Companies Are Using Video Games To Screen Job Candidates

By Joelle Renstrom | Published

KnackIn Ender’s Game, one of the training (or not training, as the case may be) regimens for prospective intergalactic soldiers involves practicing on high-tech video games or virtual reality. Surgeons practice their fine motor skills and anatomical slicing and dicing on video games too. Now employers are getting on board, testing potential employees with video games designed to reveal behavior, personality traits, and strengths useful for specific jobs.

It makes sense that employers right now would need a new system for interviewing, especially given the scads of resumes that are submitted in response to every job posting. I know companies who have become bogged down by the hiring process — especially companies who desperately need help and who often don’t have the resources to spare for sifting through resumes, conducting phone screens, and interviewing applicants in person. The hiring process can last for months, and it can be pretty hard to calibrate the bullshit detector when it comes to candidates’ honesty with regards to their skills and experience. Knack, a video game company, has developed a couple of games that gather data from job applicants while engaging them in a perhaps more organic experience than a formal interview. Wasabi Waiter and Balloon Brigade gather information about a person’s competitiveness, grit, situational thinking, social skills, and adaptability. Employees then use the information collected by the game to find the kind of employees they want. They correlate the results of the applicants with the results of current successful employees to identify matches.

Wasabi Waiter

Guy Halfteck started Knack in 2010 after an unsuccessful attempt at scoring a hedge fund job. He blamed the interview process, and then decided to take the situation into his own hands. He hired psychologists, neuroscientists, and video game designers to develop a new and better way of assessing candidates’ strengths. Knack will track various strategies, noting whether players simply try to make it through each round, whether they want to rack up as many points as possible, whether they explore all areas of the screen or map possible. In Balloon Brigade, players have to fill and throw water balloons at the enemy. Colors correspond to strength attributes, so players have to decide quickly which balloons to choose, how much to fill them, and where to fire them. The game registers all of this information, as well as how much a player improves as s/he catches on to the details.

balloon brigade

I could see the video game format being off-putting to older applicants or those who didn’t grow up in a culture or place familiar with video games, but it seems to me like a great way for both employers and would-be employees to combat some of the more time-consuming and idiosyncratic aspects of hiring, such as the notion that it’s more about who you know than what you know. I’d much rather throw some water balloons.