It’s every job seeker’s worst fear: You have the experience and qualifications, but get a sinking feeling that the recruiter is judging you based on other criteria–your ethnicity, age, appearance, or beliefs. Should you have worn more makeup? Should you have taken that Obama pin off of your bag?
Luis Salazar, CEO of online employment service Jobaline, wondered if there was a way to use technology to protect interviewees from prejudice. Jobaline is a site that lets hourly-wage workers apply for jobs in industries like food-service and construction, and Salazar discovered that many applicants were frustrated by what they perceived as discrimination in the hiring process.
Now Salazar has come up with an innovative way to help remove bias from the hiring process. Recently he announced the Jobaline Voice Analyzer, which recommends candidates for jobs based on how their voices might make listeners feel. The service uses algorithms to assess paralinguistic elements of speech, such as tone and inflection, and predict which emotions a specific voice will elicit–excitement, for instance, or calmness. Then Jobaline uses that information to pinpoint a type of work at which an applicant might excel–irrespective of other personal factors. “There are so many sources of bias when you’re dealing with humans,” he says. “The beauty of math is that it’s blind. It helps give everybody a fair chance.”
Voice analysis is the latest in a string of innovations Jobaline has brought to market to streamline the job-matching system for hourly employees and employers. There are some 75 million hourly workers in the U.S., comprising about 59% of the workforce, yet many struggle to connect with employers because they can’t afford the technology needed to apply for jobs online, Salazar says. The Kirkland, Washington company wants to fix that.
Jobaline started, as many career opportunities do, with a “help wanted” sign. Salazar, a former general manager at Microsoft and VP of global product marketing at Yahoo!, was advising startups and meeting regularly with clients at his local coffee shop. Eventually, he noticed that there always seemed to be a job posting in the café’s window. When he asked the manager about it, he got an earful. Companies waste billions of dollars per year finding and interviewing hourly job applicants, he learned, few of whom have the right qualifications. The cost of hiring and training new employees can total 30% of annual wages, while the annual turnover rate is as high as 50% in hospitality and 200% in fast food.
Yet while the hiring process is expensive and inefficient for employers, it’s even more frustrating for workers. Few employers offer the option for candidates to apply via cell phone, despite the fact that most hourly job seekers access the Internet primarily through mobile devices. “This market is still in the dark ages, technology-wise,” Salazar says. “It broke our hearts to see the digital divide.”
Salazar and co-founder Miki Mullor launched Jobaline in 2012, creating a bilingual, mobile-focused platform that pre-screens applicants to better match them with employers. The service verifies names and addresses, assesses each candidate’s skills and guides applicants through an automated phone interview, saving hours of job recruiters’ time. Instead of paying per click, employers who use Jobaline pay per qualified candidate who meets their criteria.
Job seekers benefit, too: Workers who don’t own a PC can complete an application by smart phone or even by text message, if they still use a feature phone. “We wanted to make it more accessible for everyone. Your level of access to technology should not limit your chances of starting your American dream,” says Salazar.
So far, Jobaline has processed more than 650,000 applications. The company says it reduces the cost of recruiting by 60%, cuts the time it takes to hire an employee in half, and doubles the volume of qualified applicants.
Now, Salazar is banking on voice analysis to further refine those figures. While reviewing automated phone interviews, Salazar noticed that employers sometimes responded to the sound of an applicant’s voice, unrelated to the content of his or her answers. He asked his team if there was a way to identify the vocal characteristics that catch a listener’s ear.
The company came up with a series of algorithms that can predict whether people will find a voice sample engaging and energizing, or calm and soothing. If a job seeker’s voice is found to possess either of these qualities, Jobaline adds a badge to the applicant’s résumé telling the employer. Such recommendations can help candidates find their way into jobs better suited to their skills, Salazar says–such as sales or customer service. A sample of listeners agreed with Jobaline’s predictions 72% of the time, according to a third-party market research survey.
Salazar sees voice technology as an equalizing force in the job hunt. “We’re not looking at your age, your gender, your sexual or political orientation–we’re doing a very objective analysis of something that’s intrinsic to you: your voice,” he says. “We recommend to the employer, ‘Regardless of how she looks, regardless of how young or old she is, regardless of her belief system, she will be a heck of a good telemarketer because she will connect great with your customers.’ That is what really inspires me about this type of technology–it makes this whole process less biased.”
In the future, Salazar hopes to expand the range of emotions the company can detect. He envisions identifying voices that command authority–which, at a construction site, for example, could mean the difference between a safe and unsafe working environment.
Not every employer will care about the vocal attributes of its workers, he says, but for Jobaline’s client list of hotels, call centers, staffing and retail companies, the data could be an added leg up. And there’s no downside to connecting employees with jobs they will do well. “If the general manager of a hotel chain doesn’t show up to work today, nobody will feel it. But if the housekeeper of your floor doesn’t show up, you will have a bunch of disgruntled customers and it will be a disaster,” Salazar says. “The people that keep the economy going are these hourly workers, so we need to treat them better.”