Is This The Future of Recruiting and Hiring?

The Wall Street Journal had a story about the hiring practices at Unilever, the global consumer products firm.

Here are some excerpts from the article, to give you a sense of how the program operates and what the results have been like so far for Unilever.

To diversify its candidate pool for early-career roles that are a fast track to management, Unilever has ditched resumes and traditional campus recruiting. Its new process relies on algorithms to sort applicants and targets young potential hires where they spend much of their time: their smartphones.

Since young people live their lives online, Unilever decided to use the internet to recruit beyond the eight or so schools where recruiters had traditionally sought hires. 

To get the word out about jobs, Unilever placed targeted advertisements on Facebook and career-advice sites such as WayUp and the Muse. Those who clicked on the ads were directed to a career site where they could apply for entry-level jobs and internships in just a few clicks, since Unilever pulls information from the candidate’s LinkedIn profile to fill out the application. An algorithm scans those applications—275,400 in all so far—to surface candidates who meet a given role’s requirements. The software weeds out more than half of the pool. 

Candidates are then asked to play a set of 12 short online games designed to assess skills like concentration under pressure and short-term memory. The top third of those students or fewer are invited to submit video interviews on HireVue, through a website or app, answering questions about how they would respond to business challenges encountered on the job.

At both steps, artificial-intelligence can filter anywhere from 60% to 80% of candidates. To determine which candidates are most likely to be successful at Unilever, the AI uses data points such as how quickly they respond to questions, their facial expressions and vocabulary.

The first step involving direct human judgment is the last step, a final in-person interview with Unilever human-resources executives and managers. Last fall across the U.S. and Canada, around 300 candidates interviewed in person for 200 positions.

Unilever says hiring has become faster and more accurate—80% of applicants who make it to the final round now get job offers, and a similar number accept—and saved on recruiting costs, too, though Unilver wouldn’t say how much. Applicants hailed from more than 2,600 colleges for positions in the U.S. and Canada, tripling the numbers of schools in its previous applicant pool.

Unilever spokeswoman Ms. Hutcheon said it’s too early to say whether the new hiring practices correlate with stronger employees, adding that the company is closely tracking those hires’ success.

I like some aspects of the program, particularly the fact hat it opens up opportunities to work at Unilever to a  much wider range of students.

I graduated from a small college where there seemed to be just a handful of firms recruiting. I contrast that with where I am now, where it seems every day of the week there are several firms out pitching to our students. So this Unilever program seems to offer opportunities to students from a wider range of schools, as evidenced by the fact it received applications from schools at over 2,600 schools, triple the number from the year before.

I also like the fact that the program lends itself to lots of data analysis to measure its effectiveness. More traditional approaches to recruiting were not likely as data-driven.

However, I also saw some problems with this approach to hiring.

I think recruits are going to learn how to game the system, particularly students from schools that can offer strategies on how to succeed in such a recruiting model.

I also didn’t like some of the implications about how recruits were being judged in the video interviews. Criteria like facial expressions and how fast a recruit responds to a question would seem to favor those who have been coached, and/or those who are good on camera because of their looks and ability answer questions quickly. I would hope that some of the questions are a bit challenging, and thus would require a little bit of time and thought before they could be answered. Personally, I would prefer someone who is a bit more contemplative as compared to someone that “shoots from the hip”. My sense from the article is that  the algorithms favor the fast respondents, even if the answer does not seem to include any critical thinking.

And while the article starts off by saying Unilever is using the algorithms to increase diversity, there is little mention of if and how that is being accomplished. The story also notes that the program can help to reduce bias in the hiring process. That may be true to some extent, but it is still a human that creates the criteria and the filters for narrowing down the list of possible recruits.

There’s no doubt that technology can play a key role in the hiring process. n process much more quickly an initial round of interviews by first making sure the candidate has the right skills for the job.

Whether algorithms can aver fully replace humans in the process remains to be seen. My guess is no…

I Spend the First Two Hours of My Day as a Robot

My wife said something last Thursday morning as we were getting ready to leave for work, and my reply made me realize that perhaps not everybody follows such a set routine as I do.

