Social recruiting technology grows up…

keywordsBack in November I blogged about the biggest language and personality study ever undertaken and the fact that researchers confirmed they were able to assess your personality by scanning your Facebook likes and status updates. At the time, the research findings got very little coverage and those that did hear about it were very sceptical. I said I would follow this theme on my blog and so, a little later than originally planned, an update!

Last summer, Marc Mapes, updated me on his latest adventure – eiTalent which is, co-incidentally a values based applicant screening technology start up that used very similar natural language based assessment techniques to improve applicant screening accuracy, based purely on the contents of the CV. Yep, thats right. Simply scanning the text included on the CV was, he said, good enough to be able to identify candidates who would be a good ‘fit’ for the organisation and with highest potential to succeed in role.

Now this was news. My day job sees me explore the notion of predicting potential. It’s our bread and butter at Chemistry. In doing so we use traditional and proven assessment techniques yet here, hot on the heels of the PLOS research, was another organisation using non structured language techniques in assessment. I caught up with  Marc recently to see how they were doing and he ran me through the case study that put them on the map:

“We worked with a major retailer and as a starting point identified 10 key values across the business. The retail resourcing team gave us 200 anonymised CV’s, broken into 4 groups:

  • 50 high performers who had been promoted within the first 12 months of being hired,
  • 50 poor performers who had been fired,
  • 50 CV’s of individuals who were interviewed but not hired due to cultural fit
  • 50 random CV’s of candidates that were not hired

The CV’s were not identified to us in any way. In our first analysis we were able to identify 37 of the 50 high performers. Not bad, but not great. Further analysis showed that the CV’s that we missed contained only names of employers and dates. The narrative was missing which is a key element. The exercise was monitored by an independent psychologist and our technology was scrutinised by the clients own data science team. We won the deal. In our next client, a major law firm, we were able to improve our first pass strike rate to 87%. We won that deal too.

Since our first conversation last summer, Marc and his crew have already extended functionality to include LinkedIn profiles and will soon be adding… yep you got it, social profiles including Facebook and Twitter. They also plan to include video interview transcripts and email.

This has huge implications for the resourcing technology industry. Over the last 15 – 20 years the recruitment software industry has poured £m’s into developing tools that can scrape CV’s and LinkedIn profiles to identify individuals with the most relevant ‘key skills and experience’. Whether it be the ATS providers, specialists like the ill fated “iProfile” or pure plays like Daxtra, these guys try to outdo each other by making their technology ever more sophisticated, identifying key words and phrases and contextualising them against dates and job titles, all in an attempt to convince you that this tech is so smart, it will deliver you the perfect candidate from the volume of crap that resides in your ATS.

Turns out they have got it all wrong. The problem is that no matter how many coding geniuses you throw at this approach, its never gonna work and thats because fundamentally they are measuring the wrong thing. Previous Experience – the very focus of the programming effort – is the least reliable predictor of potential and performance in a role. What makes technology plays like eiTalent so interesting is that they focus on the language that traditional technology works so hard to eliminate from the parsing process – non work or skills related dialogue. Words and phrases that say more about who you are than what you have done. What’s important here is that these words say a lot about your personality or more specifically, give and insight into your values, motivations and likely behaviours – they key predictors of potential.

I firmly believe this kind of analysis will dictate how we assess in the future. It’s no co-incidence that a public form of the work based on the original PLOS research has emerged – see They are going offline temporarily on the 20th of July but watch out for more from them later in the year.

In the meantime, if you are in the resourcing technology arena take a tip from me and start looking at the potential of unstructured social content before its too late. Mark my words, the days of sifting candidates by skills and experience are numbered.

*Disclaimer – Just to be clear I do not accept brown envelopes full of cash, cuddly toys, free massages or any other form of bribe or incentive to write about technology or specific technology companies so my thoughts and views are completely my own ;)

The Individual Advantage: It’s the new black…

Long standing research shows that corporate change initiatives fail 70% of the time. All of the time. Have always done. And are likely to continue to do so unless something fundamental changes. Why is this? My personal view is that change is rarely led by leaders and organisation’s. Real, permanent and impactful change is, instead driven by individuals.

