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Story: Individuals or Algorithms?

We wanted to advertise for a new position, so we enlisted a recruitment company to help us find applicants. They told us they had received hundreds of applications for the role, and my boss was pleased that the advertisement had attracted the interest of so many candidates. Once the application deadline had passed, the recruiter got back to us. He sent me this email:


Hi Simon,


Hope you’re well. We’ve got a shortlist of three candidates for you to look at. I’ll send you their details so you can invite them for an interview. Best, Samir


I emailed back asking how many applications they’d received, and I got this a few moments later.


Around two thousand. S


Two thousand people. I leant back in my chair, trying to imagine what two thousand people looked like. I knew that I’d gone to a school with roughly a thousand other students. Double my high school had applied. I started to wonder how the recruiter had gotten back to us so quickly after the deadline, whether they had spent hours and days painstakingly sifting through reams and reams of CVs and cover letters.


About a week later the applicants came in to be interviewed: two women and a man. Two were obviously more mediocre than the other. The man didn’t seem to know what the job entailed, and one of the women was highly qualified, but lacked the specific skills. In the end we settled for the third applicant - who was well qualified, eager and tenacious - but she later declined the job after we’d offered it to her.


So in effect, we were back at square one. I rang the recruiter to ask whether we could see the full shortlist of candidates, so we could pick some more candidates for the interview. His response was strange. He said ‘It doesn’t really work that way.’ Predictably, my next question was ‘then how does it work?’ He explained.


‘We use a complex piece of software to exclude candidates whose applications aren’t suited to the role. Then we have a small enough number of candidates that our highly-skilled analysts can start reading their applications individually, and from there we make a shortlist of three candidates to put forward.’


I said ‘so the majority of applications aren’t actually read by anyone?’. ‘Well, it’s more complicated than that.’ he said ‘But yeah, that’s correct.’ ‘And how do you judge the capability of those on the shortlist?’ He paused for a moment. ‘We don’t.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Well, we can’t. We’ve no way of doing it other than looking at their CV.’


I thanked him and put the phone down, baffled. So the majority of his job seemed to be skimming off most applicants as quickly as possible so as to reduce the amount of work needed to get the job done. I suppose what this experience goes to show is that when you involve a third party, they pursue their own interests, but not necessarily yours.


Surely, I thought, there must be a better way than this? Surely there must be some way of understanding people as people, rather than just the documents they send in. And how can someone expect to find a good candidate for a job if they can’t judge whether they have the skills required for the job. There must be a different way.


Perhaps one day there might be a way for people to represent themselves more objectively. I’m talking about a system that anyone can use to produce irrefutable evidence of their competence in a particular area, that employers can trust. That way, everyone can be in control of their reputation, and there won’t be the need for the guesswork and hazy reckoning of recruiters anymore.


Anyway, my boss ended up hiring his nephew for the job…


Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

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