In the February 4, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we’re catching up on the TV news segment I told you about recently…

Ask The Headhunter Video

This space is normally devoted to 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 hiring.

I was preparing for an appearance on Brian Lehrer’s TV news magazine. Your comments and suggestions were very helpful — many thanks! I promised I’d share the program with you after it aired, and I’m devoting this week’s edition to it.


In this segment, we’re joined by The Atlantic columnist Don Peck, whose article, “They’re Watching You At Work,” is a deep dive into the use of people analytics in hiring. Thanks to CUNY TV and to Brian for his pointed questions. (Brian’s main gig is on New York City’s NPR affiliate, WNYC radio. I’ve enjoyed being his guest many times.)

Corporate HR departments and recruiters have been misusing Big Data — online resumes, applicant tracking systems, job application forms — to recruit and hire for almost two decades. They solicit millions of applicants, then claim none fit the bill. Is it your fault for playing the cards they dealt you in a game they rigged?

According to Peck, it’s no surprise that now employers are doubling down on technology and Big Data, and buying oodles of information about you — so they can correlate it to their fantasy of the perfect job candidate.

For example — no kidding — the browser you use correlates to how successful you will be if you’re hired. Internet Explorer users are “less apt” — no jobs for them! In this data-rich recruiting approach, people analytics render a “decision” about whether to hire you.

What do you think of the ideas discussed in the video? Is HR just getting dumber? Check it out, and post your comments!

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  1. OMG! I am so lame using a Microsoft product to browse the Internet :-( Wait, don’t most employers require applicants to be proficient in using Microsoft Office? Should I stop using Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and start using open source shareware from Google?

    The situation with employer searches for staff has spiraled out of control.

    First, we have a situation where automated programs scan resumes for key words and then reject 99 44/100s of them for not have the right key words.

    Second, now you are telling me these same HR tools have been “enhanced” to reject me for using the wrong browser, or having a profile on the wrong social media web site?

    At this rate the ideal candidate will have a robotic personality incapable of doing anything except the most routine tasks. Just try and close a multi-million sale of high technology with one of these folks.

    The great American journalist H.L. Menchen (1880-1956) once said something to the effect that every now and again decent men, and women, are compelled to spit on their hands, raise the black flag of piracy, and seek to pillage and destroy the repressive monarchs of American capitalism.

    While Menchen was obviously exaggerating for effect, the question is raised, along with that flag, about who in their right mind wants to go to work for a soul sucking firm that has a hiring process untouched by human hands?

  2. So here’s a rhetorical question for you: Whose advice is the most relevant to this topic?

    * An Atlantic editor with (based on his bio: no background in HR who recently wrote an article on Big Data and is obviously enamored of its potential, or

    * A headhunter with a couple of decades of professional success

    Or perhaps a more pertinent question would be: Why would anyone consider working for an HR-worshiping company that relies on Big Data analytics to prescreen their candidates.

    Maybe because they’re too lazy to network?

    Thanks for posting the video Nick.

  3. Hi Nick,

    You must enjoy being interviewed when the other person is an empty suit. Peck’s statements were empty claims and unsupported opinions. He gave no referenced information of companies actively researching HR big data. His point was completely theoretical. Don Peck is a professional writer and not an industry expert. He is clearly not the best person to speak on the subject…

    For you Nick, this is easy… Just keep preaching “personal relationships, networking, show how you can do the job in the interview… blah, blah blah…” You got it right Nick…

  4. Nick, to reiterate a point made in the discussion of your post two weeks ago, Moneyball used baseball performance data to select baseball players. Makes sense. Big personnel data uses anything that correlates whether a measure of work performance or not.

    Perhaps the correlation to unfair discriminatory criteria, such as age, gender and race, is stronger than the correlation between a certain factor and the ability to do the job.

    I’m not a statistician, but in determining that playing certain video games correlates to programming skills, don’t you first have to remove the effect of “male under 30” and then see if the applicant stands out relative to the criteria?


  5. Networking will always be the #1 way jobs are filled.

    It boggles my mind how many “recruiters” and “Head hunters” refuse to show up at industry/trade group meetings. In theory, they could make a killing.

  6. Alot of competing interests; HR, headhunters and most significantly the applicant. The applicant pool has become the “sheep” that allow this “Big Data” approach to succeed. Sure, there will be those who challenge the validity of the predictive measures, but eventually those issues will be worked out and allow “Big Data” to win in the end. Until candidates and job seekers become smarter and more discerning in “Their” selection of employers, the cycle will never change. If the company does not value personal interaction in the hiring process, it is probably a good indication of the type of culture that exists in the workplace; an impersonal and inflexible culture is just around the corner.