The chart below (Taken from a presentation by an SVP of Kimberly Clark some years ago) shows how technology change and the role of digital has shifted from the “organisational advantage” to the “individual advantage”. In other words, the individual consumer became to driving force in the role of technology and digital strategy. This shift has been significant and has, over the last 10 years, redefined the technology and digital landscape.

Role of Digital

The important thing here is that this change was driven by the individual user – you and me – and not by the technology companies themselves. As connected individuals we shared our frustration with existing technology and collaborated to drive change. The smart organisation’s tapped into this conversation and the digital agenda was shaped accordingly.

Why is this relevant? Well I believe this “individual advantage” is coming to an employee near you sometime very soon. In the same way that we challenged the way organisation’s delivered products and services as customers, I believe we will challenge those orgaisation’s on the way we are led and managed as employees. To illustrate the point I made a few subtle changes to the chart – see below:

As individuals we will drive the corporate agenda, not the leaders. And as with technology, this agenda will become mainstream, not limited to a select few who “get it”. The only material difference between the two charts is the timing of the tipping point. We are not there quite yet with the role of people, but we are very close.

So what are the implications for todays organisation’s and the CXO’s that lead them? Will the FTSE 250 become the epicenter of modern industrial democracy? Will the CXO role be dispersed throughout the organisation?

Well, no. I doubt it. And whilst I don’t expect that within 20 years “They” (The collective leadership noun for all employees that don’t hold CXO status) will be running the corporate asylum, change is definitely coming, and it’s one that you, as a ‘leader’, are unlikely to drive.

The recent outing of Brendan Eich from the CEO role at Mozilla is a real example of “individual advantage” in action, the implications of which are captured nicely in this post from the Harvard blog.

The “individual advantage” will demand a fundamental shift in the way existing stakeholder groups within an organisation communicate with each other and, more importantly, hold each other to account.

Facebook: The new Aol…..

AOL-main1Sadly, I’m old enough to remember the dawn of the Internet. If you are too, then you will remember the rigmarole involved in actually getting online. IF, and it was a big if, you could afford a computer at home – mine cost me £3000! – getting online involved completing a paper card form (yep yep, with a pen) and posting it off, in the hope that within a few days you would receive a CD rom from AOL or Compuserve, the other emerging player at the time.

But that was just the start. Before you could actually get online you had to load the disk, then the software and register. Oh, and don’t forget that pesky cable connection, via a modem, into your phone socket. Once you were over that lot, you were then ‘free’ to roam the best of what the Internet had to offer. Which wasn’t actually much, but it was new and exciting so people like me didn’t care. At its peak, AOL alone had over 30 million ‘subscribers’ – which was considered a huge number back then.

Fast forward to the social era. Connecting to the internet is now something we do unconsciously, with the exception of finding a ‘wireless’ signal when we are out and about. Connecting to the internet is no longer ‘theatre’. It’s ubiquitous. We take it for granted. The Internet Service Provider – or ISP as they were known – is no longer the purveyor of connectedness. As a result, AOL’s market dominance has collapsed, falling to just under 3m today. It ceases to occupy the slot that it once did.

In today’s world, ‘social updating’ is the new ‘connecting to the internet’. And the gatekeepers are entities like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But for how long? There are many online debates about Facebook et al being so big and so pervasive in market reach, that it is impossible to think that they might slip from our consciousness. But history might suggest otherwise.

A little over 2 years ago @johnsumser the HR technology analyst said the following in a 2012 Forecast post on HR Examiner:

“We are in the Compuserve–Prodigy–AOL stage of social media evolution. It’s after Netscape and before Google in equivalent Internet time.”

And he was right. 2 years on and whilst it’s still hard to imagine any of the majors falling from grace, what is clear to me is that “facebooking’ and ‘tweeting’ will ultimately become just ‘updating’ on our mobile devices. Brandnames will increasingly become meaningless much as they did for ISP’s. Take a quick browse through and the tech press and you will quickly find articles raising concerns about the ‘sluggish’ user adoption numbers and user fatigue. Latest reports seem to suggest Facebook is even beginning to behave like AOL and start to create a ‘walled garden’ around social activity – see this post from Techeye.

