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HR and AI: how technology is taking over Talent Management

Regular readers know that I am “old school.” As a hiring manager, I focused on finding talent not hiring for skills. “Skills can be learned,” I would say. “But, you can’t fix stupid.” That approach to hiring has faded away. We now focus on functional skills.

The Internet has cemented the skills approach to hiring. In the early days of and its ilk, job candidates had to figure out what keywords should be included in their resumes and cover letters to rise to the top of the recruiters’ pile. The keywords reflected the functional or technical skill of the candidate. If you needed an accountant, a call center operator, or computer programmer, that worked pretty well. However, if you need someone with creativity or leadership talent… well, not so much.

I once interviewed for a job at a company whose CEO later told me that they would never have interviewed me based upon my resume. (I got the interview because of a recommendation from a board member.) I’ve done so many different things – naval officer, finance, call center management, entrepreneur, consultant – they couldn’t place me in a category. Interestingly, they had a method to screen for talent once they decided to interview me. Before you got an appointment, you went through a Predictive Index (PI) questionnaire on line. PI is a scientifically developed method of determining if a candidate is a good fit for the job in question. When I arrived for the interview, I took a Wonderlic test. It’s a 12-minute IQ test. I did well enough to gain admittance to the executive suite where I was asked to solve puzzles in the interview.

Rudimentary by today’s standards perhaps — but effective. (I got the job but later wished I hadn’t.)

So, how should a global company approach hiring in today’s “war for talent?”

Pymetrics thinks they have the answer. Writing in Fast Company, Austin Carr describes the company as “part of a legion of buzzy startups leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and other tech tools to disrupt the hiring space.” Company co-founder Frida Polli, an MIT neuroscientist with a Harvard MBA uses well-grounded research to “predict common behaviors among high performers.”

Citing the absurd method by which most HR departments approach hiring – it takes on average 6 seconds for the average recruiter to review a resume – Ms. Polli proposes to replace the current arcane approach with something like “Moneyball” for hiring managers. So, it seems we may be onto something that would fix the “checklist” problem. The company is testing its software with companies like Burger King and Unilever.

It’s too early to tell if these new tech methods will work. But, with a 30 to 50% failure rate among new hires, companies have little to lose by trying.

I was an early adopter of new technology in my corporate days. I worked with digital image processing and AI in the 80’s. But, there is something that bugs me about all this. The approach reflects lack of trust in the front line people who screen candidates.

My old school approach recognizes that cultural and process deficiencies are gaps that need to be closed by defining and refining them. In other words, work with your people to improve the results. The new school method overcomes the deficiencies by replacing people with software.

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