The Future of Recruiting: Tools Predicting the Candidate's Personality and Cultural Fit

May 5, 2015

The challenge of recruiting has always been to find candidates who have 1) the right technical skills to do the job and 2) a personality that fits well with the hiring company's corporate culture.

According to a recent survey from the market research firm Instructure, 85% of managers want candidates who have the right attitude (i.e., cultural fit) while only 40% of those managers viewed technical or trade skills as being equally important.

Unfortunately, the primary tool that recruiters have to assess a candidate's personality—the job interview—is not only expensive and time consuming but (as we shall see) not particularly good at predicting a candidate's actual job performance.

In the future, however, recruiters will have automated tools that can accurately identify personality traits and cultural fit. This will fundamentally change the entire recruiting process.

The situation today

First, some background. Before computers came along, recruiters physically leafed through resumes and job applications to find an appropriate candidate, who was then called in for a personal interview.

If, during that interview, the candidate continued to exhibit the skills identified in the resume and also "seemed right" for the job (i.e., fit the culture), that candidate would be put on the short list.

Today, few if any recruiters ever touch paper resumes or job applications. Instead, they search through online resumes, profiles and job applications to find candidates who have the appropriate skills.

However, while computers have vastly increased the ability to find skilled candidates, they've not been useful for filtering out candidates whose personality or character makes them unlikely to succeed in a particular job.

This is not for lack of trying. Recruiters frequently use search technology to find candidates who self-identify as having the right personality. However, unlike technical skills, which are objectively reflected in a candidate’s job experience and educational background, personality traits are subjective.

Most candidates, for example, probably consider themselves "enthusiastic" when in reality they're blasé. Even candidates who have the self-awareness to realize they're not enthusiastic probably aren't stupid enough to say so on a resume.

That leaves recruiters with only the job interview as a way to assess cultural fit. While some companies use behavior assessments (like the Predictive Index) to measure non-technical and intrapersonal skills, even proponents admit that such assessments are not definitive and must be accompanied by a traditional interview process.

New research on identifying candidates' personalities

According to a recent article in the New York Times, a group of researchers have been able to predict people's "life outcomes" and other aspects of their personality based solely upon their online behaviors.

The researchers asked a group of subjects to each assess his or her own personality and had somebody who knew the subject, like a colleague or coworker, provide a similar assessment.

The researchers used each subject's Facebook "Likes" to build a computer model of the subject's personality. The researchers then compared all three assessments (self, colleague and Facebook) to see which was best at predicting 13 "life outcomes," such as health, political leanings, satisfaction with life and so forth.

The computer model turned out to be better at predicting 12 out of 13 outcomes than either the self-assessment or the colleague's assessment. The computer model was also able to accurately discern whether the subject used alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

Since recruiting still depends largely upon face-to-face interviews to determine personality and culture fit, the implications of this study are enormous for recruiters. If a computer model can predict a candidate's personality even better than a candidate's own colleagues, there's no question that, given enough of the right data, a computer model would outperform ad-hoc personality assessments made during the interview process.

The not-too-distant future

If something as basic as Facebook "Likes" can reveal an individual's personality and predict the results of those personality traits, imagine how much more accurate that assessment would be if it drew on a person's entire interaction with the Web.

Everybody in business (and indeed everywhere else) leaves digital footprints of social media activity, web searches, purchases, emails, calls, locations where calls were made and so forth.

This information is often called "big data" because it encompasses and combines multiple databases.  As "big data" become more integrated into the recruiting process, it will result in computer models that can:

  1. Predict whether a candidate is willing to consider a position with the recruiter's firm, thereby justifying personal attention from the recruiter.
  2. Screen out candidates whose personalities won't mesh with the culture, so that the recruiter and hiring managers need not spend time interviewing them.
  3. Identify candidates who, although qualified in every other way, might someday become a security risk or develop substance abuse problems.

What this means for recruiting

Such computer models would obviously make recruiting more effective and fact-driven.  However, it might have unintended negative consequences.

For example, some people might be rendered effectively unemployable not because they've done anything wrong but simply because the computer model thinks they might someday. There's something, well, un-American about treating an innocent person as if he or she were already guilty.

Another danger is that, once its known that Web usage is determining who's hirable, some people will "game the system" with bots that emulate "hirable" behavior while the people themselves access the Web anonymously. As a result, recruiters might end up hiring people who have deceptively created false personas.

Regardless of the dangers, these new tools will soon be available and will fundamentally change how companies recruit. Job interviews will become less common and more substantive. Job offers will be less frequently made to candidates who present themselves well but who turn out to unproductive after being hired.

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