How Gamification Brings Joy and Motivation to Career Development

By Ronda Ansted

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.”


Defining Gamification

I run my own private career counseling practice where I primarily help people in the non-profit sector figure out their next professional move. Many 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 I demonstrated playing a computer game. So, the question becomes, what can gaming teach career development practitioners?


Jane McGonigal, in her thought-provoking book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, (McGonigal, 2011) 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’, (Faiella & Ricciardi, 2015; Kim, 2015; Schoech, Boyas, Black, & Elias-Lambert, 2013) has identified some of these needs:

  1. Completing discreet tasks with rewards at the end
  2. Pursuing constantly evolving (but achievable) challenges
  3. The ability to fail and then try again
  4. Receiving immediate and relevant feedback
  5. Undertaking activities and goals that fit an individual’s personality
  6. 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: joy.


Also noted by McGonigal's research was a continued excitement, interest, and optimism despite failure. Think about that for a minute. How would people’s lives improve if after every failure, instead of feeling dejected or defeated, they were excited to jump back in and felt confident about the future? What would that do for jobseekers if after making it through the interview but losing out on the job, they immediately felt energized to try again?


This change in perspective happens by making failure fun. 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. Ideas like this can give career development professionals a new toolkit to explore and use with clients.


Utilizing Gamification in Career Development

Since motivation is a crucial component in career counseling client success, can gamification help instill grit and resilience? Can it foster a sense of joy? And if so, how? To answer the first two questions, 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. Leveraging these motivating factors can help foster grit and resilience in job seekers and employees.


The answer to the third question of how can vary widely depending on the situation and client. However, it starts with thinking through the career development process from a game developer’s perspective. These questions can help:

  1. Can jobseekers be set up to start with easy wins to develop basic mastery and then move on to increasingly complex challenges? For example, have them conduct a mock informational interview with someone they know before they approach a thought leader in their field.
  2. What kinds of rewards give clients or students a sense of accomplishment? These will be different based on age, personality, and sometimes gender. Can you include these types of rewards in the career development work you do together? This could be as easy as a high-five or a “Good Job!” email.
  3. Is there a way that jobseekers can track their progress and receive feedback? An online program like My Career Design Studio is the easiest way to do this, but so can to-do lists and role-play exercises with immediate debriefing and the chance to try again.
  4. How can you help make failure acceptable, expected, and even fun? Have job seekers visualize amusing sad-trombone music or cartoon images whenever they feel like they messed up.
  5. Is there an overarching metaphor or narrative that can help jobseekers connect to something bigger than themselves as they go through their individual process? Some examples include climbing Mt. Everest or finding buried treasure. My Career Design Studio uses the metaphor of building a “career mosaic” to help job seekers pull the disparate pieces of their lives together to create their masterpiece.


The answers to these questions can gamify career development and bring joy into the process. This is not easy, but gamification has been successfully used in adopting new health behaviors, preventing substance abuse relapse, and helping people succeed on the job (Faiella & Ricciardi, 2015; Meister, 2015; Schoech, Boyas, Black, & Elias-Lambert, 2013). It’s time that gamification is also used in the job search.




Faiella, F., & Ricciardi, M. (2015). Gamification and learning: a review of issues and research. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 11(3), 13-21.

Kim, B. (2015). Understanding Gamification. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

Meister, J. (2015, March 30). Future of Work: Using Gamification For Human Resources. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannemeister/2015/03/30/future-of-work-using-gamification-for-human-resources/#20208b5024b7

Schoech, D., Boyas, J., Black, B., & Elias-Lambert, N. (2013). Gamification for behavior change: Lessons from developing a social, multiuser, web-tablet based prevention game for youths. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 31(3), 197-217.


Ronda AnstedRonda Ansted, DMgt, MSW, GCDF is the founder of Be the Change Career Consulting and the creator of My Career Design Studio, a gamified online career coaching app that helps job seekers find their career fit and next job through the metaphor of creating a mosaic. More information can be found at http://www.mycareerdesignstudio.com. Email: ronda@bethechangecareers.com

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Paula Brand   on Monday 10/02/2017 at 01:14 PM

Ronda, Thanks for sharing some great analogies and ways to make career management a little more fun. I'm excited to see the progress you've made with My Career Design Studio.

Adey Makonnen   on Monday 10/09/2017 at 02:22 PM

Very interesting and informative article on a subject I knew very little about, thank you! I have a career coaching practice and am always on the look out for what can help my clients.
I was not able to access the link you provided for My Career Design Studio. Is it still active?
Best regards

Ronda Ansted   on Tuesday 10/10/2017 at 02:55 PM

Adey, I've been transitioning My Career Design Studio so the site was off-line. If you try the URL today, you'll get a sneak peek of the entire project! Later this week, we'll have the official intro page on-line. And feel free to email me directly and I'll get you more information!


Meredith Tseu   on Wednesday 10/25/2017 at 08:33 AM

What a great perspective! Thanks for this! We all need to feel like we're leveling up sometimes. I love the ideas for incorporating the principle into my work, even without a screen or Nintendo.

Gail Bryant   on Wednesday 11/08/2017 at 04:42 PM

This a very interesting approach to career development. I have never look at career development in this form as you have presented. I plan to get more information on your website.

Nancy J. Miller   on Saturday 12/30/2017 at 05:00 PM

Thank you for a creative perspective on career development.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.