That doesn’t mean I don’t recognise things are very different now. Facebook alone is so intricately intertwined with our personal and work lives on a scale that AOL couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams. This ‘dependency’ means that they may continue to be our ‘operating system’ long after the brand fades. But todays 1bn super connected and integrated social consumers are yesterdays 30 million connected to the internet. Tomorrows 7bn whatever’s (insert incredible, mindblowing “never thought it would be possible” statement here.) will simply be todays 1bn. It’s all relative you see.

The scale of change in the online landscape between 2000 and 2010 was enormous. Incredible even. Do we really expect it to be any less significant over the next decade? I think not…

Gamification: It’s not a game…

ramificationMan at back: “Yes, id like to take issue with what that guy sitting at the front said”.

For reference purposes, I was the man at the front and this is the reaction I get more often than it should when you get me started on ‘Gamification’ in HR and Resourcing.

Gamification, is fast becoming the latest “must have” despite the fact that in my experience, many who want it have little idea what it really is, how they should use the principles and perhaps most importantly the implications of doing so.

So what is this ‘gamification’ we speak of, and why is it so important to get it right? Here’s my definition for gamification:

“The use of game mechanics or principles to influence behaviour.”

There you go, that’s it really. Despite what many may tell you, it’s not that complicated or even new. As unwitting consumers, organisations have been using “gamified” processes and services for years, nay decades. Loyalty cards and schemes, service sign up rewards and bonuses, recommend a friend – these are all examples of where game mechanics have successfully been built into our daily routine as a consmer. If you have kids at Scouts or Guides like me, then they are participating on one of the oldest gamified processes of the post Victorian era.

Yet when we apply the same principles to the internal organisation – for employees or job applicants – which was the subject of the event mentioned above – we often make a pigs ear of it. In my experience this is both because we do not understand it fully (we rush head long into the latest fad) and we lack the skills to make it work.

Back to the event in question. The speaker had spent 15 minutes outlining a game they had proposed to build for a client that would measure the behaviour, values and motivations of job applicants. Ultimately this was an assessment, but with game mechanics built in to make it appear like a game. This included problem solving mechanics and so on which, again, are absolutely fine. So far so good.

The glaring issue was the fact that they were proposing to build in social sharing and competitive leader board mechanics into the game. The implication here was that as a candidate, you could do this game more than once, try and improve your score and openly compete with others in doing so. Eerr.. Stop right there!!

As a specialist in assessing behaviour and predicting performance, this is a no no. When assessing an individuals’ personality, intellect or behaviour, the assessments for these elements should only be done once, and only once.

If you were assessing a candidate for a job, or an internal employee for development purposes would you allow them to take a personality test multiple times until they are happy with the outcome? Would you interview them over and over again until they displayed the right behaviours? Would you allow them to take intellect assessments over and over to get the highest score possible? No, of course you wouldn’t. So why all of a sudden are we proposing to do this in online assessments?

Don’t get me wrong, game mechanics have a huge role to play in enhancing an organisations people strategy and processes. Using these kind of mechanics – social sharing of content, endorsing positive behaviours, reward mechanisms, Leader boards, problem solving and so on – can dramatically increase the success of behaviour change programs or the levels of employee engagement around their development. There is also a place for them in resourcing too, but it has to be in the right place.

If you are thinking about the whole area of game mechanics and gamification, or one of your colleagues/bosses/team is starting to bang on about it then here’s a few important points for you to consider:

Look beyond the hype and do some proper research

Don’t get caught up in the madness. Do some proper research and start by looking into the term “game mechanics” rather than ‘gamification’. That way you are more likely to get to the factual information and science behind game principles than lots of articles talking nonsense.

Avoid inappropriate use

To my point above. Whilst there may be an argument for building in some social sharing mechanics particularly if you want to incorporate the assessment as part of an attraction strategy, do not under any circumstances let your strategy be led by “it will be engaging and cool and funky”. Assessing an individuals potential is not a game and should not be treated as such.

Don’t try and dress up a turd

It is quite incredible how much an organisation is willing to invest in a “game” when the rest of their candidate facing career presence – their online career site and job pages, their application process – is frankly a mess. Don’t believe me? Ask your candidates! Fix the basics. Don’t drop the finest chocolate brownie onto a plate of turds and assume that will make eating the whole thing more palatable. They are not that stupid.