  7. Excellent interview Nick!

    Between the NSA metadata scandal and now HR metadata looking at people’s online habits, websites visited, etc. and using algorithms to predict how they’d do a job or succeed without interviewing them, without bringing them in, giving them a problem, and asking them to demonstrate how they’d solve it, I wonder if they’re going to drive people away from participating in online forums, from using the internet because they don’t want some random HR computer to track them and make false decisions about them. When Target’s security was hacked, a lot of people I know vowed to switch to cash. Sure, cash is still accepted, and this way shoppers don’t have a post-holiday bill, but in the long run these kinds of breaches hurt the credit and debit card companies and banks. If people are afraid to use them because they fear that a hacker in Russia or India will steal not only their money but their information/ids, then that hurts the cc companies and banks. Perhaps the same will eventually occur with HR’s computer medadata mining. I know a number of people who aren’t on Facebook or LinkedIn, who don’t have an online presence other than what they buy online, research online, that kind of thing.

    In epidemiology we make a point of making a distinction between correlation and causation. People confuse the two, but they’re really not the same, not in epidemiology, and not in the world cyber metadata used to predict personality, work ethic, and ability to do a job.

    The baseball stats number-crunching does work because they’re looking at past performance to try to predict future performance. A good performance in the past (upheld by strong rbis and eras) is a pretty good predictor of a good future performance….assuming that the player doesn’t get injured or get onto a team where none of the other players are very good. Then you could have the best player in the world, but without a good team, his chances of success aren’t good.

    HR and their companies and agencies are trying to do what baseball is doing, but they’re using the wrong metrics. What kind of websites someone visits doesn’t have any connection to what kind of worker he will be. Even if they tried to use it sensibly, I’m still not convinced there’s causation, much less correlation. A career counselor told a group of us a couple of years ago that she’d been told by some employers that they automatically rejected any applicant who didn’t have a gmail account for their email addresses. When they put down their contact info., if the email addresses were Hotmail, yahoo, Comcast, Verizon, etc., they were deemed as tech-unsavvy, stupid, un-hip, and unemployable. Google and gmail became the new hot thing, and lemming-like, they’ve written it into their code to reject applicants for having the “wrong” kind of email address. She said that she immediately started advising students to change their email addresses to gmail. I wonder how many good prospective employees these companies missed hiring because of an email address!

    Dumb and getting dumber is right.

  8. Great interview Nick I liked the points you brought up.

    As someone who builds such systems, just when I think I’ve seen it all, I get another manager who comes up with something totally silly so they can get paid lots of money to be lazy. Moneyball is always used as an example and it’s a poor one at that. In Moneyball, you had a guy who knew the game of baseball really well who then applied stats to help give him an edge. A very small edge of less than 5%. Most hiring managers don’t know why they are asking for the skills they want, they can’t do the Moneyball thing because they don’t have the skills to know what they want. That may sound harsh but I’ve sat in enough meetings to know that they don’t know.

    As I mentioned in my last comment, the “why” behind a post or comment online is something these big data systems have a hard time understanding. Anytime a sentiment analysis company comes in, I always ask them to show me how the system handles the f-word. We use it as a positive and a negative and people use it a lot on twitter! I have yet to see a system that can even come close to matching a human’s ability to tell if that f-word is a positive or a negative. The same goes with these HR systems, they can’t tell you why anyone is doing what they are doing. To fill in that void, companies make decision engines which are nothing but a bunch of assumptions that can be loaded with biases and out right discrimination. That’s what often gets sold and very few companies really test these engines out. And yes, you can make it so it discriminates by someone’s name, location, IP address, whatever you decide. That’s the danger. Also, how do you know it’s the right person? I work with a guy who gets confused by these systems with another guy by the same name who has a thing for stealing. So it took us two weeks longer to run his background to make sure he wasn’t really the guy who likes to steal. But how many other companies don’t do that?

    And as Dave mentioned in his post, if you want to hiring someone, go where the people are. I go to hadoop meet ups to do recruiting. I’m always amazed that in a group of 30-40, I’m either the only one or one of two hiring managers there. Same with data visualization meet ups. I am normally one of two hiring managers. I walk away with tons of contacts. I build these systems and yet I go meet people when I hire for these roles. If I ever run into a boss who thinks they can just make an algorithm and never meet the candidate, I’m going to jump ship as fast as possible because they are going to fail. Big data makes the impossible possible, that’s what is great about it. But if you try and use it for something that is simple (like hiring) you will screw it up. That’s how you go from a $3M project to a $20M project really fast and then have nothing to show for it.

