Anyone who's ever applied for a job knows how frustrating the process can be. You spend hours crafting a cover letter that's concise but convincing, obsess over every detail of your resume down to the end, navigate the online application process and sometimes never hear back.
It's no walk in the park for the employer either, particularly in a struggling economy. When budgets are limited there's even more pressure to find a candidate with the right skills that will also be the right fit for your team. Moreover, there are enormous costs associated with finding, hiring, training, and retaining employees.
But a few companies and entrepreneurs are working to fix these issues and inefficiencies by leveraging big data to find better matches between job seekers and job providers. This group includes Guy Halfteck, founder & CEO of Knack. His company developed two video games, Wasabi Waiter and Balloon Brigade, designed to engage job candidates while collecting several megabytes of data. Halfteck says his games reveal patterns of behavior indicative of the underlying strengths, abilities, and personality traits of the person playing.
"Game as an experience is a human experience that reveals a lot of information about our behavior and who we are," he said. "Are you competitive? How do you deal with change? How do you deal with adversity? Do you strategize? Do you think quickly? Do you behave socially even though you're competitive?"
The data collected during game play is analyzed to find applicants with the characteristics that best fit the role a company is looking to fill. This match is made by comparing a job-seeker’s results with successful employees already at the firm.
"Every company believes that there is a unique secret sauce that makes people at their company, in specific jobs at that company, successful," said Halfteck. He believes his game is a way to find that special something among the applicant pools for his client's firms.
The struggle to find the best-fitting employees is one felt across the entire U.S. economy. According to the most recent data, there were nearly four million job openings in August. Yet more than 11 million people were left unemployed. Could the job application process be part of the problem?
"I think the dream of big data is that by relying on data rather than relying on all the things we currently do to find jobs—personal contacts, having the right educational pedigree—we have a purer view of what makes someone a better performer or not," said Ethan Mollick, management professor at The Wharton School. "You don't have to know the right people or gone to the right school if you can pass the right kind of test or your data fits the right kind of profile."
Big data could help employers find talent they would have normally passed over. It was this potential that inspired Michael Tanenbaum to create New-York based ConnectCubed. As an investment banker in Hong Kong, he traveled all over the region and became impressed by the brilliance of some of the people he discovered working in the back office. "It's a tremendous mismatch of talent," he said.
ConnectCubed combines short surveys and simple games to get a nuanced portrait of the job candidate. The evaluation looks at things like your reaction time, did you change your answer, and how long it takes you to figure out a game.
"We are able to not just look at what you did, but how you interacted with the assessment," said Tanenbaum. He believes this approach could identify some unexpected talent. "It actually widens your funnel."
The benefits of hiring the right people extend beyond a simplified recruiting process. "Personality and aptitude fit is not only a key predictor for work performance but also for tenure," said Tanenbaum. "People are much more likely to leave an ill-suited role, making it all the more important to assess fit."
Improving tenure is the reason Neil Rae turned to another of these big data miners, Evolv. He oversees more than 13,000 employees as executive vice president and regional general manager for global business processing firm Transcom.
"Human capital is a tremendous cost and value to the business. We decided in order to mature and move our business forward, we needed to look at various approaches, technologies and techniques to optimize our human capital," said Rae, adding, "The cost of attrition to our organization is well in excess of $5 million a year."
Evolv's evaluation is based on a series of targeted questions. "The overall objective of the application is not only to reduce our overall attrition but improve the survivability with an employee within the organization,” said Rae. A longer tenure improves the employee’s productivity and higher productivity leads to better customer experience and satisfaction.
The program also allows Transcom to continue to mine data on its employees post-hire. The program improves as more data is gathered and provides insight on where the company can improve.
There are potential downsides to these types of applications: "A lot of these big data approaches are mysterious. So they are black box. Skills go in one side, or test results, or game play, and out the other side comes some yes, no, red light, green light whether they should hire a candidate. That destroys a lot of nuance that makes hiring important. It creates opportunities for new kinds of biases," said Mollick.
Additionally, applicants for senior roles could balk at the idea of playing videos games, said one executive recruiter.
But for a new generation of workers, a generation that could make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2030, it could be a perfect fit. Dr. Kenneth Egol, director of the Orthopedic Residency Training Program at NYU Langone Medical Center piloted Knack's Wasabi Waiter to test whether it would be useful in selecting candidates for the highly competitive program. He's undecided on whether or not he'll use the application in the future but he sees a potential for video games in recruiting.
"I think the millennial generation, who are the physicians of the future now, they are into this and they are very adept at it. It's part of their natural state of being. A tool like this, if it works out, is not only beneficial to the people who use it but it’s also looked at positively by the applicants because they see it as fun and something that they could probably do well at."