If you’ve ever tried to change career tracks but were ignored because the new job didn’t match up with your experience, Guy Halfteck, founder and CEO of the Palo Alto startup Knack, feels your pain. His solution? Play games. Knack has developed a series of mobile games that use Big Data and neuroscience to tease out your real skills. The games aren’t simulations of job duties, but instead record how people make decisions. The first of the company’s two games is an Angry Birds-like title called Balloon Brigade, in which players defend a contraption against invading imps. Balloon Brigade is available for iOS in Apple’s app store and is scheduled to be available for Android this quarter. Soon to be released is a Web game called Wasabi Waiter, in which players have to deliver food in a restaurant. Knack Game After completing the entire game, players receive badges, or “knacks,” based on how they performed. Knacks describe personality traits such as communicator, conscientious, thrill-seeker, cautious, agile, risk-taker, insightful, empathic and strategic. They also include career types such as engineering, architecture, sales, management, and media. KnacksAlthough Halfteck declined to give names, he said Knack is working with Fortune 100 companies who will use the tool in their recruiting process. He did say that Royal Dutch Shell has used the products to identify innovators for its research and development areas.

Career Change Challenges

The idea for Knack’s approach came from Halfteck’s own experience. His background is in law, but he wanted to move into a business where he could take a leadership role rather than simply serve the needs of clients. When he sent out resumes for jobs he was sure he could do, he didn’t even get a sniff. So, like many career changers, he took lateral positions, moving from private practice to corporate law. Then, he applied for a management job at a hedge fund. He was sure he was going to land it. He didn’t. “It’s hard to convince people because it’s hard to show what you haven’t done,” he says. “I was told ‘You are a lawyer. That’s what you did.’” That’s when he decided to create an application process that was totally different from those he’d been through.

Games and Brains

Halfteck had studied game theory as part of his Harvard doctorate studies, which combined law, economics and business. Game theory – which is different from game design and gamification -- is a mathematical study of human decision making. Those theories, combined with Big Data analytics are at the core of Knack’s games. Halfteck compares using the games to taking a potential hire out to the golf course to see how they behave under pressure and in social situations. Using them differs from gamification not only because players are playing actual games, but because their motivation is different. “Gamification is useful. The key point is to engage your users in something that is otherwise not engaging,” Halfteck explains. “If I’m asking you to complete a personality test, the underlying personality test didn’t change at all. We just added another layer. We look at your performance, how you make decisions, how you modify it during the course of the game. It’s behavior, and you’re acting rather than telling about yourself.” Halfteck believes his games may prove more accurate than the personality tests often administered during the hiring process. The games, he says, can be useful not only to career changers, but also to students and those just embarking on their careers. The company is working on another product – called the Knack app – with which players can create profiles and display their knacks. They can keep their identity private, but employers will be able to find them based on their skills and abilities.