How We Do It: The Daily Check-In and Manager Chat

Last year I merged my GAMA travel and a week in Phoenix into one two-week megatrip. Going away on a two-week trip when I’d never previously been away from the business for more than four days was terrifying. One of the things I asked my managers to do to put my mind at ease was to send a group Facebook message to me and the other managers telling us briefly how the day went and what everyone did.

The trip went great. I kept a list on an index card and found that after two weeks, my input was only needed for three minor things. When I got back, I realized how useful those daily messages were. The managers loved them, too, and we’ve been doing them ever since.

How: We use a Facebook group chat. We limit it to just me, my wife, and our three managers. If you’ve got a smaller staff you might consider having every employee in this chat, but we have a whole-company employee Facebook group for that sort of coordination, and I don’t like bothering a 16-hour employee with notifications while they’re out living their lives. If you don’t use Facebook, a Google Hangout works great, too. There are other third-party collaboration tools out there for folks that don’t want to use Facebook or Google. I could see the need for an alternative increasing with the size of your staff.


  • Keeps you, the owner, informed at a high level of what’s going on. This message is a good opportunity for an employee to give everyone a heads up about something that is important but isn’t time-critical.
  • Keeps managers (or employees) in the loop on non-crisis items.
  • Provides employees with a motivation to accomplish something every day: My employees know that if sales were poor, they should have something to show for all their time at the end of the day.
  • Provides a way for my managers to keep me and each other posted about ongoing problems and our progress on them. For instance, an intermittent sewer gas leak we’ve been trying to track down, or an employee who got a poor evaluation and is getting special attention until they’re back on track.
  • Gives managers that never work with each other a venue for socialization, no matter how limited.
  • If you don’t have a remotely-accessible POS system, this is a good opportunity to get the daily totals.

The daily check-in really should remain very simple. My current opinion is that you should resist the temptation to make an end-of-the-day questionnaire form that must be completed. If you trust your people to run your store without you, you trust them to know what is important and what is not. Here’s an example of the daily reports that we give:

As an aside: You know what’s NOT mentioned in that update? Anything about video games. That’s because they’re that easy. If you’re going to GAMA, you should come to our Video Games presentation.

That’s all I’ve got. I look forward to seeing many of you in Vegas next week!


How We Do It: Taking Applications

The How We Do It series is intended to show the new store owner a potential path to a capability they do not currently have, give existing owners ideas about how they might improve their processes, and give patrons a glimpse into the operations of a working game store. The way we do it may not be the ideal way, but it is a way, and it’s probably better than having no process at all. Constructive criticism is always appreciated, and these pieces may be updated as our process changes.

Game stores are weird. Everyone wants to work at a game store. The majority of applicants are extremely low-quality, but since game store jobs are generally much more humane than big box retail cashier or gas station attendant gigs, you’ll also get excellent applicants that you don’t want to miss.

Why do I need to take applications? Can’t I just hire from among my regular customers?

You can, but you’re severely limiting your pool of potential employees. There are probably hundreds or thousands of people in your area who would make fantastic employees but are too busy to be regular players or customers in your store. You want to talk to these people. Taking applications will also sometimes bring out a potential employee among your regulars whom you didn’t realize was available. More than once, the application-filtering process has been short-circuited by an exclamation of, “Oh, that person is available? Well, we’ll just hire them, then!”

So I make some applications in Microsoft Word and set them out on the counter, right?

No! You want this process to take place as far away from your store’s front counter as possible. Each time we announce an opening for a part-time, entry-level employee, we get between fifty and two hundred responses. You don’t want to have to have two hundred conversations about this unless it’s in a context that you choose. You also want the ability to quickly filter out clearly undesirable or unqualified candidates, which is most easily done electronically. More on this later.

We even go so far as to ask applicants NOT to inquire about their application in the store or over the phone. Applicants who bother my employees about the job opening repeatedly are mentioned to me so that I can give special attention to their application. At least, enough special attention to mark it Rejected. Rule one of being an employee: Follow directions.

How do I easily take applications online? 

We’re using Google Forms. This web app is completely free and requires only a Gmail account. Once you’ve completed the form, you can export a link that can be pasted into your Facebook ad or linked from your store’s website.

Creating an application form is dead simple, and all the responses are available in two formats: You can view them from Google Forms in an easy-to-read format, or you can view them in Google Sheets as a big spreadsheet of every response. The former is easier for the beginner, but the latter is what we use. You can freely add columns for application status and notes, and then sort the applications by any question or by status. This is one way that we very quickly filter through the applications.

