Career Talk - Episode 10: What is gamification?

Transcript of podcast episode with Rocco Li from KPMG China.

Podcast length: 39:13

Cate: Welcome everyone, my name is Cate Linforth. I'm the International Employer Liaison Officer here at Careers Network. We are excited because for this episode of Career Talk, we are joined by Rocco Li. Rocco works at KPMG China in the Campus Recruitment side of things. Welcome Rocco, thank you very much for joining us. 

Rocco: Hello everyone, and thank you, Cate. Looking forward to the chat today. 

Cate: We're really excited to have you. Today we're going to be talking about gamification and how companies use gamification in the recruitment and selection process and give you some insider tips on gamification in itself. Whilst it's not brand new, we are seeing more and more companies are moving towards gamification, certainly within graduate recruitment, but just generally within recruitment processes. Rocco, would you mind just starting by introducing yourself and a little bit about what your role entails? 

Rocco: Alright, so I've done Campus Recruiting for over 12 years now. I started at Goldman Sachs, and I pretty much did everything in the campus recruiting space, besides IBD, which I would say is the juiciest part, but I did everything else. Afterwards I went to Bloomberg, and I started with their graduate program in China. The first two batches of their China graduates should all know me because I was the first-round interviewer and the last round interviewer.  

Relating back to the topic, I was also part of their assessment centre creation, which started off my whole gamification journey. Afterwards, I went to PwC. There, I was responsible for the Campus Recruiting Team before joining the X-Venturer Program Management Team. In a simple way of putting it, there, I created a program which from zero to 1000 only took us like three years, which I'm quite proud of. It's the first management trainee program in the big four. I guess it's a totally new concept and then afterwards I joined KPMG. I'm also creating a program called base camp. Hopefully, it would turn out more effective than X-Venturer Program at the PwC. Let's see where it takes me.  

So, currently I'm driving the Campus Recruiting and Employer Branding Team here at KPMG. I look after the selection process, I look at what students we’re targeting, what kind of universities we want to work with, how we want to brand ourselves with universities, as well as with the greater public. The only part which I am not responsible for is how we brand ourselves with our clients, that's more for the markets team. But anything relating to our EVP or, when normal people think of KPMG what do they think of? Now that would be my space.

Also from my previous experiences, from Goldman, Bloomberg, PwC, one of the things that we try to teach university students is the change of mindset. That's the other part that I'm working strongly on, how we change people who are from student mindset to employee or more commercial mindset. That is normally a key change, and hopefully I'm able to help you guide, walk over this bridge. I think in life there's many key decisions that you need to make, such as who you marry, whether to have kids or not, which university, what major and what would be your first job. These are all key factors and I'm glad that I am able to participate in one. Throughout my whole career journey, no matter what role I've taken, I've always stayed on this decision point. What should your first job be, that essentially is the key passion that I have and the focus that I do have on, I guess, helping people. 

Cate: I think it's such an interesting point, and I mean you have such a breadth of experience. We regularly say to students that that first job springboards you on to whatever path you want to go down, and whilst it's not impossible to change direction, every experience that you have, and you gather helps shape who you are. So that first experience outside of university, that first job that you have outside of university is really critical in helping shape who you are as an employee, but also what path you're going to go down, what roles you might have in future. Every door that you open leads you to new possibilities and leads you down a certain path. I think that's a really important point that you made.  

In terms of gamification, it's something that we tend to find within careers as a real buzz word lately. We find more and more employers are talking about how they use gamification. Can you just give some of our students just a little bit of background into what you mean, what is gamification within the recruitment and selection process? 

Rocco: Okay, so there's a few parts that I do work on in the gamification place. First part is our marketing. And then the second part would be our selection. And then the third part would be talent identification, which kind of is selection, but it's a little different and I'll explain it soon. So, we've been hosting a lot of campus talks. On these campus talks sometimes I come and say some stuff, or the business comes and say some stuff or we find some superstars, we find a lot of people to come and do the talking. But in fact, it's quite hard for students to understand what we do by talking. So, instead we want to do it by walking.

We created a game which last around one hour, which talks about our three key businesses and one support function. In that one hour we let you experience what tax does, what advisory does, what audit does, as well as supporting what function does. That game, which we call house of cards, will give you this experience, where without us telling you what we do, you get to experience for 20 minutes, and if you're keen on this, then you can go ahead and explore. But the thing about being a commercial entity is we need all kinds of people. So even though tax may look more on your analytical skills, or your negotiation skills, doesn't mean that the other two doesn’t, it's just that they focus more on this. Then advisory looks more at your presentation skills and your negotiation skills. We also have ways to like have fun in doing all this. For audit, well you audit so it's quite technical there. What's important is for all the people who does audit, you would know companies better than the company staff knows themselves because you know what's happening in the finance.   

