‘It is necessary to sell and buy cats’: Alabuga SEZ introduces a business simulation for potential employees

Applicants for vacant positions in the Tatarstan special economic zone are revealed “analytical and communication skills”

‘It is necessary to sell and buy cats’: Alabuga SEZ introduces a business simulation for potential employees
Photo: alabuga.ru

They play games with applicants for vacant positions in Alabuga SEZ — before the interview they are “trained” on a business simulator, and, depending on the result of the game, either consider or reject the candidacy. Moreover, the ability to understand business issues and successfully conduct business is required from everyone — even from those whose profession and position do not assume this. According to what principles in Alabuga, where the project “School Business Start” was developed that outraged parents of students, employees are now being selected for a “world-class” team, how potential employees perceive such a non-trivial approach to team formation and why psychologists are cautious about such innovations — read in the material of Realnoe Vremya.

Economics for humanities-minded people

“I responded to the offer of a job in the management company of Alabuga SEZ, but subsequently refused to participate in this selection," one of the failed employees of the company told Realnoe Vremya. “I am not an economist, I have a humanitarian profession. The position I applied for is not related to sales or business economics. It was about an annual contract, the salary was attractive, and at first, there was no question of any checks on business simulator. But while I was collecting the necessary documents to come to the interview fully armed, I was informed that the conditions had changed, and first I had to go through a business simulation. I looked — it is necessary to sell and buy cats. To do this, you need not just to know how to count — you need to at least understand economic theory.”

Our interlocutor decided to try his luck and coped with the tasks of the first stage, which is performed online. And on the second — in-person — it is quite expected for a humanitarian-minded person to fail.

“I was offered employment for 1 month, during which I must continue to participate in the game. And if nothing had happened again a month later, the contract would not have been extended. Naturally, I refused. In general, this game is designed for students of a local college, and developed, I believe, taking into account their specialisation. It is unclear why they decided to use it to test all employees, except perhaps cleaners and drivers!”

Moreover, the ability to understand business issues and successfully conduct business is required from everyone — even from those whose profession and position do not assume this. Photo: alabuga.ru

“Business simulation is one of the stages of employment”

“We experienced a shortage of qualified workers and developed a whole concept to attract them," the head of the marketing and PR department of Alabuga SEZ, Daniya Utalieva, told Realnoe Vremya about the methods of recruitment of employees. “We have created our own educational centre Alabuga Polytech with a capacity of 10 thousand people a year. It was created to cover the personnel needs of both the management company and our residents. Our students are employed from the first year as interns, they are assigned to managers, and from the first year they receive practical skills. We don't look at the results of the State Exams and so on, we evaluate their soft skills. To evaluate them objectively. We have developed our own business simulation — Business cats. It is necessary to assess the skills of analytics, communication, teamwork, getting out of the comfort zone, and the empathy of applicants as objectively as possible. Also, in the process of business simulation, financial literacy training takes place. On the basis of this business simulation, the selection of candidates for positions in our management company is also carried out. If the candidate's resume suits us, we suggest registering on our HR platform and playing, and according to the results of the game, he can receive an invitation to an interview. Business simulation is one of the stages of employment in our company — it reveals how well the candidate has developed analytical and communication skills.”

Utalieva explained that candidates for all positions participate in the games — from managers to ordinary and even workers:

“We have a department that regularly improves and updates this business simulation, and we, as management, are also happy to try new modifications to it. Not so long ago, we introduced long-term deals into it so that participants could conclude contracts and take out loans. We had large-scale games — for 600 participants, who were divided into teams. Someone was responsible for document management, someone for marketing... Business simulation is an imitation of an enterprise where it is necessary to be able to assess risks, negotiate a loan, the best deal terms for yourself, sell your products…"

And even those who joined Alabuga SEZ before the introduction of new methods of testing and selection of candidates, according to the interlocutor of Realnoe Vremya, “to some extent were immersed in business simulation”, but, as she assured, were not disadvantaged in the ability to successfully cope with tasks:

“We regularly train our employees, in addition, during the game there were those employees who developed it, and they helped those who were tested. We are expanding. We are facing world-class tasks, so now we are employing qualified employees who meet world-class requirements, but after all, the payment corresponds to world-class payment.”

“Some professions require an assessment of employee adequacy”

“Some professions really require an assessment of the adequacy of an employee, especially when it comes to working with people," says Yulia Kochetova, an expert of Realnoe Vremya, candidate of Psychological Sciences, associate professor of the Department of Psychology of Education at the MSUPE. “For example, unfortunately, sometimes people go to university to study psychology in order to solve some of their own problems. They come out of the walls of the educational institution with unprocessed problems, and the question remains how much this person can realise himself as a psychologist. So if I were an employer, accepting a person for the position of a psychologist, I would definitely want to check how empathetic he is, how well he knows how to communicate, whether he is ready to withstand emotional stress and frustration… One hundred percent testing is necessary when applying for a job in the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Ministry of Internal Affairs, because it assumes the absence of any psychological problems.”

“What about an engineer, a production foreman, a department head?" the journalist asked.

“Engineers are different. It's one thing to work in an ordinary institution, a housing company, to maintain a building, for example, — his professional qualities are most important here, and tests aimed narrowly at assessing his professional competence can be used to check them. And it is important to evaluate psychological characteristics if a person mainly works with people: primarily with children or in extreme conditions. I would definitely conduct professional and personal testing for them. In the same way, I would check and evaluate the psychological characteristics of a person claiming to be a boss — in this case, responsibility for organising the work of other people is imposed. Therefore, for such a candidate, in addition to professionalism, it is important to be able to work with people, with a team and be, on the one hand, empathetic and stress-resistant, and on the other — not codependent, so that a person does not please, is able to say “no” and set professional boundaries.”

Kochetova, in the interview with Realnoe Vremya, stressed that there is a certain set of qualities, in addition to professional competencies, that contribute to success. These are soft skills — soft skills that you can't do without. She also added that even working at the machine requires certain personal qualities — it is important here whether a person is ready to perform monotonous work:

“It will be very difficult for people with a strong type of nervous system, they need other activities, they are leaders. And, for example, if we want to get an effective sales manager, we need to look at his emotional intelligence, communicative qualities, accentuation of character... However, it is illogical to take a person with the right qualities to a particular position if he does not have professional knowledge.”

“Without a psychodiagnosis, testing is unproductive”

But all positive effect of testing in the selection of candidates by the employer disappears if the testing is carried out purely “mechanically”, and its results are interpreted not by a specialist, but, relatively speaking, by an employee of the personnel department or even by a computer programme.

“It is necessary to select tests narrowly, pointwise, specifically to identify a certain problem," Yulia Kochetova clarified. “The sales manager and the worker at the machine are checked for different qualities. And we must remember that the test is just a tool, and the main task of a psychologist is to be able to interpret this test correctly. If he selects valid tests and correctly interprets the result, acts as a competent psychodiagnostic, if he knows how to observe a person during a conversation and draw the right conclusions from this, the result will be. In other cases, testing is not very productive.”

“That is, the psychologist must also communicate with the candidate during testing?"

“Certainly. If a person simply did not understand the question, he also needs to explain… Mechanical, machine testing without a conversation with a person, without taking into account his individual characteristics, will not give such a result. But the employer will have to spend a lot of money on such a comprehensive, effective check.”

Inna Serova
Tatarstan