She said, “Can you believe it’s Thursday already?”, and I said, “I know. It messed up my routine. I thought it was Wednesday, and Thursday is the day I usually use conditioner on my hair. So now my schedule is off for the rest of the week.”

To me it was just a normal response, but my wife burst into laughter and said she didn’t know that Thursday was my hair conditioning day.

I then went on to explain my whole showering process – Mondays and Thursdays are shampoo and condition, Wednesdays and Saturdays are just shampoo, and the other days are just body soap.

She seemed fascinated by this routine of mine, and then she asked if I had other routines that she was not aware of.

She knows of my morning green smoothie routine, which I wrote about before, and she knows that I exercise every day, but she probably wasn’t aware of how structured it is. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Monday – 45 minutes on a recumbent bike, doing intervals guided by heart rate monitoring
  • Tuesday – 45 minutes on a rowing machine, at a heart rate slightly above the (180-age) guideline
  • Wednesday – 45 minutes on the bike, using the (180-age) rule for heart monitoring
  • Thursday – 45 minutes on rowing machine, doing intervals guided by heart rate monitoring
  • Friday – 45 minutes on the bike, at a heart rate slightly above the (180-age) guideline
  • Saturday – extended time on rowing machine, using the (180-age) rule for heart monitoring; yesterday was 80 minutes

I do the above cardio first thing in the morning, right after I wake up.

Afterwards, I make my smoothie, then take my shower (per the schedule shown above), and then head to the gym (well, Planet Fitness).

My first 10 minutes at the gym are spent stretching, and then on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I do an additional 20-30 minutes of strength training, always performing the same exercises in the same order (unless someone is using the machine that I was planning to use – which is mildly annoying. I manage to adapt, but not happily.)

Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays at the gym are my easy days, since I only do the stretching.

So if you haven’t fallen asleep yet, there you have it.

My Groundhog Day-like daily routine.

When I put the routine in writing, I know it makes me look a bit anal retentive, and maybe I am. But as I noted in my post about my green smoothie routine, knowing in advance what I am going to do means that there is one less thing to think about, and I think it makes it much easier for me to stick to the routine.

There are days, for a variety of reasons, that my routine might be a little different, but such days are few and far between.

Now if I could just routinize the other 15 hours a day that I am awake, then I wouldn’t have to think about anything at all all day…

P.S. Apparently I’m not the only person who enjoys a daily routine; here’s an article that looks at the daily routines of seven famous entrepreneurs. The story features Barack Obama, Winston Churchill, Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams (of Twitter), Tim Ferriss, Leo Babauta, and Ben Franklin. Not a bad group to emulate…

And How Much Did You Pay for Your Wedding?

I was going through some old documents today, and I came across a couple of the bills from our wedding.

Our reception was at the Shawnee Mountain Ski Lodge in the Poconos. We were actually the first couple to have a wedding reception at the lodge, and it was a perfect venue.

Here’s the first one, which shows the total food bill as well as the cost of one night of lodging. I’m struck by the formality of the receipt; it’s written on a little yellow piece of notepad paper:


The dinner seems like a bargain compared to what weddings cost today; 204 guests @ just $7.95 per guest! And my wife payed the entire bill herself – needless to say I was quite impressed. (My parents picked up the bar bill. I guess you could call me a freeloader…)

We also had hired a band, Adrian, Priest, and Grimes to play at the wedding, and I found their contract as well:


It was a three piece band, and their total bill was $380 (which my wife also paid), with each band member getting $126.66 (except for the head of the band, who got $126.68). This detail is all shown on the bottom half of the contract, along with their social security numbers! My how the times have changed.

I did check to see if the band is still around, but it looks like they broke up in the 1990s. They do have a Facebook page, and this is where I came across a picture of the band from the early 1980s:


Looking at those food, lodging, and band bills (total $2,500) brought back memories of a great day. I’m sure I wasn’t looking too far into the future on that day, but if I had, I never would have imagined a life as wonderful as the one we have had for the past 36 years.

By the way, today is not our anniversary; when I found those papers, I just had to write about them. And in case you didn’t realize it, that is not a picture of my wife and I at the top of the post, it’s the best picture I could find online of a wedding at Shawnee…


How to Have a Really Unpleasant Dinner with Your Spouse

It’s Dan Ariely time again.

