, it creates those kind of biases.

And then also making sure that your panel is diverse as well, and not forcing it, but if there is women on the team, making sure that they're also included in the panel, because I can't tell you how many times that at previous companies the candidate would come in and say, okay, you have no women in your panel. Do you not have any women in your department? It's really embarrassing because we do, we just didn't include them in the process. And so why wouldn't they be included? They should also have a voice on the candidates coming into the department as well. I can't tell you how that's happened.

Lastly, we follow our version of running rule as well. And running rule in NFL is they have to interview at least one diverse candidate for a coach position for an NFL coach. And so we also require that our hiring managers interview one diverse candidate for all our positions as well, whatever is open. We try to follow that as well. And so that's been really successful. That helps us see different types of candidates.

We're also trying to skew more on potential and what we call the willing heart. Are they adaptable? Are they willing to learn? Do they have an empathy as well for the players, for other people in the team?

We're looking for the soft skills that makes it easier to look at more junior candidates versus someone who has 15 years of experience. To get deeper dive into these inherent personality traits.

So that's my tips on the diversity front. Also working with organizations as well. WIGI is great. I think you're also working with WIGI.

We're going to Grace Hopper Celebration, the largest gathering for women in software computing. And we're even though we're not hiring immediately for full time positions, we're actually giving back and educating people on you can actually have an opportunity in games as a woman. These are different disciplines that I want to talk to you about and just meeting people there and building relationships. We're really trying to give back and I think companies can also take this stuff.

It's not a ton of money. The lowest tier sponsorship, for example, is like $15,000 for a virtual sponsorship. Compared to other bigger conferences, that's much smaller amount of money. And it's really like the time that your people are giving back to educate and build relationships. That's the important part as well.

Lizzie Mintus: TLDR, make a concerted effort through all. So many companies tell me we just don't have any diversity!

Gina Jaio: And it's multi pronged and they have all these different factors, but they're coming together.

" We need more diverse talent." There's so many things you need to change your mindset on. You need not just to hire people, but also give back. Making sure it's a safe space for them, and making sure they have a voice as well, that they have a community, they have a support group. If something does happen, that the process feels fair, and they feel heard, and they don't feel like there's people against them, that they actually have a person to go to, or a tool to use or a resource as well.

So we're building those kind of tools, making sure we've actually asked all of our employee population. What are the things that you would look for if something did happen? Or what are the things that we could do better internally that would you would feel more supported being a majority person?

Lizzie Mintus: I love that. Ask the right questions. Maybe find them a mentor.

Gina Jaio: Yeah, that'd be great. Does not have to be someone in your department, it can be someone completely different department.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, absolutely.

In terms of approaching the job market and preparing for interviews, what advice do you have for people who are looking for a job? We talked about people that have applied for hundreds and thousands of jobs.

Is there anything else they can do to really stand out?

Gina Jaio: The thing I've noticed and I talked about a little bit on my my posts here is, I've noticed a lot of discord groups if you're a big layoff, like Meta and Google and these bigger companies, a lot of like employees will create their own groups to support each other.

And that's great because not only can you get other people to look at your resumes and at least jump in on those kind of things, but they also can help introduce you to other people. If they're interviewing for a role that maybe someone gets a job, they can recommend another person on that same group.

And that's something that's very common. I will go and talk to all of our new hires, say, who do you know? That's really awesome. These are jobs that we have open right now. These are jobs that we're going to be opening. Who do you know? That's something that I absolutely will take advantage of as a recruiter in house.

And so when someone comes to me with those recommendations, I'm going to listen. And so are our managers. It's very effective.

If you don't have a group for the company, maybe you were laid off at Ascendant, for example. Create a group, then start helping other people. If you help other people, they're going to help you.

It's coming together and building this community. That's I've noticed being the most effective in this kind of environment.

Unfortunately, doing the mass applications is probably the least effective because as as an internal recruiter, I could tell you we're being inundated by applications and while like we're smaller, we can deal with the volume, a big company probably could not even get to on either candidate.

So you have the poly filter searches or just take referrals or people that were the hiring manager might know as the first couple of candidates because they're just so overwhelmed with people applying.

So really honing in on like those network connections. If someone was a manager, but they're at a different company, check where people have gone. Even before layoffs have happened, where have these people gone in your network?

It takes some time, but you can really figure out where people have gone and reach out to them. Say, I noticed you're at this company, and I noticed I have an opportunity that I could, that I seem to be a good fit for. Do you mind forwarding my resume over to the hiring manager. It's very easy. Make it easy for them. Create a quick email with your resume, cover letter, and they could just forward it off to that person. I can tell you that I've gotten people interviews through that kind of process. That's more effective than applying and posting and praying, as we call it.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, it's really hard. As recruiters, we know so many people and can easily just forward along a good relationship with a recruiter.

Gina Jaio: Absolutely. We're your friends. Want to help people. If you are respectful to us and build a relationship as we're going to help you as much as we can.

Lizzie Mintus: But that does not mean message me and ask me to find you a job because that's not how how it works.

Gina Jaio: Without doing any research at all. The more specific people are, the easier it is for me to help them. Someone's hey, I noticed you worked at Blizzard and do you happen to know anyone in this department? This is my resume. This is my portfolio.

That's a much easier thing for me to do to forward along, versus, can you help me find a job? Do you work in any company that could use my skill set?

I'm here to help you, but I'm not gonna do your work for you.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, absolutely. What questions do you think a candidate should ask? It's a two way street and I think people forget that a lot. So what do you think is important for candidates to look out for?