Building a relatively simple interactive animation or multimedia type “game” or simulation will cost you tens of thousands of pounds. To build a more sophisticated assessment, with some proper science built in will cost you 6 figures easy. In many cases it is far better to build in some simple game mechanics along the whole of the applicant journey to make the overall experience a better one than spend your entire budget on one specific element. Not only can this vastly improve your throughput rate (It works, I can prove it) but it can save you a ton of cash too.

Re think your attraction strategy

In my experience, a poorly executed attraction strategy is the root cause of a lot of the problems you may be trying to address through the obsession with Gamification. Our research shows that success depends on finding the right people with the right behaviours, values, motivations and intellect for your company and role. Ask yourself how well the WHOLE of your resourcing process does this, especially the earliest stages

Facebook: Your personality shines through…

ExtraversionFollowing my recent rant about HR’s ignorance around the power of the social, and unstructured content – “all that crap on Facebook and twitter” to the as yet uninitiated – I figured it would be useful to share some specific examples. So, over the next few posts I’m going to feature three examples that are, in my opinion, game changing stuff for HR and the associated industries.

First up, a subject close to my heart – assessment. I spend most of my waking moments immersed in the field of human behaviour, researching and designing new ways of predicting personality, behaviour and ultimately performance. The stock trade in this field are personality questionnaires, used in large numbers at many stages of the employee lifecycle from resourcing through to development.

These assessments are big business and are sold and used in huge numbers globally. The acquisition of SHL by CEB just over a year ago, signals how commercially important these solutions are.

More recently, alternatives to the stock questionnaire are emerging, including the use of images and or gameplay – examples include VisualDNA who use visuals instead of straight questionnaires and The Knack who claim to be able to predict high performers simply through observation of gameplay.

However, one of the most compelling and interesting approaches was brought to life this year, but not by a traditional vendor or new market entrant/start up but instead as part of the Wold WellBeing Project – an initiative that is pioneering techniques for measuring psychological and medical wellbeing using language in social media.  A summary of the work can be found here, and the detailed research article appears on the Public Library of Science (PLOS) One website. In short, this fascinating initiative is the largest ever study of Language and personality. Using 700 million words, phrases and topic instances taken from 75,000 Facebook volunteers, they undertook to see if they could correlate and predict personality type from an analysis of their social profiles, and they found that they could:

“The “open-vocabulary approach” of analysing all words was shown to be equally predictive (and in some cases more so) than traditional methods used by psychologists, such as self-reported surveys and questionnaires”

For anyone working in HR or the assessment industry, this is BIG news, or should be. Here we have potentially a new and equally predictive way (according to this latest research) of providing insight into personality and behaviour, without asking a single question. Perhaps more interestingly, one that potentially sits outside of the current psychology governance and compliance infrastructure – the BPS, the licensing test providers and the ‘practitioners’.

The fact that your Facebook drivel can predict your personality will be a revelation to many and I suspect will be met with scoffs of disbelief, especially from some of the established players, but this would be very short sighted, in my opinion, and if they are not already neck deep in this research then they should absolutely be.

Think about it. It isn’t so long ago that the de-facto way of assessing and predicting your personality was Astrology (It still is for some!). Then along came science and the field of psychology, which put some well needed rigour into the process, leaving Astrology behind as the psychometric equivalent of a quack cure.

Given the nature of this research, is it really that hard to imagine, in years to come, a bunch of psychologists sitting in a bar somewhere (Ok, so a quiet bar I grant you ;)) and saying:

“Remember when we used to measure personality using those god awful questionnaires? Hahahahahaha!”

I think not….

Ignorance: HR’s achilles heel…

ignoranceNow that I’m back in Blighty after attending both the HR Technology Conference in the US, and the HR Tech Europe Conference in Europe  I’m just reflecting on what I saw.

I found both buzzing experiences although here were a few stark differences between the two. Amsterdam was a sea of men in suits, a stock photographers dream for those ‘business as usual” shots, and oddly at ease against the backdrop of the city itself, a place where gravity, as Dan Pink put it, “is one of the few laws that are actually enforced here”.

Las Vegas, by contrast had given away largely to the denim/chino look. Much more relaxed on the surface, but perhaps more conservative underneath? I wasn’t sure. The expo’s for both were dominated by the big guns as you would expect, but it was also good to see a good crop of small new players too.

