January 20, 2014

Big Data, Big Problems for Job Seekers?

Filed under: Employment Tests, Heads up, Hiring, Q&A, Stuff I worry about, Stupid HR Tricks

In the January 21, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, Nick asks readers for help with an upcoming TV news interview:

There’s no question from a reader this week. Instead, I’m asking all of you readers a question. May I have your help?

I’ve been asked to appear on a TV news show to discuss how HR is using Big Data to watch you at work — and to process your job application without interviewing you. I’d like your input on the topic so I can frame my comments with your interests in mind. I’ll share a link to the program after it airs, and we can discuss it further then.

[UPDATE: Here’s the link that includes video from the TV program: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring]

Nick’s Question for You

Big-Data-KittyAre you frustrated because employers reject your job application out of hand without even talking to you? Tired of online application forms kicking you out of consideration because you took too long to answer questions, or because you failed to disclose your salary history?

Wait — America’s employment system is getting even more automated and algorithm-ized. According to a new report in The Atlantic, the vice president of recruiting at Xerox Services warns that:

“We’re getting to the point where some of our hiring managers don’t even want to interview anymore.” According to the article, “they just want to hire the people with the highest scores.”

The subtitle of that Atlantic column (They’re Watching You At Work by Don Peck) reads: “The emerging practice of ‘people analytics’ is already transforming how employers hire, fire, and promote.”

Does that worry you?

If all goes according to plan (hey, this is TV — all schedules are subject to change), Atlantic columnist Don Peck and I will talk about the rise of Big Data in the service of HR — and I want your input in advance, because I’m worried about the conclusions Peck draws in his article. It’s a very long one (8,600+ words), but it illuminates some of the technology that’s frustrating your job search. Please have a look at it, and post your suggestions to help me frame my comments for this TV program.

Here are the Big Problems I see with this Big Data approach to assessing people for jobs and on the job:

The metrics are indirect.

The vendors behind these “tools” don’t directly assess whether a person can do a job. Instead, they look at other things — indirect assessments of a person’s fit to a job. For example, they have you play a game and they measure your response times. From this, they try to predict success on the job. That determines whether you get interviewed.

The problem is that we’ve known for decades that this approach doesn’t work. Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli throws cold water on indirect assessments:

“Nothing in the science of prediction and selection beats observing actual performance in an equivalent role.”

All that’s being thrown into the mix by these “assessment” vendors is Big Data. But more data doesn’t change anything. In fact, it makes things worse if the data are not valid predictors of success. It’s worse because indirect assessment leads to false negatives (employers reject potentially good candidates) and to false positives (they hire the wrong people for the wrong reasons).

The conclusions are based on correlations.

These tools predict success based on whether certain characteristics of a person are similar to characteristics of a target sample of people. For example, Peck’s article says that “one solid predictor of strong coding [programming] is an affinity for a particular Japanese manga site.” (Manga are Japanese comics.)

Gild, the company behind this claim, says it’s just one correlation of many. But Gild admits there’s “no causal relationship” between all the Big Data it gathers about you and how you perform on the job.

In what can only be called a scientific non sequitur, Gild’s “chief scientist” says “the correlation, even if inexplicable, is quite clear.”

The problem: A basic tenet of empirical research is that a correlation does not imply causality, or even an explanation of anything. Data tell us that people die in hospitals, and that correlates highly with the presence of doctors in hospitals. All jokes aside, that correlation doesn’t mean doctors kill people. Except, perhaps, in the world of Big HR Data: If you’re selling “people analytics,” then playing a game a certain way means you’ll work a certain way.

When we pile specious correlations on top of indirect assessments (What animal would you be if you could be any animal?), we wind up with no good reasons to make hiring decisions, and with no basis for judgments of employees.

INTERMISSION: There’s a hidden lesson for recruiters in Big Data.

Hanging out at a manga site doesn’t improve anyone’s ability to write good code — nor does it predict their success at work. But, it might mean that a recruiter can find some good coders on that manga site — the one reasonable conclusion and recruiting tactic that none of the people Peck interviewed seem to have thought of!

