Putting the H back into HR: Why This Data Boss Rejects the Big Data Approach to Hiring

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Dec 18, 2015

I am a Data Boss. My business platforms are built on crunching algorithms to reveal trends, tastes, and desires. But when it comes to hiring, I shut my laptop and do it the old fashioned way; no questionnaires, no people analytics. Just down and dirty, person to person; back to the future. Why? 

Modern technology exists in large part to make it possible for us to avoid human contact. We hook up via dating sites, we shop without fingering the merchandise; my 15 year old texts me when we’re sitting next to each other. On every level, in what used to require person-to-person dealings, data’s taken over the role of intermediary, including how we hire for our businesses. A whole industry has sprung full-blown, like Athena from Zeus’ head, dedicated to turning insights into algorithms, and substituting them for interactions.

It’s so quick, so easy, so bloodless — and that’s the problem. Every time you use data to probe a human question, something essential is lost in translation. That’s why I, the head of a data-driven company in a data-driven world — use no data analytics at all in my hiring process. Before you grab your pitchforks — or light up Twitter — let me explain my reasoning, and make my case for a return to human interaction in the hiring process.

Let’s start with one irrefutable fact: People make a company. You’re hiring a human to be a human, to interact with others and bring his or her specific set of strengths, quirks, and insights into play with the people you’ve already got. In the real world as opposed to the world of data, you’re dealing day to day with personality, behavior, mindsets — a whole person — and there is no machine in the world (yet) that can look into a human’s eyes and connect with who they are like another person can.

Why don’t I trust data with this job? Humans who have their own sets of prejudices write algorithms, and what’s important to them may not be important to me. Granted, if you’re a huge company that gets hundreds or thousands of resumes in response to a job post, computerized vetting tools can come in handy to winnow that stack down to a manageable number. But at that point, turn off your laptop and interact.

How do I hire? (And I’ll talk more about this in April in the spring.) Experience trumps all: I don’t honestly care what school you went to. If I get a resume from a Harvard cum laude grad with minimal experience in my field, and one from a state school grad with 15 years under his belt — I choose the experience over the diploma every time.

I hire for skill sets; what can they bring to the table that we need? You can discern a lot about their abilities by listening to them talk about the work they’ve done in the past, their success, and failures.

What was the last book they read for pleasure? What was their favorite movie? What do they do in their time off? Most of us spend more time at work than we do at home. The person I hire will be bringing her personality, her loves, and her interests into my environment, and I want to know that she’s a good fit.

I’ll look at the prospective hire’s social media, too, to get a clearer perspective on their personality and judgment. I tell my kids, “If you moon someone out of a car window, that picture will come back to haunt you when you’re running for Prime Minister.” It’s not a question of right or wrong, but of fitting in with the core values of our company; personal integrity, thinking big, lead, never follow, and empowering those around you aren’t just pretty phrases, but ways of thinking that influence how you live your life. I want to see how their lives line up with those values.

I’m not interested in curated data that purports to give me insight into someone’s head, because I don’t think that any amount of gigs can measure emotional characteristics and the inner soul of a human. From where I sit, it’s mostly a hustle.

And at the end of the day, if I can’t tell more about a person in a half-hour interview than I can from a data-generated profile, maybe I’m not the leader I need to be.

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