It’s still a wee bit blue
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It’s still a wee bit blue: why technology / big data will never supplant the genuinely expert / experienced recruiter

It’s still a wee bit blue: why technology / big data will never supplant the genuinely expert / experienced recruiter

Posted on 19th September 2015

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Many years ago, I recall reading a book about whisky in which the author described a visit to a distillery.  He watched the stillman decide when to take the ‘cut’ of the clear liquid that was flowing through the spirit safe; this ‘cut’ then being the spirit that would be made into the final product.  The liquid was clear as glass, but when he asked the stillman why he hadn’t made the ‘cut’ he was told, “ach, it’s still a wee bit too blue”.   The point here is that this process is as much a craft, dependent on the skills and experience of a (very skilled and experienced) man and not just a chemical process that a machine could equally well perform.

This came to mind when I saw a recent article about how big data and algorithms can help today’s recruiter.  Specifically, it was noted that they can provide an array of information, sorted into patterns and matches that conform to keywords and scores that filter an initial candidate pool to a narrower shortlist of individuals who ought to match the brief.

This article went on to discuss the impact of big data to sport.  There is a well-known study of major league baseball team Oakland Athletics where an analysis of data identified improvements that ‘expert scouts’ couldn’t see. The results were impressive, with the OA getting the same results as teams that spent three times as much. In football, in the 1950s, Wing Commander Charles Reep (and subsequently Charles Hughes of the FA) came up with his POMO (position of maximum opportunity) theory, based on his analysis of thousands of goals (and this was before the days of the computing power that would have made this easy, which makes his efforts even more impressive). 

Essentially, POMO dictated that the quicker the ball got in the opposition’s penalty box the more goals were scored.  Consequently, it made success to the lump the ball forward at every available opportunity.  The ‘long ball’  game adopted successfully by Wimbledon is attributed to this theory…

However, it’s one thing having the data, it’s another thing analysing them correctly.  Even in all the examples taken from sport, ultimately it is up to the individual skills of the players whether a team is Barcelona or Brechin City (with no disrespect to that august Scottish side).  Whether it’s football or recruitment, at some stage you need the expertise, experience and skills to shine at the highest level.

Moreover, the POMO idea and its associations with the ‘long ball game’ also made be think of the perennial problem of those recruitment agencies that give the industry a bad name by just ‘spraying (CVs) and praying’, hoping that force of numbers will cause something good (a placement) to happen.   If that’s what you’re depending on, either as a candidate or a client, then can I suggest you find the recruitment equivalent of the stillman (or woman) and make sure that you add some guile to the numbers. Blend this individual expertise and experience with the best that technology can offer and then you have a very powerful combination, a position of maximum opportunity for both client and candidate alike!

Gareth Biggerstaff, MD, Be-IT Resourcing


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