I don’t think Peck wrote this article to promote “people analytics” as the solution to the challenges that American companies face when hiring, but he does seem to think the Kool-Aid tastes pretty good. I think Peck over-reaches when he confuses useful data that employers collect about employee behavior to improve that behavior, with predictions based on silly Big Data assumptions.

To entice you to read the article and post your comments, I’ll share a couple of highlights in the article that kinda blinded me. Well, the assumptions behind them were blinding, anyway:

Spying tells us a lot.

In further support of indirect assessments of employees and job applicants, Peck cites the work of MIT researcher Sandy Pentland, who’s been putting electronic badges on employees to gather data about their daily interactions. In other words, Pentland follows them around electronically to see what they do.

“The badges capture all sorts of information about formal and informal conversations: their length; the tone of voice and gestures of the people involved; how much those people talk, listen, and interrupt; the degree to which they demonstrate empathy and extroversion; and more. Each badge generates about 100 data points a minute.”

Peck notes that these badges are not in routine use at any company.

It’s just a game.

A lot of the “breakthroughs” Peck writes about come from start-up test vendors like an outfit called Knack, which creates games “to suss out human potential.” Knack continues to seek venture funding, and the only Knack client mentioned in the article is Palo Alto High School, which is using Knack games to help students think about careers.

“Play one of [Knack’s games] for just 20 minutes, says Guy Halfteck, Knack’s founder, and you’ll generate several megabytes of data, exponentially more than what’s collected by the SAT or a personality test.”

The big dbig-dataata gathered, writes Peck,

“are used to analyze your creativity, your persistence, your capacity to learn quickly from mistakes, your ability to prioritize, and even your social intelligence and personality. The end result, Halfteck says, is a high-resolution portrait of your psyche and intellect, and an assessment of your potential as a leader or an innovator.”

Let’s draw a comparison in the world of medicine; it’s an easy and apt one: If more megabytes of game data can be used to generate more correlations, could doctors diagnose patients more effectively by collecting bigger urine samples? Because that’s the logic.

No sale.

I don’t buy it. I want to know, can you do the job?

Some Big Data about employee behavior can be analyzed to good effect. For example, Peck reports that Microsoft employees with mentors are less likely to leave their jobs, so Microsoft gets mentors for them. But he seems to easily confuse legitimate metrics with goofy games of correlation. And the start-up companies he profiles don’t seem to be on any leading edge — they’re mostly trying to sell the idea that Big Data in the service of questionable correlations makes those correlations worth money.

(To learn the ins and outs of legitimate employment testing, see Erica Klein’s excellent book, Employment Tests: Get The Edge.)

Big Deal.

We know that what Peter Cappelli says about the science of prediction is correct. But I think Arnold Glass, a leading researcher in cognitive psychology at Rutgers University, says it best:

“It has been known since Alfred Binet and Victor Henri constructed the original IQ test in 1905 that the best predictor of job (or academic) performance is a test composed of the tasks that will be performed on the job. Therefore, the idea that collecting tons of extraneous facts about a person (Big Data!) and including them in some monster regression equation will improve its predictive value is laughable.”

It seems to me that HR should be putting its money into teaching HR workers and hiring managers to hang out where the people they want to hire hang out, and into teaching them how to get to know these people — and how good they are at their work.

In the meantime, is it any surprise to any job seeker today that employers mostly suck at recruiting the right people and at conducting effective interviews?

If you have questions or thoughts you’d like me to raise in this forthcoming TV program, please post them. I’ll try to use the best of the bunch. I wish I could tell you that hanging out on my blog causes employers to hire you. Thanks!

[UPDATE: Here’s the link that includes video from the TV program: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring]

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76 Comments on “Big Data, Big Problems for Job Seekers?”
By Nick Corcodilos
January 21, 2014 at 6:03 pm

@Mayor Bongo: Point taken, but I’d hire someone with a good business plan over someone with prior experience ALMOST any day. If I could talk to them a whole bunch first.

@Michael: I love your “two income opportunities” challenge!