Long story short, we give you this experience. So that's the marketing piece. Then during this selection piece we actually let them play the same game again. But instead of those just those three elements, which we also look at their soft skills, but on top of their department, we actually add a version which is more specifically for tax, audit, advisory or supporting function. So, we dive a little deeper into it. But the concept is still there. Really interestingly, last year when we trial ran this process, this gave a lot of students, they made it a lot less nervous. I think a lot of people in traditional interviews, they tend to exaggerate, and because of this, we need to find ways where instead of you telling us what you think we want to hear, you are actually doing it naturally.  

We've been changing the way we do interviews from doing a lot of talking into walking. Once again jumping back to what gamification is, instead of talking we let you walk because your actions don't lie. Even if at the end of the day, you do these actions to lie to us because that's what we want you to do, you will never be happy, then you actually leave. So, everybody loses at the end. I'm a very good interviewee, meaning if you put me up for any job I can pretty much bs my way into it. After interviewing so many people, you tend to get these new skills. But if you put me into the job’s shoes, that would be a lot tougher because my actions, my subconsciousness would let me know whether I want to do this on a daily basis or not. That to me is the key indicator for all Gen Z recruitment or all campus recruiting in general. At the end of the day, whenever we do these gamification processes, it's not about finding the right person because in the past when we hire people for factory work or a commercial, normally it's you have this ability, or you don't. But now we have technology. We have AI, we have our RPA, APIs, they will be able to do a lot of these no brainer decisions and no brainer actions. So, what we look for is actually innovation, being bold, being able to challenge, and traditional interviews do not test these attributes, do not let us see these attributes. It's only during the games where we can see these attributes.  

Why is this important? Pretty much in this world anything, besides communication or working together can be replaced by AI at this moment. Hence when we look at people, we want to look at skills which AI cannot do, AI cannot replace at the very moment right. Because of this, we look a lot more at communication, we look on more about their passion, because when you have passion to do something, you would never suck at it because you care, and when you care about something you do well naturally. A lot of times what we're looking for now, and why we move into gamification so that you experience what it is like to work there, and how we work and then, therefore, you would know that it's something that you would want or care about at the start.  

So, it's these kind of processes that allows us to identify the right talent to join us. What does this mean actually? In the past when there were all these online tests that ask you all these questions, there’s normally a right and wrong answer. Now all the tests that we use, they help us identify how you want to work and how you work most successfully. We look into their communication skills, we look into their personality traits, and we look at how they fit into the team. So, right now, whenever we do these online tests there's no right or wrong answer in the sense that we ask everybody to do the test, and then we make sure the test is a reflective part of our whole population. Then we ask our candidates to do it so we know on the likelihood whether you succeed or not. Pretty much the whole firm would do it on a yearly basis, at least that's the ideal goal. We know at what level we need what traits and then at what departments you need what traits and what level, at what region. So, the interesting thing of all this data that we have collected is, by region, by title, by department, the success factors are different and we need to find a way to balance. In these three that's already a lot of variables that we need to consider. 

So, this has been an interesting way for us to work. We've been trying to find this magic formula, but ideally the magic formula is that it will never be perfect, but it's a good indication. I mean at the end of the day, we hope that it's not a selection process in the sense that we want to knock people out, but we want to make sure you can succeed and all the people that join us will succeed right, because that is why you will stay is because this is the right place for you to succeed. I think in the traditional sense, when we do the traditional interviews, we always have interviewers who just want to find a younger version of themselves which hmm. Do we really want ten of me, or do you just want one of me and nine others which can cover my weaknesses. In this sense HR looking after talent has been making sure that we have successful teams, having different strengths in each of the core groups. So there will always be one that's extra good in communication, one that's extra good in the technical side, extra good somewhere, everybody has their strengths. This way they can find their own value, within the team and within the firm. What I just said is very ideal, for the record, we're still trying to trying to find our path, but that's the direction we're heading towards.  

