Want a Job? Bring Your Game!

Applying for a job? Polish your résumé and grab your DS.

Research shows that video games offer a more effective method of determining which candidates to hire than traditional personality tests. According to researchers Frank L. Schmidt of the University of Iowa and John E. Hunter of Michigan State University , "work samples" and general mental ability tests are nearly twice as effective as other pre-employment assessments. Cutting-edge organizations combine these two techniques into game-like simulations that require candidates to demonstrate necessary skills and address job-specific problems. Candidates with the highest game scores are the most likely to be successful. (And no, ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ABAB doesn't work.)

Games can also enhance training programs. McDonald's Japan partnered with Nintendo to develop eSmart , a DS-based training game that teaches new crew members to clean workstations, cook food, take orders, serve customers and handle other common situations. It decreased training time from 45 hours to roughly 24 and eliminated the need for human trainers during introductory lessons. In addition, eSmart allows Wi-Fi-connected trainers to monitor individual progress and provide immediate feedback. ESmart has increased training program efficiency while significantly reducing costs. And electronic games can be modified quickly to reflect new skill requirements or changes in work tasks or processes.

The U.K. launched Code of Everand in 2009 to teach street safety to children. The game uses the speed, frequency and appearance of traffic at selected U.K. intersections as the basis for monsters in a fantasy world. According to the designer, Kati, London, the game is designed to "mimic the natural rhythms of traffic and train the brain to adopt the same look-and-wait behavior in real life."

Games can simulate many jobs for training or recruiting purposes. Repetitive jobs such as call center staff, bank teller and meter reader are easily simulated, as are many hands-on jobs such as HVAC, auto and appliance repair technicians. More complex games simulate the "soft skills" required of first-line supervisors and salespeople for moderately complex goods (mobile phones, cars, etc.) These games model how to build rapport, clarify technical information, and discuss potentially uncomfortable topics such as conflict between employees.

Video action games improve gamers' ability to process visual and auditory information , according to Shawn Green, Alexandre Pouget and Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester, writing in Current Biology. Video-gamers are more aware of surrounding sounds and sights then those with less gaming experience. Gamers improve their ability to make quick decisions from multiple stimuli, the same skills required to multitask, drive a car or track children in a crowd. Researchers have concluded that people make decisions of this type through "probabilistic inference." They unconsciously process auditory and visual stimuli to calculate and refine the likelihood of different outcomes. Video action games can be a helpful training tool for jobs requiring quick reaction times and manual dexterity.

Standardized personality tests have long been accepted tools for employee selection. Games, however, must take care to comply with government hiring regulations. In the U.S., candidate selection games must contain job-related content and provide consistent experience for all applicants. Games that include branches and other options are prohibited. Training games have fewer compliance restrictions. Different experiences are allowed, as long as the game is used to improve job performance and is not the basis for promotion or compensation.

However, there are hurdles. Many companies have been hesitant to adopt HR games, believing games are merely frivolous time wasters that are inappropriate in the workplace. And HR policies often specifically prohibit playing games on company time or company-provided computers. Additionally, people over 40 typically have limited gaming skills, particularly those related to spatial relations or joy-stick dexterity. (My daughter humiliates me at Mario Kart!) Older applicants may find games intimidating, since they don't know how to use Wii's A and B buttons or Xbox's X and Y conventions. So qualified individuals with pertinent experience may be overlooked.

Well-designed games promote employee retention by providing candidates with accurate previews of job activities. Improved understanding sets realistic expectations and can cut short-term turnover in half. Games also create the perception that a company is progressive, desirable and a fun place to work, particularly for younger people.

HR games are still in their infancy. A number of companies have begun offering them, with most coming from widely different starting points. Employment Technologies uses its long history in industrial organizational testing to provide skills-based simulations in training and development games. Qube Learning studies the motivators that make people want to play particular games. Previsor , formed from a merger of Qwiz, ePredix and Personnel Decisions Research Institute, provides technology-enabled tools supporting hiring, promotion and development. Beginning as a temporary staffing provider to call centers, FurstPerson has expanded its offering to include candidate testing and management.

Overall, games are good news for overworked and understaffed HR organizations. Games provide a highly effective way to identify the most promising candidates from a large applicant pool. In addition, training games provide hands-on practice for real-world situations, without spilling any milk or dropping any French fries.

Bart Perkins is managing partner at Louisville, Ky.-based Leverage Partners Inc., which helps organizations invest well in IT. Contact him at BartPerkins@LeveragePartners.com .

Read more about management and careers in Computerworld's Management and Careers Topic Center.

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