People are starting to list their extracurricular activity acomplishments on their CVs. Business Technology’s resident U.S. blogger Keil Hubert mulls over whether this is brilliant or unnecessarily reckless.
I posed the argument in my first column of 2014 that people who share any particular tribal-like affiliation have ways to recognize one another. I used veterans and tech workers as example ‘tribes’ for discussion purposes, since the heart of the article was about how to improve the interviewing process, and those are great groups to appeal to when trying to form positive connections in a discussion about a potential IT job. By validating each other’s common experiences, both parties can proceed on to have a more informative dialogue. Specifically, I said:
When I interview people, I look specifically for those elements of commonality, and I validate people’s claims of competence by the stories that they share. …Once we establish that we have some common ground, the conversation can get richer and more detailed. We can laugh at one another’s pains and frustrations.
One of the common ‘recognition signals’ that I’d use in IT department recruiting was embedded inside a conversational icebreaker. I’d let the interested party know that our team was made up ‘mostly of nerds’, but that it wasn’t a requirement to be hardcore nerd to fit in; we wouldn’t be asking them to pick sides in the Kirk versus Piccard debate.  Most people would smile at that and then give us a counter-sign like: ‘I’m more of a Star Wars fan myself’, or, ‘That’s fine, so long as we don’t have to memorize Pokémon trivia.’ Little exchanges like that help people to feel more comfortable – it’s an indication that their (potential, future) co-workers will likely respect theirpop culture preferences (and might even share some of them!).
I’d originally planned to leave the argument there. That all changed a week ago Sunday when CNN Money writer Jose Pagliery posted an article titled ‘Why I put World of Warcraft on my resume’. Jose’s opening paragraph left me gobsmacked:
‘Symantec’s chief operating officer, Stephen Gillett, has an impressive resume that includes executive stints at Starbucks, CNET and Best Buy. He’s also a level 70 paladin and priest with a particular focus on healing abilities.’
Blink… blink… blink. I’m probably responsible for at least a dozen page views for that article, because I’d read it, wander off confused, and then come back to it for another read.
I tweeted the article and posted the story to a couple other social media outlets to let my friends and family take a crack at it. The majority of people that commented (to me) about it said something along the lines of, ‘That’s ridiculous! Unless you were the game’s developer, you should never mention that in your CV.’ I get my mates’ argument there, but I think they may be missing a critical element of the story: Mr Gillett’s avant-garde approach to résumé writing might not be as crazy as it might seem at first. As the journalist explained two paragraphs deeper into the story:
‘“I put my qualifications on my resume when I apply for jobs,” Gillett said. “Here’s my guild. Here’s my ranking. Here’s my biggest online achievement. Some people look at it and say, ‘What the hell is this?’ And others will be like, ‘That’s exactly what I’m looking for.’”’
The thing is, he might very well be right. A great many (not all, not even most, but many) people within the IT community are into video gaming. It’s a stronger probability among younger workers, but it’s not unheard of for even old curmudgeons like me to enjoy some quality time spent on the PlayStation. This, then, is another potential shared ‘tribal affiliation’ opportunity. If Mr Gillett can connect with another dedicated MUMORPUGER  like himself, then his significant accomplishments within the World of Warcraft (WoW) online community might well impress or awe someone else who also plays WoW and understands just how impressive it must be to turn a thousand hours of online gaming investment into a level 70 paladin. I assume that’s impressive.
On the other hand, he might be making a horrible mistake by bringing it up. Not because there’s anything particularly wrong with playing WoW; on the balance, he’s really not all that much different from people who play Candy Crush Saga on their mobile phones or people who play vintage Pac Man machines. They’re all electronic diversions that many people enjoy playing in their spare time. Not all people enjoy them, though, and there’s the rub.
When I brought up the idea of trying to find common ground with job applicants based on group affiliations, I was using some pretty darned large groups: veterans, for example, make up a significant percentage of the population. IT workers make up an even larger percentage. When it comes to mass appeal, it’s very hard to find someone who hasn’t watched at least somethingfrom the four-decade-old Star Trek franchise. Those are all very large, and (thereby) relatively safe groups to appeal to.  Conversely, the more narrowly you target a potential shared experience or group, the more likely you are to miss your target with any given unique person.
In Mr Gillett’s case, banking on making a connection over shared WoW affiliation is (I expect) rather ballsy. At its height in 2010, Blizzard had about 12 million people playing WoWworldwide. That count has slipped a bit, but they still have some 10 million current subscribers – and that’s darned impressive. Still, that’s 10 million out of the 7+ billion people who make up the planet. By way of comparison, there are (as of this month) about 21,973,000 living American military veterans out of a national population of 317,000,000 (about 7 per cent).
Another factor to consider is that the more niche you get with any given affiliation, the more likely you are to alienate your target when you’re trying to affiliate. For Mr Gillett’s attempt, he went pretty deep into the weeds:
Game player (yes/no)?
If yes, then: video gamer (yes/no)?
If yes, then: game platform (PC, Console, Phone, etc.)?
If PC, then: game class (MMORPG, FPS, RTS, etc.)?
