How World of Warcraft Can(‘t) Land You a Job

An old college friend asked me a provocative question. “If you were hiring people, and you had the time to watch them play a game, what game do you think would show you the best people?”

Let’s start with this: most games are crappy when determining decent employees.

Two reasons support this assertion. First, games are much, much easier than they used to be. Which is to say, designers are much, much better about making games that don’t bring the ridiculously steep, variable learning curves they used to bring. Consequently, watching people play a game won’t tell me much about the players unless the players are good enough to display the nuances that make a real difference in their performance. That, in turn, requires me to be good enough to recognize those nuances, limiting me to World of Warcraft. I could determine certain traits from the Street Fighter series, Tetris, and some old-school Nintendo and Atari games, but World of Warcraft offers a much more rich, nuanced view of players.

Second (and more importantly), games are crappy at helping to determine decent employees because individual performance doesn’t matter much. Sure, a great player brings assets to the team, but I’ll take a mediocre player with great teamwork ten times out of ten, over a great player who can’t play well with others. If teamwork makes the top of my list in finding good employees, then World of Warcraft tops my list of “interview games”.

Reading the following links probably isn’t necessary. Just know that I wanted to show how much attention World of Warcraft raiding gets in terms of the hiring question. I couldn’t find the best link, an internal IBM document that leaked to the web a few years ago, outlining WoW leadership as a predictor of management success; still, these articles provide insight.

If you come in as a prospective employee, and if you give me 10 minutes watching you in a voice-enabled raid or (even better) a rated battleground, I can fairly predict what your current skills are in terms of communication, collaboration, working with difficult coworkers, working under stress, your personal work style (in a Myers-Briggs kind of way), and what kind of work position will suit you best (drone, assistant, leader, researcher, etc.).

To be sure, the vast majority of WoW players use WoW as casual entertainment, like a Facebook game. It really is that casual. Others play WoW (and other MMOs) as an addiction to Pavlovian game mechanics. Employers remain (and should remain) very cautious if WoW shows up on a resume. With that said, as someone who has hired employees, let’s break down how I would perceive WoW as an asset or a liability in the interview process.

Don’t show up to a job interview inappropriately dressed, and don’t show up to a raid without capped professions, full enchantments and gems, and appropriate gear for the time. Rated Battlegrounds are a little more forgiving, but still require full gearing. Some things in WoW just flat out require boring grind, and one glance at your armory will tell me if you’re part of the sloppy 90% (it really is 90%, just like in real life interviews), or prepared 10%. Nobody who is serious about raiding and RBGs has an excuse to arrive incomplete. While professions, enchantments and gems make a relatively minor impact, your preparation of these elements often predicts the lengths you prepared in other ways I can’t yet see. In addition, while preparation has little correlation with in-game skill, I know that a prepared player is much more likely to learn and work with others.

Don’t make excuses. Bad server economy? Can’t find the appropriate enchanter? You don’t have the time? It doesn’t make a big enough difference? All of them may indeed be true, and I need to know whether you’re predisposed to overcome challenges, no matter how minor. Most players who make excuses for incomplete gearing, as minor as it is, make excuses for major stuff later on, or blame others when things go badly.

This is why all of the studies linked above discuss the potential for WoW as a tool for finding and making quality leaders. The studies don’t talk about the players they lead, because the vast majority of those players are not high quality players. Ouch.

On to WoW (guild) leadership.

Do you lead a guild? If so, I want to know if the guild in its current form is older than the latest expansion. Guilds have a natural lifecycle, and players regularly join and leave. But growing and maintaining a guild through the various trials and tribulations of World of Warcraft over time is actually the hardest thing to do in the game. You promote, mediate, delegate, all the wonderful management things discussed the collection of papers listed above. The vast, vast majority of actual, living guilds don’t last a year.

Don’t tell me you led a guild for three years, but changed its name a couple of times. That tells me when the going got rough, you and your inside group of cronies left the mess so that you could “start fresh” without actually addressing the real issues that troubled your guild.

Don’t tell me you led a guild for a couple years and “maintained” its size. Guilds change, and if yours didn’t grow or shrink, then you didn’t participate enough with people outside of your guild for your guild leadership experience to be relevant. Or, your management skills are so good that you’ll probably have professional experience with maintaining personnel in an organization and wouldn’t mention Warcraft to me in the first place.

Don’t tell me your longtime guild prides itself on being drama free and maintaining a separation between real life and the game. The game is part of your guildmates’ “real lives”, and if you think your guild is drama free, that means others besides you are doing the real work of running the guild and not telling you. I want to interview them instead.

Assuming you are a true longtime guild or RBG team leader and don’t trip any of the aforementioned alarms, I’ll get very interested in your experience.

  • What were the sources of growth for your guild or team? How did you manage that?
  • How did you fill holes in your team?
  • How did you delegate responsibility?
  • How did you promote your guild or team, and how did you maintain the standards you wanted for your guild/team?
  • What were some memorable challenges your guild/team faced, and how did you overcome them?

I expect to hear important struggles. Your guild had a real need for a quality warlock, but couldn’t find one that matched your guild’s standards. Some of your guildies loved a guildmate, but his behavior hurt the guild, and you had to step up to let him go and manage the ensuing drama. Or your guild hated an arrogant member, one of the guild’s best players. Two guildies, married to each other, get a divorce, and their drama spills into the guild. Another guildie turns out to be a single dad who lets his very computer literate 9-year-old daughter play unattended. What did you do in these situations? How did you maintain boundaries of responsibility while respecting the personal choices of guildmates?

My point is, while it’s hard to find great skills, it’s harder to find great teamwork and leadership. Leaders appear so rarely because people either don’t have the skills, or they don’t want to deal with other people’s crap on a regular basis. People can learn a ton from WoW about leadership, but WoW and video games in general aren’t special that way. WoW, like any sport or group activity, can provide tremendous self-improvement, but it’s rare because most people don’t seek that in WoW.

One thing makes video games special compared to other group activities: low resource requirements. We need much less to get started with being a great gamer compared to being a great athlete, speaker, chef, etc. With that said, more resources doesn’t lead to increased skill unless we also provide accessibility i.e. ways to help increase skill. If you give someone a car and a lifetime supply of gas, that doesn’t mean they will ever become good drivers. Drivers need feedback and training to hone their experiences. There’s a distinction between resources and accessibility, and we should be wary of providing one without the other.

To answer the original question, then: watching players participate in a World of Warcraft raid or rated battleground will tell me a lot about them as potential employees, but only if they pursued higher levels of collaborative or competitive success.

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