Serious Recruiting Games: 6 Tips for Using Games and Simulations for Recruiting Success

Maybe all you need for an attraction and sourcing strategy is a good game.

The U.S. Army was one of the first organizations to pioneer video games for attracting potential recruits. A couple of years ago the Army launched its highly successful recruiting game called America’s Army, which has significantly helped raise recruitments. The Army has also created a multi-million dollar U.S. Army Experience Center located in Philadelphia where potential recruits, using computers and Xbox 360 controllers, explore different army bases and occupations using video games.

L’Oreal has launched Brandstorm, which is a competition across national boundaries to help candidates determine their marketing skills. Many other organizations have launched interactive games, including IBM’s game that has made the press recently with its free simulation, CityOne, an interactive game targeted at business leaders, city planners, and government agencies. The game allows players to react to a variety of crises and see how their decisions affect outcomes.

Realistic job previews, video tours, and game-like activities are becoming standard on leading recruiting sites because more candidates come and stay longer when the process of learning about your organization and your open positions is fun and engaging. Recruiters are learning from the game world that elements such as awarding points, giving out badges, showing progress toward a goal, or using an avatar increase results.

Gaming elements drive behavior, as many retailers have learned. Even when there is no formal “game,” we are often using the gaming elements when, for example, we participate in Frequent Flyer or other loyalty programs. Counting points is part of what makes Weight Watchers successful and millions play World of Warcraft  or Facebook’s Farmville for nothing more than gathering points or unearthing treasures. Whether the challenge is to collect points, win badges, score goals, or kill avatars, we alter our behavior in some way to achieve goals that are often intangible and not even important (e.g. collecting ears of corn in Farmville).

And game-playing is growing and attracting more people of all types. One survey found that up to 35% of C-suite executives play video games (even though this study was funded by, while 97% of 12-17 year-olds play them, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Over the next decade, gaming concepts and technology will become a standard element in your recruiting strategy.  Websites will become more interactive and offer a more compelling reason to engage than they do today. More organizations will discover that their ablity to find and hire good candidates will be partly because they found ways to engage, entertain, and entice them to learn more about the organization and the job available.

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Here are six ways you can begin to “play the game” of gaming.

  1. Provide candidates who come to your recruiting site with rewards. Offer candidates rewards such as gold stars or badges when they have viewed a video, taken a poll, completed an assessment, or left a comment in your chat room. Encourage them to come back and get more points by learning more about your company. Provide a progress bar so they can see how much of their profile they have completed or how much of the recruiting site they have viewed. You have seen these progress bars when you first created a profile on Facebook and LinkedIn. Most of us want to have profiles that are close to 100% complete so we are motivated to come back and add details over time.
  2. Investigate using virtual worlds such as Second Life. KPMG, IBM, and other organizations have experimented with virtual job fairs, interviews, and tours with varying degrees of success. Part of the issue with using virtual worlds is that the technology is very new and still has interface issues. On the other hand, it offers a glimpse of what I think will be a normal part of online life in a few years.
  3. Develop video-based job tryoutsShaker Consulting Group has pioneered developing job tryouts using video to provide candidates with a realistic idea of what it is like to hold a certain type of job. At the same time, these act as a way to screen candidates for those jobs. Organizations such as Starbucks, Key Bank, and Sherwin-Williams have used these with a high level of satisfaction.
  4. Hold virtual job fairs. There are several tools that allow you to create interactive job fairs, including those from 6Connect and Unisfair. By using virtual job fairs you can offer more candidates an opportunity to discover what you have to offer as well as provide them with more in-depth information about your positions and organizations than you can at a face-to-face job fair.  By creating an interactive and fun experience, candidates remain engaged and spend more time with you than they would at a conference. It also gives you more time to assess the candidate.
  5. Use Tests, Puzzles, and Simulation. The Secret Service of the United Kingdom has perhaps one of the cleverest simulations I have seen. You become an Operations Officer and have to digest information quickly and make decisions. The simulation shows you what is involved in intelligence work and gives the Secret Service a good assessment of your judgment and decision-making capabilities. Another fascinating approach is being used by Gild, a Tech Crunch disruptive startup that combines gaming and job boards. By using polls, short tests, asking candidates to solve problems, provide ideas or solutions, or by having them take part in multi-person discussions, you can learn a great deal about the candidate. They can learn about what you do in your organization, how decisions get made, and what issues arise. Generally this knowledge will lead to a candidate who better fits your culture and who is happier in the work they are doing
  6. Develop a Full-Fledged Game. If you have between U.S. $50,000 and $3 million, consider developing a truly interactive game similar to those of produced by L’Oreal or the U.S. Army. Costs range from as little as a few thousand dollars for a Flash-based web-embedded solution to several million for a dedicated, X-Box controlled one. But, by creating a simulated environment where candidates can experience and actually get involved in the work you do, you can raise engagement and success to a new level.

