No Image Available

David Bernstein

Read more about David Bernstein

Big Data and talent acquisition – what’s the link?

This article was written by David Bernstein, Vice President of Big Data for eQuest.
You can’t throw a rock in the business world these days without hitting the topic of Big Data. Why?
Because it’s the key to impacting business results. As Virginia Rometty, Chairman and CEO of IBM, recently stated, “Data will be the basis of competitive advantage for every company, every industry for the next decade.”

For HR, Big Data—the volumes of data collected electronically and then stored, ordered and analysed—presents an unprecedented opportunity to create better business results through more proactive talent acquisition. Talent is the fuel that powers the business, and organisations that successfully place the right people in the right place at the right time will enjoy greater productivity and better results.

A new solution for an old problem

“Today, many companies are reporting that their number one constraint on growth is the inability to hire workers with the necessary skills.”

This statement by former U.S. President Bill Clinton is intriguing because it came during his two-term presidency—in the late 1990s. At that time, the thriving economy and technology boom made it difficult for many companies’ talent acquisition efforts to keep pace with business growth and demand.

Fast-forward to 2013, and the statement still holds true. Though economic conditions have changed, staying on top of—much less ahead of—talent demand continues to be a challenge for many companies and their HR functions. For a company to achieve its strategic objectives and growth goals, it must continuously have the right talent in the right place at the right time. Or, as author Jim Collins explains in his book Good to Great, companies must “get the right people on the bus, and in the right seats.”

Big Data is the new frontier for innovation, competition and productivity—across all industries and functions. By leveraging Big Data, HR can transform its image from a “reactive” recruiting function, responding to the “just-in-time” talent needs of the business, to a “proactive” business partner that has the foresight to make better and faster talent acquisition-related decisions. Let’s face it: if you’re a just-in-timer, you’ve missed the right time and you’re playing catch-up. But if you blend Big Data insights with more traditional workforce planning, you’ll have the time needed to gather and choose from among the best candidates.

Big Data provides the insight HR needs to predict outcomes and take action that improves the likelihood of success. A prime example lies within the realm of recruitment marketing. By understanding what sources yield the highest-quality job candidates, you’ll make job posting decisions that put your marketing message in front of the right people, at the right time, to get them to act on that message (apply for the job).

Big Data drives recruitment marketing and more

Recent advances in data storage and data mining have enabled businesses to ask questions they could never ask before and see connections and patterns that could not otherwise be seen. One consequence of these advances is the emergence of job boards as a gold mine of information for employers and HR departments. Big Data analysis of job board postings can show recruiters not only which sources have the greatest likelihood of generating a stream of the specific types of candidates they need, but also which day is best to post a certain job to each board. This analysis can also forecast candidate volume and how long it will take to receive the majority of responses for a posting on a given board.

Big Data can even help you determine why or why not a candidate takes the final step to apply for your posted job so that you can adjust your course of action accordingly. Perhaps you need to create more standard job titles or write clearer job descriptions, for instance. Job board data can also show you how your postings measure up to your competitors’. Poorer performance against a competitor could likely mean a branding problem. All this insight contributes to competitive intelligence, marketing agility and strategic advantage.

The uses of Big Data in talent acquisition extend beyond job boards. Organisations can gather both internal and external data, such as pre-hire assessments, attrition, compensation, performance data and demographics, to predict candidate success and tenure.  For organisations with a large workforce and large volumes of internal data, Big Data analysis can help determine how many employees are needed now and forecast how many will be needed in the future. One start-up in the U.S. uses a combination of data aggregation technology and a proprietary algorithm to analyse developers’ online code and professional contributions in their quest for top developer talent. HR is just beginning to see the possible applications of Big Data for predicting, creating and retaining a strong workforce.

Because business cycles are moving faster than ever before, HR organisations that don’t leverage Big Data analytics and insight to become more proactive will not only find themselves frenetically scrambling to fill positions, but will also risk seeing their company fall behind the competition. Big Data is supporting HR’s evolution from a traditional administrative function to a more valuable partner and player within the business— one that can help deliver true business results through strategic talent acquisition.

Nothing is more critical to business success than having the right talent in the right place at the right time. By leveraging Big Data, HR can enhance their recruiting efforts through more predictive, evidence-based, strategic decision-making.

2 Responses

  1. I think part of the problem

    I think part of the problem is HR is so far behind in using technology to improve efficiency that it seems such a massive step from the current position to the aspirational vision of powerful systems crunching vast amounts of data to enable HR professionals to make powerful, evidence-based decisions that make staff and customers happier, all in a way that's incredibly efficient and sustainable.

    Compare this to an area like CRM where systems have evolved more steadily.

    Part of the problem I think is understanding the end but not the journey – HR departments need to understand how systems can help them do their jobs more efficiently and in practice how this will work. For those still working on paper, this is more of a challenge and requires a significant investment from the company. If you've got to build a business case for technology, building a business case for making staff more aware of the power of big data and why technology is a good idea, not just a scary idea, may just sound a bit too challenging/expensive.

    And agreed on the word engagement – needs put into tangible example behaviours for the rest of the organisation so line managers can recognise the signs of disengagement so they can take appropriate action.

  2. Are we HR professionals too wedded to paper to go for big data?

    This term big data is dangerously close to tech jargon for many HR professionals – possibly like the term engagement is for the rest of the organisation. I am intrigued as to whether we are ready to leverage this yet given that so much of what we do is still on paper or excel. Is this because the business benefits of HR related IT investment are so poorly understood that it gets de-prioritised? Or is it that we are reluctant or to scared to embrace it? To be honest I am not sure but I think we may have a way to go before we are ready to leverage the potential of big data!

    What do others think?


Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.