Definitely gamification is a start. I do think that for like our online tests to what we're doing at talent identification to what we're trying to use as the right communication skills or personality traits. Only from a global level, this only started like three or four years ago. And then, using this as part of our big data, I would say, like one or two years ago. So, whether you say this is a very mature space, it's not. But it's very interesting. When we started this whole corporate, or commercialisation or industrialisation, it was started off with a lot of factories. And in factories there was always going to be right and wrong answers, but now we have moved into this innovative technology, metaverse NFT, crypto generation where it's not whether it's right or wrong. In the past I believe there's always going to be the right talent for the right job, but now it's up to the recruiters, or up to HR to help people find where they'll succeed at. A lot of times when they join us as graduates, the place where those succeed hasn't even been developed yet so that's the other part. So, whenever we look at talent, we look at these personality traits, the success factors to see how you can innovate and then for us to support you that you can succeed, and when we help you succeed, naturally you do the firm well. 

Cate: You raised so many valid points in there and I think what's really, really crucial for everyone to understand is that a job is not just about going there, starting work, turning your computer on or however you start work, working your hours and then leaving and being a robot. Like you say, technology is advanced to do the robotic things for us now. What we as a society need and what employers need and what industry needs, we need people with those human skills, the personality traits, the innovation and one of the things that we talked a lot about here within Careers Network is that a lot of the jobs that students who are studying right now will go into, don't even exist yet like you said. So, it's very difficult for individuals to select a job or select a career path when things are evolving so quickly with technology that what they end up doing and excelling at or what they end up being most passionate about might not even exist yet. So, for us, it's really encouraging to see employers who are looking at testing students by doing, rather than your traditional interviews. 

One of the reasons I say that is because when you look at a traditional interview, if you Google “common interview questions, insert name of sector or company”, there are hundreds and hundreds of resources available for people to find questions. I'm not saying there's no value in an interview, because there is, but I do think that, with some of the more old-fashioned styles of recruitment and selection that put such heavy emphasis on that interview, it is easier for applicants and candidates to fake the interview or say what they think people want to hear and that doesn't necessarily show their work ethic. In an hour-long conversation with someone, asking them to tell you what you want to hear doesn't always give an indication of what someone will be like when you get them into the office or into the environment.

Rather than talking, so many students right now are saying that whilst they like to hear from employers, they don't want that traditional, old-school presentation where they find out about things that they can find on the HR website, they want something different, they either want a skill session or they want to be doing something or finding out something that they can't find out themselves. I think it’s really important that you mentioned about the house of cards game and how you get students to actually try out different streams because so often with grads games as well, students say to us how do we decide which stream of the graduate scheme to choose. We know we're interested in this company, but we don't know which one is most appealing. Or they'll go for the jazziest looking stream or the one that sounds the most interesting, when actually everyone has a different skill set, a lot of people might be better suited to a different stream. I think using gamification to help students or applicants try out these different schemes, or at least get a little taster for them is a really clever way to ensure that you're getting the most successful candidate pool for what you're looking at.  

We've been doing some research and things and one of the things I saw was there was a hotel chain that put on their Facebook page, they had put a game of running a hotel and anyone that got to a certain point in that game, or that got to a certain level, then was shown a ‘do it for real button’ and was taken to a link for their graduate recruitment page to then apply. I think these initiatives that you're talking about and that we see, are really good for students to try things before they go through that lengthy and arduous application process as well. I think it's really, really interesting. 

I know that that has been just a few years so far, but have you noticed any effects on retention of candidates or anything like that, since you've been introducing gamification. Have you seen fewer candidates losing out at certain stages or dropping out at certain stages or is that also within the early stages, is it difficult to get that data yet?  

Rocco: Its early stages actually. But I can give you another interesting data. Once we started this gamification process, one of our departments traditionally don't have that many people apply, but that has changed. Last year it has increased by 20%. Most of them, after playing the game they're like oh “it's not as bad as I thought”, after playing the game they're like “hey, this is actually what I want to do” and then they actually do sign up for it. So, I think it’s a start.  

A lot of graduates, if I can give them a piece of advice, and this is why we go through gamification and stuff is for one, most graduate jobs is quite the same skill wise, technical or expectation wise from the employers. You guys to us are a white piece of paper about to enter the workforce. What's important is that we can draw you however we like. Hence, you should always be asking yourself a few things. Number one, do you want to work with those people that you essentially applied for and with, because you'll be hanging out with them and working with them more than meeting your parents or girlfriend or most of the people in your life. So, that's one. And two, are they the people that you want to become? Because to us, you’re a student and now you're a white piece of paper, you’re going to come in, you're going to become those people that are working with you and do you want to be like them? As long as those two questions are “I'm keen to work with these people” and “I do want to become my teammate”, then why not. I mean it's a good start.  

