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Pokemon Go fills talent pipeline

How Woodbine used the global phenomenon for HR purposes and got 500 people lined up at job fair
Pokemon Go Job Fair
Pavlo Farmakidis (left), recruitment co-ordinator at Woodbine Entertainment Group in Toronto, and Mark Diker, senior manager of recruitment and talent planning, ran a job fair using Pokemon Go that attracted about 500 candidates.

By Todd Humber

I’ll admit it — I like Pokemon Go. It’s fun and a little addictive.

I don’t have the teenage fervour gripping many (like my partner’s 15-year-old son who, on a recent trip to Greece, made the unfortunate error of snorkelling for 45 minutes with hiars iPhone in his shorts). The Mediterranean may be beautiful to look at but its salty brine doesn’t mix well with gadgetry.

His post-Pokemon funk was alleviated only when he got his hands on his mother’s smartphone, where he was able to stroll among the ruins of Greek civilization in search of Magmars and Ponytas to add to his Pokedex.

The game is really good at getting people out and about. I mused (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) in an online post recently about the wellness benefits of embracing the quest for Pokemon in the workplace.

But the Woodbine Entertainment Group in Toronto — which runs the famous Woodbine horseracing track — found a way to take Pokemon from the fringes of HR practices to its heart: Recruitment. Pavlo Farmakidis, a recruitment co-ordinator in the people experience department at Woodbine, alerted Canadian HR Reporter to its strategy.

The company hired — and this is no joke — two Pokemon Go players for a job fair it ran on Aug. 21. It was only a one-day gig but that literally was all they needed to know how to do: Play Pokemon Go.

The job ad stated: “The idea is for jobseekers to come meet the WEG Recruitment Team, get familiar with some of our departments and drop off a resumé, all the while taking advantage of wild Pokemon appearing from the Pokemon lures that will be set throughout the job fair.”
Woodbine had three Pokestops and one Pokemon Training Gym — and if that means nothing to you, well, then you wouldn’t have needed to apply. It was flooded with resumés for these plum positions — about 175 applications came in for the Pokemon administrator position and 150 for the job fair Pokemon posting. 

“We hired two folks and they were essentially customer-facing people who walked around and set lures at our Pokestops,” said Mark Diker, senior manager of recruitment and talent planning at Woodbine. “They also used incense to lure rare Pokemon.”

HR looked at candidates’ Pokemon profiles to see how experienced they were and ensure they fit the company’s values and would act as good public-facing ambassadors during the job fair.

In this court, it was a genius move. Woodbine has a rich history — it has been part of the fabric of this country since 1881, and is home to the Queen’s Plate, the most prestigious horse race in the country.

Tell that to a group of teenagers, though, and their eyes will quickly glaze over. But you can’t argue with results — a lineup formed before the doors opened and about 500 people handed in resumés. 

“It was a good mix of people, some people who came just for the job fair and others who came with battery packs and stuck around looking for Pokemon,” said Diker. “It created some traction with tech-savvy young people that wouldn’t have thought of Woodbine as an innovative company.”

The genesis for the idea came from Farmakidis himself — so who says HR can’t be savvy innovators? 

“I knew the technology was a disruptor and the initial interest in the game was there,” he said. “We’re always kicking around ideas and trying to be innovative and thought, ‘Hey — why don’t we try this out?’”

Not only did the job fair fill the talent pipeline, it also generated plenty of media interest. CityTV, CTV, the Huffington Post, Kiss92 FM and more lined up to cover the recruitment bonanza. The publicity generated was priceless. 

The job fair didn’t cost much more than a typical mass recruiment effort, according to Farmakidis.

“We bought the lures, some Pokemon hats, and that was really about it,” he said.

Woodbine didn’t reveal how much it invested, but an eight-pack of lures can be purchased from Pokemon Go for 680 Pokecoins and you can buy 14,500 Pokecoins for $139.99. Depending on how crazy you go, the costs can be relatively negligible. 

Woodbine was so pleased with the results, it’s looking at doing something similar at its Mohawk Racetrack in Milton, Ont., and its WEGZ Stadium Bar restaurant in Vaughan, Ont.  

This is what happens when management gives human resources the freedom to innovate and try new things. Good publicity, good recruitment and exposing the next generation of customers to your products and services.

Good on you, HR.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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