Why excelling at video games could land you a job

You may have taken one of those career analysis tests in high school -- you remember, the one that indicated you'd be happy in accounting, or perhaps as a forest ranger. When you applied for a job, you may also have taken a personality assessment that asked how much you agreed with statements like "I feel tired sometimes" or "I think it's okay to take a pencil home from the office."

But how about playing a video game to gauge your abilities?

Some companies think how you play a video game can predict how well you'll do in certain jobs. Royal Dutch Shell used games called "Dungeon Scrawl" and "Wasabi Waiter" to help decide whether to fund small projects developing potentially important business ideas. The tests, developed by game maker Knack, turned out to predict success extremely well.

It's a little disconcerting that your ability to deliver sushi in a virtual world can predict your ability to make great suggestions to a petroleum company. On the one hand, it's great for the company. Hans Haringa, who runs the Game Changer program at Royal Dutch Shell, told The Atlantic it allows him to narrow the ideas down by 80 percent. This saves a tremendous amount of money and time for the company. Of course, it also slashes the dreams of 80 percent of the people.

Coca Cola is another big company using testing to guide hiring. Their teams concluded that behavioral competencies, as identified by testing, are reason to disqualify a candidate.

Not everyone is sold on this approach. HR professional Rory Trotter expressed his concerns about using tests as a definitive criterion in eliminating a job candidate from consideration. He cautions that there may be confounding variables (for instance, if the test taker is ill). People often have a tendency to answer questions in ways that they think the company wants them answered rather than how they would truly answer them. He shares the following anecdote:

I once had a manager recount to me a story where his boss chastised him for getting the "wrong" personality type on an internal test. The manager then re-took the assessment, this time gaming the system to get the personality type his boss wanted him to score. Afterwards, he said to his boss, "Happy now?"

In addition, you have to worry about companies using tests to evaluate candidates that were not designed to evaluate job candidates. I spoke with Sherrie Haynie, an expert in the commonly used Myers Briggs personality test and asked her about using it in hiring. She emphasized that the test shouldn't be used as a hiring tool, but rather as a tool to help facilitate communication within a company.

Tests, whether personality profiles or video games, may be the wave of the future when it comes to hiring, but change will likely come slowly. For now, most hiring decisions will still be done based on the traditional interview. But don't be shocked if the next time you're applying for a job you are handed a tablet and asked to start delivering virtual sushi to virtual customers.

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