How Video Game Performance Can Determine Hiring and Firing

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Person playing Candy Crush on a tablet.
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What if your next job interview required you to play something called "Balloon Brigade" or another fast-paced, colorful, interactive video game?

Some companies are using video games as a way to evaluate potential employees. It allows them to monitor the "micro-behaviors" of candidates during game play. Manoush Zomorodi, managing editor and host of New Tech City, explains how this new hiring practice works and why companies use data and statistics when it comes to hiring. 

"You can't game this, so to speak," says Zomorodi. "It's measuring things that you haven't even thought of, like how long your finger hesitated over something. Were you strategic or more cautious or hasty—the game measures all of the different ways you act. It's not just about whether you win the game or whether you're successful, in this case, with lobbing water balloons and killing the imps—which I was not that successful at I have to say."

Zomorodi spoke to Guy Halfteck, the CEO of Knack, the company that makes the video game Balloon Brigade and other games that serve as hiring tests. According to Zomorodi, Halfteck says that micro-behaviors like finger hesitation are tracked by these games and leave behind "digital breadcrumbs" to create a profile of a person.

"Those breadcrumbs show us and tell us about how you think, how you problem solve, and how you persist," says Halfteck. "Do you have the grit to deal with challenges? The game becomes very challenging and frenetic at some points."

The game collects these "digital breadcrumbs" to create a big data profile, which is then used to determine what kind of worker you will be. If an individual does well at both the game and the job they are hired for, human resources departments will look to hire more individuals that have similar game scores, says Zomorodi. 

"We're in the very early days of using games for hiring," she says. 

Zomorodi also spoke with The Atlantic's Don Peck, whom she says is a hiring expert. Peck interviewed Hans Haringa, who works for the petroleum giant Royal Dutch Shell and has used hiring games provided by Knack to scout for new and talented employees. The game almost perfectly predicted who would be the most successful innovators.

"Through game play alone, without ever meeting the scientists involved, without knowing their pedigree, without interviewing them or even seeing their ideas, the game was actually very successful at predicting which scientists would have ideas that would ultimately pay off [for Haringa]," says Peck.

By playing the game Wasabi Waiter, which has players act as digital waiters and deliver sushi in a crowded restaurant, the game was able to accurately predict which scientists were open to new ways of thinking and had a high threshold for discipline. 

"What this could mean is that it doesn't matter where you went to school or who you know," says Zomorodi. "These CEOs say that instead of a LinkedIn profile, maybe you would just have a number that symbolizes who are you."

While some may be skeptical of being a number in a spreadsheet, Zomorodi says that the practice could actually pay off for some.

"On the one hand, it's not going to play to prejudice—what your gender is, what your sexual orientation is or where you went to school," she says. "The world is becoming more about how you preform."

Would you rather play a game than have a job interview? Tell us in the comments.