I think a lot of students are afraid of the pay and all of this. My final advice is when you're good at something, you’ll always be paid well. The Dark Knight Rises, the Joker, “if you're good at something never do it for free” and if you're good at something, no one would expect to do it for free. 

Cate: That's such a valid point is that like one, yes money is important, but there's also that element of you spend much time at work, you need to be doing something that you enjoy and that you're passionate about and that you can justify spending that much time of your life doing. But also, like you say, if you're good at it, with milk the cream rises to the top. The people that are the best at it will always go the furthest. If you find something that you're good at, and that you're passionate about and you work hard towards it, that it in and of itself will show the people who are making those decisions what they need to know, and that will springboard you on that path. 

Rocco: After doing this for 12 years, like it back in 2010, my first bunch of hires are now like MDs in banks and stuff. And you know the second that they join they would be successful, whether it's at this bank or elsewhere or wherever. It's this advice which I hope every university student can take is, they keep on asking a question should they go for money, or should they go for prestige, or should they do what they're passionate at? The answer is very simple, working in the campus base and looking at all the seeds that were sowed up until now, all those people who succeed we're always passionate. I've seen people who started off in some bad firm, but they had good passion and essentially they will succeed. I think it's important that every day when you sleep that you can tell yourself I'm one step closer to my dream. I mean that dream can change, and mine has changed many times. If you asked me 10 years ago, would I be doing what I'm doing now I'll be like I don't even know what gamification is, I just want to do events and party. Now gamification is what I wanted to do, but in a more tangible format.

What my point is, always go one step closer to your dream and your dream will always change. But that's okay, but you're one step closer. The sweetest victories are the hardest fought victories so the resilience and the endurance and the patience to achieve your dream and then, for you to find your passion, and then to every day work on it. That will always make you successful and I think what gamification does is helps you find your passion, because it doesn't quantify or objectify something that's not quantifiable or something that is really subjective. I think in the past, a lot of people looked at a very stable career path. Like in the big four, we do have quite a stable title progression. But in this vertical progression there's always these horizontal progressions or diagonal.  

Back at PwC, I also looked after clients. I had like two clients that I was helping out on, and now at KPMG though I focus more on back office but I pretty much get to look at talent performance, I get to look at many more things than I did in the past. So, my point is progression and when you seek your goal, you naturally would have your roles and responsibilities created for you. 

Cate: I think it's a really good point though, when you're passionate about something, your role and the roles that you go for tend to naturally evolve towards where your strengths are and where your passions lie as well and there's nothing wrong with a diagonal move or a side move if it gives you that balance of happiness and passion and opens up more doors. If you can see that if you do aside move and it opens up a clear path in a way that's more interesting than the path then you're on, then a side move is definitely the right choice. 

Rocco: Exactly. On top of what you have just said, it's something along the lines with when you're passionate about something and the leader identifies and you're self-aware what your weaknesses are. I'm not a perfect employee too, I have my weaknesses, you can form a team to cover your weaknesses and to make sure that you can show your strength. This is the other thing that I find really important within my own team is, everybody in my team needs to be better than me at something. I also need to be better than them at something in order to make this mutually beneficial.  

So, why is gamification important? I've spoken a lot of more about passion, about how you should strive for what you want to do. On the other hand, you also need to be self-aware. You should know what your strengths are, what your weaknesses are and and I guess there's no one that's perfect and it's important that you understand the concept of one plus one is greater than two and that's when your team really do exist. When my team of 20 produces something that more than 20 staff can do, now that's synergy. So, I think what gamification does is also helps to be more self-aware because it gives you personality tests, gives your communication style, gives you many kinds of these reports which allows you to understand yourself so that you can work with others. There's like four main kinds of communication types, I'm the red type meaning I'm the direct and brutally honest and critical person. But if everybody is like me, we will probably end up arguing a lot, so we make sure in our team there's also the three other types, which helps us balance everything out. Which at the end of the day, it makes us work more effectively.  

I think a lot of times what gamification does is helps us understand where we can succeed, helps the firm find out where you should be. That's going to understanding yourself hopefully, which is the final part. We're probably going to start using this for promotion requirements. When we look at all the levels, there's certain skills that they need, and then for certain businesses, there are certain skills that they need, and then we make sure they can fill it and if they don't, then we can give you training to make sure that you do. So, it's all about self-improvement as well, self-awareness and self-improvement. 

