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MBA Careers: How Big Data, People Analytics Are Re-Engineering Your Job Search

Data is reshaping the way organizations find, hire and retain talent

Sun Dec 13 2015

Big data is causing a buzz in virtually every function but recruitment is one of the more recent to get a digital refresh. A new data driven approach to talent management is reshaping the way organizations find and hire staff, while the power of people analytics is also changing how HR tackles employee retention and engagement.  

The implications for anyone hoping to land a job, and for businesses that have traditionally relied on personal relationships are extreme, but robots and algorithms will not yet replace human interaction.  

John Reed, senior executive director at Robert Half Technology, the S&P 500 recruitment firm, says: “Advanced analytics will certainly help to identify people in specific searches, but a known network of people you trust will likely remain the first place potential employers look.”

Companies are increasingly using these state-of-the-art techniques to recruit and retain the great future managers and innovators, according to a report from McKinsey & Company, the consultancy.

Rather than relying on a rigorous interview process and resume, employers are able to “mine” through deep reserves of information, including from your online footprint.

“The real value will be in identifying personality types, abilities, and other strengths to help create well-rounded teams,” John says, adding that companies are also using people analytics to understand the stress levels of their employees to ensure long-term productiveness and wellness.

Examples include CultureAmp, a company which allows managers to regularly check the morale of their workforce through short surveys and which works with Uber, Box and Airbnb.

Business students must take heed of the changing face of talent management, yet this must go beyond purging your social media profiles of all images with a whiff of Smirnoff, Jack Daniels or Jim Beam.

“Big data is already having an impact on recruitment of those with the scarce skills we need,” says Professor Nick Kemsley, co-director of the Henley Business School Center for HR Excellence. “Career network vehicles are an ideal medium for job candidates to showcase themselves,” he says, adding that you should “try to avoid too many photos from your last holiday in Ibiza”.

When Sharon Loh Meng Shuen worked as a tax consultant for a Big Four accounting firm, she was headhunted through LinkedIn for in-house tax specialist’s role in southeast Asia.

“The platform opens many doors to various opportunities,” says the Lancaster University Management School student, “as it connects the right people with the right connections.”

Companies from Google and AOL to Pfizer and Facebook are gaining great value from people analytics, which helps them to predict employee retention, boost engagement and, for firms like Oracle ADP, identify top sales performers for promotion.

“It is not just about cutting direct costs,” says Professor Anindya Ghose, director of NYU Stern’s Center for Business Analytics. “It is about identifying high-performing employees, predicting their next performance milestone, and carving out their trajectories and rewarding them.”

86% of CEOs surveyed recently by PwC said that creating or maturing their people analytics function is a strategic priority.

“Forward-looking employers are getting an edge by making use of the growing toolkit of ‘cognitive’ systems,” says Mark Kennedy, director of the KPMG Centre for Business Analytics at Imperial College London.

The benefit of people analytics, he says, is around helping people find the right job fit and, when they’re hired, helping them home in on the skills they need to continue growing.

Services include those of Volometrix, whose real-time software eyes employees’ email and calendar items to build a picture of their day-to-day operations, which is working with clients such as Symantec, Qualcomm and Boeing.

LinkedIn has been the most aggressive. “Where lots of companies are seeking the same types of skills in the same market, recruitment becomes very competitive,” says Chris Brown, director of LinkedIn Talent Solutions UK. “What we’re doing is helping companies find better candidates for their roles….And using that rich profile data to reduce the time it takes to hire,” he says. 


Three in four companies surveyed this year by Deloitte believed using people analytics is important to their company. But the big question around use of big data in recruitment is whether it will prejudice hiring managers against certain candidates.

Philip Stiles, co-director of the Centre for International Human Resource Management at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, says that as big data is used by more companies, we may get “clones”.

“Ensuring diversity here will be paramount,” he says, but adds: “This happens under standard recruitment practices too.”

While top-notch technological capabilities are critical, they are not a silver bullet. “Recruiters will always be critical in interpreting the information made available, and setting it in real context,” says Dr Sandra Pereira, teaching fellow in organization and HR management at Warwick Business School.

Personal interaction and communication will always play a key role in the search for talent. “Big data cannot surely accomplish this,” Sandra says. “These new ways of recruiting are a supplement to the existing ones, and not a replacement.”