Data, a Hiring Story: An Online Dating Experiment Translates to HR

February 21, 2014

3:00 pm

Gaming the system.

That’s what Amy Webb did with online dating in order to find her one true love, which she detailed in her book “Data, a Love Story.”

But after reading the book, I started thinking, If Webb could use data to game the online dating world, why couldn’t those same ideas be used to help startups game one of the most competitive practices in the world: hiring?

If your company is struggling to find top talent, maybe you’re just looking for candidates in all the wrong places. Here are some tips from Webb’s book, translated for hiring:

Prioritize Your Needs

“Data, a Love Story” follows a single, 30-something named Amy Webb as she sets out using data to game the system of online dating in order to find true love. Before she does that, though, she compiles a list of all the traits she wants her ideal match to have, and then prioritizes them.

She created two tiers — one with traits that her ideal match absolutely needs to have, and the other with traits that are important to her but not important enough to be considered deal-breakers. Webb then assigned a point system for each trait and would not go on a date unless a guy’s profile met or exceeded a certain number of points.

When you’re out searching for top talent, you may have a thousand different qualities you’d like them to have. Writing down these qualities and forcing yourself to prioritize them using a tier system similar to Webb’s will help you narrow down exactly who you’re looking for.

Be Picky

When Webb created her extensive list of ideal traits, she made it a point (against the advice of her grandmother) to stick to her point system and not settle for anything less. At one point, she had her pick of virtually every man on the site, but if they didn’t meet her points standard, she turned them down.

In recruiting, it’s easy to get hung up on certain candidates, even if they don’t necessarily meet all of your qualifications. For those people, you must tell yourself that, although they may not be a bad fit, they’re a bad fit for your company.

Be picky. Stick to your guns. Hiring the perfect employee(s) takes time, and if you hire the first person who applies, you’re going to be in a tough situation when the perfect match comes your way looking to fill the position you regretfully gave to someone else.

Know The Competition

In “Data, a Love Story,” Webb found her perfect match, but he ended up not liking her back. In her algorithms for gaming the system, she forgot to consider her competition — the other women on the site — when looking at potential matches. So Webb created fake male profiles so she could see what she was dealing with. (Don’t worry, she promises she didn’t lead any women on.)

She pored over hundreds of profiles to see what worked for the women who were successful in attracting matches, and used that data to create a super profile for herself. She didn’t lie about anything, but she used what worked to create the absolute best version of herself online — and it worked.

There are hundreds of thousands of startups vying for the exact same talent, with many knowing exactly how and where to find them. By doing some research and seeing what works and what doesn’t at similar companies, you can better focus your hiring efforts to successfully attract top talent and showcase your company in the best way possible.

Entertain All Your Options

Webb knew her chances of finding true love in a city with 1.5 million people were slim to none, which is why she turned to online dating. She used a channel she knew she could game and eventually found the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.

Don’t wait for your startup to hit rock bottom before entertaining methods of hiring different than the ones you’re using right now — proactively get your company out in as many different hiring channels as reasonably possible, and learn from trial and error which ones bring in the best talent for your startup. Once you figure out which channels work best and which ones don’t, pragmatically decide which ones you want to focus your efforts on.

If you use these tips and stay true to them, eventually you’ll have a team of top talent to take your startup to the success you’ve always dreamed it could have.

Do you think these tips give you a unique and helpful approach to startup hiring?

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Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies. She is also the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010). Find Heather on Google+.

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