How Gamification Can Make Your Job Search More Effective and Fun!

Level Up your Job Search

It was 2:00 in the morning, and I had been in front of my computer for almost eight hours. I was exhausted, yet grimly determined to reach my goal, which had remained stubbornly elusive. I had been working on this for months, on and off, and had gotten close before. I silently said to myself, once again, “just one more attempt, then I’ll stop.”

The 45th time seemed to be the charm. My eyes were gritty, my head was spinning, but I was also exhilarated, awash in a triumph that I would never put on my resume, never include in my LinkedIn profile, and never admit to my friends. I had just completed my quest to achieve the rank of Master for every level in a computer game that I really didn’t enjoy, spending hours that I didn’t have, for a status that no one cared about. At some point I thought to myself, “There has got to be a way to use this obsessive persistence for something important!” Welcome to “gamification.”

What is Gamification?
Many of my clients have tried to figure out their careers on their own and only come to me when they are demoralized and desperate, questioning their self-worth. By being intentional, strategic, and working from their strengths, I encourage my clients to avoid burnout in the future by understanding themselves in the present. However, this path of introspection can be difficult and intimidating. It takes grit, motivation, and tenacity to keep moving, not unlike the grit, motivation, and tenacity that many demonstrate when playing computer games. So, how can you gamify your job search?

Jane McGonigal, in her thought-provoking book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, explores why people spend so much time playing games. She posits that gaming satisfies intrinsic needs that may not be attainable in people’s real lives. Her research, as well as others’, has identified some of these needs:

  • Completing discreet tasks with rewards at the end
  • Pursuing constantly evolving (but achievable) challenges
  • The ability to fail and then try again
  • Receiving immediate and relevant feedback
  • Undertaking activities and goals that fit an individual’s personality
  • Joining an epic quest to achieve something larger-than-life.

“Gamification” is different than playing games; it is taking aspects of gaming into non-gaming situations. Gamification involves intentionally integrating rewards, evolving challenges, and rapid feedback into a non-gaming process or task. This new format for life situations tends to then trigger the desire to overcome obstacles, the persistence to keep working until some “finish line” has been reached, and that sense of exhilaration that is only felt when you’ve beaten the odds. In other words: Fun!

McGonigal’s research also found a continued excitement, interest, and optimism despite failure. Think about that for a minute. How would your life improve if after every failure, instead of feeling dejected or defeated, you felt excited to jump back in and felt confident about the future? Is that what happens for you after a crummy interview or when you don’t hear back from a recruiter? If you are a human being, then the answer to that question is a loud NO!

But when gamers lose, they often are prompted with a quirky, goofy on-screen animation and the instant chance to start again. They often are driven to proceed by trying to figure out how they could do better next time. There may be frustration, but if the failure is fun enough, then the drive to do better next time takes over.

Gamifying in Your Career Development
It’s important to recognize that the process of seeking and finding meaningful work is one of the most critical aspects of being an adult. Too often, work has been separated from life (why else would we need a work-life balance if they were one and the same?). Thus, the things that bring us joy in life likely also bring us joy in work. This means that we can learn from our experiences playing games that we enjoy and apply them to the job search and the world of work in general. How do you do this? Start thinking about your job search from a game developer’s perspective:

  • Start with easy wins to develop basic mastery and then move on to increasingly complex challenges. For example, if doing informational interviews is an important part of your strategy (as I recommend), then conduct a mock informational interview with someone you know before you approach a thought leader in your field.
  • What kinds of rewards can give you a sense of accomplishment? These can be small and easy to give yourself, such as a good ol’ Homer-esque “Woohoo!” or a happy dance to your favorite song.
  • How can you easily track your progress and receive feedback on how you’re doing
  • How can you make failure acceptable, expected, and even fun? Try visualize amusing sad-trombone music or cartoon images whenever you feel like you’ve messed up, but then take a moment to rethink your strategy and make plans to try again.
  • Is there an overarching metaphor or narrative that you can use to connect to something bigger than yourself? Something like climbing Mt. Everest or finding buried treasure.

If all of this sounds too overwhelming or simply five more things to add to your extensive email list, think about using My Career Design Studio, an online coaching program that breaks down the entire career decision-making and job search process into bite-sized pieces with lots of gamified elements. Try it for free for seven days, no credit card required!

A version of this article, written for career professionals, was featured in the National Career Development Association’s Career Convergence journal in October 2017.

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