Is Gamification in Recruiting a Real Thing? #HRTechConf

Is Gamification in Recruiting a Real Thing?

Sometimes the one word can mean different things to different people. In the HR space, gamification is one of those words. Gather a group of HR pros and casually throw out the word to see what I’m talking about first hand. This newest HR technology either brings to mind fond thoughts of leaderboards and interactive play or elicits eye rolls and skeptical glares. But before you automatically categorize gamification with the countless bullshit buzzwords that the HR industry has collected over the years, hear me out.

Unlike the huge pile of fads and trends HR has talked about, tried and discarded, gamification has already been proven as a success. While it is relatively new in the HR space, gaming has been around for as long as people have. The global video game market alone is now a $66 billion industry that spans all age and skill levels, as well as every electronic device, from smartphones to devices created just for gaming. Aside from that astonishing fact is the realization that gamification not only includes electronic games but also board games, interactive challenges, competitions and more. If three billion people worldwide are gaming, I think it’s safe to say it works.

Sure, there are some translations that have to occur to take gamification and make it work for human resources, recruiting and hiring, but that’s also already been proven. For instance, Marriot has been a trailblazer when it comes to using gamification in recruiting. After researching a bit about their prospective candidates, the hotel enterprise realized that while they did have a careers page on Facebook, it was pretty damn boring compared to the games their potential workforce was spending hours playing each day, right there on Facebook. So Marriot created the My Marriot Hotel game that allows players to manage all the behind-the-scenes aspects of running a hotel kitchen, such as inspecting food and hiring new employees.


I don’t really consider myself much of a gamer in my spare time, but I did find it necessary to play several rounds of this…you know, for research purposes. My guess is that many of the other 50,000 people interacting on Marriot’s Facebook page each week have done the same.

While Marriot nailed recruiting gamification right on the head, its use and benefits extend far beyond recruiting. A number of companies are leveraging gamification as a component of their employment branding and as a way to identify leadership for succession planning. A kick-ass example of this is NTT Data’s Ignite Leadership game, which provides the organization’s leaders with a way to find out more about specific management topics and allows them to see the ins and outs of leadership roles within the company. Not only does this allow employees to receive on-demand training but it also makes succession planning more of an interactive experience, giving employees ownership in the process.

Why it works

Gamification is successful in HR, recruiting and hiring for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the fact that it taps into innate human nature that pushes us to win, succeed and go further. It’s why Candy Crush users spend $160,000 per day in the free game: there’s always one more level you can reach, one more badge to win, one more accolade to accumulate. Gamification in HR plays into this to teach, train or identify skills and knowledge.

The other major component that goes along with this is that gamification does what interviews and pre-employment tests can’t. It can evaluate problem solving, quick thinking, time management and many other leadership-essential qualities that just can’t be measured with a multiple-choice test.

The most obvious, but most often ignored, quality that gamification offers is the Mary Poppins principle: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. In other words, playing a game is makes reading a careers page less boring, obtaining a badge for completing a training program makes it feel a bit less tedious and the possibility of winning a competition creates an association between going the extra mile and something tangible, even if it’s only the pride of being at the top of the leaderboard.

What do you think about gamification? Passing fad or here to stay? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below. 

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Cathy Shanes says

    Gamification might work in recruiting better that in other industries as it is closely related to social networks and games can be added as an in-built application. Generally, gamification can increase the engagement level and also improve employees’ relations, but in recruiting, unlike in healthcare gamification where people know that they play for their benefit, there’s no open motivation. Therefore you’ll need to offer your participants some reward for playing.

    • rocco says

      totally agree that motivation is KEY. When applying for jobs, if the company engages the candidate to “play”, the reward is priceless and for this reason extremely appealing: winning means having an interview or better, a job.

      To job seekers I say: compete for jobs, show your talent, go beyond the resume and distinguish yourself from the crowd of “resume senders” that just click “submit”.

  2. winrar says

    if someone used gamification in my recruiting process I would go to another company, because it seems extra and unnecessary.

    • rocco says

      You’re right, If companies ask me to play “farmville” when I apply for jobs, I’ll have your same reaction.

      But that’s gaming, not gamification. Linkedin is extremely gamified for example, though many of us use it a lot and enjoy it. (i.e. –> “see how many people viewed your profile in the last 3 days” / that’s a game design element applied into a non-game context = gamification).

      If interested, I recommend “Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software Paperback” by Janaki Mythily Kumar, Mario Herger

  3. Mary says

    I can see this tool as a sure fire way to weed out the older candidates. Those candidates that were not raised on Nintendo. Who were trained in a work ethic that did not have room for playing. The older candidate that has great human interaction skills and does not feel the pull of the electronic devices as it chirps/rings in their purse/pocket.

    I can only hope that HR departments use this Gamification tool as one of many to make informed hiring decisions.

    • rocco says

      @ Mary: I understand your concern, it is true that younger population is more familiar with technology and videogames; on the other side, experts (like Gartner) see gamification as the next big thing exactly because the principles of “gaming” are known and experienced by everybody, no matter gender (48% of gamers are women) or age (avg. gamer age is 39). Gaming is not necessarily video-gaming, it is applying concepts like challenge, levels, points, ranking, etc… to non-gaming context. Hope this clarification helps.



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