Is gamification making a comeback on the tech hiring table?

Faced with a tech talent shortage, organizations could stand out with more novel approaches to recruitment.
14 February 2020

Interactive recruitment processes can paint a positive picture of the brand. Source: Shutterstock

‘Sell me this pen’ is the age-old throwdown dished out by employers to hungry sales recruits. Clichéd as it is, it’s immersive — you see the candidate ‘in action’, challenged on the spot.

Recruiters have always faced the challenge of gaining real insight into the true nature and capabilities of candidates. Common job interviews can be ineffective. Candidates will have often heard similar questions and will have mentally-rehearsed answers at the ready.

The stakes are high on the hiring table. Bad hires are estimated to cost as much as US$240,000 in expenses related to resources spent recruiting, on compensation and retention, so it’s crucial the right person for the job is found the first time around. This pressure has led forward-thinking recruiters to explore increasingly novel approaches. Gamification is one of them.

Player one

Gamification — or ‘recruitainment’ — comprises the use of quizzes, challenges, behavioral-related evaluations. For the candidate, it can be a much more engaging way of showing off potential, relevant knowledge and problem-solving abilities. Benefits are two-fold though; interactions with these tasks can uncover insights into candidates’ aptitude, creative thinking, time management, and problem-solving capabilities.

The approach arguably came to the fore with the popularity of mobile games such as Candy Crush, Angry Birds or Farmville nearly 10 years ago, with recruiters seeking new ways to engage mobile-first, rewards-driven millennial candidates.

But the technique is now seeing a resurgence, particularly in the tech industry which is faced with a shortage of skilled talent, from data specialists to full-stack developers.

“One of the main factors driving forward-thinking recruiters to increasingly explore more interactive methods of recruitment is competition, especially in tech hubs like Seattle and San Francisco,” Camren Daly, Talent Development Center Manager at software firm Globant told TechHQ.

Tasked with building out and maintaining the firm’s international workforce with top talent, Daly’s engineering background meant she spent a lot of her early career “being recruited,” so knows what it takes to engage tech candidates from the off.

“There’s a lot of noise from other companies in these environments, and if organizations want to gain access to top candidates and be well known, they need to evolve the ways in which they approach the job market — delivering more engaging recruitment efforts is one way.”

Today, pay and benefits come down the list of priorities for candidates; along with flexible working styles, a clear path to development in a workplace “immersed in innovation” is considered vital to a sense of belonging, loyalty and increased engagement.

Cutting through

Applicants want to know what the company culture is and why the company is better than the competition — and companies must own that conversation themselves, not bank on the word to travel.

“Organizations need to paint a picture of what it looks like to work at their companies day-to-day and connect to local candidates before they get an idea of what the company does or is from an outside source,” said Daly.

“All of these factors are pushing recruiters to question, ‘How can I peek up above the noise and have candidates see me as a viable career option?’ Leaning into more engaging, relevant and interactive recruitment methods is one way.”

Typical approaches to recruitment can be one-size-fits-all and disconnected from the day-to-day role successful candidates would actually engage in. While coming from a technical background, like Daly, can help, it’s important to introduce people and teams within the organization to the candidates much earlier in the recruiting process to paint a realistic picture of the company and show potential candidates what life at the organization would actually look like.

Before that stage, gamification can present a more engaging way for potential candidates to interact with a company before ever stepping foot in the door.

“For employers looking to gamify their recruiting efforts, the main thing to do is to avoid making the activities like a technical interview,” said Daly. “The main purpose of these activities is for the candidate to have fun and connect to the company in an authentic way.

“In recruiting, engagement can be low, especially with all the noise of other companies looking for top talent,” she added. “At its core, gamification drives engagement — it’s not a chore or work. It creates an external motivator for people to participate in cases where they might not.

“Bringing gamification into recruiting is a way to incentivize people to participate in a way that not only helps them learn about the company but ultimately, encourages them to have fun and hopefully results in a positive experience that the candidate can tie back to the company in the future.”

Creativity is key

Of course, gamification in recruitment today isn’t just about making eager candidates play through a series of challenges on a smartphone for a frustrating 2 hours. Organizations can be as creative as they like.

Google has been organizing its Google Code Jam software-writing competition for 12 years as a way to find fresh, new talent to work for the company, while contestants compete for a US$50K prize. British intelligence and security agency, the GCHQ, meanwhile, created an encrypted message on a website and used it as part of their application process for all wannabe spies and hires.

Globant itself just launched its second edition of The Great Mission, which features four different online challenges open to the public. Once solved, a finalist team is selected to enter an ‘Escape Game’ in one of the firm’s global offices.

“The first team that solves the on-site challenges wins a trip for one of our Converge Conferences this year, held in New York, Bogotá, Mexico City or Madrid,” Daly explained.

“The Great Mission is a game-changer event where we seek to find the most creative, innovative and brilliant minds that can solve problems in a nonconventional way.”

Of course, presenting your company as an engaging, innovative place to work is all well and good, and may make the experience of applying to a role more memorable and exciting to an applicant — but it should also make the recruiter’s goal of acquiring the best candidates easier as well.

As a recruiter, a lot of time working with potential candidates is spent telling the company’s story, which can be difficult to demonstrate on a phone call, but gamifying recruiting processes tie new candidates much closer to parts of the organization that may be difficult for recruiters to accomplish in a 30-minute interview. Through these non-standard initiatives, recruiters can gain insight into other qualities of candidates that would be beneficial for the company’s various departments, whether that be problem-solving or collaboration skills, among others.

Recruiters can then use this information to place potential candidates on teams within the company if they choose to take the next steps in the hiring process.

A lot of logistics

Organizations looking to revitalize their approach to hiring shouldn’t mistake gamification as a low-maintenance solution to weed out the best talent. “Gamifying recruiting efforts involves a lot of logistics,” Daly told us. It requires a team devoted to the effort, which is an investment both in terms of time and money.

The game must also be open to diverse groups and be available and accessible to anyone who wants to participate.

Finally, messaging and communications surrounding the event need to be on point with the objectives the company is hoping to achieve and what the candidates can get out of the experience to ensure organizations are connecting with the right groups throughout the effort.