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The Gamification of Recruitment

Virtual games are scoring points for companies' talent acquisition strategies.


HR Magazine November 2015It’s “game on” for recruiters looking to win the war for talent in a tight employment market—or, at least, “gamification on.” Many companies are finding that virtual games, which integrate points, badges, competition and role-playing, can be used to effectively attract and assess candidates, particularly those from the generation raised on Wii and Xbox.

For example, when the Hungary division of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) sought a more effective way to recruit college students, the company developed an online simulation called Multipoly. The 12-day game invites students onto Facebook to experience a virtual version of what it’s like to work for the accounting and consulting firm. Students must meet quarterly goals and accomplish tasks based on PwC competencies while receiving feedback from company coaches.

The game was initially designed to boost employer branding, says Noemi Biro, PwC’s recruitment leader in Budapest. But today the customized tool is more focused on improving the selection practices for both the company and prospective hires.

“It provides insight into the audit and consulting profession in a fun way and builds engagement,” Biro says. “It’s also compatible with younger generations’ need for social media, networking, quick information search and developing themselves through the Internet.”

According to Biro, 78 percent of students surveyed over the past four years said they wanted to work for PwC after completing the game. Ninety-two percent indicated they had a more positive view of the firm. The game has also contributed to a significant increase in the number of job applicants.

Game Changer

Recruiting experts say gamification can stir people’s interest in job openings, project an innovative image of an employer and deliver accurate previews of applicants’ future job performance.

Indeed, some organizations are using game-type scenarios to gauge prospective employees’ aptitude for specific positions, according to Karl Kapp, a professor at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania and author of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction (Pfeiffer, 2012). For example, organizations that rely heavily on the development of computer code often conduct code challenges to identify top candidates, Kapp says. This approach gives programmers thought-provoking—and job-relevant—problems to solve.

“If programmers figure them out, the game keeps taking them to more-difficult problems, and at the end they might get a job offer,” Kapp says. But companies need to tread carefully when using games in making hiring decisions. Kapp says the games’ challenges must highlight skills “specifically needed” for a particular job, with the game’s objectives and functions closely aligned with the duties of the position.

Some recruiting games introduce candidates to careers they may not otherwise have considered, while giving applicants a realistic preview of the job. “Game simulations that reflect what the work really looks like can be very effective, whether playing against yourself or other people,” says Katherine Jones, vice president of human capital management technology research at Bersin by Deloitte in Oakland, Calif. “And many also help applicants self-select on whether this is a career they really want.”

The Games Candidates Play

System Customers Features
BadgevilleWells Fargo, Wal-Mart, Medtronic
  • Points, badges and leaderboards
  • Tracks social systems and provides real-time feedback
  • Includes analytics to enable customers to track and ​characterize users
BunchballSAP, Sun Life Financial, T-Mobile
  • Scalable cloud platform
  • Used to motivate employees, test candidate skills and engage customers
Captain UpDell, Hewlett-Packard, McAfee
  • Social and gaming tools with badges, levels, activity feeds, leaderboards and other rewards
  • Customers can add interactive leaderboards to any website or app
  • Application programming interface adds social layers and competitive elements
Games for BusinessPwC, HBO Europe, Huawei
  • Online simulation models the structure and procedures specified by the customer in a 3-D environment
  • Users follow a work routine: going to meetings, accomplishing tasks, and facing unexpected situations and ethical decisions
  • Measures players based on preset variables, Sabre, VMware
  • Ranks programmers based on coding skills
  • Programmers compete in challenges and code sprints
  • Recruiters move winners through the selection process
mLevelUS Foods, D4, International Hotels Group
  • Interactive learning missions accessible via mobile app or Web
  • Individual and team competitions
  • Scenarios uncover what users know about critical topics and require that they react in real time to responses
  • Search platform uses “big data” and machine learning
  • Recommends career paths to job seekers
  • Assesses more than 50 cognitive and personality traits using neuroscience games

One example is a recruiting game developed by Marriott International to attract Millennial employees. Called My Marriott Hotel and delivered on Facebook, the game allows candidates to experience what it’s like to manage a hotel restaurant kitchen before moving on to other areas of hotel operations, according to company spokeswoman Angela Wiggins. Players create their own virtual restaurant, where they buy equipment and ingredients on a budget, hire and train employees, and serve guests. Participants earn points for happy customers and lose points for poor service. They also are rewarded when their operation turns a profit.

Gaming tools are being built into some organizations’ employee referral processes as well, with badges, points or other rewards alloted for successful referrals. “Generally, we see that badging works well when badges are given three to six months after a referral has been hired,” Jones says.

While the cost of gamification tools can vary widely, plug-ins and widgets are generally priced based on the number of users and vary by volume, with prices starting at $25 a month per user. More-customized platforms that include analytics can start at $250 a month and range up to thousands of dollars a month based on the level of customization and the volume of data flowing through the system.

Testing Careers

At beauty company L'Oreal, a game called Brandstorm is a talent-spotting tool designed to attract and evaluate promising undergraduates, says Sumita Banerjee, senior vice president of talent acquisition at L’Oreal Americas in New York City.

The game’s virtual environment puts students in the shoes of an international marketing director in the beauty industry. Student teams of three receive a case study and information packet to begin a market analysis. They are tasked with launching an innovative product with guidance from L’Oreal executives; in 2014, the challenge was to develop a new men’s line for Kiehl’s skin care products.

The participants, who come from L’Oreal’s partner schools, are judged on innovation, communication and promotion, analysis, strategy, and team spirit, Banerjee says.

With help from a creative agency and L’Oreal mentors, the teams are given several months to prepare for campus finals, where they present against other groups for the chance to travel to New York City for the national competition. The winning team represents the U.S. in the international finals.

“We want students to think like marketers, entrepreneurs and innovators,” Banerjee says. “We want them to own their ideas and to take risks to achieve the unknown.”

Experience Marketing

Gamification is part of an ongoing shift toward more-interactive talent acquisition strategies. “I think of recruiting now more as experience marketing,” says Jeanne Meister, founding partner of Future Workplace, a consulting firm that assists organizations in rethinking the workplace.

Given the power of simulation and the allure of competition, the games have likely just begun.

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business journalist in Minneapolis.

Web Extras

HR Magazine article: Gamification: Win, Lose or Draw for HR?

SHRM article: Five Major Pitfalls to Avoid in Gamification

SHRM article: Gamification Used to Promote Global Health, Wellness


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