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Machine Learning Comes to HR

Machine learning is everywhere. Whether you realize it or not, your life is already impacted by the algorithms and recommendations created by machine learning applications. Companies like Stitch Fix, Uber, Instacart, IBM Watson, and Tesla all use machine learning to understand their users’ behavior and to deliver better service. Besides these consumer companies, HR service and product providers such as Wade & Wendy, RiseSmart, and Randstad are also using machine learning and artificial intelligence to help narrow down job candidates or to match appropriate jobs to qualified candidates looking for those jobs. I discussed Putting Machine Learning to Work in HR in depth during a recent #SmartTalkHR webinar. You can watch the webinar in its entirety here.

The Stitch Fix use case

For every company using machine learning, there is a process that begins with input of the machine learning algorithm and a calculation made by the algorithm that leads to a specific output. For Stitch Fix, they collect the style preferences, sizes, and buying habits of their subscribers to continue to adjust what clothes are sent to each person, based on stated preferences as well as actual choices and buying habits. That information is then combined with available inventory and collaborative filtering that allows Stitch Fix to make choices for one person based on the decisions of another, similar customer.

What’s most interesting about Stitch Fix, and why I chose it as a machine learning application in HR, is that the company doesn’t just rely on the output of the computer to make decisions for their customers. The list compiled by the computer is then handed to a personal stylist who can use the machine learning algorithm as a tool. They’ve done a really good job of letting a machine do what a machine does best — digesting a large volume of data and picking out the patterns that would be difficult for a human to determine. Then, they let the humans do what people do best – building relationships, giving context, making the personal connections with the customer, and then using instinct to make the final decisions.

The RiseSmart Insight™ use case

So, how does this kind of model translate for HR? RiseSmart is using this same model of tech and touch to help match job seekers to open jobs based on experience, skills, and preferences. Using machine learning, SmartMatch™ combines input from the job seeker including preferences, resume, and other specific information which is matched against job listings from across the internet. Using patented ontology technology, SmartMatch understands the intent behind the job search. For instance, if someone lists Visual Designer as a preferred job title, the technology determines what that titles includes, and what it does not include. The ontology actually allows the application to conduct a smarter search that goes beneath the surface and learns about the job seeker’s preferences and best matches based on which postings receive clicks, which ones are bounced from after a short time, and which ones are ignored. Then, following the model of tech and touch, a personal job concierge reviews job listing results and hand-picks those jobs most suited to the individual candidate, based on their personal knowledge of the person.

Using survival analysis in recruiting

The use of machine learning is becoming increasingly prevalent as more businesses are using these algorithms to make their businesses work better and smarter. The use cases for machine learning are growing as are the types of metrics available from these algorithms. At Randstad, we use machine learning to improve our recruiting processes and to redistribute recruiters and resources, when appropriate. One type of machine learning process we use is survival analysis.

Survival analysis is a technique for predicting time to event based on historical data. In medicine, the technique is used to establish prognosis for serious diseases, based on risk factors. By looking at the time to fill problem in recruiting in the right way, we can take advantage of the same mathematical approach. Consider a job as a patient and the time to event as the time to fill the job instead of the time from diagnosis to death. For risk factors, we use various features of the job along with market data. We want to understand the probability that a job will remain open beyond its target time to fill date. In this case, our patients are jobs, and we want them to die quickly. We want the survival time to be short. Although we are thinking about survival in terms of days, hopefully, instead of years, we can take advantage of the survival analysis technique developed for medical applications.

The data used in this analysis is historical data from our customers on job features and accompanying time to fill along with job market statistics from Career Builder capturing what the job market looks like for a position in this industry. The job market data includes:

• How many open jobs in a particular field
• How many candidates looking for work in that area

From this data, we built a survivor analysis predictor. Then, as new jobs opened, we could assess in real-time the probability that the job would remain open past its target time to fill date. Based on this analysis, we make business decisions and apply additional resources to jobs that are at high risk. Some of those are obvious, but some are counterintuitive.

