Game on, job seekers!

November 11, 2010, 8:00 AM UTC

The professional social network GILD wants users to find jobs and have fun and win prizes while they’re at it. Can gamification work for something as big as finding a job?

For the country’s 9.6% unemployed, jobs remain elusive. The traditional tools available — headhunters, temp agencies, referrals, even LinkedIn — can sometimes be more tiresome than helpful. Hopeful job seekers can walk away even more frustrated at the end of a long day of searching than when they started. The creators of GILD hope their free job tool and professional social network will change the way job seekers view the hunt. Instead of a painful, arduous experience, they want applicants to get some fun out of the process.

GILD, which officially launched last September and remains backed by undisclosed angel investors and tech execs, currently posts jobs from 24 participating companies including Oracle (ORCL), PayPal, Skype, eBay (EBAY), (CRM) and Sapient (SAPE). To apply, job seekers can participate in game-like puzzles that allow them to stand out based on skills and capabilities instead of say, who they may or may not know.

Sheeroy Desai, CEO of PAC Labs, the company responsible for GILD, says the service is aimed at recent graduates and twenty-something professionals who may lack the connections and networking know-how to find a job on their own, as well as the gainfully-employed looking for some time to kill and some sweet swag.

According to Desai, there aren’t many tools geared toward that set. Sure, there’s LinkedIn, but as Desai sees it, the seven-year-old professional social network works best for established professionals, not those in the early stages of their career. After all, how helpful can LinkedIn be if you’re fresh out of college with a measly seven “connections”?

Also seemingly lacking in most job tools: an engaging user experience. (When was the last time you got a kick out of trolling or LinkedIn?) When GILD users peruse job listings, they’ll notice the usual job skill requirements: CSS familiarity, JavaScript, Unix, and so on. To that end, users can take 20 to 40 minute “certification tests” or games of varying levels of difficulty — “Basic,” “Advanced,” and “Expert” — that qualify them for scores and Foursquare-like badges.

The site is geared heavily toward tech job openings: Currently, there are more than 25 certification tests, including ASP.NET, Linux, JavaScript, Software Engineering Aptitude and English writing capability. The tests themselves can take anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes to complete and can range from simple word association games to reading comprehension quizzes that test intimate knowledge of a skill set.

The higher the certification score and the more applicable badges candidates have, the higher up on the applicant list they’ll appear when the job employer gets a report on suitable candidates for an opening — the employer’s understanding being that the list of applicants they receive from GILD is ranked in descending order from most qualified to least qualified candidate.

From the user perspective, GILD is pretty transparent about all of that. Once users submit their materials for a job, a stat reveals where they rank. If they take some or all the certification tests applicable to a job, they increase their chances of getting a top ranking. Conversely, If they don’t take any certification tests, GILD still lets them apply, but they’ll likely end up lower on the candidate list.

To keep users further engaged, Gild also offers company-sponsored competitions: Contests that result in tangible prizes, if not necessarily jobs. You might not get the gig, but a Canon PowerShort A495 digital camera, a WiFi iPad, an all-expenses weekend trip to Vegas (Yes, seriously.) isn’t a bad consolation for your time and effort. Here, the game topics can vary wildly, as they don’t have to be relevant to the company: a contest on world leaders, “inventions that changed the world,” or general riddle-solving.

For participating companies like Sapient, which recently volunteered several iPads and iPod Nanos for such competitions, these competitions are icing on the cake. More importantly, GILD does a good chunk of the heavy-lifting in terms of applicant screening.

Despite the troubled economy, Sapient added between 700 and 800 employees to its staff of 8,500, or roughly 10%, during the company’s most recent quarter. In the four months since they started posting jobs via GILD, they have tracked over 2,000 applicants. Of those, 100 qualified candidates were vetted, and Sapient contacted 30. According to Alan Wexler, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, that number is actually pretty good. Though the company is still interviewing the GILD candidates, Wexler admits the service has proven useful.

“What’s really good is that 100 or so applicants have been pre-screened for core technology skills,” says Wexler. “Whereas with other services, what typically will happen is we’d look at that hundred, start evaluating them from a core skill perspective and find there are none left — and that’s before you even take into consideration other aspects like say, values and culture fit.”

However, with GILD, those candidates were vetted to some extent, and chances are chances are, both job seeker and employer will walk away from the hunt a little less frustrated than they once were.