Rich N: HR should take the tests first, to earn their jobs back. And you earn 10 points for another great insight! But now I’m wondering whether I want to be on a plane whose pilot is willing to sit next to a person for 15+ hours without poking their eyes out with a fork… Who wants THAT kind of a pilot???

@Brad Kolar: Good point about comparing this to marketing. The problem is, if Big Data goes awry on a marketing pitch, the company loses some sales, tweaks the plan, and moves on, none the worse for wear. But if Big Data goes awry on hiring a bunch of wrong people, the company is stuck with huge costs, massive risks, and legal problems. But more to the point (based on your comments), the “intelligent gambling” approach to hiring that you describe is right on — except that today employers arguably have more applicants than ever in history — yet they cry there’s a talent shortage. Job boards — which rely on the culling process you describe — fill only about 10% of all jobs.

So there’s a problem here that this approach is not dealing with. What is it?

(Regarding recruiters: That’s another story. Most are not very good at all at selecting hires. But that failure isn’t an argument for an alternative that hasn’t in fact been very productive.)

By Karen Fullerton
January 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Hi Nick,

Yes, I am frustrated by the current hiring practices. I work on an application, research the company, tailor my resume, and do not receive any response. Rarely can I get the name of a hiring manager, and if I do, I have to leave voice mail message which is not responded to. I find the requirement to disclose salary invasive and impractical – that is what negotiations are for, and if I am the right candidate then I would want the job and they would want me. I am turned off by the atmosphere of automation that does not value the whole candidate enough to determine if they are worthy of face time. I find it unbalanced and unfair – all the power is in the employer’s hands and they are taking full advantage of that fact. I do not mind proving that I can do the job, I do not mind discussing my experience and how I would handle various challenges. I am happy to sit and be scrutinized – by real people who know what the open position requires. The current process is dehumanizing; it negates the value of all I have accomplished.

Other perceptions:
1) This is a case of a product being invented, capitalizing on a current trend. Marketing kicks in to create a need for the product. Articles are published, the machine kicks into gear and the product becomes necessary.
2) This is the relentless march of technology as the answer, regardless if it works. Technology that cuts costs, at any cost.
3) Our economy is dependent on consumers spending money. The current scenario is: too many unemployed or under-employed, too little disposable income to purchase products = too little growth. Except in the technology sector, which is busy inventing products and creating needs.
4) People Analytics is an absurd concept if it is used beyond a few tried-and-true areas. Data is not the key to predict human behavior. Human beings are complex and behave differently depending on environment, stress, motivation, rewards, etc. Humans interact, and interactions and relationships determine to some extent what we do. No employee works in a vacuum. The employer creates the work environment; the employer is half the equation.
5) Who are these HR staffers who want to hire, fire, and promote based solely on analytics? Where were they educated, what is their work experience, their life experience? What is driving this trend? Is top management telling them to hurry the hire, to cut costs? Sure these HR staffers overwhelmed by the number of applicants, and unwilling or unable to figure out a way to weed out the unqualified or unwanted applicants that get through the filters. Are they just not capable of doing the work that is their job? Are these HR staffers held to standards; is their performance measured through the long-term productivity and contributions of their hires?
6) Analytics depends on good criteria – the results you get depend on how you build the algorithm – what exactly are you trying to analyze, what steps are built into the calculation? I would not trust any outside firm to analyze my firm’s data without my input. Garbage in, garbage out.
7) I would have a problem if I was expected to wear a device that recorded my words and actions, and all the data gathered was put into a computer which then assessed my performance. I want to be judged on my output – my work, and the relationships I build. I have hired, fired, reviewed, and disciplined people who reported to me. I took the time to know their performance level and to discuss any issues with them. I took the time to write their reviews, and I expect that respect from my supervisor. I do not believe that any data analysis can fairly review a human’s performance – certainly not if soft skills and relationships that benefit the company are taken into account.
8) What kind of world do we want to live and work in? That is part of this discussion. I will not be part of a company that solely measures data. Years of research have proven that people need to feel they belong to a community at work, and that their work and character are valued. Humans are motivated by relationships and rewards, not data analysis. Do we have to learn this all over again?
9) Businesses must be flexible – able to respond quickly to changes in the market and the world. Those who rely on interpreting data only run the risk of being too slow, or too wrong. I want leadership, vision, and solid implementation. Creative, innovative, yet practical goals reached through well-utilized human potential. These are the attributes and values that build good companies.
10) Problem: too many people looking for jobs and not enough jobs. Too many qualified or overqualified for the low-wage service sector jobs that are the norm. Let’s stay focused on that. Yet the education/industrial complex wants us to believe that we all need advanced degrees….