Here is one of the letters he received, and his response:

I go out to dinner with my husband once a week, and every time, we promise to order something healthy—but when we see the menu, we get tempted and order something less virtuous but tasty. Any advice on how to show more resolve? —Aimee

You are describing a classical case of temptation. Before you get to the restaurant, you’ve settled on a certain idea of how you want to behave—then you get tempted, and afterward, you regret your indulgences. So how can you override temptation? Just order for each other. When we order for our significant other, we aren’t tempted by taste and can instead think about their health—which is also what our spouse would want a few hours later.

I can’t imagine that going so well.

It seems to me that going out for dinner should be a special occasion, and the chance to maybe indulge a little bit. If you’re eating healthy the other six nights a week, then you can probably afford to eat something “less virtuous but tasty.”

I can envision going out to dinner, and following Dan’s advice, ordering just a kale salad with no dressing for your significant other, and water to drink.

I’m thinking that would turn out to be a pretty quiet dinner, especially if the restaurant you went to had something “less virtuous but tasty” that you know your partner would really enjoy.

While your partner might be grateful several hours later for having eaten the kale salad, I’m not sure it would be worth it. I think I’d rather deal with the regret later than sit through a tension-filled dinner.

I think if you really want to go out for a healthy meal, then choose a restaurant that only offers such options. That way each person can order for themselves, and you won’t have to deal with the stress of ordering for your partner or the silent treatment that might follow.

Bon Appétit…


Arnold Could be Talking about Me

There are many aspects of my life where I consider myself disciplined – watching what I eat, exercising, getting up early, and writing my blog are a few that come to mind – but there are other parts of my life where I know I could do better.

For example, I know I should drink more water. I rarely have a cup of just water; the water I do drink is usually part of something else, a smoothie or a coffee, for example. And even then, I know it’s still probably only half of how much I should be drinking.

Another area of my life that could be improved is the amount of time I spend constantly checking the stats on my blog – how many people read it, how many people liked it, how many people commented on it, how do the numbers this year compare to the numbers this time last year, etc. A conservative estimate is that I probably check the stats 20-30 times a day, which I know is about 20-30 times more than I need.

I’m not really sure what I’m hoping to discover when I check the stats; perhaps I’m using the stats as some type of confirmation of the value of the various blog posts.

I know Seth Godin would scold me for caring about my stats:

Good blogs aren’t focused on the vapid race for clicks that other forms of social media encourage. Instead, they patiently inform and challenge, using your time with respect.

I know I shouldn’t be so concerned with my blog stats, but I can’t seem to stop myself from seeing how many people read my latest blog in the past hour.

And it’s not like I have millions, or thousands, or even hundreds (well, occasionally) of people reading my blog each day. The numbers are usually in a pretty tight interval of about 50-80 views per day, so there’s rarely anything that jumps out at me when I view the stats.

Given that there’s little benefit to constantly checking my stats, the problem must be, as Arnold notes, a lack of discipline.

So I’m going to see if I can control my stat viewing habits by going a full weekend without checking my stats, starting now. My goal is to not check my blog stats until Monday morning.

I’ll let you know if I found the discipline to do so.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to put some discipline into your life, why not make it a goal to read my blog every day. I can’t promise to patiently inform and challenge, using your time with respect, as Seth notes above, but at least you’ll know Arnold isn’t talking about you.

Happy First Day of Summer, from Mungo Jerry

To me, it’s one of the all-time classic songs.

And to think that someone made a music video back in 1970 so that future generations can share in the joy of such music.

Some of the lyrics might be considered a bit questionable or a bit dated:

Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what you can find

I don’t think you would find such lyrics in music written today. In fact,  the song was used in a UK advert for the campaign Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives.

If her daddy’s rich take her out for a meal
If her daddy’s poor just do what you feel

Hmmmm…. not sure if those two lines would go over so well today either, and I’m not sure if it did back in the 70s either.

Speed along the lane
Do a ton or a ton an’ twenty-five

From what I can tell by researching it online, do a ton or ton an’ twenty five is referring to driving 100-125 miles per hour. Again, not sure if the NHTSA would be happy with such a line today, When combined with the drinking noted above, these recommendations tart to have a dangerous feel to them.