  9. @Diana Schneidman: You hit the statistical nail on the head. And Dr. Arnold Glass’s statement reveals why most of all this is hype aided by naive people who really, really want to believe, but don’t understand analytical methods:

  10. @Dan Radovic: I don’t think this nonsense is going to last long. The bottom line is, HR funds these systems. And HR is crying it can’t find the talent. How long can that go on?

    Then, again, maybe you’re right – someone has already convinced Congress and the President that the problem is unskilled job seekers… so billions will be spent fixing the wrong problem. When is Congress going to realize that a small handful of “data” companies are interfering with hiring? And that this infrastructure is the root of the problem?

  11. If there is a productive HR drone out there, they would be requesting contacts from Nick for the participants on this civilized blog. Obviously, most are articulate and possibly even competent. Keep up the good work, Nick!

  12. @Edward,

    You started to hit the Money Ball example on the head.

    In baseball, you have well understood statistics that EVERY team uses to make judgements on players and how they may fit into your system. I.e. If you want to play long ball you’ll want a different type of player than if you want to hit and run.

    We can’t even get decent metrics at companies today as to what is a successful employee. And to compound matters, the metrics may be different from company to company.

  13. First, to Nick – Well done. We seldom find (or, have the priviledge to work with) seasoned, knowledgeable professionals in the HR/Headhunting field: this is the way that you presented yourself in the interview on Big HR Data

    Second, we all have to deal with the fact that BIG DATA is another technology misnomer: it is not about size per se, with is about scope, broader collection of data.

    Third, “social” is has become another way of whitewashing the use of legacy-thinking and bias, discrimination (policital, ethnic, gender, etc.), and exclusion in hiring practices. It is a term for the politically correct to use as a low-tech, popularly (and mindlessly) approved filter.

    I agree with Nick (I think that Nick thinks this …), automated does not = smart. Since 1911 factory workers have dealt with automation as their nemesis: executives and management are still inside the factory box which is a legacy paradigm. Truly “smart” technology goes beyond collating.

    If I were start to address HR topic itself, I would be here all night. Suffice to mention that as Nick suggested, hiring by executives needs to be more proactive and personalized and so does people management by executives AFTER the employee is in the company needs to stay on executive radar: executives need to be engaged.

  14. Amen, Edward! In order to make a good hire, you have to be able to assess the information you have, you have to have enough social skills to actually meet people and assess them from a personal point of view and you have to be enough of a big picture person to see what you really need and who can really do it beyond the details.

    Over the past decade and a half, I’ve interviewed and consulted for companies that more and more, just want people who will fit in and take orders – and increasingly, they don’t have people who can adequately give orders. So guess what happens?

    These companies all think they’re hiring for skills, but they’re actually hiring for easy management by people who don’t know how to manage. These companies translate that “real” requirement into the data.

    For example, is a company that’s looking for somebody who uses GMail really just looking for an employee who’s younger and hipper?. Is what they really want somebody who won’t stand out from the herd, won’t ask for more money than the company thinks they should have to pay them (regardless of what they contribute), and will be easy to manipulate?

    There are lots of people like that, and companies find and hire them. But in the real world, those people aren’t necessarily the intelligent, alert types of people who are consistently able to see things outside their own interests and get things done. They’re just young and hip.

    But are people who can actually get things done the kinds of people companies are really looking for? There are a lot of companies around right now that aren’t really about getting things done (and don’t even know exactly what they want to do anyway), but about creating a nice atmosphere and income for a few people at the top. That’s why so many companies keep changing their “mission statement” and “reorganizing” over and over until they finally fail.

    Unfortunately, hiring managers like Edward, as well as recruiters like Nick, seem to be almost extinct. Most of the recruiters I’ve run into over the past couple of decades have increasingly been salespeople who don’t understand the job description, and don’t care what happens to their candidates after they’re hired as long as the commissions keep coming in. And most of them don[‘t know anything about how to do the work they’re hiring for – just how to profit from somebody else doing it.

    Most of the hiring managers these days seem to be people who are just trying to hang onto their jobs and try to hire people who won’t compete with them or make their lives complicated by doing things like coming up with better ideas.

    And those hiring managers have to work for decent companies, or you’d be heading for a dead end by working for them. So there’s a lot to eliminate.

    The few good ones stand out like gold in gravel, and you have to sift through a lot of gravel to find them.

    Job seekers who have intelligence and common sense have to insist and screen for those qualities as an absolute first priority in people who will lead them to work and hire them. In the current dysfunctional environment, if you’re not very, very strict about demanding intelligence from recruiters and hiring managers as you run into clueless idiot after clueless idiot, you’ll miss the less than 5% of recruiters and hiring managers who have a clear idea of what they need to get the job done (as opposed to what they need to keep their jobs and rake in commissions). If you’re intelligent, you’re never going to do well working with and for people who aren’t, and boy, are there a ton of not very intelligent people out there making bad hires right now!