Go get ‘em, Nick!

By Max
January 21, 2014 at 8:55 pm

the premise of big data is that under a large pile of s#!t you will find a pony.

By Christine
January 22, 2014 at 1:49 am

Since the inception of Online Application System began in the mid-1990’s I question how the EEOC has allowed this black hole of tracking applications to continue. It is well documented that these systems have blanked out numerous qualified candidates for the thousands of job openings in the U.S.
I was an HR person in the 1970’s and believe me it was difficult to review scores of resumes and applications to determine who would make the cut. I almost didn’t make the cut because I didn’t have a BA but the hiring supervisor felt that I was a far better fit than the BA candidates who did turn down the job because the job title was Personnel Records Clerk (moving hard copy personnel records to computerized data historical system).
Big Data has been evolving since the layoffs of multi-degreed math folks since the mid-1980’s due to the decrease of US contracts for NASA and related industries. The US financial corporations hired these number crunchers to launch financial products to circumvent the laws enacted during the depression to insure the financial crisis of then would be regulated to prevent another one. HA!
With the increase of math structured analysis of the financial markets, then this analysis was move to marketing as to how consumers spent their paychecks from groceries to homes, then onto evolution of BIG DATA came to Online Application System to aid in hiring and reduce costs and headcount in HR/Talent Acquisition Departments on the heels of TQM. What a fraud!
Yes, there are some measures of human behavior that may be a produce a ‘true’ assessment of outcomes, however, BIG DATA Analytics has a major flaw. The human being is very changeable and will always be an enigma to metrics.
It is time for the CEO’s and their board of directors to recognize that we, human beings, are REAL and it is time to re-direct their HR departments become more human not worried if their HR teams have multiple acronyms for certifications. It is time to put HUMAN back into Human Resources from actually reading the resumes responding to the job boards. The CEO and board needs to remember job seekers are consumers of their end product (from auto sales, CVS retail stores, MetLife, Banks, grocery stores, energy/utility companies).
Some of these job boards show hundreds of open positions, but many jobs are the same position with new posting #’s. Often there is no information regarding the start and end dates of these posting – just a merry go round to confuse the potential employee and perhaps their shareholders and investors.
And often once you do apply either to the in-house online application system or through an agency who is hired to find a temp/contractor until the in-house HR fills the permanent position – you invariably are notified that you made the short list but it has been placed on hold, or cancelled or the position has been off-shored by both ‘hiring units’.
One wonders if these companies aren’t using all of the available resumes to great a huge data pool just for Tax Credits and subsidies.
And one of things I’ve noticed once I have secured an in-person interview, no one seems to have a business card or willing to share either their email address or phone #, but as an interviewee I’m suppose to send a thank you note within 24 hours. The snail mail ones have been returned due to improper addresses, and a tad of annoyance that I figured out how to contact by email — we live in such a strange, strange world. Hiring managers feeling inconvenience by someone who would help make their workday easier. Go figure.
and what is this new thing – gamification???? I just wish I had a rich uncle who was being forced to finance so of my wild ideas!

By Theresa Quintanilla
January 22, 2014 at 10:32 am

The phrase ‘big data’ seems to have become associated with ‘big brother.’ In fact, ‘big data’ is a meaningless piece of jargon now being applied to a diverse range of situations.

As a frequent victim of job discrimination for my sex, age and other irrelevant features, the responsible collection of data that can be shown relevant sounds valuable. Like auditioning orchestra musicians behind the screen. That’s not necessarily ‘big data.’ I’d like to see more ‘good data.’