One thing that stood out for me though was the significant amount of air time that is still being devoted to raising awareness of social and its associated benefits for the organisation, specifically the internal benefits of ‘socialising the business’. Unfortunately, A good number of the examples used felt dated, and I’m surprised, and a little disappointed, that speakers are still getting “ooohs” and “aahhs” from trotting out the fact that Facebook users outnumber the Klingon population. Or the “this company didn’t treat me well so I’m making a Youtube video about it” examples in an effort to show just how influential we annoying little people can be when we have a voice.

Despite ‘social’ being consciously pervasive in our personal lives the benefits of adopting similar principles and strategies internally remain a mystery to many in the people domain – HR practitioners, business leaders and vendors alike.

To these people, the social web is still either a marketing platform or a place where ‘those people do twitting or whatever they call it”. In other words – “not for me.” And that’s a big problem.

Consider the changes in the technology landscape since you became active online, which for many reading this post will have been around the late 90’s/millennium. Some before. Consider then what it might look in say another 13 years, or sooner. It is 2013 for Gods sake. Facebook is nearly 10, Twitter is nearly 7. This social, transparent layer has huge implications, not least for organisations. So why are vast swathes of the HR populous still largely ignorant of the impact of this shift, let alone the value it can bring?

Someone tweeted yesterday that its not the job of HR to convince the leadership of the value of embracing social, but to demonstrate the implications of not doing so. Well from where I was sitting, particularly in the European audience, HR have two hopes of achieving this, and one of them is Bob.

Get with the program HR. Ignorance is no longer acceptable. In fact, in my view, it’s bordering on incompetence.

ATS: Awful Talent System…

Crappy SoftwareIn the closing session of the HR Technology Conference and Expo in Vegas, Jason Averbook told a nice little story that illustrated the difference between perception and reality nicely. He was talking about his time at Peoplesoft, and how, at a certain point in time, Peoplesoft had made their way into the much-coveted top right hand box of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise HCM solutions. In Gartner terminology, this classifies them as a ‘Leader’.

In case you are wondering, the definition of Leader in Gartner language is this:

Leaders provide mature offerings that meet market demand. They have also demonstrated the vision necessary to sustain their market position as requirements evolve.


Leaders typically possess a large, satisfied customer base (relative to the size of the market) and enjoy high visibility within the market. 

So, whilst it’s not a customer satisfaction measure in any real form, the implication is that they have a large number of customers who are happy with the product. All very dandy then? Eer.. no.

Why? Well, because, as Jason pointed out, when he talked to his customer support team, they had a very different message – the customers didn’t like the solution! A magic quadrant leader who’s customer base thought the product lacked good UX and functionality? Shurley shome mishtake!

Sadly not. And at that very moment thoughts of the average enterprise ATS entered my head. Having spent a long time in this industry, on both sides of the fence, I can say that a large proportion of ATS customers are far from happy with their solutions.

“Our candidate experience is a dogs breakfast due to the ATS integration.”

“Our application drop off rates are way too high”

“Candidates get lost in the ‘black hole’ that is our ATS”

I could go on. These are just a few of the comments I’ve heard, even in recent times. It seems that, when you get to a certain size, you start to believe your own marketing bullshit more than the feedback your customers are giving you.  But times are a changing. The strong sense that came to me from the buzz around HRTech was the wider realisation that consumers (aka employees) are driving technology development, not the CTO. Or as Jason put it:

“consumers today have better technology than businesses do for the first time ever”

As consumers we do more with less, we like 10 killer features not 1000 useless ones, we like cool UX, not shitty forms and we like it to work. In fact we almost like to feel that the software isn’t there.

Jason ventured that HR tech is at least 5 years behind the rest of the business technology market and he is probably right, although I’d say more. The challenge is you couldn’t run a retail business without a shit hot supply chain and CRM solution supporting it whereas you can still run the very same business with crappy HCM solutions. In the case of your woeful ATS, no one in the executive suite really gives a toss about the fact that talent is leaking out of your talent supply chain simply because your ATS sucks. Except the talent of course. And the recruiters.

Only time will tell if the existing crop of ATS vendors in particular are nimble enough to change their approach. After visiting HRTech, the jury is still out for me.