Tag Archives: Nantucket


Can You Beat the Box? Getting Hired by Machine

This morning’s Wall Street Journal covers a growing trend in which companies are using software and algorithms to make hiring decisions, cutting out the traditional job application and in person interview processes.

It is a fascinating read.  It also reinforces the notion that there really are no limits to what software can disrupt, where software can make an impact.  It was also interesting to me, because, little known fact about me, based on a multiple choice test, I was once declared not qualified to become a junior stock broker trainee.  More on that below… :)

I will be interested in watching this trend evolve.  In particular, I’m interested to watch and learn how  prospective applicants react to this.  Potentially in a bad job market, people are more willing to take a test and try to ‘beat the box,’ relative to what they might have done in the past.  I’d love to see whether sites pop up where applicants try to share information on how they answered questions during the test, and what worked.  Gaming of a system always happens, and in this realm, I’d assume that’ll happen too.  I’m going to figure as well that job placement firms and job coaches / counselors etc. will in time evolve to help job seekers how to “Look Your Best, When Taking the Test.”  This all sounds a little silly when I think about it, but in a very real and serious sense, as you shift this behavior to software, you start to realize that all sorts of second order behavior will change along with it.

For my own part, though I was always really good at test taking, I’m really glad that (hopefully) I won’t have to do this to get a job.  Very early in my 20s, some good friends of mine got me a job interview at one of the big stock brokerage firms in Boston.  The opportunity was to join the training program for stock brokers, basically to start cold calling.  I knew next to nothing about the stock market, but that didn’t really seem to matter.  What mattered to those I interviewed with was that I could connect with them, was a good communicator, clearly worked hard, etc.

On the basis of the first day of human interviews, the feedback was that I’d done great, and they were hoping to make me an offer.  I was waiting tables at the time, so I felt like I was getting a lead on working on Wall Street.  I envisioned Michael J. Foxx in the movie The Secret of My Success, Charlie Sheen in Wall Street.  That was me, baby.  I’d arrived!

The one step between that first day of in person interviews and getting an offer was a basic test that they wanted me to take.  Reflecting back on it, I think this test was something like a Myers-Briggs profile.  It asked questions like, “if you have a free evening would you rather read a book or spend it with friends?”  Things like that: no wrong answers.  As someone who’d made a lifetime of crushing standardized, fill in the bubble type tests, this was a breeze.  I was in and out in about 30 minutes.  Didn’t think a thing of it, shook hands with everyone on my way out as I envisioned weekends on Nantucket and lying in a solid gold bathtub filled with dollar bills.   We were all fired up–they were excited for me to start, and I thrilled to have a real job and not have to wait the breakfast shift at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge (where I was working at the time).

A few days later, I got a phone call.  That phone call said, Jay, we’er really sorry but based on the results of this test, we don’t think you’re really someone who’s a great long-term fit as a stock broker.  Bummer, nho gold-plated bathtub for me!

I’d forgotten all about this until my brother in law reminded me of it a few months ago.  We had a huge laugh about it–and I can barely contain laughter as I think about it now.  Though I’d been deemed unfit to be a stock broker, in all honesty, not beating the box that day was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

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