Also, you may find the NY Times article from last April valuable: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/technology/big-data-trying-to-build-better-workers.html.

January 22, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Big data, as it’s used by large HR departments, is big bullshit. Web portals and applicant tracking systems probably have more to do with why nobody gets hired anymore than anyone wants to admit. I bet if we dumped those systems in favor of newspaper ads, phone calls and faxes the unemployment rate would decrease fairly quickly; that is, if the jobs advertised were real,not chum.

By Phil
January 22, 2014 at 7:49 pm


There may be a place for Big Data in business decision making, even hiring and firing. However,unlike MLB, there are no companies that are in industries that are pure monopolies. In MLB, the exact same performance metrics apply to all teams, and each position. Even in MLB, you have to be able to analyze, interpret and apply learnings from ‘Big Data’. This is where companies will fall down.

Companies using ‘Big Data’ hiring and firing are doing so to avoid making mistakes. It vastly underestimates the company’s work culture on individual and collective performance. It devalues intangibles of performing in a particular environment and it will limit a company’s need to change or renew itself, as anyone that doesn’t fit the mold, doesn’t even get considered. Big Data is part of the problem because there does not seem to be the real ability to properly use it.

By Gwen
January 22, 2014 at 10:45 pm

@Nick Congratulations on this opportunity for representing many voices that may not otherwise be heard. I had a feeling that this day would come for you.

Big Data/Spying/Illegally interpreting people is everywhere, and even start ups on angel.co are bragging about human resource assessment modules that they have programmed for small businesses to utilize as a service to “find” the best people for their companies. These modules are touted proudly by these psychologists and programmer heads from these startups with some hailing from MIT and other top school names making it seem as if they have “leading edge” technology that is flowing with the progressive times. Phooey. They are just (in my opinion) jumping on this Big Data bandwagon following status quo instead of creating something totally revolutionary, let’s say, “a cut to the grit guide” based on proven tried and true human interaction practices for hiring that they can write in an e-book and sell on Amazon. Instead, they want a piece of the “big data” economical pie,touting a computerized algorithm that is taking the most valuable thing away from the equation: human to human interaction and connection.

I have no problem with getting paid for creative efforts that people could pay for to use but these people do not come off as intelligent as they lead on to be. I see it for what it is, jumping on a bandwagon with their spin on it. Not impressed, even if they do have a Stanford or MIT programmer on board behind its inception or have a PHD from Columbia on psychological behavior as the assessment tool creator.

@Katherine Fullerton you get it and see the forest over the trees… Your comments are DEAD ON! But I continue…

There is absolutely, and I mean abso-freakin’-lutely no substitute than to vet out the best people for your team based on sound psychological face-to-face practices, interaction (email, phone or otherwise), and talking to potential solid candidates for employment than leaving it to a computer or computer program to do it for you. Not nurturing true connection and interaction (which is a vital component of our human existence)may lead us down a road that may regress us from the one thing that gives us the satisfaction of making a good decision based on the bridging of our intellect and soul: our intuition. Killing it, may also confidence.

@Nick, tell it like it is. Of course have some solid research as you have found from Peter Capelli, but if you can connect with him to ask if he knows other researchers who support what you and the rest of us know about the hiring game and what it s outcome really inspires (or not inspires).

Smart comments like the ones from @Katherine Fullerton, @MDH @Ray Stoddard and others to bring in as real people interpretations to quote to let “them” know that truly ingenious minds see through this Tom Foolery. A mix of backing up what you know with solid research and out of the box interpretations from your readers is enough to hit it out of the park.

Good luck and know that we support you. Make us proud!!!

By Chris Walker
January 23, 2014 at 11:43 am

The question, of course, is does this junk work. You would think that Google has gotten pretty good at analyzing tons of data, but on my computer at work, they think I’m a 45-54 year old white female. They got the white thing right, but I’m 65 and male. (Go to http://www.google.com/settings/ads/onweb to find out what Google thinks of you)

By Warren Murdoch
January 23, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Analytics is fine but you have to have some testing to show your analytics are correct. Lots of data means nothing if you can’t demonstrate relationships.

