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L'Oreal is hoping you're worth it

A job seeker fills out an application at

A job seeker fills out an application at a job fair in Manhattan. Credit: Bloomberg News / Victor J. Blue

Talk about jamming the inbox. L'Oréal, the global cosmetics company, wanted to hire 70 new college graduates in China, and 33,000 applied.

Just thinking about winnowing that pile of resumes makes my brain pretzel.

This avalanche buries L'Oreal each year as it greets the new class of 7 million job-hungry Chinese graduates. But this year, the company was prepared . . . with an algorithm.

Instead of a resume, L'Oréal invited each job applicant to answer three questions via smartphone. A Shanghai company called Seedlink Tech ran the answers through its algorithm to examine how the applicants used language. The hope is to predict traits that would identify the people most suited to reach the top of L'Oreal.

L'Oréal didn't want to know the graduates' grade-point averages or even which universities they attended. Instead, applicants were asked this: If they had a month and $4,000 to tackle any project they desired, what would they do?

This hiring method tells us something about the ideal next-generation employees. He will be creative and able to communicate in writing. She will know how to apply 21st century technology's tools.

The L'Oréal scenario also tells us something about schools. The company was essentially making an end-run around China's education system. The students who emerge at the top of the academic heap might not be the most innovative or have the other "soft skills" the company wants. If they did, working down the list by class rank would net the right employees.

Instead, the best students might just be the best at following rules and acing tests. Too, China's education system is said to be stacked against students who don't have much money -- and we could we say the same here.

I find this hiring method exciting because it could usher us into a future where people win opportunities on merit, not simply by an accident of birth.

Ivan Casanova is the senior vice president of marketing and product at Jibe in Manhattan, which also uses "big data" to recruit job candidates for companies like Walmart, GM and Microsoft. He said employers gather data on what he called the "class of education," employment history and soft skills of their most effective people. Jibe uses this to build an algorithm for each job category.

"There are a number of software companies now trying to make sense out of all that data," he said. "This is the new dimension."

A job-seeker might apply for one position but be told that he'd be better suited to something else at the company, Casanova said, adding that a better job fit potentially means happier employees.

Back at L'Oréal, applicant Laurel Sun's response ranked sixth overall. Sun, 22, said she would set up a door-to-door delivery service for college students to order desserts online. She would spend one week surveying students about their favorite desserts and what they would pay; one week buying the equipment and the ingredients, and making the desserts herself; and two weeks setting up the e-commerce site, giving out free samples and mounting other promotions. At the end of the month: Launch the business.

This new hiring landscape tells us something as educators and parents. For one thing, the informational reading and writing skills required to meet Common Core standards are going to be very useful to students. However, the amount of standardization creeping into education might need some revision.

I asked Casanova about this. "A standardized set of data can be very helpful," he said, "but if it's the only measure you evaluate students or teachers on, you're going to miss some bright lights."

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.


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