Gamification in Hiring: Strategic Tips for a Successful Implementation

We are currently facing the lowest productivity numbers across every industry, with Gallup reporting that 70% of the current U.S. workforce has labeled themselves as "disengaged" or "actively disengaged" at work. When everything else has failed, businesses need to look at industries that successfully manage to engage their users. One of them is the game industry, and gamification can offer a good solution if implemented strategically.

Gamification is too often confused with gaming. Of course, gamification makes things more fun, but its real value lays in the increased engagement and motivation that it generates by stimulating users to go beyond their limits to ‘win’ something. Gamification has become an essential part of any digital business strategy as a way of digitally motivating people and overcoming barriers of scale, time, distance, connectedness and cost, according to Gartner. Especially in digital business, leaders from the largest multinational organizations as well as fast-growing startups are using gamification to add value to the product offer, to increase employee engagement and to drive crowd-sourced innovation.

Gamification has certainly a bright future and huge potential, but right now most organizations aren't getting it right.

The road to gamification success is full of pitfalls, and many companies don't understand how critical player motivation is to success.  It can make a mundane task like completing a job application fun, creative, competitive and interesting too, while at the same time delivering quality content to the managers that goes beyond the list of past accomplishments that is the resume; but turning the hiring process into a social, fun and expensive video-game certainly is not the right approach. Video-game job applications have proved to be unsuccessful in motivating and engaging candidates, as demonstrates by failed attempts like the Marriot’s My Marriott Hotel™ Facebook game and many others.

Other companies have been looking at gamification from a different and more strategic perspective: a powerful tool to engage candidates on real-time competitions or challenges to assess their skills beyond the resume. Key to successfully gamify corporate processes is the understanding of human desires related to game mechanics. Experts in this field have identified the human desires connected to the game mechanics that best fulfill them: players need rewards to move forward and levels to have a clear understanding of where their efforts will take them; game elements like points and progression bar best fulfill those needs. Challenges are the critical game mechanics as well, fulfilling the need for achievement, while self expression and competition are associated to virtual goods - that can be unlocked while playing - and score boards – usually used to celebrate the winner and acknowledge other player’s participation and status.

In this new environment, tech companies are leading the way, challenging software engineers and developers to assess their coding skills - which cannot be assessed by screening resumes. Google for example, implemented The Google Code Jam, a global online software writing contest that can attract over 7,500 people each year. The top 25 finalists are invited to the Mountain View campus to compete for $50,000 in prizes as well as a chance to work at Google. Another example is the Facebook Programming Challenge where candidates can solve programming challenges to “Get noticed” by the employer. Challenge-based recruiting offers great opportunities to every business, without necessarily relying on global contests like those above, engaging instead candidates on real-time business challenges. Challenge clearly stimulates competitiveness, creativity and commitment; but other elements must be incorporated to succeed in designing a successful gamified hiring process. Levels, like the Linkedin progression bar that tells users what to do to have a complete profile: the user will give more information – which is what the social network wants – and the user has more chances to be noticed by employers (win-win). Virtual goods and badges, like providing extra content or additional resource that will help candidates who are moving forward in the application process to work on a complicated challenge. Ultimately, effectively communicate the results of the challenge and celebrate the winner is critical: this gives credibility to the whole process, but it gives also a chance of visibility to the other participants as it awards their efforts based by simply showing ranking.

For those business leaders embracing gamified hiring, the benefits seem to go way beyond engaging and identifying the best candidates. Having candidates solve companies’ real time challenges, enables businesses to crowd-source ideas and innovation, accessing predictive data for enhanced strategic decision making on talent. Ultimately, as candidates are also customers, companies’ brand image will benefit from delivering a positive and fun candidate experience, replacing today’s automated message which informs candidates that their resume has been received.