By definition, Big Data is more than 1 terabyte of data. What is called Big Data analysis is nothing more than statistical analysis.

By Citizen X
January 23, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Five years ago, I fell into clinical depression because after I lost my job, I sensed that because of the cybertrends in hiring, I would forever be excluded from the labor pool. I didn’t explain the details of these fears to my shrink, because I didn’t think that she would believe me.

Five years later, the problem is only beginning to see light.

The last few paragraphs of Mr. Peck’s article actually give me hope–the human touch in recruiting is making a slow comeback in the high tech companies, and the recruiting net is slowly being cast over accomplished but uncredentialed people such as myself.

Hopefully, the discussion on TV will accelerate the fall of algorithms, and assist the resurgence of person-to-person hiring.

By Hank W
January 24, 2014 at 4:11 pm

The first thing about these online applications that really gets me is they ask for (and require) a date of birth. I thought this was illegal. These so-called psychological questions about hypothetical job situations really annoy me. Many of these questions I feel have gray areas. Yes I understand that if you see someone stealing, you report it, you never “clock-in or out” for your buddy because of some supposed personal emergency and other common sense violations of any company’s rules.

But what do you do if a fellow worker needs help with something and you have your own work to do, and there’s no one around to help him? What if the co-worker is relatively new to the company and doesn’t know how to handle the problem they’re facing? These are actual questions I have been asked on on-line applications. The choices were something like: don’t help the co-worker, send them to the supervisor and continue your own work; ignore your work to help out the co-worker until their work was finished; tell them “I don’t know” and go about your business. To me I’ll help for a few minutes to get them on the right track, but there is never any gray area answers. If I could speak to a human(ha-ha)
I could could give them a perfectly sound, logical reason for my decision and actions, but machines don’t wan’t to know about such things.

By Karen Fullerton
January 24, 2014 at 9:23 pm

OK – I have been thinking about this issue for a few days now, and I have re-read the article. Here are a few additional comments I have:

Most of the comments on the blog are negative. Mine was – the idea of being judged by a machine raised my hackles. As I step back and consider the contents of the article objectively, I think there may be possibilities for good in these new products, if users are very careful not to overreach, be unethical, or abuse power, and if meeting the candidates is still the ultimate factor. We shall see how it plays out, and the conversation and scrutiny must continue.

There is a difference between what Evolv is doing and the applicant-screening software that parses on-line applications and resumes, and misses good candidates. The real debacle is how arbitrary the hiring practices are now.

We can agree that employers need some way of filtering applicants in today’s employment market – there are too many applicants for each open position. We can agree that most applicant-screening software in use is failing; or, at best, it is a numbers game – it whittles the pool down to manageable size in the hopes that in that pool will be the perfect candidate. It appears to be based on key-words and education (I do not have real knowledge of the parameters). This system becomes an impediment to job-seekers, and it does not require the best HR methods of matching an applicant to a position. I have visions of inexperienced HR staffers spending 10 seconds on each application that gets through, and making determinations based on who knows what. What a ridiculous scenario that is – applicant spends hours on a cover letter and tailored resume after researching the company, and gets 10 seconds.

Some possible uses for people analytics include: applicants can all take the test as part of the application process. This would be fairer than testing only those who survive the first cut.

Additional opportunities for good include matching candidates with career paths or employers, as a tool for job-seekers to understand their proficiencies, as a tool to teach managers and staffers how to improve soft skills as well as productivity, as a tool to eliminate (or at least reduce) bias in hiring.

If we take what these new statistical analysis programs in the article show, we can see that college degrees and previous matching experience are not good indicators of performance. If companies actually learn these facts and change their hiring behavior, that is a good thing. I perceive that ageism, racism, elitism are rampant in the job market since the Great Recession and that has to change if this country is to prosper.

I need to be convinced that these programs are created to avoid bias and sloppy correlation/causality relationships. I need to be convinced that those candidates who can do the job, and fit into the company culture, are given an interview. I strongly believe that people respond to questions differently depending on the circumstances. A test, where success or failure depends on answering correctly, is a stress situation. I also believe that when sitting down to complete a pre-employment test, the applicant tries to answer what they believe will get them the job, not necessarily the answers they would give if there was no pressure to succeed or fail. As for wearing a badge that is recording all of a staffer’s interactions, I can see people quickly learning how to do what is expected or praised, whether genuine or not. I would like to know how these things are factored out.

