Whether you’ve just graduated from school or you’ve had it up to here in your current position, looking for a job can test the limits of your patience. It can actually be downright discouraging. Your well-written, error-free cover letters rarely solicit a response. On those rare occasions when you’re granted an interview, you show up on time wearing nice, conservative clothing and generally make a strong impression. The interview goes well and you’re certain you’ll hear from the company.

Days go by … and nothing. Self-doubt starts to creep in. Maybe you’re not as qualified as you think.

In fact, you may very well be an ideal candidate, but computer programs designed to evaluate information gleaned from job applications, personality tests and social media unceremoniously reject you. A growing number of organizations are depending on algorithms to help shape their hiring practices, yet some observers believe it’s a mistake to rely so heavily on technology.

In a 2016 article printed in The Guardian, author and blogger Cathy O’Neil contends that any system designed by humans is inherently flawed since humans are not perfect. It’s therefore a mistake not to question any program that’s been touted as “scientific.”

“Most of these algorithmic applications were created with good intentions,” O’Neil writes. “The goal was to replace subjective judgments with objective measurements in any number of fields. Given their scale and importance, combined with their secrecy, these algorithms have the potential to create an underclass of people who will find themselves increasingly and inexplicably shut out from normal life.”

O’Neil estimates that algorithmic programs are utilized on perhaps as many as 70% of prospective employees in America. In many cases, computer screening automatically weeds out resumes from suitable candidates whose qualifications are never reviewed by human beings.

Algorithms affect much more than just hiring practices. Huge companies such as Amazon and Netflix use algorithms to personalize what you see on the Internet. It’s entirely possible that a computer program can prevent you from being exposed to material that may not align with your “clicking preferences.” Merchandise and movies is one thing, but what about being “cut off from the cultural and ideological mainstream,” as Internet activist Eli Pariser said in The Washington Post last year.

That’s a scary proposition for sure. Maybe the pendulum will swing back and companies will restore a bit more humanity into their hiring practices. It might take some of the sting out of rejection.


 How Algorithms Rule Our Working Lives
Cathy O’Neil
The Guardian, 2016


Rick is a Senior Writer at getAbstract and a professional journalist. He contributes summaries and blog posts focusing on leadership, management and innovation.

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