Why you shouldn’t trust games to help your hiring process

You’re hired!
You’re hired!
Image: Reuters/Daniel Munoz
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“It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.”

This old adage has never been more true than when you look at a new batch of games being marketed as a better way to measure employee potential and, ultimately, factor into company decisions on whom to hire or fire.

New games from Knack and ConnectCubed measure not just whether you succeed at killing imps or rotating a red shape by 90 degrees–they also observe how long you take to swipe, whether you play frenetically or cautiously, even what browser you used (hint: the HR department will know if you’re still using Internet Explorer. And they won’t be impressed).

They then translate what Knack CEO Guy Halftech calls “micro-behaviors” into data points that feed an algorithm that puts a number on, among other things, your problem-solving capability, persistence, and ability to concentrate.

You are your score

I played a couple of these assessment games, one from Knack called Balloon Brigade and ConnectCubed that was more like a hybrid IQ/personality/SAT test.

The latter put a number on my Ambition, Smarts, Work Quality, and Working With Others. Needless to say, I was surprised and irritated when I scored a mere 56 on Ambition and a 52 (52!) on Working with Others. The final report described me as having a “Low sense of moral obligation to live up to promises and responsibilities.”

That score bruised my ego and smacked against all the career advice being peddled out there for women. I’ve been told by numerous books, including Lean In that spreading myself thin wasn’t good for my career or children. But the test measured this sentiment as unhelpful. So much for a working mom trying to balance it all.

The CEO of ConnectCubed, Michael Tannenbaum, tried to reassure me by explaining that even though the numbers feel like test scores, they may be measuring something we haven’t thought of. For example, a high score in agreeableness might mean you won’t be a good boss who can make hard decisions.

“If one were to hire a creative, like a graphic designer, or a job an an ad agency, having greater emotional stability may not correlate with work performance. Being very tidy may be associated with great account executives but not with great creatives themselves,” said Tannenbaum.

He claims ConnectCubed tests are better than today’s standard hiring practices because they don’t make judgments based on gender, color, or other biases. Both he and Guy Halftech believe a score could replace a LinkedIn profile soon; where you went to school or who you know just won’t matter in the new world of quantified hiring practices.

The sad side

It’s the application of these tests down the road that worries me—if we start making life decisions based on numbers. The Atlantic’s Don Peck recently wrote an article, “They’re Watching You at Work,” about game hiring and he pointed out to me that most of us will never understand the statistical models that these approaches are based on. That’s scary enough. But we also could start making decisions solely predicated on how these companies and their games define “success”…even for our kids.

Let’s say there’s a kid who is crazy for chess but his game scores don’t back up his enthusiasm.

“So, should I tell an 11-year-old whose passion is chess that he or she doesn’t have the stuff to be a grandmaster one day? Maybe I should because that would prevent the kid years of practice and eventual heartache. But how could you do that ultimately? I think that type of question is going to be more and more common for more and more people over the years. And it’s a question that’s hard to answer,” says Peck.

It reminded me of a story a fellow mom told me the other day about her pre-teen daughter who loved gymnastics. She gave up her hobby because, at 12 years old, she either had to start competing or quit entirely. There was no option of doing gymnastics once or twice a week just because she enjoyed it.

I’m ready to live in a culture that embraces “good enough” and doing something just because you enjoy it. Barack Obama called it the “Audacity of Hope” and that’s one thing these tests might extinguish.