Can gamification final make a mark on the recruitment sector in 2015?

With Christmas round the corner you’d think weary journalists and bloggers would begin to relax, to picture mince pies and a warming fire. This isn’t the case. Around now, fear rises. The mouth gets dry, the head light. They know it’s inevitable: any minute now the editor will lumber over and ask the question they’ve spent most of December hoping to avoid:

“Old chap,” the editor says. “Fancy writing a few hundred on what’s going to be big next year?”

Dusting off the crystal ball is amongst the most loathed of journalistic tasks: when asked to make predictions on what will set a certain industry alight in the next 12 months, it’s usually a toss-up between making grand proclamations that immediately turn you into a hostage to fortune, or saying so little as to barely cast your imagination forward at all. In short, it’s an unenviable task. But that said, let’s give it a go anyway…

Unless you’ve been living in a bus shelter for the last couple of years, it will have hardly escaped your notice that social recruitment has grown in significance. LinkedIn is the research tool of choice for headhunters and recruiters, while social media accounts are pored over for indiscretions that may embarrass an employer and rule out a prospective candidate. But beyond those uses, recruiters are increasing using social media to reach out to candidates. Some have even experimented with ‘gamification’ to make the process more fun or to gather candidates from a broader cross section of the population – and this may be the reason why it’s seen by some as the hot recruitment topic for in 2015.

So what exactly is gamification? Put simply, it’s a way of making the recruitment process more appealing by shaping it around those elements found in games that fire our natural tenancies – namely, reward and competition.

As long ago as 2011, information technology firm Gartner predicted by the end of 2014 more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organisations would have at least one ‘gamified’ application. It came to this conclusion driven by the broad trend (mainly in marketing and advertising at that time) of applying game mechanics to non-game environments to motivate people and change behaviour.

In the same year, Marriott became the first in the hotel industry to use a social media game to generate interest in the hospitality sector and help drive its graduate recruitment scheme. The now defunct MyMarriottHotel game was similar to Sims or Farmville. The game was embedded in the firm’s careers page on Facebook and encouraged users to ‘create their own restaurant, where they’ll buy equipment and ingredients on a budget, hire and train employees, and serve guests. They’ll earn points for happy customers…and lose points for poor service. Ultimately, they’ll be rewarded when their operation turns a profit.’

With the launch of a gamified recruitment drive by such a big firm it seemed perfectly reasonable to expect others to follow suit. In 2012, a Forbes article outlined how ‘organisations like Marriott, Deloitte, Aetna AET and even the Department of Defence are using gaming to recruit, develop and motivate employees’.

It said: “The power of gamification comes down to this: it taps into the competitive fires we all have and as we play a game, we become more engaged, feel a greater sense of accomplishment and are more willing to go the extra mile in either making more sales calls, completing more training programs, or answering more customer centre calls. And because our progress, we continue to increase our engagement with the game and reach new levels.”

Presciently, Forbes also asked: “But will it still be something we talk about in 2020?”. It was right to. In the intervening years firms have experimented with gamification, but take-up has been stuttering and even now is hardly common.

Early sluggishness in game theory’s application could be attributed to a lack of real understanding of how it could help recruitment. Matt Jeffery, SAP vice president, global head of sourcing and employment brand, told Recruiter magazine: “People rushed in and thought it was about adding a game to the recruitment process, which wasn’t quite right.”

Jeffery went on to say gamification was one of the most powerful tools available to those working talent acquisition today, but was still widely misunderstood.

“What we are really talking about are the dynamics of engagement,” he said. “A great computer game ingrains itself into the consciousness and subconscious of the player to make them have one more play. We need to take that philosophy and work out how we can apply it in recruitment.”

So, the idea is there, if not the correct or wide-spread application. But are things about to change?

Earlier this year, KPMG revealed that it had added gamification to its online recruitment process. The firm said the game had proved more useful as a graduate recruitment tool than its traditional bus tour round the universities. And in September, Information Age was sufficiently moved to commission an article explaining how gamification could now be a serious tool in the HR armoury.

One recent good example of gamification in recruitment is a virtual internship game being used by PWC in Hungary. Multipoly invites graduates on Facebook to find out more about the accountancy and consultancy firm by playing an online traineeship that involves a series of objectives over the course of a year. Players must attend training, negotiate with clients, solve tasks, form communities and complete psychometric tests and work scenarios similar to those experienced in an assessment centre.

For PWC – like KPMG – the game helps find suitable candidates in a cost-effective and timely way and the for the candidates it offers them a great insight into what it’s like to work for the firm. But is two big consultancy firms playing with new recruitment techniques enough to call it a trend? Is gamification the big new thing for 2015 or are no further forward than we were in 2011?

Well, who can say? As we know, predictions can be difficult and often plain wrong. So next year, instead of trying to guess what 2016 could bring, perhaps we could have that mince pie and spend the time contemplating how the previous 12 months have left us? It might prove more fruitful in the long run.