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With Big Data, Companies Can Predict Your Success Before Your First Day On The Job

The need for high-performing employees, and for hiring the right candidate for the right job at the right time, has never been greater. Here's how the talent hunt is being transformed.

We are not what we eat, as many people like to say—we are what we do.

Since the "big bang of culture" about 50,000 years ago when Homo sapiens survived and the Neanderthals didn't despite their larger brain cavities and more robust physiques, humans have evolved to a stage where we identify ourselves by what we do more than any one of the other three dimensions that define us, namely the food we eat, the company we keep, and the faith we follow.

We also discovered at the time the tremendous power of social interaction, where 1 + 1 adds up to greater than 3. Then, it helped our species survive; now it rules almost every waking moment. And today, the combination of work as identity and the power of social interaction is playing a huge role in shaping the workplace and workforce. Identifying ourselves by what we do is inextricably linked with seeking meaning in our work, as this gives us a sense of greatness and significance in the larger scheme of things and of fulfilling a higher purpose. And this desire on the part of humanity to find meaning at work has led to epochal changes in the way individuals make decisions about job selection and tenure and the way organizations go about recruiting and retaining people.

A great example can be found at Kenexa, where we defined our mission of serving humanity a number of years ago, and I found that we were attracting and retaining employees for whom this held a great deal of meaning and purpose. People tend to talk about passion for one's work leading to success and engagement; we have found that the intersection of passion, pay, and purpose is what really engages a person to be the best they can be at their work. A third facet that is influencing the way we work is the rise of big data analytics. Humans have been creating and storing data at an exponential rate for thousands of years. What’s different now is the paradigm shift both in the way data is stored and how it’s being viewed and utilized. We now have the awareness, the analytics, and the technology to use this big data for the benefit of humanity. And a significant aspect of this is the harnessing of big data to benefit the most valuable asset of an enterprise, its people.

Big data is starting to penetrate nearly every aspect of business, from how organizations market their products and services to how each step of the manufacturing process impacts the bottom line to the people they hire. If you apply for a job today, you can be sure your prospective employer is going to be checking out your personal brand across all the social networks you are part of to see if you are a good candidate to hire. The advent of social networks and the tremendous amount of data being generated by multiple channels have also given individuals massive choices and the discernment to make choices about the products they wish to buy and, increasingly, the companies they choose to work for. There are four basic reasons we use data:

  1. To make decisions.
  2. To try and predict the future and act on it.
  3. To benchmark ourselves against others.
  4. To create language around which we can tell stories or communicate with one another (for example, how do I read my engagement data to show the impact of leadership in my organization?).

As enterprises are going through this journey with big data and social business tools, the larger companies have a significant edge in terms of access to data from their hiring systems and using predictive analytics, assessment, and behavioral tools to make selections. This has also enabled them to move into another arena where they are now using sentiment indices to predict the capability, culture, and capacity of individuals as they come into the workforce and the company.

What does this mean for individuals? Essentially, it gives them the ability to choose where and how they want to work, to obtain better insights on mapping a career path for themselves, and to draw on the collective knowledge and experiences of the organization in order to adopt best practices, solve problems innovatively, and be far more productive at work, confident that their talents are being maximized. This leads them to be fully engaged with what they are doing and with the organization, which is a winning situation for both. Engagement at the most basic level translates into your waking up every morning excited about going to work.

Personally, I define work as "doing something I don’t want to do"—and that actually applies only to exercise in my case. The rest is what I love doing. So typically, engagement leads to people being far better and healthier individuals, better partners/spouses, better children, and better community members. On an enterprise level, the combination of analytics and human behavioral insights gives companies better sourcing capabilities and better predictors of where their next level of talent is going to come from, with the ability to predict the success of potential candidates before they even walk through the door. To hire individuals who are the best fit for every job—not only in terms of their abilities and skills, but also based on culture fit. Data from performance management solutions and surveys can be used to increase efficiencies, to increase engagement, and to increase productivity, which will have an impact on the top and bottom line. For HR, the competitive advantage lies in analyzing and using the large amounts of employee-generated big data to drive productivity, service, innovation, execution, and employer/employee behavior.

An interesting advantage of big data is its use to dissipate workplace myths. For example, a popular myth is that employees need a strong work-life balance to be engaged. Actually, we’ve discovered that engagement levels rise when employees are mission-driven, often by a big project or challenge, when they typically have increased work hours and reduced personal time. Another example is the conventional wisdom that says successful salespeople must have an outgoing personality, are naturally friendly, and are able to get along with everyone. What IBM Kenexa’s team of more than 100 behavioral scientists and researchers discovered, by studying more than 1,000 salespeople in several companies across diverse industry verticals, is that success at work is more likely to occur when salespeople have emotional courage and persistence. This is the ability to stay engaged at work and keep trying even when you’ve been told no time after time. Our data shows salespeople who exhibit these traits consistently are the cream of the crop in their profession.

