Playing Games with Applicants

Recruiters are using gamification to find out if job candidates are a fit for their company

By Roy Maurer Aug 11, 2016
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Organizations are creating games for applicants to play to make learning about and applying for a job more fun, effective and efficient. The games engage people with the employer brand, personalize the recruiting process, and assess talent for skills and fit.

Companies already commonly use gaming principles to engage and motivate customers and employees—think profile ratings, loyalty programs, hidden badges, check-in schemes or anything that requires interaction from users.

But game theory for recruitment has been slow to evolve. "Organizations in the past have often considered it gimmicky," said George Vollmer, vice president of global accounts and strategic development at Futurestep, the global recruitment solutions division of HR advisory and executive search firm Korn Ferry. "However, with the somewhat recent surge in digital services over the past few years, businesses are now realizing the worth of this recruitment tactic, not only for their own benefit but for that of the candidate as well."

This is especially true for candidates raised on video games. "Millennials are now the largest generational demographic in the U.S. workforce, and of course they've grown up playing video games," said Jim Wexler, president of Persona Labs, a New York City-based firm that develops games with psychometric assessments baked in.

A Win-Win

In addition to being attracted to organizations that recruit with games, candidates tend to find gameplay "less labor-intensive than reading through a company brochure or trying to get a feel for the company via a website and social channels," Vollmer said.

"The digital gamification of recruitment ranges from companies creating their own virtual simulations of what it's like to work at the company to a range of new apps which make it easy and fun to engage with a prospective employer," said Jeanne Meister, founding partner at Future Workplace, a New York City-based consulting firm and co-author of the upcoming book The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules For Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees (McGraw-Hill Education, 2016).

Games can be used to:

  • Assess candidates' soft and hard skills and personality traits.
  • Provide applicants with job scenarios and potential career paths.
  • Compile data on talent pools.
  • Build the engagement of passive candidates.
  • Establish an innovative and attractive brand.
  • Spur competition among recruiters and within employee referral programs.

Examples of games that test skills and assess for fit abound and include My Marriott Hotel, developed by Marriott International, which allows candidates to experience what it's like to manage different hotel operations. Players make purchases on a budget, hire and train employees, and serve guests to earn points; they are rewarded when their operation turns a profit.

Similarly, Siemens Industry launched Plantville, which simulates the experience of being a plant manager while driving brand awareness. Players must maintain the operation of their facility while trying to improve the plant's productivity.

"PwC [PricewaterhouseCoopers] Hungary created Multipoly, an online simulation where interested students participate in a game on Facebook to experience what it is like to work at the firm," Meister said. "And the French postal service created a game to have potential postal service workers experience the job for a week in an online simulation before applying for it."

Recruiters use the games to vet candidates, Vollmer said, "discovering their drive for innovation, their capability to perform under pressure and their problem-solving ability."

Multipoly presents users with tasks based on the PwC competencies the firm is developing, such as building business acumen, increasing digital skills and embracing relational skills, Meister said.

And this is all done with the full cooperation of the player. "Gamification helps disguise the application and assessment process as a fun activity rather than a menial but necessary task, making it much more likely to convert the top talent from just noticing a job listing into engaged candidates," Vollmer said.

Compare the experience of playing Multipoly with visiting the PwC careers page. "A job candidate might spend 5-10 minutes on a career page versus spending up to one and a half hours playing Multipoly prior to the job interview," Meister said.

Further examples include financial services firm Barclays' branded version of Stockfuse, a stock-trading game that uses real-time market data, and Uber's Code on the Road challenge which engages passive candidates by testing their coding skills while they ride in Uber cars.

"Perhaps most interesting are the 'big data' firms like Umbel, that encourage potential new hires to play a game called Umbelmania where they use their coding skills to advance in both the game and their own interview process," Meister said.

Playing by the Rules: Staying Compliant

Asking a person to play a game and using the outcome to assess their workplace fit may seem odd to some, but it is the way of the future, Wexler said. "We are the sum of our data points, and most of us don't mind. Especially younger workers trust the data and accept that assessment instruments work and sort out personality types for better fit. They and younger cohorts will come to expect the organization to be able to determine fit based on data."

But, buyer beware, he added. Tests in the guise of games should follow recognized methods of test validation (criterion, construct and content measures) to show that the testing is compliant.

If a game is used in the hiring process, it is key that an employer demonstrates the validity of the test as it applies to its own workplace and specific jobs under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.

"To do this, employers usually must retain a qualified industrial psychologist or testing expert," said Lynn Clements, director of regulatory affairs for HR consulting firm Berkshire Associates, based in Columbia, Md. "Relying on a test provider's general validation studies can be dangerous."

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