Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Job Matching Algorithms Don't Work Well

There's an article in today's Wall Street Journal called Seeking Software Fix for Job-Search Game. The article talks about the race to develop technology that matches people to jobs. This is also my first time being interviewed by a major news publication!

I like the idea of a creating a job matching algorithm. How cool would it be to have a computer automagically find you your next job?! That'd be frikkin' sweet! There's only one problem... job matching algorithms are fatally flawed.

Here's a few reasons:

  • Good algorithm, crappy data.

    The job ads written by most companies are crap. These ads are too long and don't clearly state what the company really needs. The resumes most candidates write are also crap. I look at a lot of resumes, and most of them make my eyes bleed. No algorithm can address the fact that the data being analyzed is crap.

  • Algorithms are obsolete.

    I used to get a lot of irrelevant job applications. I honestly thought job seekers don't read job ads, but it turns out they actually do. So I got better at writing job ads and drastically reduced the number of people who weren't a fit. To help sort the people who do apply, I simply ask them a few targeted questions. "I need X. Yes or no -- Can you do X?" It turns out that people generally answer truthfully when given a chance to do so.

  • Great algorithms might be unintentionally racist.

    I met a guy a couple years ago who had built a job matching algorithm. This guy was a pretty hardcore technologist and science-y type. He said he'd raised millions of dollars to develop this algorithm, but it died for a very simple reason -- it supposedly worked so well it could tell you whether a person of a particular racial background was more or less likely to get the job. As soon as race entered the picture, he couldn't sell it. No HR department in the world wants to get anywhere near something that could accurately quantify or even imply that they make racially-based hiring decisions.

Until companies, recruiters, and job seekers are able to effectively communicate about what it takes to do a job well, I fear we're all going to be stuck wasting each other's time trying on job applications that were never really going to go anywhere.

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