Economists tell us that computers are replacing people, and software is eating our work. This is different. This is a story about computers hiring people.
Imagine a scenario where your next job interview isn't face-to-face, but face-to-screen. There are no questions about your former work experience and office habits. There's simply a computer game. If you win, you get the job. If you lose, game over.
They're called "employment simulations," and they're gaining popularity among high-tech firms that are seeking data from prospective employees that you can't get from sit-down interviews.
Today's hiring technologies go way beyond basic online personality assessments or the use of business intelligence solutions to mine information from a resume database. In a typical employment simulation, candidates participate in online "video games" that leverage simulation software to determine how well candidates perform in actual job situations. In some cases, these simulations take the form of virtual contests featuring open enrollments and winner-take-all access to vocational opportunities.
For example, TopstepTrader, a Chicago firm that recruits and develops talent for the futures trading industry, is currently sponsoring an event that immerses would-be traders in an intensive, simulated trading environment.*
Contest participants invest imaginary dollars in the futures market over a two-week timeframe. At the end of the two weeks, the contestant (or applicant) with the highest account balance and trading skills will be given the opportunity to invest $150,000 in the futures market and have a chance to earn their livelihood as a professional trader.
Experts are quick to point out that employment simulations and similar computer-based hiring techniques are not tests. Instead of grading applicants' answers to questions, these technologies completely immerse the individual in the employment activity in order to more accurately measure the applicant's ability to perform the job.
Dr. Charles Handler, President and Founder of Rocket-Hire.com, points out that many of today's technologies represent old hiring concepts that have been resurrected and adapted to the modern workplace. "Simulations were originally used in industrial and manufacturing companies to evaluate the person's ability to perform specific job functions," he said. "For example, the employer might ask applicants to manually assemble a simple product in a certain amount of time. If the applicants performed poorly, they probably didn't possess the physical strength or dexterity to succeed in the job. But if they performed well, they were hired."
TAKING THE HUMAN OUT OF HUMAN RESOURCES
On the surface, the idea of computers and technology playing a central role in the hiring process sounds a little bit like Huxley's brave new world run amok. But hiring techniques that rely on technology in decision-making have been proven to deliver important benefits for both employers and job seekers.
From an employer perspective, computer-based hiring processes are a more realistic predictor of on-the-job success. Employment simulations and other technology-driven approaches minimize blind spots in the hiring process, giving employers visibility into the applicant's real world performance potential before unleashing the individual on the company's customers or operating systems.
As it turns out, the traditional hiring process is also extremely inefficient. Employment simulators target efficiency improvements by providing maximum information in much shorter periods of time.
According to Joseph T. Sefcik, Jr., President of Employment Technologies Corporation, and the pioneer and leading developer of employment simulations, "Robust employment simulations can deliver two to three times more information than traditional hiring processes, and hiring accuracy levels that can be as much as four times greater than other testing approaches."
For job seekers, employment simulations and computer-based hiring models level the playing field, minimizing the risk of being overlooked for a position simply because another candidate had the inside track with hiring managers or other decision-makers.
Since technology-based hiring decisions are focused on performance, all applicants have the same opportunity - even applicants who come from nontraditional backgrounds or career paths.
THE DOWNSIDE OF HIRING WITH SOFTWARE
Despite the potential advantages for employers and job seekers, employment simulators and other computer-based hiring models have some drawbacks. Like any technology, the effectiveness of employment simulations is limited to the quality of the software and its accessibility to users. Even small programming or accessibility snafus can have dire consequences, leading companies to hire individuals who may not be qualified to perform at high levels.
Cutting people out of the hiring process might mitigate our biases, but it also mitigates the human touch of hiring. There are disagreements within the development community about whether or not employment simulations can result in hires who lack the personality traits or social skills to be successful in an actual work environment. Skeptics express concern that in some cases, applicants who perform well in the virtual space are less effective when they are forced to interact with peers in the workplace.
So although the use of computer-centric hiring models is increasing, it's likely that employers will hedge their computer-centered hiring bets and rely on an integrated approach that includes at least some traditional hiring elements.
* It has come to our attention since we posted this item that the author founded a PR firm that represents TopstepTrader. It is our editorial policy always to disclose such a relationship; and it is our editorial judgment that, given the conflict of interest, this author was not in a position to write on this topic appropriately. We regret the error.