Human Resources

What's your knack? Games to "measure" job potential

We have all been there. You send out hundreds of applications and do not hear a word from anyone. Nada. And just when you are falling into a pit of despair you get a tiny glimmer of hope: you’ve got an interview. It seems like your luck has changed. The interview goes swimmingly and you feel pretty confident. But you don’t get the job. What went wrong?

“Interviews today basically have no intelligence about them,” Guy Halfteck, CEO of Knack tells me over the phone. “People think that they know how to spot talent. But that’s wrong because if this was the case, we wouldn’t see many people not performing well.”

Halfteck recounts his own experience of applying for a job in the early stages of his career at a hedge fund in New York. He went through the traditional recruiting and screening process and after five months - he got a “No thank you.”

“When I didn't get the job I was frustrated by that and started looking into how that process worked. I realised that if it didn't work well for me, it may also not have worked well for the company because they have made wrong decisions with whatever information that they thought they had,” Halfteck says.

It was then that Halfteck came up with the idea of using games to analyse personal strengths: “The inspiration was to move away from making human employment decisions and career decisions based on resumes, credentials and move into looking into abilities and potential - because [even though you didn’t attend a leading school] you [still] may have amazing potential or you may have gone to a great school but you don't have great potential for that particular job.”

“So the goal was to do something much more fundamental about the person, about the job and find the better match. To make better matches between people and opportunities. Between their potential, success and performance,” Halfteck adds.

Knack has been named as “a company to watch” by Wired as more companies are using games to evaluate potential candidates. But using games to recruit candidates is not new. The US Army-developed America’s Army as a part of its massive recruitment campaign and Marriot was one of the first to test gamification in recruiting with its hotel-management game that tested how players handled the responsibilities of a hotel kitchen manager.

Knack offers three games to players: Meta Maze, Balloon Brigade, and Wasabi Waiter. As you play each game, you are “measured” on a range of things: cognitive abilities, emotional intelligence, logical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making are just some of them. The data is then collected and analysed on how you play on multiple dimensions.

“We are talking tens and thousands of data-points. We are collecting massive amounts of data about everything that happens in the game. Every choice, every reaction, every decision and everything else that is happening in the game that you are not even doing. We are measuring hundreds of variables and then we use these data-points to extract insights from the patterns. Most of these are very subtle non-transparent dimensions,” Halfteck says.

Once the data gets fed back to you guys, what happens then?

“After the data is collected we have a whole set of algorithms we have built that basically processes the data from the gameplay and computes your score on, for example, problem-solving. So it measures the strength of your motivation, of your risk-taking, and so forth,” Halfteck says. “Depending on your score, whether your score is above a certain threshold that determines whether you are awarded on a [particular knack]. “

Testing the games

Playing Balloon Brigade reminded me a bit of Angry Birds. You have to fill water balloons without bursting them and throw them at fast-approaching enemies. The game was just the right level of pace but I was conscious as I was playing about how well I was doing…what sort of motions was the game analysing? Was it looking at how I was throwing the balloons for example?


 Balloon Brigade

“You're right [it analyses] which balloons you're using, how you throw the balloons, how you adjust your trajectory, which enemies you handle. [As we collect the data] we look at how you play on multiple dimensions.”

Next up was Wasabi Waiter, a game that analysed how I served my customers in a sushi bar. The game was a bit faster-paced than Balloon Brigade and tested how I read the customer’s facial expressions. Halfteck tells me this game focuses on social intelligence and emotional intelligence: “It looks at how you handle multiple customers, how you read their emotions, how you are strategizing in the game, whether you are changing your strategy or not. So it looks at multiple dimensions in your interactions with your customers.”


Wasabi Waiter

By the time I finished the two games, sure enough my knacks came through on my phone. I got 21 knacks in total that had assessed my mindset, decision-making, leadership and character amongst others. One of knacks told me I was “someone with unusual resilience” and another told me that “rather than resigning myself to current circumstances, I take action to improve my life and environment.”

Two of the knacks surprised me. One knack said I was an optimist when I have always thought of myself as more of a pessimist. But the knack that aroused major suspicion was the one that told me I “have a knack for working with numbers” something I put to Halfteck:

Halfteck admitted that it’s “possible that some knacks are not fully accurate” because the knacks are computed by statistical algorithms and as with any statistics, whenever you are predicting something there is always the chance of error.”

“But the important thing to bear in mind, is that you might say well that's wrong because you are comparing it to how you perceive yourself. The way we perceive ourselves, however, is not accurate and it’s affected by all sorts of things,” Halfteck says. “So I may want to think of myself in a certain way or I may not want to think of myself in a certain way  - maybe if I am more self-aware or less self-aware and that will also affect my self-perception of myself and the degree to when I say this is accurate or not.”

I find this self-perception idea interesting. Sometimes it’s easy to label ourselves on boxes where we feel most comfortable. Throughout my childhood, dad was always the “numbers” guy, I was always “words” girl. But I am still not fully convinced. Maths was not something that came “naturally” to me at school - how does Halfteck explain that?

“It’s nature verses nurture. Your environment and your teacher may have led you to feel a certain way. So the interesting thing is to differentiate things that you are good at and for which you have potential versus things that you want. It’s possible that you have potential to be successful or you have abilities and strengths but it might be strengths you are not utilising or tapping into or maybe it’s not your preference but you are still good at.”

“When we try to assess ourselves we also don't have a benchmark - therefore when someone says oh I'm not very good at that it’s out of context or reference point,” Halfteck adds.

The games at Knack are developed from scratch and the team include data scientists, computer scientists, behavioural scientists and game developers. He says Knack receives a lot of interest from companies looking for specific candidates.

“Companies come to us and want to understand what the knacks of high performing people are. So, high-performing sales, leaders, managers and so forth. They want to use our games when companies go out on campuses for recruiting and ask students to play the game.”

What if you are not an experienced gamer?

“It’s all objective and applies accurately across all users. We looked at gender, age, and education level and we designed and built our algorithms in such a way that it doesn’t matter whether you are an experienced gamer or whether you are a man or woman or you are younger or older – all those differences that normally affect how employers look at you, how universities are looking at you – all those [factors] are removed.”

Halfteck foresees a future where interviewers can free up time in the interview by being guided by the knacks to ask the questions - so the interview is much more informative and focused: “We are not wired for tests. Whether we call it a game or not we do lots of things that are game-like behaviours. The reason for that is: it’s a challenge, it’s interesting and we get rewarded as the level of challenge increases.”

The concept of using these knacks to facilitate the interview process is definitely interesting but I wonder how recruiters will use the data. And can the knacks really be seen as “proof” of having the capability to do the job?


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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