  15. Wasn’t Wall Street the aggregators of big data when it was done on sheets of paper by guys in green eyeshades? Hasn’t the standard disclaimer always been “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

    So now both the NSA and Enterprise HR have mounds and mounds of my personal data to parse. Hope they enjoy wading through the kitty videos and motorcycle run pictures!

  16. I enjoyed the interview and I respect Nick and the very solid advice that he, and Peck, presented. However, the one qualm I have with some of the present advice given is the other current problem in the job market and that is a lack of social mobility in the U.S. … I hear, too often, “volunteer,” “hang out with people who work where you want to work,” “Network.” And these phrases are thrown around like air, without giving thought to the fact that, maybe, Jane Jobseeker, isn’t currently living where her desired career is.

    And that gets to be a little frustrating. In my humble opinion there’s little to no use in volunteering or networking — particularly if you’ve already tried that and come up dry. … My career / professional desires are in one of the top 5 major metropolitan areas. Additionally, it’s a creative field. So, it’s limiting what I can do/who I am able to network with that might be able to make an introduction.

    And Nick, and other people who write about employment rarely address this issue. PLEASE DON’T ASSUME that everyone who is seeking advice or looking for employment is looking to stay in their current city/situation. … And how do those of us seeking to move deal with that, when it comes to “networking?” … Especially, if your existing community of friends/co-workers/family have no relationship to what it is that you, Jane Jobseeker, engages in as a professional?

    How does one overcome such obstacles when one is trying to move from one city to another?

  17. @marilyn: If I were an HR drone, I’d be recruiting from this blog every day. My cohorts in the web publishing business are constantly complimenting me on the quality of the discussion here. Nobody can believe I’m not quietly deleting lots of silly rants and kooky comments. I can’t recall the last time I had to kill a comment. You guys are the best, and I’m proud to be among you. Maybe I need to create a little area where you can all tout your offerings to employers! Problem is, it would get spammed! For any employers out there, I’d be happy to make introductions with any commenter’s permission.

  18. Hey, Dave – That’s a really good point. Exactly what metrics would a company have on its employees that would be even remotely useful compared to metrics about ball players? Just how is anyone’s performance measured? In jobs like sales, there’s something we can all agree on (and having managed sales teams, I’m not really sure that’s true!). But what about everyone else?

    Just how does a company then judge its own success? ROI and profit are good metrics, but you can make a lotta bucks and still have a sucky business. This is a good train of thought. Where can we go with it? (Go, Dave!)

  19. @Workplace 21c: When people talk about Big Data, they’re usually referring to the information involved. Any Big Data expert will tell us that Big Data refers more to the analysis than the data itself. And analysis implies there are questions – but what are the questions? Do we want to know which browser you use? Or do we want to know how the browser you use affects how you do your work? Or does it matter? Why do we look at that data, rather than data about how you do your job? Good questions. They get left out by people too hot to trot to the tune of LOTS OF DATA. Who cares? Data today are free. (Is free? Am free? Is it a plural noun any more?)

    As for automation, I love automation. But I still don’t have one of those beer chucker robots because I don’t feel like getting nailed in the head. Besides, I hate beer in cans. Automation for its own sake is a distraction. I think what HR really wants is more good hires. So how does it get hung up on more applicants???

  20. @L.T.: Yah, Wall Street and the NSA are good examples of guys run amok with more and more and more data. We all know that all those Wall Street quants turned into drunken sailors and sank the ship – convinced they had created the perfect model, because it had ALL THE DATA in it.

    The NSA? I think the president was right to ask, are you crunching all that data because you can, or because we need to?

    Some of the companies discussed in Peck’s Atlantic article were such incredible embarrassments that I’d love to meet the V.C.s that funded them. “We’ve got megabytes of data on people! More than you can collect with SAT tests!” That’s rich. That’s hype.

    While I think Peck’s article was a good idea, he sank too far in the hype while he kept excusing over-the-top assumptions by merely noting they were merely assumptions. The article would have been far more interesting and provocative at 1/3 the length, with more focus on the underlying questions and less on Big Data answers that are begging for decent questions. In other words, it would have been better if it were critical.

    @Frustrated American: I make no assumptions about where anyone wants to work. But if you want to work in another city, you need to go there. Check the FAQ section of – Special Situations. I discuss long-distance job search. It’s not easy. You almost always have to go there.

  21. @Nick
    “Nobody can believe I’m not quietly deleting lots of silly rants and kooky comments. I can’t recall the last time I had to kill a comment. You guys are the best, and I’m proud to be among you.”

