Are Escape Rooms and Games a Good Means of Testing Potential Hires?

2021.07.28.

Imagine turning up for a job interview and instead of the long wait to be interviewed, or being asked to talk about your past career challenges, you are unceremoniously ushered into a darkened room. Maybe handcuffed and hooded! We’re not quite sure that’s legal, but you get the point.

Escape Room

Many companies are turning to interactive escape room games to help with the whole recruitment process. As far as HR are concerned, this offers a great way to test how well someone copes under pressure, how inventive they are, how well they communicate and also their perspective on delegation. Of course, for any candidate, playing in an escape room as part of an interview process is going to be pretty thought provoking and interesting. 

But while we applaud the efforts of some companies to think outside the box when it comes to finding the right candidate, it may well be nothing more than a fad. That’s because many point out that the whole process is open to interpretation and only leads to an inexact assessment of a recruit’s possible strengths and weaknesses. To take it even further, there may well be legal consequences waiting in the wings.

While Not Ubiquitous, Games Have Potential  

It’s been pointed out that the number of companies subscribing to this new fad in recruitment is relatively very small, with its use primarily aimed at tech companies. On the whole it makes perfect sense that creative companies are going to be the first to jump on the trend, if it’ll become that. Many of these young and forward looking businesses like to project an image of being at the forefront of the latest craze. It keeps the appearance of an edgy and original entity. 

One of the most famous cases of escape room games being used in recruitment is the one that’s most often bandied about. In 2018, a study in the Journal of Nursing Education reported about how the University of Nebraska used 4 escape rooms to help nursing students amplify their skills when taking part in mock health care emergencies. The students were split up into teams of four, and needed to solve puzzles revolving around the patient's condition which included such scenarios as dealing with the signs of depression, asthma and motor car injuries.


Some company bosses don’t subscribe to the idea that escape room games will play any larger part in the recruitment process. Many believe that this is nothing more than a passing fad, brought about by HR personnel trying to impress. Essentially, they are becoming frustrated with their present recruitment process and so start searching for alternative means, which on the face of it appear much more stimulating and interesting. There may well be other dynamics that are driving this new technique. 

There’s always the sneaky suspicion that companies are falling over themselves to appear hip and cool, as there’s always a tough race ongoing inorder to attract the best candidates for any open position. The idea being that by creating a memorable and stimulating recruitment process will make the company stand out more. In this way, a top tier candidate might see the company as forward thinking, innovative and cutting edge cool. 

By making the whole recruitment experience more cool, the company hopes to project a cool image to all it’s new recruits. Though only a handful of employees are presently using these new techniques, there’s always the possibility that they may become ubiquitous. Right now the needle could swing either way. Maybe if just a few more mainstream players took up the escape room games approach, then these interview techniques would become more popular across the whole recruitment spectrum.

Companies Willing to Give Games a Try

A recent survey looked at over 1,456 companies from a diverse variety of industries in order to find out if they would be willing to try using escape room games or sports as a recruiting tool. Around half said that they would use a glow-in-the-dark round of mini-golf to help review candidates. Three quarters would be happy using a game of lazer-tag. Two this would use a bard game like Pandemic, Mystrium or Forbidden Island, which requires teams of players to work together.  The Knowledge Academy found in it’s own survey, that the majority of the 684 companies asked would be perfectly happy to use similar games for the same recruitment process. 

But how does this work out in reality? Well, in general, there are trained observers who are watching the games as they progress, taking notes as well as asking relevant questions both during and at the end of the game. On the whole, activities are chosen based around particular points that need greater analysis on the part of the recruiter. They are specifically looking at strengths and weaknesses. So, for example, the lazer-tag assessment team will be on the lookout for strategies and teamwork, for the board games, it might be assessing the levels of problem solving and critical thinking.

It should also be noted that escape room games, amongst others, are a great means of assessing soft-skills. This is in reference to the manner in which the candidate carries out the given tasks. According to LinkedIn, over 92% of all talent HR professionals say that they value soft-skills as much as hard skills. Over 80% said that they were an essential part of the interview process. With more and more companies relying on the notion of teamwork, this should come as no surprise.  

The Drawbacks

Because this approach is still seen as being unconventional, there are reasons for thinking that it may not be the greatest fit for all candidates. An example might be playing an escape room game, but the best candidate fails, simply because they are more introverted. Not everyone is suited to being thrown into a darkened room with a bunch of strangers. In other words, this touchy-feely approach may actually drive off certain candidates, who might otherwise have been the perfect fit for the job at hand. 

On the other hand, a lot of interview techniques can revolve around challenging the candidates perceived ideas, as this is a valid method to gage how well they might be a team player. In a traditional interview situation the recruit might be asked about a previous experience. But if the same candidate were to be observed under duress during an escape room game, maybe it might be easier to gauge this information more directly.  

One thing is sure though, and that's that these new techniques simply can’t stand on their own merits. They need to be used in conjunction with the traditional interview techniques. They can never completely replace them. Another point of contention is that these new fangled methods could well fall under legal risks. If an employer uses a physical activity to asses candidates, then it well be aurgued that the activity itself led to discrimination. An example would be an activity which required some real physical activity, meaning that maybe the result was based on age or disability. 

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