If you’re particularly nerdy, and can speak Python, you can use my script for converting an exported CSV file from Google Sheets to a readable HTML document. You’re on your own if you do this: I’m not offering any support for that code. It’s not even very good.

What should I ask?

Our current list of questions include:

  • What is your name?
  • What is your email address?
  • What is your telephone number?
  • What is your current address? (If you receive your mail at a different place than where you sleep at night, list both addresses.)
  • Are you over 18?
  • How many hours a week would you like to work?
  • On which days are you available all day?
  • If there are days on which you are available only part of the day, or you have special scheduling considerations, please list them here:
  • Do you have reliable transportation to work? (Author’s note: You can’t ask them if they own a car. You can only ask if they can get to work.)
  • Are you able to stand for 12 hours in a day, lift 50 lbs to your waist, and lift 20 lbs above your head?
  • Job history: (This is repeated for three most recent jobs.)
    • Where did you work?
    • What was your position?
    • How much were you paid?
    • How many hours a week did you work?
    • When did you start?
    • Are you still employed there? If not, when was your last day?
    • If you’re no longer working at this job: Do you think that they would hire you back if you asked?
    • What was awesome about this job?
    • What sucked about this job?
    • Tell me about your managers. Were they good? Why or why not?
    • Tell me about your co-workers. Were they good? Why or why not?
    • Why did you leave?
  • What is the square root of 16?
  • What is a prime number?
  • Answer some questions about this card, if you can: (An image of a Magic: The Gathering card is shown.)
    • How much mana is required to cast this card? What types of mana?
    • What is the toughness of this creature?
    • What is the trade-off of this card, if any?
    • You’re drafting and end up with this card. Under what circumstances might it be a good card?
  • What would a person who doesn’t like you if I asked them to describe your worst quality?
  • What do you want to be doing for a living in five years?
  • What irritates you about other people, and how do you deal with it?
  • What kind of games do you like? How many hours a week do you play games?
  • If you could rewind your life and make a different choice, what would you change?
  • A childhood friend who lives in another state asks you to tell them about our store. What do you tell them?

Remember that there are questions that you can’t ask (because it’s illegal) or shouldn’t ask (because it makes you a jerk). If in doubt, talk to your attorney. You do have an attorney, right? Don’t be careless with this. It’s important.

What’s with the square root and prime number questions?

2016-08-20 12_29_12-Nerdvana Employment Application - Google FormsThese questions are the first thing I look at in an application. If they got it wrong, their application is rejected without any further review.

This question isn’t about remembering what a square root or a prime number is, though it’s just as well if the applicant can recite the definitions. In the header directly above these questions, I remind the applicant that they’re using a computer and that it’s an open-book application. What I expect a good applicant to do is Google for the answers and paste them into the application. Anyone who gives up, or ignores the instructions and guesses incorrectly, is not qualified to make judgement calls on my behalf in my business.

The Prime Number Question is intentionally vaguely worded, so that an answer of “13” would fit the letter of the question, but not the spirit. I want people who can read an imperfect instruction and determine the most likely correct interpretation. If your first inclination on reading that was to rules-lawyer me, then well, you’re probably not a great fit for the position.

For your amusement and edification, here are some recent responses to the Prime Number Question.

Some of those questions at the end seem pretty personal.

They are. I probably don’t actually care what someone assesses to be their worst quality, or what their biggest regret might be. Good applications will have honest but vague answers, deflect the question entirely, or give a harmless socially-acceptable virtue-signalling answer like, “My biggest flaw is that I work too hard!”

These questions, much like the “tell me about your managers” and “tell me about your co-workers” questions, are designed to give problem children an opportunity to identify themselves early. If you seize upon an opportunity to gripe about the job you had last year, or tell me about the sexual abuse that you suffered as a teenager, or condemn entire categories of games as “lame and stupid”, then you’ve demonstrated a lack of discretion that will almost certainly come back to bite me if I hire you. Everybody experiences bad jobs. Some people have terrible things happen to them. Some people have strong opinions about things. What I want to know is how professional the applicant can be in a professional context.

This all seems very heartless and strict.

The last time we advertised for a part-time, near-minimum-wage position, we got 161 applications. Of those, eight made it through the filtering process. I shared those applications with my managers, and we picked five applicants to interview. Interviewing candidates that have no hope of getting the job is a waste of your time and theirs, but even that isn’t as expensive as hiring someone, training them, and then having them fail catastrophically. The guy that we ended up hiring trained easily and is doing great so far. That’s the goal.