Technology is revolutionising many HR processes. Silicon Valley-based Knack, which uses gamification to help employers look for potential talent without bias, is just one example of how traditional practices are being redesigned for a new era.  Kimberley Dondo speaks with its chief growth officer, Mahesh Venkateswaran


How did Knack start?

Guy Halfteck [Knack’s founder] was at Harvard finishing his PHD in Law. He had applied for a couple jobs, including a hedge fund where he went through a lengthy evaluation process, followed by a long wait for the results – and then he still didn’t get the job. This led him to question the interviewing process. He knew that because he had attended Harvard he was fortunate enough to be offered interviews, but what about someone who was equally well suited to a role and didn’t possess an Ivy League education?

Humans are born with natural abilities and talent. But systems of bias creep in at different points, whether it be your school background, your gender, race or other factors. Traditional recruitment involves a lot of information such as how a candidate answers interview questions, how they dress and how they speak that are open to subjective bias. Knack recognises this bias and within their own organisation have made steps to change this to move diversity from agenda to policy to action.

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Unless you can find a way to overcome those ingrained perceptions, it is hard to solve the two challenges of enabling an individual to build confidence in what they can accomplish, and of reducing bias in the system so that individuals are recognised for what they can really bring to an organisation. With Knack employers can get greater insight into the potential, personality traits, value and behaviours that a candidate possesses.

Why is this a useful tool during recruitment?

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Global organisations are becoming more dispersed, agile and collaborative. The skills and talents that were prized 20 years ago are very different from those required by the modern workforce. But organisations are still not able to really comprehend the potential of their employees and how they can fulfil those new roles.

There are also situations where traditional recruitment methods just won’t work. For example, the city of Berlin has been using Knack with refugees to help to place them in appropriate roles. Most refugees have no past records or a resume, so a tool like Knack is useful in assessing what strengths and abilities they have.

How do the games work and what are the outcomes?

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The team that designs the games at Knack includes behavioural and data scientists, software and game developers, game designers and artists. They look at hundreds of variables during game play such as how long you hesitate, what part of the screen you touch, the moves you make, and many other things. They collect multiple pieces of data every millisecond. That starts with basic traits known as Knacks. The games try to identify these Knacks. Those knacks can be put together to form super Knacks. The games only take 30 minutes to complete and from that an employer receives a full character profile of a candidate.

Employers can find desirable employees for their organisations by selecting certain Knacks and super Knacks which are suited to the desired role. The programme then selects the game that will reveal candidates with these Knacks or attributes that are desired. Employers will instantly be able to get access to a large number of candidates in a short period of time. It is cost effective, scientific and has no bias. Everyone is measured on the fundamentals of their skills and traits.

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What successes have you seen?

Knack is now five years old. The platform has been used by half a million users across 120 countries, with no marketing. It is expanding into emerging economies such as China, South Africa and India, and has worked with large organisations such as Shell, AXA Group and Swarovski who have all seen an increase in their recruitment efficiency and productivity. There is less value being put on academic background but instead the individual’s potential to perform successfully.