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Work will always be work, but the software we use everyday to do our jobs has an incredible influence on whether we do it well, do it efficiently, and enjoy doing it. Or not! Take recruiting, for example. Sourcing, interviewing and hiring the right people is absolutely essential to the success of any company, but as anyone involved in hiring can tell you, it’s a painful process fed largely by the burdensome software used to track and assess applicants.

During my three years at Zynga as a product manager for FarmVille, I focused on creating features that increased player’s engagement and connection to the game. My team would brainstorm a new idea, write a spec describing how it should be designed, and then build and release it. The resulting feature would hopefully increase the stickiness factor and emotional connection players had with the game. That connection was really at the core of our game design philosophy — people will come back to something they enjoy and love.

I recently moved over to designing recruiting software, which, at first glance may seem incongruous, but the similarities between gaming and recruiting are striking. For one, they’re both extremely socially-driven activities. Games feed off of friends competing or sharing scores, while the best recruits almost always come from employees who know a friend that would be perfect for an open job. The process of recruiting — much like progression within a game — is a series of tasks that need to be completed to move on to the next stage.

While gamification is often perceived as cheap emotional triggers (badges, points, leaderboards, etc.), it’s an unfortunate distinction. For decades, game designers have mastered user-centric design and the triggers that drive motivation and engagement. I believe business software makers can learn a lot from the underlying philosophy of game mechanics in order to make their products more fun and engaging, and ultimately, more effective at what it’s aimed to do.

Below are three concepts that every business software should steal from the gaming playbook:

Contextual and timely information

Games are good at showing you the right information at the right time. As a player, you can then make a well-informed decision and feel like your choices paid off. Think about the last time you chose a character in a game. What went through your mind? I’m guessing you gave some thought towards how the character would match up against the particular level or opponent you were facing (think speed, power, agility). This is where games excel. They put a lot of emphasis and precision into what info to present to the player, whether it be a set of statistics or visual cues about the character. Game designers focus on this because when the player finally wins, they feel smart and rewarded for their strategy.

Being relatively new to the recruiting software industry (other than as an applying candidate), I’ve started to think a lot about where the power of information could be used to make the process easier for hiring managers and recruiters. For example, when they have a new job opening and begin their sourcing efforts by paying to post to job boards, what info would they want to know? I’d want to know what job boards out there are the most effective for the specific function and industry I’m hiring for (e.g. Software Engineer in Games). Even better, I’d love to know how many candidates and the quality of those candidates, even if they are ballpark predictions based on historical data. That would represent contextual and timely info to me to make the best use of my time and budget.

Summarizing performance

Progression is a ubiquitous concept in games for a reason — it plays into the innate goal of human nature to assess how we’re doing and our constant drive to improve. That’s why many games often show you the equivalent of a performance scorecard when you finish a level, to not only let you admire your accomplishment but also set a bar for improvement in the future. High scores are an example of this, as it’s easily relatable in any context and an effective motivator to keep doing the things that are working and to try changing up the things that aren’t.

Again, tying this back to the recruiting software industry, what if this same principle could be applied to start measuring hiring efficiency? Let’s say I was successfully able to hire the software engineer for my gaming company, I’d love to see my performance scorecard of how many days it took to close the position, how much of my recruiting budget I spent, and particularly which job board sourced my new employee. Further, I’d want to compare how I did relative to my last five software engineer hires so I can identify any trends and double-down on the job boards that are giving me the best ROI.

Power of dangling a carrot

A gaming mechanic that I’ve grown fond of over the years is quests. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s basically a series of tasks a player needs to complete towards a larger goal, such as getting a special reward item or unlocking the next level. During my time on FarmVille, quests were one of the most successful features we released and this was supported by our player feedback and data. The key was in the packaging. By clearly surfacing the aspiration that players were working towards, this motivated and gave purpose to their daily game play. It taps into the completionist mentality that we as humans have. It’s the same compulsion you get when you go to the grocery store with a shopping list. It feels gratifying to cross everything even if there isn’t an extrinsic reward tied to it.

Outside of the gaming context, LinkedIn is an example of a product that implements this principle perfectly with their “profile completeness” feature. It’s a progress bar that represents how much info you’ve filled out in your profile and suggests what to do next. It’s effective, because it makes you feel like you won’t be able to engage in all the professional networking activity you signed up until you’re at 100 percent.

In all of these concepts the common thread is that we’re designing for the end user. If the gaming industry has figured out how to trigger emotion from players in a pure entertainment context, imagine the power and efficiency that can be unlocked if properly applied in the business context.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]