I have seen job postings in San Francisco for customer service paying $11 and requiring a Master Degree. Many employers will not hire an unemployed person. Employers require a candidate know how to use even relatively obscure software programs, instead of hiring a good fit who can learn quickly – they don’t want to train at all. All of these things make no sense.

I have noticed in my job search that very few of the best practices in HR are currently being practiced – somehow, in this economy, companies have un-learned a great deal of what works, and it is showing. Entrenchment (positions that have no merit are defended), greed, ego, fear are all in evidence. Repeat something enough times and it will be believed; one can usually find some fact to back up a position, regardless of its efficacy or ethics. The concept of opportunity, of being able to work to support oneself and one’s family, are casualties. There is not enough being said about the true unemployment rate.

We are in deep doo-doo.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 24, 2014 at 11:19 pm

@Kate Fullerton: Thanks for your very thorough comments. But I think much of your analysis is predicated on a false premise:

“We can agree that employers need some way of filtering applicants in today’s employment market – there are too many applicants for each open position.”

I don’t agree with that at all.

There are too many applicants only because HR solicits them and encourages mindless, automated applications to jobs “just because they’re there” and “because it’s a numbers game and I need to up my odds of success.”

HR has created this false “need” for “some way of filtering applicants” because it uses the very tools that you suggest are now necessary — to stimulate those masses of inappropriate applications.

The only way to stop the misuse of technology and algorithms when processing applicants is to stop using it to encourage people to apply for every job they see. Strip out the systems that generate all those applicants and — almost presto — HR has time to thoughtfully review small numbers of more appropriate applicants.

What HR can’t figure out is how to recruit small numbers of really good applicants. The joke is, HR used to do it all the time. It forgot.

By Karen Fullerton
January 25, 2014 at 2:23 am

Hello Nick,

You misunderstand – I am not suggesting that these tools are necessary. I am suggesting that given the situation created by HR and the millions of unemployed, they are not likely to go away any time soon. My point is that we have to deal with the situation as it exists, and if the new ‘people analytics’ trend continues, there is a spectrum of possibilities – some of which have potential for good and some not.

You have an inside perspective that I do not. My comments are responding to the matter as it stands now. I agree that the ‘mindless’ stimulation of masses of applicants is not the way to go – I do not endorse it and believe it does not work. If you can use your influence to change that, then we all shall rejoice.

While employer’s on-line solicitation is out of line, there are indeed many more job-seekers than there are jobs. Many small companies do not have an HR department at all. I do not think we are going back to newspaper ads, and not all companies will use a recruiter.

So, Nick, do your best to persuade and educate. If the message is repeated enough perhaps it will start to stick.

By Amy
January 27, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Hi Nick,

Seth Godin recently posted a blog titled “Measuring nothing (with great accuracy)”, saying that just because something *can* be measured does not mean that it should be. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/01/measuring-nothing-with-great-accuracy.html

The prevalence of Big Data, especially in this context, always reminds me of internet dating. Everyone knows or even has horror stories from such sites, and those far outnumber the happily ever afters. Ergo, Big Data will not find my Mister Right, be that a man or an employer.

This is a glaring example of how technological ‘advances’ can do more harm than good, and how reverting to what is now considered old-fashioned will almost always prove much more promising.

By marilyn
January 27, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Had to relay this real time app rejection:

Applied for position via email as requested in November 2013.

Rejected as follows:

“Thank you for submitting your resume for the Controller position. We were fortunate in the number of highly qualified individuals who applied for the position, and regret to inform you that we have filled the position. We would like to thank you again for your time and interest in T P Company.”

Same job posted again 1/22/14. I wrote:

“If you filled this position in November, why is it posted again on imatch through worksource Oregon?”

I await their response w/bated breath.

