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The Big Lie of Big Data in Recruiting

A recruiter sits at his desk, struggling to comprehend all of the metrics involved in big data in recruiting.

Forget Big Data, Recruiters Need to Focus on Small Data

Big data is the future. At least that’s what people are eager to tell you nowadays. And with terms like machine learning and predictive analytics floating around, it’s hard not to think…big. Without a doubt, data science is transforming our world and will only continue to do so at more rapid rates as time goes on. However, if you work in recruiting, don’t drink the kool-aid just yet. Sure, data and metrics are a fundamental part of any good recruiting function but we must be realistic in our approach to collecting this information.

Big Data In Recruiting Becomes the Hot Topic

For the past couple of years, countless reports and articles have been released touting big data as the future of recruiting and hiring:


“How Google’s Using Big Data and Algorithms to Recruit Talent”


“How Big Data Is Changing Recruitment Forever”


“Big Data Brings Big Changes to Recruiting”


We get it…. big data is the hot topic. And in all fairness, it’s pretty compelling stuff- crunching millions of numbers, identifying key data points, and deriving valuable insights that drive profitable business decisions. How cool does that all sound!

Is Big Data Realistic for Recruiting?

But hold on a minute. There’s a lot of steam coming out of the big data hype machine and it may be clouding our view of the “bigger” picture. Theory sounds good in meetings, but actually applying big data in recruiting? It’s simply not a reality for the vast majority of us. Rolling out a big data initiative takes entire teams, even companies, working with the most advanced forms of technology. Those proclaiming that big data will be changing recruiting forever overlook two fundamental realities of our field:

1. At most companies, recruiting teams are small (we’re not all Google) and strapped for time as it is. They don’t have the capacity to collect, normalize, and analyze data all day.

2. Despite attempts to convince you otherwise, no recruiting technology truly processes big data today. Some enterprise systems rely on expensive, clunky analytics tools that can take months to setup and offer little flexibility. Others, like our applicant tracking system, provide you with key performance indicators (although highly useful, still not “big data”) right out of the box, which can be customized as needed.

Focusing on Small Data: Separating the Signal From the Noise

Don’t get us wrong, in recruiting, data is BIG! After all, at the end of the day, it’s your numbers that you are judged on. But let’s be real. Recruiting metrics are like air- there’s waaayyyy too much to even fathom or process. Attempting to analyze and draw insights from every single data point is not only unreasonable, it will end up costing you time and money in the long run.

Don’t try to boil the ocean. Instead, focus on the small data- that information that is specific and actionable. This will allow you to separate the signal (the numbers that really matter and help you drive profitable decisions) from the noise (all the other meaningless numbers and metrics often lumped under the guise of “big data”).

What Exactly Is Small Data?

Small data is information that can be immediately interpreted and put to use by a human without extensive processing. It is informative, easily accessible, and provides practical insights that drive business decisions. Martin Lindstrom, one of the major champions of small data, defines it as follows:

We encourage recruiting leaders to embrace this concept of small data. Instead of wasting time chasing the pipe dream of “big data,” focus on isolating specific variables and segments. These small data points will allow you to pinpoint bottlenecks and make efficiency improvements – to solve for what matters most rapidly.

Real World Examples of Small Data In Recruiting

So how can you apply small data in your current work environment? Below are some common applications of small data that you can start utilizing today:

Candidate Source Reports

Candidate source information can be automatically collected and readily used to inform recruiters about which channels bring in the highest quality of candidates (can also track the effectiveness of your job advertising spend). Notice we say automatically. With newly introduced methods of candidate source reporting like tracking links, pixel placement, and cookie tracking, employers can now track source attribution more accurately with no manual work on their end.

Stage-to-Stage Hiring Velocity Metrics

Recruiting is a linear process driven by a series of yes / no decision points. For this reason, stage-to-stage hiring velocity metrics give you an immediate read on your recruiting efficiency. Quickly identify any friction in your recruiting process and answer questions like:

  • -Are our hiring managers reviewing resumes?
  • -Are recruiting coordinators acting with a sense of urgency?
  • -Are managers making time for phone screens and interviews?

Reasons for Non-Selection

Reviewing the reasons that a candidate is dispositioned from the interview process can help spot important trends. For example, employers that detect troubling amounts of CNIs (candidates not interested), can course correct deficiencies in a recruiting process or provide coaching to hiring managers with bad habits.

Interview Feedback Data

Interview feedback produces data that can help recruiting programs make better decisions on which candidates to pursue or pass on. Metrics associated with the success rates of specific hiring managers and how successful candidates are after they are hired helps to increase retention rates and avoid mistakes.


Stay tuned for our next blog post where we will take a deep dive into small data recruiting metrics and provide you with spreadsheets and dashboards to help manage and track all of this information.


Recruiting Metrics: Get Big Results With Small Data

Although big data tends to be at the top of every “Top 10 Recruiting Trends” list, for most of us, the answer is small. Why? Small data is far more manageable and easier to collect. Not to mention, focusing on small data allows you to quickly isolate key metrics and find answers to the most pressing “why” questions that drive successful business decisions. Don’t get lost in the hype of big data. Shift your focus to small data if you really want to improve your recruiting processes.

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