In Dashi Dash, players manage a sushi restaurant

In Dashi Dash, players manage a sushi restaurant


Photo:

Knack Dashi Dash

By

Sarah E. Needleman

March 13, 2016 10:12 p.m. ET


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Last fall, Barclays
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PLC began testing a new tool for attracting young job applicants: a mobile videogame.

More than 4,500 mostly college seniors have played the Barclays-branded version of Stockfuse, a free stock-trading game that uses real-time market data. About 8% have applied for positions at the international bank, and so far 17 have landed jobs.

Stockfuse, developed by SHFuse Inc., a New York-based startup, is just one of a new breed of apps that invite people to play games that also serve as real-world recruiting tools.

Such apps aim to shed light on how a candidate might perform in a job based on how he or she performs in a game. With Stockfuse, for example, what stocks a player invests in and the returns achieved typically provide plenty of data for consideration. Games from other developers range from solving mazes to managing a simulated sushi restaurant.

Depending on the game, app developers build a detailed analysis of a player’s abilities and share them with the interested employer. An evaluation might tag a person as a potential leader for showing tenacity and grit, or discount another’s abilities for making snap decisions and showing poor judgment.

Play Your Own Game

These sites offer games used in recruiting.

Some games take just a few minutes to play, while others can go on indefinitely, with players picking up wherever they left off each time they log in.

The idea, says Guy Halfteck, founder and chief executive of Knack Inc., a recruitment-and-evaluation app developer, is to measure a job candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that’s fun for that person.

Truer measure?

Knack was founded in 2010 and says it now has more than 200 employers that use its three mobile games for recruiting, including Daimler Trucks North America LLC and Royal Bank of Canada.
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SHFuse landed Barclays as one of its first employer clients after participating in a startup accelerator program that Barclays helped run. Pymetrics Inc. is a more recent addition to the sector and has about a dozen recruiting games.

Employers, for their part, say the games can give a more objective picture of a candidate than traditional candidate-screening tactics. There is no acting, as there often is in interviews, or self-reporting, as in a personality test.

Meta Maze is one of the mobile games that challenge job applicants.

Meta Maze is one of the mobile games that challenge job applicants.


Photo:

Meta Maze

“The hardest part of assessing talent is that [job candidates] have been trained so well,” says Alison Keefe, a university-relations manager at specialty coffee company Keurig Green Mountain Inc.

In a typical interview, many provide the kind of answers that employers are looking for, but those responses aren’t necessarily candid, she says, so it can be “hard to get past the veneer.”

Last spring, Keurig began asking job applicants to play games like Bomba Blitz, from Knack, to be considered for mostly entry-level engineering positions. In Bomba Blitz, players must outsmart fiery invaders by slinging water balloons at them with varying degrees of power.

More than 275 candidates have been asked to play Bomba Blitz or one of Knack’s other two games. Nearly two dozen have been hired.

“It supports our impression of people or gives new information,” says Ms. Keefe, who uses a special online application for hiring managers to review the results.

Players also come to such games on their own, either through the websites of the app developers or through app stores. Some will play because an app offers them career-aptitude advice and other kinds of evaluations as part of its service. Others play in an effort to get noticed by employers, who pay fees ranging from 99 cents to review a single candidate’s gameplay to more than $15,000 a month for large companies that do a lot of hiring on a regular basis.

Games and gamification

By using mobile games, employers are tapping into a growing trend. People played them on average more than two hours a day in 2014, up 57% from 2012, says research firm NPD Group. Videogames in general are fairly common in workplace break rooms today, and gamelike mechanics are baked into many company training programs, a practice known as gamification.

Still, using games as recruiting tools has its flaws. Job seekers might not take the games seriously enough, experts warn, or they may get the impression a company requires employees to jump through arbitrary hoops to get ahead.

“When you apply for a job, that’s a pretty high-stakes situation,” says Jan Plass, a professor of digital media and learning sciences at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Games are inherently fun, Prof. Plass says, so using them as a hiring tool “is potentially very confusing” for candidates.

To be sure, employers say they aren’t basing hiring decisions solely on how candidates perform in a game.

“They’ve only just started to gain traction,” says Karl Kapp, a professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.” “There is not a huge body of science behind them at all.”

Desired traits

These kinds of games are based on years of research and development and use sophisticated algorithms for measuring traits in players such as perseverance, motivation and grit.

Last year, Muhammad Jabakhanji was asked to play Knack’s Dashi Dash game, which at the time was called Wasabi Waiter, after applying for a position as a senior project manager at consulting company Alpin Ltd. It was the first time an employer ever asked him to play a game to get a job, and he was tasked with running a virtual sushi restaurant.

“It wasn’t your normal, boring aptitude test,” says the 32-year-old, who ended up getting hired and now works for the company in Abu Dhabi. “It was tricky,” he says. “You had to really put some thought into it.”

Ms. Needleman is a reporter in New York for The Wall Street Journal. Email her at sarah.needleman@wsj.com.

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