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23 May 2014

Big data got me thinking

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by Amanda Fone

I have worked in recruitment and search for three decades and know a thing or two about how companies make their hiring decisions. Competency based interviewing, rigorous panel interviews, task based presentations, chemistry meetings, personality profiling all help. But there is no Holy Grail for getting the right person into the right job.

Matching skills and experience to the needs of a role is over simplifying the much, more subtle matter of matching the behaviours and values of an individual to an organisation. Get the latter right and, pretty much every time, the partnership will work and employer and employee will work together for many years. Indeed, if the ‘fit ‘ is right most organisations will find a way of morphing their needs to suit an individual’s expertise and experience. But get the ‘fit’ wrong and, however aligned the skills of the individual to the role are, the relationship won’t work in the long term.

When I read Tim Adams’ piece in The Guardian ( ) on the 10th May about big data being an answer to ‘finding employees who will fit in and not quit’ it got me thinking.

Adams wrote about Alistair Shepherd, an engineering graduate, whose company Saberr – Optimise Your Workforce – is based just off London’s Silicon Roundabout. Shepherd’s ambition is to ‘feed the growing appetite to apply quantitative rigour to some of the more intangible aspects of human potential’. He is attempting to apply big data to human performance in an effort to optimise productivity. His research started by looking at the online dating industry and the questionnaires that people answer in their search to find the ideal partner.

This is where my ears pricked up. Friends of mine met through a sophisticated version of a dating agency. Before meeting they both answered questions ranging from ‘what books do you read?’ to ‘what is your idea of a great day out?’ and ‘how important is your work to you and why?’ This might seem a rather ruthless way to decide who to meet for dinner but the process of selecting a shortlist must feel easier if you know you are going to meet someone with similar behaviours and values.

As Shepherd says, it is a measurable resonance of shared core values, rather than the grouping of any particular personality types, that is the key driver of the most creative partnerships and teams. He is at the beginning of his commercial experiment and is persuading companies to let him identify their high performers and engineer their most successful teams based on his application of that quantitative rigour.

I want to understand exactly how our consultants at f1 get it right so often for our clients. I already know that we are rigorous with face to face interviewing and getting to know our candidates. We meet all our clients at their offices often three or four times a year. We really get to know their businesses. We are most successful when we meet a hiring manager face to face. I know that we focus on the ‘value and behaviours’ of both client and candidate. We always match beyond skills and competencies for any role. Our candidates tell me this is why they enjoy working with us. We look beyond the job spec and our clients don’t mind when we push back about a particular candidate on a shortlist and tell them, ‘meet this person because they are aligned to your company’s values and culture. They will do well with you.’

If we can find a way to help our clients fast-track their selection process and help our candidates identify companies where they are likely to do better and have longer careers this can only be a good thing. For 15 years industry cynics have been telling me that the need for third party recruitment consultancy help in sourcing talent is dying. Far from it. Hiring great talent is getting more and more difficult despite LinkedIn. Knowing who has the appetite to move for the right opportunity is like having prior knowledge of how a stock market is going to perform. The insight and knowledge is absolute gold dust, and timing is everything.

I am sure that the future will hold a data-driven analytics piece that will help direct individuals and organisations to each other more efficiently. The challenge for the recruitment expert is to remain relevant to the introduction process. Online dating questionnaires only get a relationship out of the starting blocks, after all.