Will you fit company culture? Algorithms can now tell

Authored by Matt Hommel

Organizations are increasingly asking algorithms to assess whether a person will be a good ‘cultural fit’ at the firm. How can a computer predict that?

Well… let’s find out

Have you hired the wrong person & things really just didn’t go well?

I mean their resume’ looked great, they had all the skills & talent in the world . . . BUT for some reason things just didn’t really work out. They just didn’t seem to fit in with the company culture.

If  you’ve experienced this before… you aren’t the only one. In fact,  many companies  now want to know whether candidates will suit their culture and ways of working. With this in mind , now they are increasingly asking algorithms to take on this task for them

Large businesses have been trying to partially automate the hiring process for years. Things like CV-scanning systems & computerized testing that can sometimes filter out candidates with minimal human oversight has become increasingly more powerful.

With advancements in technology, and the war for talent not getting any easier, organizations are increasingly asking algorithms to assess whether a person will be a good “cultural fit” for their business. This doesn’t entirely mean people will get on socially with their colleagues; rather, it means their way of working will suit the organization at large.

One London-based start-up & consultancy, ThriveMap, who offers pre-hire assessments of prospective candidates, uses interactive questionnaires that “simulate” a day in the life of a new employee. According to BBC,  ThriveMap’s clients usually consist of very large companies, whereas a single job opportunity can attract hundreds, even thousands of applications. At ThriveMap, the queries and scenarios used are specially designed for each client and are intended to probe how the job candidate would approach their work in a specific role. Candidates who score ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ on ThriveMap’s assessment are three times less likely to leave the job in the first 90 days.

In one instance, an applicant might have to get up early to start a shift on time or deal with a higher workload when the weather is bad. The test asks how they would feel about that and how would they go about it.

This survey might also ask detailed questions about how the candidate would attempt to solve a problem (should something unexpected happen). Questions like these specifically are about competency, however they also uncover professional attitudes as well. Candidates could absolutely be asked this during a face-to-face interviews, but the big idea is to bring them up within simulations so that candidates can be screened at an earlier stage of the job application process.

This becomes very critical when looking at thousands of job applications. Considered, scheduling a 30-minute interview with someone who appears clearly not the right fit within the first 2-minutes hurts productivity tremendously. A simple fix like this can result in hours of saved time, especially when going through active recruiting campaigns.

Social media search

A lot of times, the challenge in finding the right candidate for a role is getting the ideal candidates to apply in the first place. Data analytics is helping source prospective employees based on cultural fit in this way.

Telus International, a subsidiary of Canadian telecommunications firm Telus, hired more than 25,000 people in 2019, with 30% sourced from social media, including Facebook and Instagram. Telus International’s employees provided phone support to the customers of third-party clients. For example, a company that makes video games might pay for Telus’s staff to help gamers who are having trouble completing a new game.

For this role specifically, Telus wants employees who have prior gaming experience themselves. To do this, the company utilizes an automated system to flag up social media profiles that indicate a person has some type of connection to gaming. This report could be based on the accounts they follow or the links they post. If the prospective candidate’s social media account is open, they can be contacted directly; if their account is private, Telus might end up sending them a private message to ask if they’d like to discuss work opportunities.

I know from past experience, this has happened to me on Instagram, Twitter, and well… LinkedIn for obvious reasons (major recruiting platform). Usually the message defaults to the main inbox, and the candidate will then have to hit “accept” and move the message into their private inbox. If someone decides to go ahead and apply for the job, they’ll be asked to complete a couple of proficiency tests. All of this is organized automatically. If they score well, the system should pass their details on to a human recruiter who can then offer them an interview.

Mindset

Scouring social media for candidates who have a mindset that will suit a particular employer has also become popular with tech companies. For instance, some companies utilize algorithms to hunt down profiles on the code-sharing website GitHub and then offer promising individuals the chance to apply for a specific role.

Again, this isn’t just about finding people with the appropriate qualifications or skills – it’s also about the way they approach their work as well. For instance, is this someone who is an influencer or thought leader on a particular topic? or is it someone who is clearly interested in keeping up to date with new technologies? An automated system could work through this by assessing how influencing an account is among its followers – or how regularly it mentions a diverse range of programming topics.

Tracking a team-player

However, relying on this system isn’t a 100% perfect strategy for your recruiting efforts. According to Tom Calvard at the University of Edinburgh Business School using data to find candidates who will be a good culture fit may certainly have advantages, but there are also pitfalls as well. Considered, if companies set criteria too rigid for these systems, they could potentially end up hiring the same kind of person again and again, turning the working environment into a monoculture. Moreover, many times differences are an advantage and something that can bring a powerful source of skills & innovation to the table.

According to Calvard:

“Over time, you hire in your own image or an idealized image and everybody becomes too similar”

With this in mind, applicants might even get a sense that this is the case before or during the hiring process, which could leave them doubting that the job is right for them because the “ideal candidate” seems so specific, and well, monocultural.

According to Sameer Srivastava from University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business; If organization’s begin emphasizing the importance of “cultural fit” too rigidly, there is indeed a danger that job candidates and existing employees will end up trying to conform at all costs. Srivastava, and his colleagues have studied how to detect signs of cultural affinity in the text that employees write to one another in email messages and Slack chats. Srivastava also notes that “When you’re writing just to colleagues, what happens is that elements of your cognition & personality style, subconsciously come out in the ways that you write and communicate”. By using  this text analysis, Srivastava and his colleagues are able to tell how well-fitted an employee is based on how they use personal pronouns in email messages too.  Take personal pronouns, for instance – do they signal team awareness by referring to work that “we” are doing – or do they rely on “I” and “me” a lot? This text analysis method is referred to as Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC).

By assessing language in this way, we can tell whether someone fits in naturally within a group – but also whether they adapt well over time when the group’s dynamics change. Though we often resist change, change is often a very necessary thing to remain successful, especially as the market changes, and even newer technologies roll out.

As legendary coach, John Wooden said “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be”

Srivastava’s colleague, Matthew Corritore states in a In a recent paper he co-authored, how employers might be at their most competitive when they hire employees who can both fit in well, which is good for efficiency, but who also have the capacity to challenge norms in the working environment and adjust to changed circumstances when necessary.

“You still need some shared common ground but to be innovative you want to make sure that you yourself, the average employee, is bringing novel ideas about how to do your work,” he explains.

This level of in-person diversity is also something that can be picked up in how people use language day-to-day using the same methods. This raises possibility that one’s cultural alignment and adaptability could be assessed not just at the point of applying for a job – but also continually through softwares and other such programs  installed on company computers & smartphones.

Matt Hommel

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