There are few limits to what is now possible on the Internet. Technologies and techniques that were way too expensive or even impossible even five years ago, are now easily and cost-effectively available.  A new world awaits you.

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  • Dr. Tom Janz

    Kudos on an engaging, game-changing article.

    Games offer so much promise for collecting meaninful metrics around candidate maximum and typical performance, given many in the talent pool are willing to spend so much time on them.

    There was a doctoral dissertation that resulted in a citation by McDaniels and someone (not sure about the latter name). No one has paid much attention to it. Pity.

    It found that measures of short term memory predicted job performance measures just about as well as GMA (general mental ability), but produced half the level of adverse impact. Why do I bring this up? Games could easily measure short term memory as the player plays the game. It would not even feel like “a test”. It would have to be disclosed of course, but those who know the literature know that GMA is among the best predictors of job performance across all jobs, and even more so for the creative class jobs. And a re-vitalized EEOC will push employers towards valid measures that reduce adverse impact.

  • Keith Halperin

    Thank you, Kevin.
    IMHO, this presumes a passive approach to recruiting- that if your company is “cool”,”exciting”, or “hot”, good, hireable candidates will come to you. Instead, you should operate on the premise that everyone you actually hire will have to be either referred or sourced/recruited. For the $50k-$3M you mentioned, your company could hire 2-135 virtual phone/internet sourcers for a year to identify the candidates you want to hire that your recruiters can close.



  • Joseph Murphy

    Yes, Keith, you could hire people and get the more subjective bias prone results. Adding research-based candidate evaluation allows recruiters to focus on best-fit candidates and develop relationships with high-potentials. Simulations are more consistent, reliable and lower cost for many scenarios than recruiters. Ask teh ARMY how many candidates have participated in the simulation, the cost per contact is most probably lower than any human based solution. Ask Fortune 500 companies using simulations what their cost per candidate presented is and it is lower than human based screening. However, simulations earn their keep not by taking coast out. Rather by taking poor performers out of the consideration. Reducing Staffing Waste due to performance variation is the high ROI value of simulations. The most expensive step is the face to face – simulations ensure that time is well invested.

  • charles handler

    Great article Kevin.
    Ive been working on the implementation of interactive gaming to recruitment and assessment for some time now and I am really convinced of the value that gaming can add to recruitment branding, candidate relationship building, and mutual evaluation of job and organizational fit. Thanks for providing these examples. I am doing a workshop about simulations and employment branding at the upcoming ERE expo. Im looking forward to investigating the examples you provided. Thanks!!!

  • Bryan Baldwin

    Great post, thanks for the links Kevin, LOVE what MI6 is doing. BTW, I think the Brandstorm link is here:

    And Tom, I think you’re referring to Verive & McDaniel (1996) in the journal Intelligence. Similar results were found by Barrett et al. in 1999 (Journal of Business and Psychology).

  • Dr. Tom Janz

    Bryan– Thanks for the citation. That’s the one allright. I will also dig into the Barreet 1999 paper.

  • Keith Halperin

    @Joseph: If I were trying to hire a neurosurgeon or a fighter pilot- I’d use it. When it’s quick, easy, and cheap- I’ll buy it. Until then, as Uncle Joey said: “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

    Happy Holidays!

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