How A Video Game Company Taught Me To Hire

During the 2013 float conference Graham Talley talked on stage about how he couldn’t imagine hiring someone based on their resume. He found hiring based on internships to be exponentially better. This stuck with me over the months following the conference. The same questions kept percolating: If I don’t have an internship program, what is the best way to hire? What do I look for during an interview of a potential employee?

Not the Way to Hire Just a month before the conference we had put an ad out for an open position at the Float Shoppe and within 24 hours received over 100 applicants. I had absolutely no idea how to start going through these, let alone finding the time. Sandra and I made several passes through all the applications, and narrowed it down to about 30 candidates based on A) spelling/grammar in their initial email B) work history and education C) overall perceived attitude. During the weeks that we whittled down our applications, we also received phone calls from applicants looking for updates. One person in particular kept calling in. Instead of being grating, he came across with a great attitude and all of our employees started asking Sandra and I to interview him. We really enjoyed his personality, he was bright and he seemed to really understand the vibe of what the Float Shoppe aims for. We hired him on the spot. Long story short, he didn’t work out. While he interviewed great, the interview didn’t tell us how he would interact with customers day in and day out, the quality of work done behind the scenes, worth ethic, etc. We parted on good terms and he remains friends with the shoppe to this day. But the question of how to hire was only getting louder in my mind

Advice From a Video Game Company? I get a ton of inspiration from other people’s successes in business, and reading literature about business has helped me determine what my own priorities are as a business owner. Ironically, the most influential book I have read isn’t really a book at all, well, it’s a handbook. It was never officially published, it was leaked online. The Valve Handbook for New Employees describes a style of business structure that is unheard of in any industry. It is basically a flat structure which means there are no managers, no tiered hierarchy, and no micromanagement from anyone in the business. I highly highly recommend you read all of the Valve Handbook as it holds the foundational principles on how the Float Shoppe is structured and how we want our employees to feel empowered and fulfilled. It is very easy to question this style of management (or lack of), but the results speak for themselves. Valve is the most profitable business in the video game industry, and continually pushes the boundaries of video game creativity, game distribution and more recently video game hardware. Their employees are also very happy to work there. But how does this translate to a float business, and more specifically how does it relate to hiring?

Our Hiring Method While the Float Shoppe has a minor “work/trade” program. We don’t have a full-fledged internship program like Float On, and for the time being that is how it will remain. So then, how does one hire without seeing how someone behaves on the job? We take two cues from Valve in this.

First, we encourage our current employees to recommend potential new hires. Many of those who are with us have been so since the very beginning of the Shoppe. They know how it works, they embody the values our shoppe represents, and they know who would continue moving the shoppe in the right direction.

[caption id="attachment_421" align="alignright" width="220"]027 Melissa during a mini-photo shoot[/caption]

Second, we look for our industries’ “T-shaped” people (see page 64 of manual). We want employees who have broad strengths that will keep the shoppe afloat (ah, float puns) such as customer service, personal drive, attention to detail, cleanliness, IT skills, etc. But we also want our employees to have a special skill that they want to flex. A great example is one of our latest hires, Melissa. Melissa was friends with several of our employees and came highly recommended. She has an infectiously fun and positive attitude, has strong work ethic and is basically just an all around great employee. She has also become our in-house artist. We knew this was a strength of hers even before she was hired based on her already popular greeting card business. This is how the Float Shoppe model (inspired by the Valve model) really pays off: We had no idea how Melissa would integrate into the Float Shoppe. We had no specific plan on how we would use her artistic skills, but her personal drive, inspiration, and creativity drove the Float Shoppe into new directions. She has been creating new ads, postcards for out of town visitors, coupons we now hand out (we never had coupons before) and creating bi-monthly art shows, and has improved our business while broadening the Float Shoppe’s offerings. Melissa has become an integral part of the Float Shoppe and helped define who we are.

Recreating Melissa So, how do we do this again? How do we keep hiring people who have great strengths that will push the shoppe forward?

We do it by sticking to our guns and hiring people who have general strengths that meet the Float Shoppe’s needs, but also have one or two very specific strengths that have the capability of helping the business grow.

We don’t try to hire another Melissa. We hire employees with varying strengths that complement the mission and philosophy of The Float Shoppe. We want the Shoppe to be pushed in all sorts of different directions both internally and externally, and if we keep hiring employees with the same cookie cutter format, we’ll just keep growing in the same direction... and that’s just not fun.

Finally, after our employees are hired, we get out of the way. For our employees to truly be expressing themselves within our business, they need to know that it’s actually their business. If we micromanage or set up too many road-blocks, they aren’t going to reach their full potential, and if they aren’t reaching their full potential, they aren’t going to be as happy as they could be. If that’s the case, we have failed our mission as the Float Shoppe. The more we get out of the way and let our employees shine, the better off they, Sandra and I, and the Float Shoppe are.