By Mitch
January 30, 2014 at 1:01 pm


Thanks for the compliment! I will give more thought to the essay and let you know…

In the meantime, Liz Ryan wrote about the topic in Forbes this week: http://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2014/01/29/how-technology-killed-recruiting/

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring
February 3, 2014 at 10:50 pm

[…] Q&A: A “live” problem faced by a reader, and my advice. But two weeks ago, in the January 20 edition, I asked for your input about how employers use “Big Data” when recruiting and […]

By marybeth
February 3, 2014 at 11:28 pm

I’m coming late to the discussion, but I’d wanted to thoroughly read and digest the lengthy article first.

Nick, thanks for the letter and link. Job hunting is getting scarier and scarier. Tracking employees? All of this metadata? And employers are still crying about a talent shortage and skills gap? Whatever happened to using brains (the ones in human heads) and common sense when it comes to hiring?

My fear is that with the push towards online everything and with employers refusing to engage with prospective employees, more and more control is being ceded to the machines. Computers cannot think, cannot make judgment calls.

Where are the hiring managers in all of this? Surely there must be some hiring managers who have a modicum of common sense and don’t want to rely upon a computer or big HR data or cede all of their hiring authority to HR and computers? If not, then where are the boards of directors?

It seems that whoever is making these decisions are merely attracted by and chasing the latest, newest, bright shiny thing without thinking it through or without thinking that the last technology hasn’t been helping getting vacancies filled, so what makes them think the newer shiny trinket will be different?

Nick, I hope that you’re going to be on 60 minutes or 20/20 or some other show, and that you’ll have the whole hour to get into this topic. Technology is great, provided that it is used correctly, but it really can’t be a substitute for human judgment.

By Dumbfounded
February 10, 2014 at 2:38 am

I could see companies trying this as a supplement to the hiring process, but for replacing it is beyond crazy. Statistics and data mining are well known for bizarre and spurious correlations that are meaningless coincidences. Sort of like folks that try to find secret messages in the bible, or something similar, or play records backwards.

Reminds me of several decades ago when it wasn’t that unusual for employment applications to have a box requesting a handwriting sample. I always thought this quite odd, and often wondered why. So I was astonished to learn many years later this was intended for graphoanalysis (handwriting analysis) to assess the candidate’s “character”. I was dumbstruck that even major name brand corporations would fall for such an unproven concept, which allegedly, was especially popular in Europe.

Regarding Evolv et al, I was also disturbed that such apparently small non-random samples were used to generate this data, with no controls against selection bias. No wonder they get such weird correlations. To use such for screening would just enforce conformity to a very specific set of characteristics in a particular time and place, kind of like an eccentric hazing ritual for some secret club.

By Dyan P. Lacson
September 30, 2014 at 3:02 pm

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By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – The Do-It-Yourself Interview (for managers)
December 1, 2014 at 6:34 pm

[…] common than the failure to assess a candidate properly is a manager’s failure to understand what’s important to him. Once you can get a handle on […]

By Donna Twombly
February 4, 2015 at 8:02 am

I’m an electronics technician, recently lost my job to a factory closing. Yes there are still factories in Maine, and we are still closing profitable factories to send the jobs offshore. It has been a long shutdown process. After looking around, I decided my best option is to use the federal retraining program to get into a new field. I am middle aged, my husband is close to retirement, so it would be foolish to try to relocate. One of the conditions of the program is job hunting using the department of labor website. It displays the percentage match of every listing based upon the resume you upload to the site. It amazed me that I had a 97% match for an engineer position that my education and experience in no way qualified me for. I would be completely incapable of doing any of the described duties, which were more electrical industrial applications than PCB assembly and test which is the environment I have worked in for 14 years. This is a perfect proof of your doubt that data can determine a good candidate.

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit
June 2, 2015 at 12:00 pm

[…] been discussing how human resources departments, technology and job boards contribute to the problems employers claim to have when trying to hire the talent […]

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants
June 23, 2015 at 5:33 pm

[…] reports: “Convinced by the gurus of Big Data that a perfect workforce can be achieved by analyzing the psyche and running the results through […]

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