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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…

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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