My guess is that back in the 70s, people didn’t think too much about these sorts of issues, but fortunately society has evolved in a good way.

Despite these problems with some of the lyrics, it does nothing to detract from how great the song is.

Best wishes for a happy summer, and keep these words of Mungo Jerry in mind:

We’re always happy
Life’s for livin’ yeah, that’s our philosophy

Couldn’t agree more…

The Secret to Relationship Success Is as Simple as This

In a study published online last month in the journal “Psychological Science, researchers at Florida State University, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Minnesota found that people who viewed pictures of their spouse interspersed with photos of baby animals, beaches or sunsets, saw a significant boost in their relationship satisfaction.

The Wall Street Journal had an article about this study in today’s paper.

The researchers brought into their lab 120 couples married for three to four years. They then showed the participants a slideshow once every three days for six weeks. Half viewed one that intermittently included photos of their spouse paired on a split screen with positive images (of puppies, bunnies and sunsets) and positive words (“incredible,” “terrific,” “amazing”). Half viewed one with photos of their partner intermittently paired with neutral images (of a chair, a shed, gravel) and neutral words (“If,” “like,” “when”). Researchers measured the participants’ implicit attitudes toward their partner every two weeks for eight weeks, and again asked them how they felt about their spouse.

The results indicated that the people who viewed the bunnies and puppies images became happier in their relationship. Their implicit feelings improved, and they also reported that they felt better about their partner.

Social psychologists call this evaluative conditioning. It’s what happens when our mind learns to associate an object or person with a feeling—good or bad—that we had when we were previously around that object or person.

So I decided to give it a try, and created my own slideshow (the images below should advance automatically)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Forget about needing eight weeks. I just watched that slideshow a few times, and I felt like a newlywed.

Who knew relationships were this easy…


Looking into My Crystal Ball

The news last week that Amazon made an offer to buy Whole Foods took a lot of people, myself included, by surprise.

I like the move by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon. It’s just another in a long line of bold moves he has made, such as Amazon Prime, Amazon Web Services, the Kindle, the Echo, the Amazon Phone, Zappos, Twitch, and possibly drone delivery. While not all of his ideas have been financial successes, a few have been wildly successful, generating more than enough revenue to cover the losses from the failures.

There has been a great deal of speculation as to what would happen to Whole Foods if the acquisition is finalized (there are rumors that there may be other buyers also interested in Whole Foods, so there could be a bidding war), but I am assuming it is going to happen.

So I thought it would be fun to make a few predictions as to what Whole Foods would look like a year after the acquisition, and how it would operate. I’ll then revisit this post in a year, and see how my  predictions have held up.

So here I go…

  • I guess my first prediction, already mentioned above, is that the deal will go through. I think Amazon would win any bidding war it got into. This prediction is a big one; if the deal falls through, then this blog post would fit in nicely with the vast majority of my previous posts, it will be completely meaningless.
  • There will not be any massive layoffs (greater than 10%) of Whole Foods employees.
  • Whole Foods’ prices will drop on average between 5-10%
  • Whole Foods will develop a significant home delivery service, offering a plan like Prime, that will enable customers to get free home delivery if they are part of Whole Foods Prime. Some store employees would become part of the delivery team, helping Whole Foods to retain its employees.
  • Whole Foods stores will also function as distribution warehouses for other goods sold by Amazon. Amazon lockers would be in place at Whole Foods stores, where customers could pick up their Amazon order on a more timely basis.
  • Whole Foods will feature an Amazon products boutique within each of its stores, providing customers with the opportunity to learn about and to buy products such as the Kindle and the Echo
  • The Whole Foods rewards program will expand to include special offers on Amazon products.
  • Jeff Bezos will go vegan.
  • John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods, will not become a billionaire.
  • and looking way down the line, Whole Foods will be the first grocery store on the moon, thanks to Blue Origin, an aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company set up by Bezos

So there you have it, my predictions for Whole Foods. I’ve already put a note on my calendar a year from now to review where things stand at that point in time.

If all goes well, I’ll be able to have some vegan donuts delivered within an hour whenever the urge strikes.

And that’s why I’m really rooting for this merger.

