Big data hiring trends

Large companies are using metrics, not gut instinct, in hiring employees. Pastor search committees, take note.

By John Chandler

Xerox Services operates 150 call centers with over 45,000 employees. In a recent article on big data by Don Peck, “They’re Watching You at Work,” Teri Morse, Xerox’s vice president for recruiting, describes the company’s change in hiring philosophy. Studies show that this big data input has led to a vast improvement in their ability to recruit and retain productive workers.

There is a new algorithm behind evaluating prospective Xerox employees. Of course there are some standard baselines that measure minimum standards of intelligence and personal stability. But beyond that, it turns out that factors like “previous experience in the field” don’t matter nearly as much as purported in assessing whom to hire. What separates a red (poor) or yellow (middling) candidate from a go-get-’em green candidate? Their workforce science department has analyzed a data set of 347,000 employee assessments and concluded that performance outcomes correlate to success in large part on:

• Effective responses to case study scenarios that might occur on the job.
• Exhibiting a creative but not overly inquisitive personality.
• Participating in at least one but not more than four social networks.
• Ideal distance between home and work (strongly associated with employee engagement and retention).

In certain sectors, other attributes also count. Retail sales workers are tested for decisiveness, spatial orientation, and persuasiveness. Customer-service personnel at call centers need to have talent for rapport-building.

Don’t buy it? When Xerox began favoring data-driven hiring analytics, they not only saw a 20 to 30 percent drop in attrition. They also learned how to fast-track the right workers for promotion and to build high-performing teams with good relational chemistry.

The moral of the story is that if you are looking to hire someone, you would be wise not simply to trust your own gut and go with the candidate you “liked” or who “interviewed well.” It turns out that we are driven by all sorts of hiring bias and prefer candidates with a personality “similar to mine” (amazing!). Decide instead on the competencies you are looking for in a potential hire — and then test candidates with case studies that measure their abilities in problem-solving, creativity and networking.

If Xerox can pay this much attention to hiring the right person for a call center, I’m hoping pastor search committees will be watching and learning.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.