Gina Jaio: I think this day and age, we talked a little about relocation. Even though it could change, has the company changed their mindset on return to office? Has anyone else been asked to come in, like any department? The recruiter will know and be able to share with you on that.

I'm just worried people are getting screwed over. If they cannot move back. Especially looking at Southern California right now, it's super expensive. And if they moved out of California to be in a much more affordable state and they can't move back. Be very clear.

Say, I cannot move back. I'm staying in Texas, for example. Please let the hiring manager know, is there any possibility? I'm used to being remote. Ask those questions up front.

And if they're in California, they should be posting their salary ranges on their job description. If they're not, I would be concerned. They could actually be fined at this point.

They've had since January to make that change and they haven't done that already. I would be concerned that they're being a little shady.

Lizzie Mintus: Washington and New York too. Any company with more than 15 full time employees.

Gina Jaio: There you go. And so they should be doing that and you can ask like, where are you in that range for this role? Because sometimes they'll post a very wide range. It seems ridiculous. Like how can you be $70,000 to l$150,000?

 What's the goal? What level are you hiring at this role for? And so each company has their own way of leveling to. It'd be senior, could be senior 2, to senior 3, but they're not clear on the job description. Ask those kind of questions.

Where are you even based on the candidate? They might be like, I'm very experienced. I'm more of a senior 2 by your levels. Do I fit that band and just having that honest conversation?

You don't have to share what you're making or anything like that, but being very upfront on your expectations are with the hiring manager.

Lizzie Mintus: I think that's helpful if you're making a lot of money. Let's say you started your career at Meta three years ago and you're making and what you may come to find out is an abnormally large amount, then I think it's great to give that, hey, by the way, I am at this high amount.

And I maybe don't expect you to hit it, but I just wanted to let you know, I think that's beneficial. And on the flip side, if you're drastically underpaid, you don't ever have to tell anybody you're based out. So I've had candidates tell me their salary and I'm like, you can tell me that. That's fine but here's some research.

You need to research what is appropriate for someone at your level. And you can say that you want that, but you don't need to disclose What you're underpaid.

Gina Jaio: Yeah, some people are very honest, which I appreciate, but even I like protect my candidates that way. They're very underpaid at their company. Obviously try to fight for them, but they don't have to show up, but you're exactly right. If someone's super high, just be honest, because you're probably not going to be able to get that same, but the recruiter probably can come and say maybe we could probably be a little bit flexible around this range. Having that conversation and having some kind of ballpark to start with that way you're not wasting everyone's time Like you're not the candidates time is not wasted the hiring manager's time is not wasted just having that kind of honest conversation.

Lizzie Mintus: That's really important I have one last question before I ask it. I want to point people to your website at Dreamhaven. com. The last question is who has made the biggest impact on your career? Who would you think if you were at an award ceremony that has really inspired you, mentored you? Made an impact.

Gina Jaio: Oh, my goodness. That's a really tough question. I have so many great mentors. I would say at this point. It would be Lenny Glossy. He's my former Head of recruiting at Disney and I was under him on the game side and he's actually the one that helped me transition over to Blizzard, because I had told him very early on, I want to continue helping build and staff gaming teams, scaling teams for internal game studios.

And, when Disney did that pivot where they weren't doing internal development anymore, I told him, look, I can't stay here because it's all 3rd party work. And I really want to continue helping developers directly. And I said, I'm looking at Riot, looking at Blizzard and he and I chatted. I actually created like a spreadsheet, like this is a reason. These are different things. He was like super impressed with that. He actually made the call over to the head of HR at Blizzard and saying, you need to hire Gina. And even though I was leaving his company and his team, he only wanted me to stay. He knew how passionate I was. Because of that, looking back, to work at Blizzard and work with great people like Mike Morhaime, I would not have been able to have that opportunity unless he made that call and helped me.

Blizzard was like my dream job at that point. I was able to follow people from Blizzard to Dreamhaven. I never imagined I could do everything so closely with these amazing, talented developers who are just good people at heart, too.

Lizzie Mintus: That's amazing.

Gina Jaio: I have Lenny to thank for a lot of that. Occasionally he and I will keep in touch, but, he's actually out of games. He's at Atlassian now. I continue to think about what he helped inspire me and he gave me a lot of feedback. I think when he first started, I tried a lot about things I need to work on. I had some really good feedback from him and I took those to heart. And I have him to thank to, to where I am right now.

Lizzie Mintus: Yeah, to Dreamhaven too, right? That's all one big connection. And I like that you were honest too about leaving.

Gina Jaio: He supported me with that too.

Lizzie Mintus: That says a lot. That's amazing. We've been talking to Gina Zhao, who's Director at Recruiting at Dreamhaven. Gina, where can people go to contact you?

I know you get a lot of contacts. or learn more about

Gina Jaio: you. I think my LinkedIn profile is the best way to find me. I'm Gina Zhao, G I N A J A I O. You can find my LinkedIn. That's the best way to follow my content there. And I try my best to respond to everyone that reaches out to me, even though it might be slow, but I actually do make a point to respond to everyone that reaches out to me.

Lizzie Mintus: I love that. I do, too. I have to block out evening out.

Gina Jaio: Just go through it. Yeah, if you see a message at midnight, it's because I really wanted to get back to everyone.

Lizzie Mintus: Thank you so much for being here. It was my pleasure. It was great talking to you and also having a conversation about recruiting and hiring practices.

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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