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How gamification will change the pre-employment testing industry
September 2, 2014 8:00:00 PM EDT   By Mike Russiello

Games are for kids, right?

graphic showing various popular video game characters

Like many parents I know, when I ask my teenage kids how they spent their Saturday afternoon, they mention that they played a lot of video games. Clearly, video and computer games are something kids, mostly boys play. Once they become adults, they move on to different interests.

Using this logic, based on the kind of anecdotal evidence I describe above, it's easy to conclude that video games have limited applicability in the adult world. However, consider these facts published by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (www.esrb.org) and the Entertainment Software Association (www.theesa.com):

  • 59% of Americans play video games (ESA).
  • The average age of a gamer is 34 years old (ESRB).
  • 25 percent of gamers are under 18, while 49% are between 18 and 49 (ESRB).
  • The average age of game purchasers is 39 years old (ESRB).
  • 40% of all gamers are female (ESRB).

So, if the average age of a gamer is 34 years old, what's the average age of a job seeker? I don't know but it's probably pretty close, especially when you consider that younger workers tend to change jobs more frequently than older workers.

Given this information, it's not such a leap to conclude that, should game-based selection instruments (GBSI's) be introduced, they would be accepted and probably even welcomed by the majority job seekers. After all, people play games because they are fun.

The benefits of games for pre-employment testing

So, it's reasonable to assume that the average job seeker will respond positively to playing a game instead of taking a test. That's great. Employers want candidates to have a positive application experience. But there are other benefits to GBSI's from the employer's perspective:

  • Allows candidates to demonstrate critical job-related skills and knowledge.
  • Allows candidates to demonstrate valuable attributes, such as motivation and competitiveness.
  • Facilitates direct comparison of one candidate to another.

These are valuable benefits, since they can help employers make better hiring decisions. In fact, there are numerous examples of employers who have employed games to either attract or select candidates, or both. Most of these companies are large employers, like Marriott International who hire large numbers of staff in similar jobs every year.

And ... the challenges of games for pre-employment testing

  • Games are expensive to create and difficult to generalize to many different jobs.
  • Games are relatively time inefficient when you wish to objectively measure multiple competencies.
  • Skill/knowledge games must approximate the actual job in order to be effective and to avoid potential legal challenges, but it's not easy to make a game out of many types of work.
  • For many competencies, the inferential leap between game performance and the specific competency requires careful validation and study.

When building a GBSI for a high volume job, such as hotel clerks, or call center representatives, these challenges can usually be overcome with time and effort. However, they represent significant barriers for companies trying to construct GBSIs that are applicable to many different jobs and companies.

What's happening in the pre-employment testing market?

There are, of course, bleeding edge junkies, incremental innovators, and die-hard skeptics.

Several companies are experimenting with pure games that look exactly like their entertainment-oriented cousins. For example, Knack (knack.it), has introduced a series of games that look for a variety of fairly general characteristics in applicants, such as 'Fearlessness' and 'Making Split-Second Decisions.' While these types of tests seem initially very attractive to employers, it soon becomes evident that these tests don't evaluate a wide enough range of competencies to enable better hiring decision making. The inefficiency issue mentioned above comes into play. Additionally, the need to validate the job relevance of a totally unrelated game context is difficult. Finally, the need to confirm that game-measured characteristics are predictors of job performance in specific jobs is costly. These latter two issues are important because they can lead to potential legal issues.

Innovators, like HR Avatar Pre-Hire Testing (www.hravatar.com), are taking a more incremental approach, by introducing workplace simulations to proven assessment formats. By restricting the 'game' to job-relevant work scenarios that measure previously validated competencies, these incremental tools avoid the job relevance issues of pure game-based approaches, while improving the candidate experience. By merging simulation with legacy formats for certain competencies, the efficiency problem is also significantly reduced.

Of course, many legacy testing companies are sitting on their hands, relying on legacy testing formats, and ignoring the desire among employers to provide their candidates with an improved testing experience. As in many industries, most of these companies will wake up when it's almost too late, and either fade away or purchase their more innovative brethren.

So what's ahead?

Game-based selection instruments have gained a foothold and their use will continue to grow among large employers, particularly those with high volume jobs. At the same time, innovative companies will continue to experiment with generalized applications of games and embed them within off-the-shelf selection tools. As in any industry, leaders and followers will emerge. For employers who use off-the-shelf assessments, the best course of action is to work with a leader, while making sure you stick with proven approaches. After all, when it comes to hiring, nothing less than the success of your company is at stake.

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