    And a big thank you for writing on a very difficult subject, in a respectful way. Your message is very simple and one would think this is common sense.

    Also, thank you for giving all of us a forum to sound off.

    “This is a good train of thought. Where can we go with it?”

    This is an indeed a hard question, and if anyone could answer it, they would be retired on a beach somewhere by now.

    In my experience, many metrics in business can be gamed somehow and ignore a bit of context. For example, number of bugs fixed in a piece of software. Maybe the smart guy/gal on your team gets all the hard ones/corner cases to figure out. So, he fixes one a week and everyone else does 4-5 in the same time frame. So it looks like your best employee is lazy, which is far from the case, you would be screwed without him/her.

    Another thing I’ve seen/heard and Peck mentions, is that using actual work on the web. I know some of us software folk use github and stackoverflow, which a potential employer can actually use to see if you know something. But, again, a person who is good may have an account there, answered a few questions or pushed some code up. Or, they may not have. I also have noticed some recruiter creep onto these sites as well. It’s viewed as where all the cool kids hang out these days. So, you have the same issues that you do everywhere else – these people don’t actually read your profile or understand what you have done.

    And this folks, is why most of these schemes fail. As Nick says/hints at in the interview – he gets paid big money to find people who are not in all the normal places. I honestly don’t understand how most agencies have stayed in business – it seems like you and your competitors are all in the same spot fighting over the same people. Also, as a employer, why would I want to pay you a big sum of money for people that are just going to look on Monster/LinkedIn/Dice? I can do that myself at a fraction of the cost.

  22. Thank you CUNY TV for hosting the discussion. I did find the information helpful although not really breaking news. We see google gathering more data about people than the NSA.

    I am a fan of number crunching and I do believe that past performance is an indication of future performance. I believe they proved the money ball approach can be very successful in baseball. There is a fundamental difference between collecting data and collecting performance details. As Nick posted in his comment above, how do you find the metrics of true performance? In baseball, hitting performance and field performance are pretty applicable to other teams. In business, that is not always as easy to correlate.

    Some of Nick’s advice I have found very helpful once you get the interview, do the job. So when you are in the interview, ask for a real life issue the person would be faced with and handle the issue. I have picked up Nick’s book collection and I have found it very helpful from a hiring manager to a job seeker.

    Thanks Nick for the good information and the willingness to share it with others.

  23. Ok, one juicy question: I’d like to see a breakdown on who gets hired, and who doesn’t, from online systems (by age, sex). I bet I know the answer.

    Nick, your comment to ditch the resume and just go social is right on.

  24. Nick’s advice and everyone’s comments reminded me of an email one of my former students (from my previous job) sent to me a while back. I ran an online master’s in public health program; the student was one of my AD military students, and the email “joke” was making the rounds among the veterinarians, epidemiologists, and statisticians. He wasn’t the kind of person who normally forwarded those kinds of emails, but discussions they’d been having about how even the most mundane, harmless, commonplace facts can be twisted and changed to allow the stupid and the unthinking to draw the most ridiculous, absurd conclusions.

    Nick’s two recent posts (Big Data parts I and II) made me think of Shannon’s email. I’ll see if I can find it, and I’m still in touch with him, so if I truly can’t find it I could ask him about it. All three made me think of how HR and, to be fair, businesses in general are taking ordinary data and coming up with ridiculous conclusions, not about epidemiology but hiring. I’ll see if I can find it and share it with you. Maybe some employers will see it and realize just how silly it is, and that the conclusions HR is drawing are all wrong.

    @Nick: thanks again for bringing this topic into the light of day. I knew that things had changed, that ATS and Taleo are very poor Yentes, but I hadn’t realized just how much companies are delving into our personal lives and interests and using the data to make decisions about us that are unrelated to our abilities and skills and values. I’m not a Luddite; I ran an entirely (as in no residency requirement) online master’s program at my last job, so I can see the benefits of technology. In many ways, automation is a good thing, but

  25. Sorry about that–computer went down temporarily.

    I don’t think complete automation is the answer. I got into this discussion on another board (this one for educators and education administrators) with topic being that MOOCs (massive open online courses) and online education means the death of traditional college and face to face courses. Several think that online education and MOOCs will mean no more courses in physical classrooms or even at universities. I politely disagreed–sure, it represents a change, and it can work for those for whom this kind of education/learning is a good fit and for certain courses/subjects, but I wrote that “traditional” colleges aren’t going anywhere, that I want my surgeon to have gotten hands-on experience in his clinical rotations in medical school and during his residency, that law schools (for the JD) aren’t online because part of their education is getting grilled by the professors and learning how to think on their feet (good practice for the courtroom), and that there are a number of other professions and majors that simply are not well suited to the online format. I make a similar analogy here–automation has helped businesses in many ways, but there are some functions, such as hiring, that shouldn’t be left to the machines. Just because big data can be used to extrapolate all kinds of conclusions doesn’t mean it should be used for those purposes. And as Nick and other posters already noted, who is to say, much less even know, that the questions being asked of the data fed into the systems are the “right” questions. As anyone knows who has worked with statistics or even polling, asking the questions in slightly different ways can often yield different results.