Driving 95 North, with a Hat Tip to Dan Ariely

I thought I would bookend our weekend trip to North Carolina to see our oldest son with a set of blog posts about the trip south (which I posted on Friday, with a hat tip to David Kanigan), and the trip north (tonight’s post, with a hat tip to Dan Ariely).

I’ve written a few columns where I reference Dan, a well known behavioral economist. In particular, I’ve written about the responses Dan offers to readers’ questions in the Wall Street Journal. The most recent post I wrote about Dan was back in mid-May.

A couple of weeks ago, Dan received the following letter:

Dear Dan,

My daily commute takes about 40 minutes each way—and it feels even longer because so many of my honking fellow drivers are selfish and aggressive. How can we get drivers to show more respect for those around them? —Jamie

Here was his response:

In a word: convertibles. If we all drove rag tops with the roof down and no windows to shield us from fellow drivers, we would be far more aware of social norms and more likely to behave with some consideration for others. Driving often brings out the worst in us, and it can be shocking to see how myopic, self-centered and unaware we become behind the wheel—from driving recklessly to cutting into lines to picking our nose. All of this is much worse than our typical behavior when we, say, walk down a crowded public street. Pedestrians aren’t always polite, but they certainly don’t exhibit the same type of risk-taking and selfishness. Being in proximity to other people makes us more aware of our own standards of decency, and we behave accordingly. Noise-blocking (and often darkened) windows and the controlled environment of a car create an illusion of isolation, separating us from other drivers. It lets us feel that our actions are unobserved, which makes it easier for us to ignore our own standards.

I’m not going to completely disagree with Dan on this one, like I have in the past with some of his other responses. This seems like a clever response, but there’s obvious problems with such a solution, such as weather constraints that make it somewhat of a limited solution.

But the biggest problem that I have is that I think having a convertible would make me a more aggressive driver. I consider myself somewhat of a conservative driver, never going more than 10 mph above the speed limit. As I’ve written about before, that makes me one of the slower drivers on the road. And I get quite annoyed with people who drive well above the speed limit as well as people who simply don’t seem to give their full attention to the task of driving.

I think if everyone had convertibles, I might still be tempted to yell over to someone who I don’t think was driving correctly. The problem, if everyone had a convertible, is that the target of my yelling would now hear me, and I am sure that my suggestions would not likely be taken well. A confrontation would likely ensue, and just like that, I would become an aggressive driver.

So I think I would prefer if it just stayed the way it is. Let me yell all I want from the safety of my enclosed car. Doing so won’t turn me into an aggressive driver, but it will still enable me to feel like I’m the toughest guy on the road.

By the way, the music selections for the ride up I-95 North included “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen and the soundtrack from Camelot. I had forgotten what a classic The Rising is, and listening to Camelot made me realize how great Julie Andrews is – perhaps the greatest musical actress ever.

Thinking Outside the Umbrella

Every once in a while, someone comes up with a better mousetrap.

Such is the case with the KAZbrella.

The KAZbrella is the culmination of 10 years of research and development. Thanks to its patented technology, the KAZbrella is an umbrella that opens inside out. This leaves the wet side of the canopy contained on the inside when closed. It is therefore dry to handle and can be placed on surfaces without them getting wet.

Here’s the video from the Kickstarter campaign that gives you an idea of how clever this design is, and how it is so much better than the design of the basic umbrella, which has been with us for 3,000 years.

The inventor, Jenan Kazim first had the idea for the KAZbrella during a conversation with his mother-in-law. He has since spent many hours developing his ideas, perfecting his unique design and creating countless prototypes.

The aim was to design a completely new mechanism, whilst remaining true to the aesthetic look of the classic umbrella. The KAZbrella has featured on both BBC’s ‘Dragons Den’ and CNBC’s ‘Make Me A Millionaire Inventor’. In May 2015 the KAZbrella was unveiled on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website and it was funded over 10 times the original target.


I love the quote on his coffee mug in the video:

There is always a better way to do it…find it!”, attributed to Thomas Edison.

Jenan had such a mindset when it came to umbrellas. That mindset, when combined with his engineering background and his persistence, led him to find a better way.

I wish Jenan and the rest of the KAZbrella team continued success.

And I know what I want for my birthday…