Using the output of this predictor, we are able to assign a risk category to each of the open jobs – high, medium, or low risk that the job will miss target time to fill. By matching open jobs by risk to the recruiter loads, we can see who has a large portion of job requests in the high or medium risk segments and shift some of those job requests around or assign additional resources there. We can also sort by geography and apply the same remedies.

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Talent advisory toolkit

In addition to applying survival analysis to help improve our time to close job requests, Randstad is currently developing a Talent Advisory Toolkit to help our clients gain visibility into the data they need to fill a job, including:

• Best sources for the job
• Time to fill information
• Market salary data
• Availability of contract workers
• Geographic data

The difficulty in getting accurate and complete data rests on our ability to aggregate job titles. This is a similar challenge as the one faced by the developers of SmartMatch. There are a lot of different job titles that represent the same thing and the challenge is to gather all the job titles that are similar. This is a natural language processing problem and requires a semantic search that incorporates both the meaning of the job titles as well as the actual words used.

Applying advanced mathematical techniques to solve real-world problems and improve our ability to streamline processes and improve our products and services is an area that will continue to grow and evolve. As HR technology companies continue to offer solutions unique to human management challenges, AI and machine learning algorithms will become part of the tools and processes of HR departments in businesses of every size.

If you’re interested in a deeper dive into machine learning, its applications in the world around you, how it works, its applications in recruiting, and the future of machine learning, I discuss those topics in detail in my #SmartTalkHR webinar, Putting Machine Learning to Work for HR available for viewing here.

Summer Husband is Senior Director, Data Science for Randstad Sourceright. Through deep analysis and visualization, applying predictive analytics and machine learning, Summer is able to support clients’ preemptive decision making and deliver continuous and measurable improvement across all aspects of talent acquisition

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About Mildred Blankson

I am a Human Resource Professional with a Masters Degree in Human Resource Management. I have several years of experience in Human Resources and i hope this blog will be a great resource in helping you find the perfect job or candidate that you seek.

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How to Leverage Company Benefits to Recruit and Retain Top Talent

One-third of organizations have increased their overall benefit offerings in 2016, according to a research report compiled by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). As recruiting and retaining top talent continue to become increasingly difficult for employers, robust benefit packages play a key role. When salaries and perks (think: free lunch) are nearly equal from company to company, employees are likely to opt for the company that offers the best benefits and greatest opportunities.

Medical and financial benefits aside, employees are looking for lifestyle and career benefits. SHRM reported that the top reason employers increased benefits in 2016 was to remain competitive in the marketplace—and the three biggest focus areas for change were in the health (22%), wellness (24%), and professional and career development (16%) categories. Robust benefit packages that include career development, health and wellness, and flexible working options provide a platform for employers to stand out. Nearly one-third of employees look for external positions because they desire “overall better benefits,” second only to higher compensation.

The type of benefits you offer speaks volumes on how you treat and support employees, which always manifests by way of your external employer brand. It’s not enough to say “we have great benefits,” because “great benefits” are now table stakes. Companies have mastered the art of talking about perks, from catered lunches to team building activities. Failure to talk about the real support and development opportunities you offer to employees might translate to missed opportunities. So how can hiring managers and recruiters promote employee benefits to help with recruiting and retention?

#1: Kick “industry standard” out of your vocabulary

When recruiters and hiring managers list their company’s benefits and summarize with the catch-all phrase, we offer “industry standard” benefits, it’s not enough. When all else—compensation, vacation days, and perks—are even, offering a standard benefits package won’t help your company standout enough to secure commitment from a top employee. Even though it might be tempting to default to a quick response, it pays to provide more detail about the benefits your company offers, in length, during the interview process.

And even more importantly than providing a laundry list of benefits (but kudos to you for that list!), explain how these benefits fit in with core company values. For example, if you offer flexible work arrangements and flexible hours, explain that these arrangements support your company’s value of work-life balance. If you provide a gym membership or showers at work, talk about how it enhances company culture or creates opportunities for employees to get the exercise they desire in a convenient way.. When recruits begin to see how your benefits support their shared values and interests, they’ll see the benefits you offer are much greater than “industry standard.”