  26. We’ve gotten to the point where the tail is wagging the dog, and it just isn’t working, not for job hunters, but for employers who have vacancies to fill. Yet they keep going to the bright new shiny thing the way a toddler gets excited by and bored with a toy.

    Nick, anything you can do to help stop the insanity is much appreciated. I’m beginning to think that appearing on C-Span or on 60 minutes won’t be enough. You need to appear before Congress before they push through another bill to increase the number H1B visas to import even more sub-poverty wage workers due to the “talent shortage”

  27. and the “skills gap”, which don’t exist. Not that I think this Congress will do anything, but maybe it will be the start of an honest conversation and greater awareness. I’m willing to bet that there are lots of people who are very upset over NSA who would be upset at businesses spying on them.

    I wonder if government agencies are using the same big data and programs for their hires….

    Apologies about the fractured posts–computer is acting up.

  28. @marybeth

    Regarding the skills gap… Have you heard the latest nonsense? Let us bring in more people on H1-B visas and use the fees to educate American students.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with immigration, and it can be good for the economy. But at a time when millions are unemployed or underemployed, I don’t get why we can’t hire and train who we already have and then bring in people?

  29. Nick and everyone else here, I appreciate the intelligence and reason in this conversation. What I am about to write is related to data mining, but also to the injustice of the time-wasting applicant tracking systems that purportedly make connections between jobseekers and employers.

    Nothing beats human connections. In my current position as a Career Coach, I recommend socializing – within & without official networking groups. I also recommend a local, very good, free, silent meditation group, because people need to regain a sense of calmness and order because… The current employment situation is a crazy-maker.

    Nothing in the Big Data world is reasonable, for all the reasons that Nick and others have stated.

    The current level of unemployment has nothing to do with an “unskilled workforce” – it is completely tied to the big data movement. Someone I know who is in a job retraining program under the auspices of the American Trade Adjustment Act told me what she’d learned that day in her program: “Do you know that for $20, facebook will share your entire page to an employer – no matter what your privacy settings are? Do you know that for $100+, facebook will share your entire page, plus anything you’ve DELETED, to an employer?”

    The Applicant Tracking Systems process is a huge crazy-making contributor to joblessness. Applicant Tracking Systems keep people unemployed because there is no way to learn know what each system demands or what any ATS will reject (meaning, will not send to the company where the job is). The current system is wrecking people’s lives…. BECAUSE, Applicant Tracking Systems do not disclose their requirements.

    Disclosure would be a huge help. I write resumes that are as ATS-friendly as I have been able to learn: “Send .doc instead of .docx. No tables. No borders. Use only Times NR or Arial” — plus a few more no-no’s.

    Today, in hopes of getting this information about what ATS companies require or will kill an application that goes through their company’s processs, I decided to compile an Excel sheet of ATS companies.

    I’m up to 60+ companies! And not one reveals what they want or will refuse in a resume.

    Most of the people who come to me want “a job, any job.” Most would never be able to find, never mind post to, this thread. The entire online job application process is awful — and even worse further down the socio-economic scale. The Walmart & Burger King applications processes each require Social Security numbers, a resume (Imagine — a resume for a job as a Walmart “sales associate”! ) and — after a resume upload — a lengthy fill-in-the-blanks questionnaire that asks for the same information that is on the resume. The process takes an hour… or more.

    All that for a minimum wage job.

    The process is broken. Sensitive information is being mined,and job applications lack any human interaction whatsoever.

    Remember the movie some years back when the main character yelled out a window, “I’m mad as hell – and I’m not going to take it anymore!”?

    We need a new movie, a national chorus of voices, yelling that question.

  30. I didn’t save the email, but a little searching on the internet turned up what I was looking for in no time: This has been around for a while, but a few years ago it was making the rounds with the AFIP folks. It is funny in its absurdity, and no one took it seriously–just goes to show how the wrong conclusions can be drawn from the most innocuous facts.

    The same is true here–we could re-write the “bread is dangerous” spoof to lampoon the idiocy of the whole job hunting process with technology today and some of the silly criteria used to screen people out–no gmail account–that means you’re not tech-savvy….

