Games We Play: Gamification in the Office Hiring Process

by | July 29th, 2015

Have you ever been part of a recruiting and hiring process? This scenario may sound familiar:

A face-to-face interview with an impressive candidate leaves you with a sense of relief and confidence that you’ve found the perfect fit for an open position. You and your colleagues exchange those nods that happen when everyone in the room knows you’re finally done with meetings on the subject.

On your professional recommendation, HR negotiates a nice package with the candidate, who is thrilled to be part of the team. Now you and your team can return your focus to your projects, instead of interviews and recruiting meetings.

Your new colleague is a great cultural fit, and seems happy in the role. Then, three weeks in, you realize benchmarks haven’t improved and your colleague doesn’t have much to say in meetings. They spend a lot of time on systems and tasks they purported to know well and that you discussed during their candidacy at length. It begins to dawn on you that this colleague talked the talk, but can’t walk the walk.

How can this scenario be avoided? Some new technologies may offer a solution.


crystal ball

Crystal ball image via Flickr

Regardless of industry, it is difficult to determine if candidates will actually be able to do the work for which companies would like to hire them. While cultural fit and professionalism are relatively well served by the interview process, there is simply no way to properly vet a candidate in a series of sit-downs (no matter how exhaustive they are).

In the software world, two of the most influential entrepreneurs at the intersection of people, process, and software don’t even necessarily agree on how to approach the issue.

  • Joel Spolsky argues for a rigorous, objective and definitive interview process
  • Jeff Atwood suggests a demonstration-heavy process ending with an interview

Note: if you are at all involved in tech interviewing and haven’t read everything these two have written on the subject of hiring, stop now and go read them.  We’ll wait.

bowling game for gamification

Enter: Gamification

So… how to proceed?  Interviews serve their purpose, but can exclude quality candidates based on interviewer bias.  Rigorous examination and testing can demonstrate ability, but often stifle the creative element and don’t allow for interpretation. A preliminary project is the best assessment, but this has drawbacks. Many candidates are turned off by a perceived lack of commitment on the part of the company, and are not interested in contract work.

A newer alternative to a contract project is emerging. It takes the form of something immediately recognizable to the newest generation of workers: gamification.

Game-Based Candidate Assessment Tools

Gamification is often dismissed as a veil cast over standardized testing or behavioral batteries. However, gamification can span the spectrum from useless and stultifying to engaging and worthwhile. Massive organizations have known this and have been implementing for some time (perhaps most famously, the US Army), but smaller organizations have been slower adopters.  This is likely due to the significant development expense of individually-tailored platforms, but a new market of tools is growing to meet the needs of smaller organizations.   At PINT, we explored some options for skills gamification in search of tools we may want to implement as part of our own hiring process.


“We’re not here to fix the technical interview: we’re here to destroy it.”

Patrick McKenzie, patio11, Kalzumeus Software

This bold mission statement comes from a new (and still forthcoming) training and assessment tool, Starfighter. Apart from rekindling the dreams of every kid who thought they’d be whisked away to Rylos if they got the high score in the arcade, Starfighter claims to have an awesomely rigorous assessment and training program in the works.

starfighter  screenshot
Details on the project have been few. Hopefully that is because the team is too busy writing awesome security CTFs. However, Starfighter gets a mention on our list because it appears to have a mutually beneficial goal: education and recruiting. By learning to crack their security systems, players will develop their skills to the point that any organization they can break into would want to have them as a member.

PINT’s review: We’re excited to see how this platform evolves.


“Pick Your Brain for a Minute?”

While Starfighter develops complex games with specific employment goals, Pymetrics lies at the other end of the spectrum. It purports to put simple games backed by behavioral neuroscience at the service of recruiting, with a variety of quick games measuring:

  • Attention
  • Focus
  • Timed decision-making
  • Other similar traits

Pymetrics offers to process your output and algorithmically determine your ideal employment. They then discreetly offer job listings, providing “warm,” pre-screened employment leads to their subscribers.

The gamification in play here is the type you might expect in a volunteer research study at your local university’s CogSci department. Pymetrics games are rife with:

  • Shape identification
  • Repetitive decision making
  • Gamified moral/ethical dilemmas
  • Emotional interpretation exercises

pymetrics question example

The games are brief, and entertaining enough that our attention was held throughout (although “Attention” is admittedly one of the assessments). However, in terms of entertainment value, Pymetrics’ games are minimal. They won’t give your favorite phone app a run for its money, but they are engaging. Users who don’t mind submitting to the black box cognitive analysis may find surprising qualities in return, and they may find novel career trajectories as a result.

pymetrics example screen 1 pymetrics example screen 2 pymetrics example screen 3

From the employer perspective, the stakes are much higher. Without detailed insight into the process and algorithmic “secret sauce,” it might be difficult to hand over your assessments to a third party. In that case, engaging interviews might still be the best way to vet.

PINT’s review: After about an hour of tests, Pymetrics said our optimal career path was Human Resources. That is either be proof that the method works, or a LinkedIn integration with the app. 😉


At PINT, we’ve been using a middle-of-the-road approach to assessment, integrating a crowd-sourced set of quizzes on myriad topics. While not strictly gamification, Smarterer (acquired by Pluralsight in late 2014) has been a useful tool allowing our candidates to show us what important skills they think they can bring to a role at our company. The quiz platform has a trivia game format and ranks test takers, adding the competitive gaming aspect. Importantly, it allows our candidates to demonstrate the depth of their strengths, and their choice (or omission) of test subjects is an insight into their understanding of the role for which they are applying.

smarterer screenshot

Relying on any one method of assessment is risky, especially with the limited candidate sample sizes encountered by small or medium-sized businesses. At PINT, we have found the gamification of assessments to be a welcome addition to our traditional hiring process, but will continue to rely on skill testing and interviews to complete the candidate picture.

PINT’s review: Brief tests with a competitive, social component increase the likelihood that candidates will engage in assessments. Plus, they offer a modicum of proof of competence, which adds depth to their profile.

Gamification In the Workplace of the Future

Regardless of our company’s adoption, assessment gamification will undoubtedly continue to increase participation in and engagement with employment skills testing. This is a good thing: more participation means more data, the analysis of which will improve the entire recruiting field.
Hopefully some of these solutions will help your business find and hire top-quality talent, and will help provide you with a more accurate description of the skills, qualities and personalities required for the various roles you employ. Have you tried other assessment tools? Tell us about them in the comments below.