It’s a strange time to be a student or a recent graduate of high school or college.
It feels like two things are simultaneously true:
- College has never been more important because there are fewer jobs for more candidates
- Companies are caring far less about college than the used to because the data show that there’s no correlation between performance and having a degree or good grades
Ok, so which is it?
I (mostly) have the answer.
- University is a place where some people can either learn or nurture certain attributes or skills that companies want, and that will make one successful throughout a career
- There is no guarantee that you, or the college you go to, will be able to produce those attributes or skills
- The attributes and skills in question are not sufficiently studied or understood by most, and this is because 1) they’re hard to study, and 2) the answers are often uncomfortable, e.g. good genes, a privilege upbringing, and sheer luck often yield the best results, despite what we want to be true
It’d be hard to find a better use for big data than crunching the numbers on what makes a great employee in various fields.
- Break everyone into a series of attributes and data points. The more granular the better
- Dump them into a database and look for patterns
- Find people with those things and hire them
This is, or at least should be, one of the corporate worlds’ top priorities.
The problem is that it might yield answers that people don’t want to, or aren’t allowed to, hear. They might find out the best thing to do is hire tall people from Rhode Island who played D&D during the winter. Or Swedish girls who are afraid of peanuts, oh, and have rich parents.
Who knows what the data says, but the one thing we know is that if the data points to something that will put a company in a bad position regarding discrimination, they’ll err on the side of inclusion. So maybe they should never hire anyone from North Dakota who owns a Prius, but they couldn’t just come out and say that.
So for all we know the corporations already have all the data on who is actually best to hire, and who make the top performers, and what backgrounds they come from.
But they can’t act on it or tell anyone.
What they wish they could do is use the data like actuarial data in insurance. Pay, hiring percentages, job assignments—they’d all be done based on what the data says the best combination of attributes is. It’d be wildly sensitive I imagine.
Perhaps dropping the college requirement is the first politically safe example of using data instead of tradition to drive hiring. It’s a rejection of blindly accepting that college people are better than non-college people, and asking the data who’s really better.
But if we ask that question we have to be ready to hear the answer, and I don’t think we are.
The data might say, “Hire Chinese and Indians who play at least two instruments and have over a 120 I.Q. and hate brocholi.”
Are you still going to be data driven when Watson tells you that? Doubtful.
Man, this has me wanting to capture this data for everything, and look for patterns. This is what makes big data interesting.