    Everyone’s comments got me thinking, especially for those who were able to break into IT (and other fields) without a degree, without much experience. A former colleague and I graduated from the same college. We both worked in insurance, she more briefly than I did, but while she was there she started taking on some of the tech/computer problems that we had. She later got a job at a tech company doing customer service–helping customers/clients who were experiencing tech problems, learned and taught herself more as she gained more experience. Now she’s an analyst for IT at a college. In her own college days, she said that she didn’t take any computer classes–in fact she majored in religion. She’s very bright, competent, tech savvy, and experienced. But today, with ATS and Taleo, I wonder if she’d get the same kind of break that she got in 1999 that enabled her to move from insurance to IT, despite her then lack of experience, background, and degree in CS. I suspect not, and not only would she have to take a different path, but the companies she has worked for and the clients/customers she has helped over the years would have missed out.

  31. For something really frightening, check this out:

    This is the thinking we are up against in the job market, folks.

  32. Lucy, what is frightening? The author recommends in-person interviews and do-the-job tests. “Let your new shortstop take a few turns at bat.”


  33. Here is a great explanation from a scientist/vendor about the appropriate way to use assessment data in employment situations.

    Many vendors are ethical and smart about how they use data. Granted, some are not.
    Erica Klein PhD

  34. @Ann, while some employers look at social media sites such as Facebook, and some employers ask applicants for their social media passwords, it is not true that Facebook will, for a fee, sell the employer access that overrides users’ privacy settings.
    Your friend may have misunderstood what was told in her workshop, or she was given incorrect information.
    Erica Klein PhD

  35. @Nick and @Dave,
    You are right on the money(ball) that the real problem is getting good job performance data. Performance appraisals are subject to so many problems from their design to their implementation. If the performance appraisal defines the quality of job performance (and that’s what is used usually, along with some tenure/turnover statistics), then it has to be a valid and reliable appraisal.
    Erica Klein PhD

  36. Diana– yes, I missed that part and THAT is okay… in fact giving them a test run of the actual job is the best possible way to assess a worker’s ability to do the work.

    It’s the rest of it that scares me. The unanimity demanded in at least one workplace– Semco– so that hiring there becomes little better than fraternity rush. The fact that Zak openly advocates checking an employee’s family for fit too. The supremacy of personality over everything else about a worker’s life– so that there is no opportunity to become a better, more whole, more skilled person *by* doing the work; now a person must be fully formed before they can even start. HR is not just looking for purple squirrels; they are looking for fully formed oak trees to spring from acorns.

  37. Something else upon which to chew:

    There is a company called HireVue ( which is now offering potential employers the ability to do on-demand video interviews, where the employer can provide the questions and get video responses back from the candidate without ever having to interact directly with the candidate. The justification for this is that the employer no longer has to “waste time” on arranging schedules for “bad phone screens” and the like.

    I had this “opportunity” presented to me the other day. Yes, I probably should have refused the “opportunity”; let’s just say that when you are focusing on a Webcam instead of a human being, it is all too easy to lose your train of thought. But then, after that, the company’s not the place I want to be anyway.

  38. @Mike Emeigh: Can you tell us more about those video interviews? I just read about a couple of companies that offer this service to employers. The manager picks canned questions, which are presented tot he applicant, who answers them on video – no human intervention. I’m tempted to do an article about it. Pls tell us more — and I’d love to hear more comments from others.

  39. @Nick:

    That is exactly what it was – six canned questions, presented to me to be answered on video. I’d love to see an article from you about it.

    My style of interviewing – both as an interviewee and as an interviewer – is very interactive. I want to engage with the person on the other side of the table, so that I can actively participate in steering the interview (regardless of the side of the table on which I sit) in the direction that best suits both of us. When there is no person on the other side of table – when it is just me, responding to a canned question – it turns into a monologue, and there is nothing upon which I can feed and build momentum, or to turn the conversation in the direction that best shows me as a potential value-adder. Nor can you gauge the reaction on the other side of the table. Nor can you ask a clarifying question to focus the discussion more tightly on the relevant aspects of the position and your ability to fill it – because there is no one to answer it. It becomes a story-telling session, where you hope you are guessing right and telling a relevant story.

    I came away from the video interview feeling as though I had simultaneously said too much and not enough.

  40. @Dave: I had not seen it; thanks for the link. It keeps getting worse and worse.

  41. This sounds to me rather like the approach to spam filtering: run through a whole series of probabilities and figure out the likelihood that the message should be rejected.

    Hands up those who’ve had spam marked as non-spam, or (worse in many people’s books) non-spam marked as spam.

    Yes, me too. And it caused some, shall we say, problems.

    So, how is this going to work any better for hiring?

    Imagine losing your best potential employee because he/she had the computer in for repair and had to borrow a friend’s Internet Explorer-only machine.

