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What Do Junk Mail and Recruiting Have in Common?

by Oct 30, 2003

We all occasionally see something stupid, poke our friends and say, “Check-out that dipstick. How dumb can you get?” Some movies even make “dumb” part of the plot. For example, here are a few sneak peeks at some movie plots awaiting release:

  • People make bad hiring mistakes, but never take the time to discover why they chose the wrong person in the first place (co-starring Ben and J-Lo).
  • HR adopts Six-Sigma programs, but only focuses on finding people, not qualifying employees who can do the job (starring Rodney Dangerfield).
  • Managers repeatedly send bad hires to workshops to “fix” them, although they know this seldom works (co-starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell).
  • Companies promote employees to management based on performance as a non-manager (co-starring Madonna and Britney Spears).
  • An interviewers actually believes applicant stories (starring Jane Fonda).
  • Organizations purchase sophisticated software to analyze error-filled resumes (starring Jerry Lewis).
  • “Human Resource” departments don’t know how to measure human performance (starring the almost-original cast of Month Python).
  • Recruiting professional cares more about placement than job performance (starring Bill Murray).

Can’t wait to see ‘em! But movie plots are not the real subject of this article. Discussing an innovative solution is. Junk Mail and Recruiting Last year I mostly received email from friends and relatives. Today, I receive hundreds of emails offering me everything from superhuman physical prowess to less debt (or is it vice versa? I get them confused). Sorting through junk email is a lot like sorting through job applicants. They both have something to sell, make exaggerated claims, and are encouraged to hide deficiencies. Fortunately, there are solutions to the problem. Take, for example, a new junk mail filter I recently installed. This new program uses a sophisticated algorithm to assess incoming mail and electronically zap the junk before it even gets to my inbox. How did the program get to be so smart? Its clever programmers studied the differences between junk and legitimate email and developed a predictive algorithm that would accurately identify junk-mail patterns. Wow! Recruiters and hiring managers could learn a lot from this approach. Sorting Through Trash Wading through resumes and interviews is a form of professional dumpster-diving: tons of trash obscure an occasional piece of treasure. Compare this with how my freeware email filter handles the problem. It assigns “points” to key elements in email such as forged-mail (3.5 points), HTML (.5 points), “click in the body of the message” (1.1 points), and so forth. High points equals a high probability of junk. How did it get so smart? Programmers began with examining data patterns almost always contained in traditional junk email pieces. No, this approach won’t work with resumes. Resumes are too polluted with junk. But it will work with standardized application forms ó providing, of course, that someone scientifically compared application data with employee performance to identify common patterns. How many recruiters and hiring managers really know what predicts poor applicant performance? To use another example, what would you say about a professional sports team that created incentive programs and new-player welcome wagons, reduced turnover, held orientation programs, and designed customized training sessions? Impressive? What would you say if their talent scouts consistently recruited unskilled players half the time? No filter is right all of the time ó only about 90% (I occasionally have to step in and make a few tweaks). Nevertheless, in the first two weeks, my email filter screened out over 362 junk emails, saving me considerable time and effort. I even gave it the task of analyzing all my personal email, so it can get even smarter. Compare that with common recruiting practices. Technology Transfer Using a smart program to screen garbage data will never get you anything more than smart garbage. People who invest in this kind of silliness are guaranteed the privilege of eventually looking foolish (how long do you think it will take for end-users to learn an expensive garbage-analysis program produces garbage?) Sound predictive technology is based on:

  • knowing exactly what to look for
  • trustworthy applicant data

It is NOT based on whether or not the person was hired (i.e., if you were a hiring manager, would you prefer the “fill the seat” approach or the “high performer” approach?). Assuming you have collected legitimate applicant data and accurate performance, all you need to do is hire a good consultant to run the numbers for you. They would probably have to know something about artificial intelligence, non-linear relationships, casual analysis, and have a few years using leading-edge assessment tools, but you will always get what you pay for. Of course, recruiting can just keep on being a “source and hurl them over the wall” activity. And people will continue to say, “Check out that dipstick doing source-and-hurl recruiting! How dumb can you get?” Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. P.S. You can get the freeware email filter I discussed here at www.bloomba.com.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.