Tommy Yazdi was a recent arrival to the New York metropolitan area in 2015 when he saw a Craigslist posting for a job at a chain clothing store. Candidates were advised to dress stylishly and show up at the Soho outlet in downtown Manhattan for an inspection and interview. “It was like a casting call for store clerks,” says Yazdi, now 23.
Setting off in a cold autumn rain from his apartment in Hoboken, N.J., the St. Louis native popped his umbrella, walked a mile to the nearest station, took the train into Manhattan, switched to the subway, and walked several blocks to the store. Staffers told him to join the line of hopefuls outside in the drizzle.
By the time he reached the front of the line, his shoes, socks, and the bottom half of his pants were soaked. Nevertheless, staffers took photos of his still stylish outfit, asked a few questions, and turned to the next in line. Interview time: Five minutes. Round-trip travel time: two-plus hours—all for a gig that paid minimum wage. He got the job, though, and stayed eight months. “About average,” he says.
This awkward mating ritual may soon be just a soggy memory for go-getters like Yazdi. Online staffing platforms developed by my own firm Snagajob, as well as outfits like Indeed, are tapping into artificial intelligence (AI) to recognize, analyze, and classify worker and employer data, which is then fed into algorithms to match the right person with the right job.
Tech-boosted accuracy in these workplace pairings addresses a major issue: 16% of small business owners say that finding qualified workers is their single most important business problem, according to a 2017 survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business. And yet 62% of owners say they’ve made wrong hires, according to a 2016 small business survey sponsored by the Monster staffing platform. Nearly a quarter (24%) of those mismatches led to a loss of customers.
Workers and employers alike agree that the traditional in-person interview is a lousy way to hire for lightly skilled positions in the hourly economy, which employs some 80 million Americans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It has a poor record of selecting the strongest applicants and contributes to the high turnover in these types of positions. “Regular face-to-face interviews are the worst predictors of employee performance,” says Diane Mulcahy, author of The Gig Economy. “There’s tons of data on it, and yet we keep doing them.”
In addition to greater accuracy, a sleeker process will help drive down the cost for job seekers, which can be a real drain on personal finances. Yazdi’s rainy-day excursion to Soho cost him about $10 for transportation. Most applicants devote five to ten hours applying for jobs, experts estimate. Some spend money on grooming and wardrobe upgrades as well, and many take unpaid time from their current job to attend interviews for a potential new gig. All those investments can add up for workers like those in retail sales, where the median wage is around $11 per hour, according to the BLS.
The investment on the employer side is just as substantial. Location managers of service industry outlets spend hours filling open positions: writing and posting online job notices; screening applicants; phoning, emailing or texting top prospects to set up interviews; and conducting in-person interviews with finalists. The average cost of hiring a new hourly staff member is $2,000, according to Dallas-based TDn2K, which crunches workforce data and other benchmarks for the restaurant industry.
To be sure, hiring has come a long way. Twenty years ago, it was all about shifting from offline to online, which vastly increased the discoverability of job opportunities. That also introduced a now-familiar problem—information overload, which made it difficult for job seekers to tell which opportunities were right for them.
For employers, internet-driven discoverability unleashed a flood of applications. That slowed employer responses to candidates, which remains a big problem. In survey after survey, workers cite the length of time it takes employers to respond as the most frustrating and discouraging part of the job search.
Then came the shift from desktop to mobile, and now a third wave of change centers on AI and analytics, which are proving to be as effective as the judgment of location managers, who typically have little training in hiring. It’s early days, but here at Snagajob, the results indicate that 95% of our algorithm selections match those of professional recruiters.
What else may be just over the horizon? On the employer side, experts say, enhanced worker profiles, digital work reputations, and a one-time AI assessment will enable real-time matching of prospects and open positions. Additional screening usually won’t be necessary, except in cases where, say, a background check is required, and that vetting will take just a few minutes. Candidate ranking and interview scheduling—if an interview is needed—will be automated and based on a location manager’s availability.
On the job seeker side, some experts envision staffing platforms that present candidates with, say, five open positions that algorithms flag as high-probability fits, ranked by a match score. For openings where the match score is high, candidates may prequalify for an interview without having to fill out an application.
And that interview may look nothing like Yazdi’s experience. Some platforms are incorporating online video-based interviews with recorded, standardized questions that applicants can answer on any device when and where it’s convenient. At Snagajob, we’re piloting assessments that are a hybrid of AI and cognitive games.
In the ultimate win-win for certain types of lightly skilled jobs, a match may result in an instant hire with no interview necessary. The applicant simply clicks to accept the job and shows up for work.
Another interview-less option that may benefit both worker and employer is a “try before you buy” audition. A screened candidate who looks like a solid bet can pick up a few paid shifts to see if the fit is a good one for all concerned. In that case, both the worker and the employer switch from paying opportunity costs to getting full value for time spent on the hiring dance floor.
As for Tommy Yazdi, he’s already benefitted from the demise of the old-school, in-person interview. When he relocated to Southern California in 2018, a retail outlet of a high-end fashion brand conducted an interview with him on FaceTime. Instead of battling Los Angeles traffic, Yazdi invested his time in making sure he looked the part—clean-shaven, hair neatly combed, dress shirt crisp. Out of camera range, though, he was still rocking the pajama bottoms he wore when he rolled out of bed 20 minutes prior to the interview. And, yes, he got the job.
Mathieu Stevenson is the CEO of Snagajob.