  42. @Erica, I’ll ask this woman to re-check with her instructor. Her job was sent overseas, so her entire long course of training is run through the American Trade Adjustment Act. I guess that doesn’t guarantee accuracy. Could you provide me with some factual refutation that I can give to her, so she can confront this trainer knowledgeably?

  43. @Nick and @Erica, my client says that a website’s sharing of our personal data is something that we agree to whenever we check the box “I agree with (website’s) terms” on facebook, email accounts and other pages. Most people (including me) click the “terms” because we are
    1. eager to use the company’s service, thus, 2. we don’t feel like reading the lengthy, small-print terms.
    Here’s the thing: Once we click to agree, we don’t see the terms of agreement again. Client clarified that such agreements of terms of use was mentioned by her course’s teacher, but has nothing whatsoever to do with American Trade Agreement Act. @Nick, this may be the fastest way for you to get this info; client is now aware of your website, and is able to email you directly.

  44. Well, I’ve said this before in other posts: the crappy application systems and “lazy” management are there BY DESIGN, not by accident. At least, that is the case 90% of the time. It may be confounding or wasteful from our perspective, but from the perspective of investors, they serve to mitigate costs.

    Think of it this way. If, indeed, these Big Data systems were backwards and wasteful…then why don’t we see MORE companies using the truly efficient systems being proposed instead of there being LESS? And the next question: why do companies complain about there not being enough talent…when they would clearly hire someone of LESS talent at LESS price if they could?

    So contrary to what others believe, I think this Big Data business is merely the symptom, not the source, of our unemployment woes. Perhaps the best question should be, “Why can’t we all just get into business and compete against these backwards-hiring companies without using these systems?” It should be a walk in the park…right?

  45. I am one of those who have been interviewing for the wrong job. I believe that is why I am still in this position. I manage the housekeeping section in my department. The section of the job I like is handling contracting and financial tasks. I have a MBA from the University of Phoenix. I am currently taking accounting classes but in order to gain the required 2 year experience for CPA, other certifications, or get the job I want. Jobs I am interested in are budget analysis, contracting, accounting, etc. How do I get my foot in that world? That is my problem.

  46. @Jacqueline: Whether you’re changing jobs or careers, the critical factor is being able to show that you’ll do the work profitably. A good approach to this is encapsulated in my PDF book, How Can I Change Careers? (see links in the right sidebar of this blog) You’ll find many tips about how to do this in the many Q&A columns on this blog.

  47. Is nobody concerned with the fact that whatever you do outside of work is none of your employer’s business? This is beyond invasive. My facebook page is my my facebook page. No employer should stick their nose there and use it to undermine my employment with them. That is unacceptable and low of them.

    Why do we turn a blind eye and in return agree to watch what we post because of it? Why aren’t we outraged by this insidious behavior? This says our employment is at the master’s mercy. Do we need more intimidating techniques? Aren’t we scared enough to lose our job at any whim?

    When are we going to stand our ground, demand respect and establish boundaries? Because the job market is difficult, we tolerate this kind of abuse. We’re treated this way because we let them. Let’s turn the tables.

  48. @Diana: Now, that’s a very articulate rant! Maybe even a nice, short manifesto.

  49. @Diana, I’m in on this all the way with you! I never mention my employer’s name online or even in some real life conversations. I would never speak ill of my employer in any way, but I like feeling that my work life and non-work life are separate … unless I truly feel that I’ve got reason to enjoy and trust a colleague. I make it a personal policy not to not become LinkedIn connections or fb friends with any employees, former employees, or current colleagues from my job. I had assumed that non-job email (like gmail or yahoo,etc., would be a safer place to connect re a job search, that email would grant more privacy than fb or LI. But I must say that all this sounds so paranoid – but increasingly,I think, we are watched too much for causes or interests that may not be aligned with,for example,a cause that the company would not espouse. Makes me want to go plant potatoes in Maine and have conversations only in person, around a table.

  50. Big business isn’t trying to do things better, just cheaper, since no job below the executive level is viewed as anything more than a necessary evil, and any dollar that doesn’t go into a shareholder or or exec’s pocket is looked upon as wasted.

    That way employers can whine about how they aren’t getting qualified applicants, hire cheaper, less qualified people, and avoid paying qualified employees what they are worth.

    It will only “self correct” once

  51. Really? My experience here in Cleveland is that you get hired from who you know, period. Most people will not network with you unless they already know you.

    Honeywell in Strongsville, a suburb of Cleveland, is good for this. They instrust their friend or relative to go ahead and apply online and we’ll pull your profile. You’re hired.

    Same as always, you have to know someone to network before you can network.

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