From December, 2015

Are EEGs the Future of Hiring?

Yes, you read that correctly.  EEGs, as in electroencephalogram, a device full of small disks and electrodes that doctors hook to one’s head to monitor the electrical activity of a patient’s brain, could one day be used in the hiring process.

Several companies have developed what are described as “consumer-friendly EEG headsets” which look similar to a wireless headset that a gamer might wear.  An employee would conceivably arrive at a EEG headsetcompany, don the headset with the help of a technician, and begin a series of tasks while the computer records data.  The data is then uploaded and interpreted into a report by proprietary software.  The report can then provide customized suggestions to the employee about how they can achieve greater productivity and engagement.  These suggestions are based on the employee’s high or low levels of activity while performing certain tasks.  Sounds pretty complicated doesn’t it, and I will admit I don’t fully understand how EEGs work in general, but in short the more active your brain is, the more engaged you are.

EEGs can also measure different skills by monitoring the networks of the brain responsible for those skills.  The skills determined can be broad, such as social rapport building, to detailed, such as whether an individual prefers to communicate via email or by talking.  The detail depends on how many biosensors a headset offers.

I was impressed to find out this technology is pretty affordable.  The headset above costs only $79.99 and moves upward from there depending on how many apps are bundled with it.  When you examine how video interviewing has evolved in price from expensive multi-conference units costing thousands to the now more affordable vendor based services that enable you to interview for a few bucks a candidate, one could logically deduce that the price of these headsets will continue to drop as adoption increases while simultaneously the performance of the apps improve.

Are these devices the future of hiring though?  One of the earlier impediments to the adoption of video interviewing was the perceived potential for discrimination. I’m curious how the brain wave activities of varying ethnicities, ages and genders may differ from one another and if one group produces what might be labeled a “preferred” brain wave pattern.  Additionally as was the concern with video interviewing, the candidate’s race, gender, ethnicity, etc. will have to be determined prior to the face to face interview.  The technology, while affordable enough for companies to repeatedly use, is still too expensive to require a job candidate or employee to purchase themselves.  Thus the employee or candidate would have to be outfitted by an employee with the company’s hardware.  Obviously their age, gender ethnicity will be revealed at this stage.

As a former search consultant who has used behavioral assessments and video interviewing in the hiring process, and has at times received push back from job candidates on such measures, I wonder how employers will be able to hook such devices up to candidates without resistance?  Employees might be less inclined to resist than job candidates but HR will need to ensure they maintain the privacy of the employee’s data and educate the employee fully on what data will be gleaned from these devices.

I am not thoroughly educated on the extent of what brain wave patterns reveal, but if they can determine if a candidate’s preferred method of communication might they not also determine if a candidate is more pre-disposed to alcoholism, rage or sociopathy? Are we not opening up a whole new world where not only our bodies are discriminated against but our minds too?

Machines Aren’t Better Than Humans At Picking Employees

I am unable to say this as emphatically as I once may have because new research suggests otherwise, but I still assert this is true.  Two weeks ago I wrote a post about how the practice of blind interviews was misguided and basically contended that the opinions of hiring managers gained from in-person interviews were necessary to ensure cultural fit and employee retention.  In contrast, a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals that computers do a better job at hiring employees and could further validate the idea that the hiring process does not need the hands on evaluation of a hiring manager.

The researchers looked at fifteen companies and more than 300,000 hires in low-skill service sector jobs.  Tenures were compared of employees who had been hired by a human with those who had completed a job test and were picked by an algorithm.  The test evaluated candidates for technical skills, cognitive skills, personality and job fit.  The results showed that candidates picked by the algorithm remained longer with the company and were no less productive than those chosen by recruiters.

Based on this research one article concludedtoy-930612_640 with its title: “Machines Are Better Than Humans at Hiring The Best Employees.”  Is the case open and shut though?  Now the computer’s algorithm was solid.  Its top picks, labeled as green, stayed 12 days longer than those it labeled as yellow and yellows stayed 17 days longer than the reds.  And yes, when a recruiter, based on their gut, deviated from the algorithm’s suggested green pick and hired a yellow, the yellow pick left earlier than the green picks.  Given all of this I still can’t affirm that a human is worse or unnecessary in the hiring process.  The employees evaluated in this study filled lower level jobs such as you would find in a call center and the average tenure of these employees was only three months.  We cannot conclude that machines are better based on a comparison between two processes hiring entry level employees.  Is the human hiring process for a minimum wage earner who likely won’t work more than ninety days equally as sophisticated as the hiring process for someone making $80K a year?  To claim machines are better, the same comparison must be made of the hiring processes at different salary levels.

I’m also curious to know how many green candidates dropped out of the hiring process rather than submit to a rigorous evaluation that tested their skills, personality, etc. for a low paying job.  Based on their gut, how many green candidates did recruiters successfully identify and in less time?  With emerging technologies such as video interviewing, recruiters can see/hear candidates in minutes and make informed hiring decisions.  How do both hiring processes compare in terms of time spent placing the employee and is this speed in filling the position taken into account as a positive?

What becomes of diversity in a computer based hiring process?  Presumably age, ethnicity and gender data is not crunched by the computer.  While this may sound like a measure designed to eliminate discrimination a blind process does not necessarily promote diversity.  How many minorities might be at a skills or cultural disadvantage because their socio economic status did not provide them with the same educational and social resources their white peers were afforded?  Would these individuals possibly be eliminated by a computer but hired by a human?

Lastly, though the research suggests the computer with its battery of tests is better than a human, let us not forget who designed the computer and the battery of tests in the first place.  Ultimately humans created and programmed a better hiring process, at least at the lower levels, so in that respect we should not yet consider ourselves obsolete.