Cate: I think it's really good and it shows that as an organisation you're looking at not just that initial stage of getting the initial staff, you're looking at the bigger picture, you're looking at where best to place people for their strengths and to get the good mix. I mean it's short-sighted of some organisations who want one type of individual for this business unit and one type of individual for that, like you say I think it's really important to have a mix on every team, because then you're only as good as the sum of all your parts or better, you should be better than the sum of all your parts. I think it's really important to have that diverse mix within a team and it's really important as well for organisations to look beyond that initial recruitment stage and beyond that initial graduate scheme stage and look at where people can progress and it's not necessarily just on whether a project went well or an amount of money brought in, it's looking at and making sure that your staff have the skills that they need to be successful, as they level up their careers as well. I think that's really important that for applicants or for graduates who are looking to go into organisations, you need to look at the company culture and you need to look at the fit for yourself as well.

Going back to what we talked about, making sure that you're happy in an organisation, but also making sure that you'll continue to be happy and looking at what organisations do to support and develop their staff pass that graduate scheme and and what opportunities there are for progression as well. I think using gamification when you're looking at levelling up your staff is a really apparent way of showing that you do invest in your staff and you do invest in the training and you want them to succeed. I think that's really critical really, really critical for students who are looking at different organisations to go into as well. You want to make sure that that you enter into an organisation that you'll be happy with and that you'll want to stay at beyond the graduate scheme, and then I guess that helps you guys in your retention as well and it's a very cyclical benefit.  

With regard to gamification in the recruitment process. Is there anything that students can be doing to help themselves be more successful in that process? I understand that the whole point of gamification is looking for skills in a different way and looking for personality traits, and it might be a case of well, no, you can't prepare for it because we're looking for what's already within you. But is there anything that students should be doing to ready themselves for a games-based recruitment and selection process? 

Rocco: Two advice, the first one being is we're moving towards communication as a key skill set. Regardless of what interview process that companies do have, communication is key. Under communication there's a few parts that would be important. The first one is how you communicate, whether you listen, as well as every time you talk then do you bring something to the table? So it's not the one who talks the most, in fact, many times during these common big group interviews we hire people who only said two sentences. But those are the key difference that drove the whole team's direction. It's about the quality, not the quantity.  

The second part is to be yourself. I know it's easier said than done. It's very easy for people to lie in an interview because it's just acting for an hour, for an intern maybe it's like a few months. But as an employee, it's a marathon it's like a 40-year marathon. Why would you even want to like not be yourself for 40 years, for the majority of your days in your years. So, my point is just yourself and I think at the end of the day, it's not whether you have the right skills or not it's whether where to put them or not. I think it's through gamification or through as much interviews as possible to find out exactly where you succeed. I live up to the expectation, it took me for my Goldman job, I used six months and I sent at least 50 CVs a day for, maybe I'm not that good, but there was a lot of CVs a day, it was a lot of interviews in those six months. And in between, I had a job to make sure that I was able to pay the bills. But it took some time to find the right one.

I think it’s important that you do what you like, let it be at KPMG or not or my previous employer or not. I do think that everybody should really just find a place to succeed, and from my perspective, KPMG has been able to give me the platform to succeed so I'm definitely staying at KPMG. It's just where's the right place for you. Anyway, those two are my key pieces of advice and sorry I added a bit more colour to those two advices.  

Cate: That's great, I really appreciate it. I think you've given our students a lot to think about in terms of when they're making those decisions, what to look for. Given your breadth of experience and your track record and it's really beneficial for students to hear it. We can tell them as a career service until we're blue in the face, we can tell students what we think, but ultimately, if students want advice on their career paths, students tend to take it a bit a bit more from an employer, because you guys are the ones that make the rules and you guys are the ones that work every day in these companies. You know inside and out and what you're looking for, you also know what type of applicants are the ones that tend to be the happiest and which ones tend to have that cultural fit the most. So, your insight is worth its weight in gold. Thank you very much for your time, Rocco.  

Just quickly at KPMG China do you guys have your date set for recruitment and when it will open this year? It's usually early autumn isn't it?  

Rocco: July first, that is our dream start, but August for sure.  

Cate: Anyone who's interested in in applying for KPMG have a lookout for that application process opening up for this year. Rocco, it has been an absolute dream having you on the podcast. Thank you much for your time I really appreciate it, and really appreciate all of your insight. 


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