A recent study by IBM revealed that 70%of CEOs claim human capital is the single biggest contributor to sustained economic value. At the same time, paradoxically, unemployment levels are high but 65% of global companies are having trouble finding candidates with the skills their workforces require. So the need for high-performing employees, and for hiring the right candidate for the right job at the right place, has never been greater.

Thanks to data analytics, organizations are in a better position to study potential candidates and pinpoint with amazing accuracy those who have the capability to do the job, the capacity to learn new skills that may be needed in the future, and who are a good match with the culture of the company. We call these the three essential Cs of business success, and believe that understanding and hiring for these are the unquestionable keys to giving any enterprise a distinct competitive edge, giving employees the meaning they crave in their work and, as a result, shaping a better society.

Rudy Karsan is founder of Kenexa, an IBM company and provider of recruiting and talent management solutions to engage a smarter, more effective workforce across an organization's most critical business functions. The company was acquired by IBM in December 2012.

[Image: Flickr user Francis Mckee]

Add New Comment


  • SonOfLiberty1776

    Kenexa has more problems with employee
    retention than most. What the data shows you is one thing but the reality is
    even with their tools they are failing miserably at retaining their critical
    staff. It makes you wonder if they are not fulfilling their own mission
    with the insight and tools how are you ever going to?

  • Kymberlaine Banks

    I actually think this is hopeful. Companies are using big data to target gillions of marketing offers in my direction, I deeply appreciate seeing it used to help people and the places they belong find each other. I'm confused why we would be bothered by a company being able to predict someone's capability? The article doesn't say there will be no training or investment in employee development.

  • Paul Carey

    Interesting article albeit a pitch for Kenexa analytics.  Implied is the need to ascertain candidate authenticity, lifestyle and interests.  Implicit also is that maintaining a public self and private self will soon no longer be possible.  Given that privacy is ultimately an illusion, we must learn to present our authentic self letting the chips fall as they may.

  • Ryan Donnell

    Companies have been trying to do this for years with candidate testing. They try to predict cultural fit with personality tests. Big data does help a bit since there is now the potential to farm data from other sources, but will that 'data' be useful at finding candidates?

  • Sy

    There is a part of me that thinks along the GATTICA (or more recently Superman, Krypton) front here.  If my future is at the mercy of a data scientists modelling what chance to I have to over achieve against the odds?  Maybe I'm just being all together too human and emotional in pulling for the under dogs... but is it just me or do all the greats have stories where they shouldn't have made it?  Richard Brandson, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates... Those that change our world outside of aristocracy and politics are the ones the computer would have given up on.  Most fortune 500 CEO's would fail corporate paper sifts and competency tests.

    There is something really wrong about how we spot and mature talent.. because we're looking for the finished article, when we should be looking for the raw materials and trying to help people put all the parts together.  A business needs to hand out opportunity.

    Can a predictive analytics's model increase the success of the hires?  Probably, but those salmon who make it anyway... those are the ones business needs to nurture.

  • Altruistic One

    SY... Brilliant, incisive response.  

    On a related note, as I read through the article, from my
    standpoint as an educated careerist, I am horrified to know that the term “human
    capital” is used with absolutely no shame.




    What’s next? 
    Chattel?  3/5ths of all others?


    In a world where CEO’s pay, on average, is 273 times more
    than the pay of the rank-and-file employees, modern-day slavery seems to be an
    accepted norm.


    Sure, the Big House has morphed into the Big Corporate


    And the General Store – and the good ol’ greenback has been
    replace by scrips. 


    For those of you short on history, a scrip was a credit
    against the accrued wages of employees. In the United States, where everything
    in a mining or logging camp was run, created and owned by a company, scrip
    provided the worker with credit when their wages had been depleted. These
    remote locations were cash poor. Workers had very little choice but to purchase
    meals and goods at a company store. In this way, the company could place
    enormous markups on goods in a company store, making workers completely
    dependent on the company, thus enforcing their "loyalty" to the
    company. Additionally, while employees could exchange scrip for cash, it was
    rarely done at face value. Scrip in this context was valid only within that
    area or town where it was issued. While store owners in neighboring communities
    could accept the scrip as currency, they rarely provided a 1 for 1 exchange.
    This was to avoid the risk of having coins/currency that were worthless
    anywhere else.


    And to whom go the spoils? 
    The victor, of course!


    And from that Q&A, I ask you… who is winning in this


    …not just this recession; I am speaking of the overall
    global economy.


    If you are reading this, you are likely NOT a victor.


    If you THINK you are… ask yourself, when is the last time you
    referred to your co-workers, family, and friends as Human Capital.


    Slaves… one and all.