If MMORPG, then: which product (WoW, AoC, ESO, etc.)?
If WoW, then: commitment (casual, guild, etc.)
Every branch option taken in that decision path takes you down to an increasingly smaller percentage of the population. Eventually, you get down to a group of fellow enthusiasts so small (or ‘elite,’ if you prefer) that you might well recognize one another by name because there’s so few that you wouldn’t be put out having to buy all of them a round at the local.
That, I think, is where Mr Gillett may be brilliant. I suspect that he did his proper due diligence when he hunted for his next position and found out that one of the critical people that he needed to impress in order to be considered for the position he wanted just happened to have one of the exact same hobby branching path that he did, and he leveraged the hell out of that unique connection. He made mention of the very small (but, for them, quite meaningful) bond that they both shared and that in turn inspired a strong positive reaction in his target. I’d argue that this technique is utterly brilliant – when it works. It’s the precision guided missile strike of interpersonal networking.
Let’s face it: above a certain career threshold, getting considered for a position is far more a matter of who you know than what you know or what you’re capable of. That’s why professional job search coaches stress that networking is a far more profitable use of your time than filling out applications. A Fortune 500 executive once advised me that spending anything less than 90 per cent of your search time in networking was a counter-productive waste of effort and resources. This isn’t new.
It used to be that we’d make our shared connections – our tribal affiliations, if you like – through our social groups, church memberships, political parties, sport allegiances, and other in-person activities. When two equally-qualified candidates are under consideration for a CXO position, the candidate who shares an affiliation with the selection official is almost always going to get the nod. The subgroup affiliation shows that the affiliated candidate more likely to be a potential cultural fit than the unknown fellow.
Now, it seems that we can narrowly target a lot more potential shared interests. WoW players, for example. Or Bronies. Or extreme cosplayers. Or German pseudo-nihilist pop philosophers. Or dubstep violinists. Odds are good that nearly any shared diversion can potentially be useful for making an positive connection with a stranger… If you’re lucky, you’ll discover during your job search that someone else inside the company where you want to work is excited about some of the same things that excite you.
That in mind, I briefly considered adding ‘Multi-System Games Master (30 years’ experience)’ as an ‘accomplishment’ on my long-form CV. There are certainly a few hundred thousand people out there who might look on that and decide (as Mr. Gillett said)‘That’s exactly what I’m looking for!’ On the other hand, there are probably a lot more people out there who would see that entry and shake their heads with confusion (and possibly with distaste). As accomplishments go, it doesn’t really register in most people’s worlds, and sure as heck won’t be impressive to people unfamiliar with the hobby.
I’ll probably save that self-promotional nugget for a face-to-face conversation, and then only after I’m surethat I’m talking to another PIFURPIGUR AYPEEGEEM.  We’re a very small, and very accomplished group of folks, which is bound to impress someone in the tribe… and no one else. That’s all right, though. Just like with any other niche leisure pursuit, we’ll eventually know our own.
That’s why I think that I’ll forego adding my outside leisure pursuit accomplishments to my résumé, There’s just too much risk of unwanted collateral damage. No sense in taking the shot unless I’m absolutely sure that whatever niche reference I make will be a guaranteed hit with the person I’m submitting the résumé to.
 The Star Trek franchise is mainstream enough that most everyone will recognize those two characters, and will be aware that people have different favourites from the TV shows and films. It’s very, very rare to have someone completely miss the reference.
 WoW belongs to a family of video games loosely defined as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or MMORPG. In my circle of nerds, we follow the teaching of our snarky high priest – The Escapist’s hysterically funny (and NSFW) video game reviewer Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw – and we therefore describe aficionados of this video game genre as MUMORPUGERs (muh-MOR’-puh-gurz). 
 For a functional example, here’s a quote from Yahtzee’s hugely popular review of the video game Age of Conan: ‘Contrary to popular belief, I don’t hate mumorpugers. I hate what they do to people, turning them into nocturnal blobs of flesh and Cheetos that communicate entirely in mouth-breathing; and I hate when I look back on my time with a mumorpuger and realize that I just flushed away months of my life that I could have spent writing a best-selling book or raising a child or pounding nails into my face.’
 For example, one of my mates is a former enlisted Navy combat engineer. I was, instead, an Army enlisted medic and an Air Force cyberspace officer. We had several general experiences in common, like basic combat training. Our primary bond was the time that we’d both served at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Of the hundreds of places that we each served and the thousands of things that we did while in uniform, that one shared location helped the two of us to bond as brothers-in-arms. That, and beer down at the local.
Keil Hubert is a retired U.S. Air Force ‘Cyberspace Operations’ officer, with over ten years of military command experience. He currently consults on business, security and technology issues in Texas. He’s built dot-com start-ups for KPMG Consulting, created an in-house consulting practice for Yahoo!, and helped to launch four small businesses (including his own).
Keil’s experience creating and leading IT teams in the defense, healthcare, media, government and non-profit sectors has afforded him an eclectic perspective on the integration of business needs, technical services and creative employee development… This serves him well as Business Technology’s resident U.S. blogger.