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eHarmony online dating site will be matching job applicants with employers – Is that a good idea?

The media has reported that the online dating website eHarmony will be entering the recruiting business—matching employers with people looking for a job.

Beginning first in the United States likely in June 2013, and soon thereafter in Canada, eHarmony plans to use its matching technology used to pair singles looking for love matches in a different way—it plans to help find the perfect employment union. That is, eHarmony will be using its technology to create the perfect harmony between job candidates and employers. How successful will this venture be, and will it change how employers find new employees?

It seems to make sense because this technology has been used to examine specific details about a person and match them with those of another to find the best life partner. Typically, when people have more things in common, they tend to get along better.

Similarly, the interview process is pretty much like dating, where the employer tries to find out details about the person to see if hiring the person would create a good fit; likewise, the job applicant is trying to determine if the workplace culture is befitting and desirable.

Well, it apparently works in the dating scene—will it work for employers and job applicants? Can this technology be used to find a good long-term fix for the workplace?

Applying eHarmony’s technology to HR recruiting would involve asking the employer and the individual to complete several lengthy and detailed questionnaires emphasizing their culture and what they are seeking.

The computer subsequently does its thing using the matching technology and alerts the most suitable candidates and the employer of the results. At that point, the parties can review the profiles and interact online prior to meeting—kind of like courting.

This is quite different from what an employer usually does when recruiting employees; typically, an employer would post the job ad, scan resumes, select and invite some candidates for an interview, dominate the interview by asking several questions in person to observe body language and content of answers, make decisions about hiring, check references, and then make the offer of employment with certain terms set out.

On one hand, I can see how eHarmony’s approach could be more technologically savvy and appropriate for 2013, and very helpful for making suitable matches in terms of culture.

But on the other hand, I can see some issues potentially arising.

First, by focusing solely on culture and interests to find suitable matches, we are forgetting one thing – recruiting employees is not just about finding things in common with a person. In fact, I’ve done some research on recruitment, and it turns out that the more an employer goes with its gut and hires the person they like and think is similar to them instead of the person who is most qualified for the job, the more likely it is that the employment arrangement does not work out in the end. Instead of applying the typical standardized testing and questioning to determine if the person has the proper skills and qualifications for the job, an employer can be led down the wrong path by hiring someone it believes is similar to it. Sadly, it is been found that employers ask about four or five questions of the candidate, and then make a hiring decision.

Second, by asking all of these detailed questions in a questionnaire, things get a bit tricky in terms of human rights considerations. That is, when employers are engaging in recruitment activities, there are certain questions that they cannot ask of the job applicant. This is because those questions touch on prohibited grounds of discrimination. It is concerning that so many detailed questions would be asked, some of which could be limiting the candidate pool with the click of a button, by trimming a certain age group or religion (for example) from the search. Along the same lines, when a job applicant posts, or even chooses not to post, a picture of a job applicant, things can get tricky, as it can reveal certain things about a person (for example, weight, age, place of origin, disability, or there must be a reason why the person refuses to post a picture) that can actually be a factor in hiring decisions, and this is clearly contrary to human rights legislation throughout Canada.

Third, it is important to remember that, just as a single person’s profile may not be completely truthful to make a more appealing first impression, so too are a large number of resumes out there. It has been revealed in studies that about a third of resumes have at least one piece of fiction in them. Employers and job applicants are going to have to understand that honesty is critical for this technical matching process to work, and this may not always occur in reality – especially during the honeymoon phase of an employment relationship.

Fourth, it will be interesting to see how this will apply in employment, compared to a very particular group of individuals (singles) who pay for the service to find a life mate. Clearly, this is a smaller more specific group in the database compared to what will happen with large numbers of employment candidates and employers.

Fifth, we have to remember that recent statistics reveal four in 10 marriages end in divorce. We should be asking whether we want to strive to match employers and job candidates in the same way that people tend to match themselves when looking for life partners. But maybe that is a little bit too pessimistic…

What do you think? Do you think this technology will work to find the perfect fit in employment?

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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