IdeasYou’d be forgiven if you think of “data” as just another one of the recruiting industry’s favorite buzzwords, meant to add a dignified sheen of “hard science” to processes that often rely on (unfairly maligned) softer skills. Think “big data,” “data-driven,” and similar, somewhat annoyingly overused phrases.

You’d be forgiven, really — but you’d also be making a terrible mistake. Data really does add value to the hiring and recruiting processes (when used properly, of course). In fact, data may be more important than ever for hiring and recruiting at this moment in time. As the U.S. economy continues to recover from 2008′s disastrous recession, what used to be an employer’s market is becoming, in fact, a candidate’s playground.

“The scales have shifted a bit, and now there’s a lot more power for candidates to choose where they want to apply. Candidates can turn down an offer, because they’re more likely to have other offers,” explains Greg Willard, Harvard lecturer and senior vice president of candidate-assessment purveyors Cangrade. “Companies are putting more and more resources into hiring, because it’s getting harder to hire people. The value of making the best decisions when you do [hire] is on the rise.”

Employers want to make more accurate hiring decisions based on candidate data. It’s the best way to proceed in a job seeker’s market, Willard says. Using a data-driven hiring process can allow companies to hone in on the candidates who will really fit in and excel at a given organization. Data-driven decision-making steers employers away from wasting their time and efforts on candidates who will make for bad hires, or candidates who will quickly grow disengaged and jump ship for other opportunities.

And while many companies are leveraging data in their hiring processes these days, a lot of employers are only getting started.

“They’re in that stage of getting their feet wet with it, trying to figure out how to make it work,” Willard says, “whereas others have very advanced systems already in place.”

For the recruiting and HR professionals who are only now wading into the world of data-driven hiring practices, Willard offers a few very important tips. (And, hey — even if you consider yourself a master of the dark data arts, you may still be able to learn a thing or two from a man who earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Northeastern. Just saying.)

The Successful Recruiter’s Keys to Data-Driven Decision-Making 

1. Keep Track of Your Company’s Data: When it comes to offering advice on data-driven hiring decisions, Willard says this is the single biggest suggestion he can make to companies that are considering bringing more data into their recruiting processes.

“If they’re not keeping track of their own data, they should start doing it. [They should] figure out what they know about their own employees, their own track records. [Figure out] who does what,” Willard says. Tracking the records and performances of current employees can help companies determine which kinds of candidates will perform best at the organization.

Willard also says that companies should track their current hiring processes to evaluate how good they are and to identify where the processes can improve.

2. Conduct a Detailed Analysis of Your Job Advertisements: If a company’s job advertisements don’t attract the kind of candidates the company wants, then that company is going to have a really hard time getting great talent in the door. Willard suggests that companies take a look at their job advertisements and determine whether or not those ads speak to the companies’ preferred segments of the talent market.

Willard also notes that recruiters and HR professional need to figure out what the positive selling points of their companies are and use those to attract the best (and right kind of) talent to their openings.

3. Assess Candidate Personalities Before You Hire Them: Received hiring wisdom would have recruiters and HR professionals believe that a strong resume predicts a strong hire. That’s not necessarily the case, according to Willard. Instead, he says, companies should look to personality assessments to help predict how well a candidate will perform in a given role at a given organization.

“As it turns out, [personality assessments] get more at [a candidate's] potential, as opposed to previously demonstrated experience doing exactly that job,” Willard says.

In other words: just because a candidate’s resume says they’ve done something well at Company X in the past doesn’t mean the candidate will be able to do that same thing well at Company Y in the future. Personality assessments, on the other hand, will give better insight into whether or not the candidate will excel at Company Y.

Willard also notes that, as millennials become the dominant generation in the workforce — accounting for 60 percent of it by 2020 – it will become more and more important for employers to emphasize potential over past performance, as many of these younger workers won’t have long, illustrious resumes to prove their abilities.

4. Know How to Collect Data: You can’t use data if you don’t have access to it in the first place. Willard notes that employers can turn to third-party companies like Cangrade for data collection and analysis tools, but they can also build their own tools in house, if they prefer.

Willard also says that companies would do well to integrate data collection processes into their online job applications, as that’s pretty much the easiest way to get at the kinds of information employers need to make smarter hiring decisions.

Not So Fast, Job Seekers: You Can Use Data to Drive Your Decision-Making, Too

While many of the conversations surrounding data-driven hiring focus on how employers can use data to improve their processes, Willard says that job seekers can also turn to data to help them make better decisions on where to apply.

“In the same way [they are] before they buy something on Amazon, [job seekers] are looking for those five-star reviews or people bringing up issues and problems [about employers],” Willard says. “It’s pretty much the same as it’s always been, in terms of doing their homework. You have to do that to interview well, right? It’s about knowing the company.”

But whereas job seekers may have had to rely on what companies said about themselves in the past, they now have new, more valuable tools in services like Glassdoor, which crowdsource information about employers from past and current employees. These tools give job seekers insights into organizations that they may not have been able to access before. Willard recommends that job seekers pay attention to what people are saying about companies and use that information to drive their decisions about applying for and accepting jobs.

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