June 5, 2015


The Rise of Algorithmic HR : Why companies are turning to data-driven AI for hiring (Stowe Boyd, 6/05/15)

A group of researchers -- Nathan R. Kuncel, Deniz S. Ones, and David M. Klieger -- analyzed 17 studies of job applicant evaluations and found that a simple algorithm outperforms human decision-making by at least 25%. Why does this seem counterintuitive? Shouldn't human experience and understanding of company culture have a higher predictive power?

It turns out that human beings are good at defining what a job is, and also good at getting information from candidates to help evaluate them. But people are simply bad at synthesizing that information, and making the right determination. Why? The researchers explain:

The problem is that people are easily distracted by things that might be only marginally relevant, and they use information inconsistently. They can be thrown off course by such inconsequential bits of data as applicants' compliments or remarks on arbitrary topics -- thus inadvertently undoing a lot of the work that went into establishing parameters for the job and collecting applicants' data. So they'd be better off leaving selection to the machines.

Needless to say, there would be strong resistance to this idea. Surveys suggest that when assessing individuals, 85% to 97% of professionals rely to some degree on intuition or a mental synthesis of information. Many managers clearly believe they can make the best decision by pondering an applicant's folder and looking into his or her eyes -- no algorithm, they would argue, can substitute for a veteran's accumulated knowledge. If companies did impose a numbers-only hiring policy, people would almost certainly find ways to circumvent it.

Other research has shown that human cognitive biases get in the way, too. People tend to lend more weight to experiences and background that they share with candidates, like attending the same schools, speaking the same dialect, or having a common religion.

As a result, more companies are leaving decisions about hiring to algorithms.

Posted by at June 5, 2015 7:19 PM

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