Incompetent recruiters contribute to talent shortages and curtail your job opportunities. Big data will disrupt them.

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Gianni Giacomelli

Business Leader, Digital Solutions

June 19, 2015 - Talent mismatch is a big challenge for our fast-developing market. We don't have enough people to do the new jobs, and we have too many people for the old ones. This issue will worsen as the dislocation due to technology increases, old jobs dwindle, and new occupations emerge much faster than in the past. Forget about data scientists. What about experienced managers of fully distributed Millennial workforces, mobile-device-augmented nurses, algorithm-assisted financial advisors, innovation people in services companies who will use technology pervasively, or innovators in product companies who use services extensively? Where will they come from?

Chances are that many of your recruiters-internal or external-will be or already are struggling with these job searches.

Many recruiters are missing the plot. In my view, one big reason why many companies struggle with talent is that too many recruiters (headhunters and hiring teams) have become ineffective at what they do. Perhaps they were better adapted to the market in the past, but clearly they haven't kept up with the rate of economic change. The average recruiter's approach is to find a person who “has done that type of job before" with the same expertise and skills. Only when it is obvious that there aren't enough people with that profile in the pipeline do recruiters increase the search radius, and they do that heuristically-that is, through gut feelings (theirs and their clients').

“Portability of experience" is often an afterthought, and treated as an art rather than a science. A recent analysis that my team at theGenpact Research Institute performed suggested that the majority of leaders in operation-related positions have spent their entire career in one industry. How dangerous is that in-breeding in a world where competitive boundaries are being redefined by innovation created in different markets, where Facebook starts doing banking, and Uber and AirBnB geeks take on mass transportation and hospitality? These (now rich) startup people without a “traditional background" wouldn't have been given a serious job by the very people they are disrupting. How insane.

Everyone's problem. In my more than 20 year career, I have changed countries, industries, functional roles and between products and services every four years or so. Almost every time (with the exception of my current employer), I have done so without the help of my HR department, going against the grain of the recruiters who were working on my case. I wouldn't have been a fit “by normal standards," and the recruiters were quick to make me notice that. Had I listened to “expert" recommendations, I would now live in a stagnating economy, earn 10 times less than I do, and have anemic career prospects. Conversely, some of my new bosses, and those who advised them to hire me, were open-minded people who “hired for talent, not just expertise." And valued diversity of experience, like I do. In the end, they were right. These bosses are often a minority-a minority that matters because it shows that the future is already here, but it is unevenly distributed.

Anachronistic human resources management vs. glimpses of possible future. People tend to give you a chance to do something different if they know someone who knows you well and vouches for your ability to flex. In the era of work globalization, this approach is clearly non-scalable and militates against diversity. However, we see sparks of brilliance borne out of foresight or sheer necessity. Google's Laszlo Bock has institutionalized data-driven applicants’ selection procedure to avoid succumbing to personal biases. And indeed the best recruiters are changing their game - even changing roles themselves (perhaps even with some of the same people!).

My own employer Genpact, a GE spinoff providing business and technology services to large enterprise by harnessing global workforce, doesn't have the luxury to attract "ready-made" top talent - at least not at a rate of 10,000 a year. To make its core business model sustainable, Genpact has learnt to hire and "build" talent that would have originally been considered unemployable in normal circumstances. And it works: Genpact has grown to almost 70,000 people in ten years using that model. Another example of where practices are being future-readied is MIT's Center for Collective Intelligence, a cross functional group that tries to identify the employability genome in a world where people and machines will get closer and closer. Many more exist.

So what's big data to do with it? Data will sound the death knell to subpar recruiters. Two years ago, my team started looking at patterns of job moves for candidates in specific areas of finance, to try to identify the possible (not just the typical) evolution of people's careers in finance by exploring the non-average paths of successful individuals - at scale. LinkedIn at some point curtailed our access to the raw data because that exploration was getting too close to their core. Fair enough (for now).

At some point they will use similar data to show not just what most people have done, but what some people can do, hence disrupting the recruiters' space, depriving them of their monopoly on insight, and just possibly relegating them to an administrative role. Actually, they might also show them how narrow minded and biased they can be, by using data from hundreds of millions of cases where seemingly round pegs in square holes ended up working out really well. In the process, that will address a significant bottleneck in the job market, and create opportunity for millions of people who are unduly pigeon-holed.

Big data might very well help solve for job scarcity and prepare thousands of disingenuous recruiters for a future where an "ideal candidate profile" will be a very different thing than it used to be.