Using big data to profile the perfect worker

Pens and resume building pamphlets are displayed during the Job Hunter's Boot Camp at College of San Mateo in San Mateo, Calif.

Most of the time, when you're applying for a job, you pop online (or -- gasp -- read a paper), skim the ads and hopefully get an interview for a position that looks right for you. Then your would-be boss or recruiter talks to you and makes a final decision. But some large companies, including Xerox, are flipping that equation on its head. They're using big data to tell you what kind of job you'd be good at.

Michael Housman is the managing director of analytics for Evolv, Inc, based in San Francisco. They say they've found the formula for the perfect call center worker. Applicants answer a short survey and are then placed accordingly. 

To test out the formula, Housman gave Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal an abbreviated version of the survey. Here's a sampling of the questions, with Kai's answers below.

1.    Which of the following better represents you?

a)  I like to relax as long as it doesn't interfere with work
b)  It's ususally better to change your own behavior than to try to change others.

2.    Which of the following better represents you?

a)  People often underestimate the challenges others have faced in their lives
b)  I prefer to jump right into a task rather than spend time planning out the details.

3.    Which of the following better represents you?

a)  It takes a lot to really upset me
b)  It's usually best not to express your emotions at work.

4.     You gave a successful presentation to five colleagues from another department. The next day you realize some of the information you presented was incorrect and could negatively impact that department's credibility. Of the following, which is most similar to how you would handle this situation?

a) Correct the information in the slide deck and email it to the group, letting them know some important updates have been made.
b)  Ask my manager how she would like me to proceed.
c)  Ask a well-respected colleague that I'm close to what I should do.
d)  Briefly meet with each of the attendees to explain the error in person.

Which answers did you identify with?

Housman said Kai is best suited to be a trainer for "front-line hourly workers."

Ryssdal's answers: 1. (b) 2. (b) 3. (a) 4. (a)

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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