Employers hoping to keep a competitive edge are offering more than the “industry standard” at every stage of the employee journey, including at severance – according to a recent study by RiseSmart. If you’re on the cutting edge of severance offerings, use those benefits to differentiate your company form the competition.

#2: Talk about goals in the recruiting and interview process

Before an employee is even hired, find out what they’re looking for in their employer and what their short and long term goals are. Ask questions like, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” and “How are you hoping your employer will support you along your career journey?” Employees, many of whom are seeking opportunities for career development and continuing education, need to know you plan to invest in their individual career goals.

A Career Builder survey found that 45% of employees, regardless of generation, plan to stay with their employer for less than two years. During their tenure, they expect to benefit and grow with each new role and and at each new company. It’s important to convey to prospective employees that you invest in each individual employee, regardless for how long they plan to stay in the role for which they are being hired.

#3: Amplify the employee voice

Remind employees early on that they have a voice to share about company culture and employee benefits. Glassdoor, for example, recommends employers invite new hires to reflect on their first few months at the company. Whether this leads to internal feedback or a public review, it can assist efforts aimed at creating a positive employer brand.

L’Oréal recently launched a #LifeatLoreal hashtag to encourage employees to share photos of their experiences at work. The campaign all stemmed from the idea that people would trust their peers on social media when it came to L'Oréal being a great place to work. Employees posted a wide variety of pictures, including snapshots of various benefits and perks in action—such as flex days and catered lunches. Encourage employees to share the experiences they enjoy the most on the social channel of their choice.

#4: Keep employees engaged with benefits

On average, salary is only about 70% of an employee’s total compensation. When employees don’t take advantage of the benefits offered by the company, it’s equivalent to leaving 30% of the total compensation package on the table. Employers who keep employees engaged with benefits are more likely to see benefits manifest as part of the employer brand. An employee is highly unlikely to leave a Glassdoor review that mentions a positive benefit if she has never actually utilized the benefit.

Try hosting monthly or quarterly Q&A sessions to discuss available benefits. When you roll out a particularly hefty benefit, such as a new 401K offering, or an update to parental leave policy, give employees ample opportunity to ask questions. You could also share success stories from employees who have taken advantage of a particularly niche benefit, such as an hour of free lawyer services, to showcase how the benefit is used and encourage other employees to check it out.

#5: Benefits are the forgotten negotiation tool

If you are a hiring manager or recruiter engaging with a candidate, think beyond salary, or equity. Everything is negotiable, from vacation days to health insurance choices. Savvy employees, especially as the war for talent continues to heat up, will use benefits as negotiation tools—but don’t shy away from doing the same thing on the employer side. It’s often easier to offer more benefits than to secure additional salary for an employee.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your full complement of benefits, including your severance benefits. Prospective employees may feel more comfortable about joining a company that will take care of them, in the event of a downsizing or restructuring event. You may want to consider offering perks like outplacement and career transition services to employees who leave voluntarily as well as those who are involuntary subjects of a layoff. Knowing that you are invested in their career, even after they leave, will help you create a workforce of dedicated, engaged, and satisfied employees.

The world is small and everyone is connected. When you invest in employees, it leads to a positive employer brand. In the new Employee Relationship Economy, former employees will someday become vendors, customers, brand evangelists, recruiting references, or even boomerang employees. In a world where the employee/employer relationship is no longer finite, it’s important to convey your full support for employees’ career endeavors at every stage of their career journeys -- beginning early in the recruiting and interview process.

In every recruiting conversation, highlight your dedication to each employee’s career. When you frame up your organization’s benefits in context of how they fit in with the employee’s journey, it’s easy for the candidate to see how your company would support his journey. Communication about employee benefits can go a long way in the recruiting process—and will have a direct impact on your employer brand. If you offer much more than “industry standard,” you should be screaming it from the rooftops. Your current and prospective employees deserve to understand just how committed you are to their personal and professional journey.

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