Could computer games be the recruitment consultants of the future?

Arctic Shores says its mobile games can measure candidates' persistence, resilience and even their potential to innovate.

Last Updated: 27 Oct 2016

There’s a war going on out there. A fierce battle among employers big and small to recruit the best ‘talent’ – the ‘brightest and best’ people that will give them an edge over the competition. Dissatisfied with their old Russell Group hunting grounds, many employers are expanding their recruitment pool to school leavers and those with ‘less traditional’ qualifications.

It’s about time. But trying to sift the wheat from the chaff when you’re receiving tens of thousands of applications per year is not easy – especially when you’re no longer automatically disqualifying some on educational grounds. Interviewing lots of people takes time and traditional methods of pre-interview testing can be off-putting and even disadvantage women.

Perhaps video games could be the answer? Arctic Shores, a start-up founded three years ago, has developed super simple smartphone games that it says are capable of measuring several traits, making it easy for employers to spot the best candidates.

MT took one of the games, space-themed Cosmic Cadet, for a spin. It began simply enough – the player is presented with a rocket and a series of planets. As a gauge swings back and forth, they have to tap the screen when the needle passes through a green segment of the dial – thus fueling up the rocket to move it along to the next planet. It gets harder the further you progress. In a second mini game the player has to tap one of two images of different robots depending on which version appears in the middle of the screen. It’s no Angry Birds, but it’s a whole lot more stimulating than being given a pencil and paper to complete a multiple choice test. 

But just how much can you tell about a candidate who plays one of the games? ‘A lot,’ the company’s founder and MD Robert Newry tells MT. ‘We pick up 3,000 data points in a 25-30 minute session. We cover upwards of 20 different traits that can be mapped to a lot of different competencies in the workplace. Things like risk appetite, persistence and drive, leaning agility, performance under pressure, resilience; things that lend themselves really well to behaviour-based assessment.’

Another of the Cosmic Cadet mini games 

If you’re still sceptical that’s understandable – history is littered with new technologies that have failed to live up to their promise. But Newry says Arctic Shores’ assessment techniques are rooted in academic research that’s been going on for decades. The games are created by its in-house psychologists who work with game developers to embed traditional psychometric testing principles within the context of a modern mobile game.

Newry says one of his biggest challenges is overcoming outdated perceptions of the games industry. ‘[Many HR directors’] view of a videogame is of a 33 year-old male with a console playing either Call of Duty and shooting people or Grand Theft Auto and robbing cars.’ In fact the market has changed massively thanks to the emergence of smartphones and now, according to Deloitte research, the typical gamer is a 26 year-old woman. The perception hasn’t stopped it signing up several high profile clients including Clifford Chance, RBS and Vodafone.

But is there a danger it could discriminate against those who don’t waste their days shooting Russian spies on the Xbox or smashing sweets on Candy Crush? No, says Newry, citing this year’s big mobile hit Pokemon Go as an inspiration. What made that so successful was its simplicity, he says. ‘You don’t have to know how to hold your fingers in strange positions and tap buttons in odd orders in order to be able to use that game – you just have to be able to flick your finger. And our psychometric games are based on the same principles.’

So how does it work from an employer’s perspective? There’s a degree of tailoring available – Arctic Shores can create a branded backdrop that sits behind the game itself. After candidates complete the game their scores are compared with an ideal profile specifically created for the company, to see how well they match up. The list price for the service is £18.50 per candidate, which might sound pricey, but Newry says it’s comparable with other psychometric tests that currently exist.

The games might seem a bit faddish to some more traditional HR bods. But as the battle for the best intensifies it won’t be surprising to see more employers giving such services a go. Now who’s for a game of Cosmic Cadet?


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