Using Games and Gamification for Employee Screening

I was interviewed a while ago about the use of games and gamification within the employee selection process, here are some of the questions and responses.

Can you give an example of a gamified hiring process?

One example is to gamifiy the process of selection of people to work in the cyber security industry. So you do is create a contest where applicants needed to complete a series of challenging problems involving trying to breach various computer systems and networks. The applicants compete for a limited number of spots and need to demonstrate knowledge of network software, creative approaches to firewall breaches and time to breach.

The reason that a game-type approach was used was for three reasons. First the goal was to see how the applicants worked under pressure so a contest where everyone could see how fellow applicants were progressing gave a sense of pressure which mimics the job which is high stress.

Second, the skills needed are not always taught in school and formal schooling or certificates were not a good indicator of ability so it was much more effective to use a meritorious process through selection based on actual ability rather than stated ability or self-reporting.

Third, was motivation. One way to attract people who like to solve problems or challenges is to provide them with a difficult challenge; this is especially true in the “hacker” community. The more difficult the challenge overcome, the more legendary the hacker. So a gamified approach with points, levels, badges and winners and losers seemed like an appropriate methodology for selecting the best candidates for the position.

The process was very successful and most of the highest scoring candidates were “self-taught” and did not learn the information through formal methods so typical screening processes like degree, grade point average and experience were not the best indicators of potential performance.

How is gameplay best used in the hiring process? For personality/skills assessment, training, testing or screening?

Games are being used to access all types of employment skills, attributes and abilities. I think the most effective of the best use of a game is for an assessment of skills, like coding for example. Games are a great tool for displaying the application of knowledge. Can the person perform the skills they claim to know? This can be coding, operating simulated machinery or even what skills they use to negotiate or close a virtual sale.

But people are using games to evaluate creativity, problem-solving abilities, ability to multi-task, ability to stay focused and other types of skills. Some are even using them to evaluate the personality of the applicants (are they an aggressive player, are they a more passive player and other types of personality traits).

Will, gameplay or gamification become a standard part of the hiring/screening process for companies? If so, when to you think the trend will catch on more broadly and why?

Gamification or gameplay will become standard because of its ability to measure certain skills. We are in the infancy of this process but what a well-designed game can do is to observe the application of skills, evaluate how quickly the person acted, how accurate they were and where they clicked or explored as they played the game or applied the knowledge to solve the presented challenge.

Many companies are working on other aspects of employee attributes like attitude, persistence, etc. but skills are the low hanging fruit. When do I think it will catch on? I would say within the next six years. Games are still treated cautiously among many organizations and while there are several startups pushing the gamification for selection paradigm, the practice is far from universal and if not handled correctly, a company can be opened up for legal actions.

You will have to, at some time; show that the criteria observed and measured in the application game is indeed criteria that are critical to success on the job. There has to be a linkage, no linkage means that there is a potential for disputing hiring decisions based on a score in a game.

Like any new technology, we are trying to apply gamification to every piece of the process; it will work really well for some items like skills application and measurement and not so well for determining personality-type or certain traits that companies think are desirable.

How is data gleaned from an applicant’s game score or results linked to attributes of success in a given field?

This is an important question. The game must be carefully crafted to measure what it purports to measure and that measure must be something valuable in the job. So something like coding, operating simulated machinery or other observable and tangible skills are pretty easy to correlate one-to-one.

But something else, like ability to sell might be related to how well a person negotiates or it might be correlated to how well a person “connects” to others. How is a game going to measure “connects with others” and is that really the “secret sauce” that makes a saleswomen or is it the negotiation skills or some third unknown skills. So linking a specific skill to a specific behavior on the job to specific action a player takes in a game can become an issue. The linkage must be carefully made.

Also, when designing a game for assessment, correlation is not causation. Meaning that just because someone is a good salesperson and good at negotiating it doesn’t mean that the two traits don’t actually come from a third, unknown trait that really should be measured but is not.

Posted in: Gamification

Leave a Comment (2) ↓


  1. Karl Kapp April 24, 2014


    I think you hit on the number one concern and area of potential danger on using games for employee screening. We have to make absolutely sure that what we are measuring in the game tracks back to what the person actually does on the job and that we do, indeed, get a true picture of the incoming candidate. It is a tall order but something that I think is achievable.

  2. William Wheeler April 21, 2014

    Great thoughts, Karl. I love the idea of using games for employee selection. I can see how using a game to measure someone’s skills can give an employer a good idea of who they are hiring. Most employers that I’ve worked with use certification tests or aptitude assessments to measure someone’s skills, but it might be more accurate given a touch of gamification. We need to make sure that the measurements are assessing the correct statistics, that way we have accurate pictures of the potential candidates that would be working for us.

Karl Kapp
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