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Employers mine digital footprints

Each mouse click leaves behind a digital footprint, and those trails increasingly are being tracked by employers to help make hiring and other employment decisions.

How often do you visit LinkedIn or Facebook? More often than you used to? That could be a sign you’re thinking of quitting.

How many minutes did you take to handle that incoming phone call? You may be great at mollifying angry customers, but the company might be losing money from long conversations.

That pre-employment online personality assessment you took? Your answers, when compared with others who are successful in this job, may indicate you’re not a good fit.

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Such is the world of “talent analytics,” a way to use data to evaluate job candidates, monitor in-house performance and even discern attitudes.

“Today, every email, instant message, phone call, line of written code and mouse click leaves a digital signal,” attorney Tedrick Housh told a Kansas City ballroom full of human resource practitioners and other clients at a recent employment law seminar.

That data “can now be inexpensively collected and mined for insights into how people work and communicate,” the Lathrop & Gage attorney said.

Housh said 14 percent of America’s largest public companies are known to use talent analytics, and its use promises to mushroom.

He told about JetBlue Airways’ “annual hiring-date satisfaction” standard, which measures an employee’s willingness to recommend the company as a place to work. It creates a “crew member net promoter score” used to help set compensation and bonuses, he said.

At JetBlue, Housh said, that data collection is relatively transparent. Workers know what’s being asked and how the answers are used. But all data collection by companies isn’t explained in advance.

For example, Transcom, a call center operator, used an assessment for job candidates that asked whether they knew simple keyboard shortcuts to check their computer ability. If they said they knew how to do a certain shortcut, they’re asked to perform the task. Voila, Housh said: a quick check on honesty along with task performance.

Some Silicon Valley firms, in particular, have developed sophisticated talent analytics. Hiring managers don’t have to rely on GPAs or what applicants list on their résumés to make decisions. Rather, they mine data to find candidates who match the traits of their most successful employees.

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This drive for data has created a new position within some corporate human resource departments – director or manager of talent analytics.

It’s also created more awareness of worker privacy and worker surveillance. According to Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, “You don’t know what data is being collected and how it is used.”

Witness, Housh said, “predictive data analytics” used at Microsoft. With them, he said, “it becomes possible to paint a profile of those staff that are more likely to leave.”

For example, in certain technical roles at the company, Housh said Microsoft found that employees who had been hired direct from a university three or more years before and had been promoted once since then were likely to leave for a different job.

That information gives the company the ability to work to keep the person – if it wants to – sometimes even before the individual is actually looking to change.

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