The art and craft of BIG Data in the battle for talent - Part Three.

The art and craft of BIG Data in the battle for talent - Part Three.

Posted on 15/06/2015 

by Eddie Barclay

This is the final part of my series of blogs on big data and how they are used by recruiters.  As I’ve stressed throughout, big data is important.  We must take advantage of the technology that already exists and that which will be developed in the future.  We don’t do nearly enough, in the same way that we don’t make anything like full use of the computing power of the machines sitting on our desks.  But, and it’s a big but, until the day when robots take over, ultimately, it comes down to human beings.  If the ideal candidate inadvertently omits the one item from his/her CV that an algorithm is set up to identify then the candidate is lost.  On the other side of the fence, if you don’t consider those candidates (few in number admittedly) who won’t/can’t use technology (aren’t on any social media), how will you know you have really found the best person for the job?  And how do you communicate with every candidate to check for all these essential human elements if your assessment is made entirely on the basis of the series of steps the algorithm has performed to parse CVs to refine your choice to a series of electronic/data matches? Technology is taking us further and further, but there are still some (many?) things it can’t (yet!) do.


The title of this blog series is ‘the art and craft of big data in the battle for talent’.  I know it’s stating the obvious, but recruitment is about people.  I firmly believe that the recruitment industry is, by and large, way behind in its use of the available technology, but I also firmly believe that if we remove the human element then we remove the humanity from what we do.  That may sound pretentious, but this IS about people and how they interact and come together at work.  At some point, judgements have to be made! A couple of examples will, I trust, illustrate what I mean. 


Communication with your candidates is vital.  I recently received an email from one of Scotland’s largest job-boards. It was addressed to “Dear $account_name”.  Nuff said.  Yet communication is about much more than just merging your database with your message: it’s about care and attention to words, how you can sell and encourage, how you persuade, cajole, interest, stimulate and create a desire – a call to action from someone who mere moments before had not even considered (or possibly heard of) your company. Not for nothing is one of the most famous books on advertising called ‘The Hidden Persuaders’.  I don’t believe most recruiters (including us at times) get their communication right.


Secondly, one of Scotland’s biggest industries is whisky.  Derek Cooper, the late, famous food-writer, told of watching a stillman making the ‘cut’ of whisky as it flowed through the spirit safe from the still.  As the clear liquid continued to flow, Mr. Cooper asked why the stillman hadn’t re-directed it towards the vats where it would begin its journey to a bottle and a supermarket shelf.  “It’s still too blue” was the answer. It appeared completely transparent to Mr. Cooper! There is much (money) that depends on the art and craft underlying such judgements, in recruitment as well as whisky.


Finally, one of the most recent, very public uses of (biggish) data was also one of the most strikingly unsuccessful, to wit, the opinion pollsters who so spectacularly called the result of the 2015 UK general election as a draw, based on their complex technology and statistically rigorous sampling, right up to the first exit poll which confounded all their predictions and which, by the end of the following day, was proved right. Yes, ultimately, recruitment, like politics, is about people and what we do!



Eddie Barclay, Associate Director, Nine Twenty Technology