Workforce Myths Debunked: Why everything we think we know about hiring young workers could be wrong

Workforce Myths Debunked: Why everything we think we know about hiring young workers could be wrong

Workforce analytics—using “big data” to hire, manage talent, and measure workforce performance—is becoming an increasingly prominent part of the American business landscape, as more companies turn to new techniques to streamline their hiring and retention processes.

This type of quantitative analysis seems to get a bad rap among many of my peers. I can’t say I blame them: When many young workers think of workforce analytics, they often think of HR filters—automated resume screens that make it seemingly impossible to get your resume seen by a human. As HR managers sort through the thousands of applications they receive for entry-level positions, it’s all too easy to screen by crude indicators of skill—degree, GPA, no criminal record—thus permanently cutting hundreds of thousands of young people out of consideration for entry-level positions. Yet, these metrics are commonly used in screening tools and make sense—or do they?

As part of my work with Hope Street Group’s Jobs & Workforce team, I spend a lot of time studying current jobs and workforce trends, and thinking about how we can use technology to get young people on a path to meaningful work. As a result, I have a very different view: I see workforce analytics as having enormous potential to act as an equalizer, using data to help job-seekers truly get recognized based on ability. A small, but growing number of workforce analytics firms have recently generated some truly astonishing insights, which suggest that several common screening tactics may in fact be cutting millions of qualified young people out of the workforce.

Below, I’d like to share just a sample of common hiring and workforce myths that have been recently debunked:

Myth #1: Don’t hire people with a criminal record

A study of thousands of hourly call center employees by Evolv, a workforce analytics firm, found that employees with a criminal record (both misdemeanors and felonies) did not see a decline in performance. In fact, employees with a record were 1.1% more productive on average (1).

Think safety is still a concern? Think again. Another Evolv study of hourly hires found that employees with a criminal record, but no arrests in the last 4-5 years, were no more likely to commit an infraction than the average person. What’s more, this trend is unlikely to reverse—crime rates in America have been falling since 1991 (2).

Myth #2: Don’t hire the long-term unemployed

Many unemployed Americans face the truly terrifying prospect of the “six month cliff”: after six months of being out of work, many employers will not even consider a worker’s resume, fearing skills deterioration (3).

However, in entry-level positions at least, the facts don’t back up this discrimination: Evolv found that employees with a history of long-term unemployment (no employment in past 5 years) were comparable other workers both in job tenure and performance (4).

Myth #3: “Millennials” are entitled, spoiled and overly critical

The youngest generation of workers (“millenials”) faces cultural stigma as well; a common fear by managers is that millennial are not only demanding, but also difficult to manage and contemptuous of established authority.

Yet, a study of over 200,000 employees by Kenexa, a workforce analytics subsidiary of IBM, seems to contradict these views: yes, millenials experience slightly lower levels of job satisfaction than “Baby Boomers” and “Gen Xers,” however, they actually rated their immediate managers more positively than older generations, and had a higher sense of overall company satisfaction and optimism about their career trajectory (5).

Myth #4: Better employees have better GPAs

There’s no denying that a 4.0 student from MIT will probably be a high-performer wherever he or she goes. Yet, a recent internal study by Google’s “People Ops” team revealed that at least within Google, the link between GPA and performance is tenuous at best, and disappears rapidly after graduation. In fact, as Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior VP of People Ops, said, “Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything” (6).

Of course, the big question here is, what metrics can employers actually use? My guess is that more employers will start using competency-based tests, which focus on current skills and personal characteristics. One example:

Your performance as an employee can be predicted by what browser you use to fill out your online job application.

As unbelievable as it sounds, another Evolv study of workforce performance showed that job applicants who used a manually-installed browser (e.g., Firefox or Chrome) generally performed better than those that used a pre-installed browser (e.g. Internet Explorer) (7). This fact might seem nonsensical at first, but it leads to a deeper point: applicants with some basic technical skills are generally better performers, even in non-tech jobs. In a way, an applicant’s choice of browser is a simple test of these basic tech skills. Similarly, there is a growing market for online skills assessments that test employee competencies as part of the application—Hire Art, an increasingly popular jobs matchmaking startup, uses mainly tests of written and technical ability to recommend candidates to employers. A number of universities, including Western Governor’s University, have also begun offering competency-based degrees rather than awarding credits based on “seat time.”

Companies may never stop asking young people for their transcripts, GPA, and work history. Yet, each new insight derived from workforce analytics makes me hopeful. As new technology emerges that helps us look at data in in fresh ways, employers should start looking at previously disconnected young people that they hadn’t considered before. In the interim, Hope Street Group will continue working to close the gap on the employee side by helping young people develop the skills and training that they need to get hired.


1. Giang, Vivian. “Why Criminals Might Make Better Employees.” Business Insider. N.p., 4 Dec. 2012. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.

2. “Where Have All the Burglars Gone?” The Economist. N.p., 20 July 2013. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.

3. Worstall, Tim. “After Six Months, Unemployment Turns Into Permanent Unemployment.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.

4. Evolv Inc., “The Influence of Work History on Attrition.”

5. Kenexa, “The Generations Debate Degenerates: Finding Facts Among the Myths.”

6. Bryant, Adam. “In Head Hunting, Big Data May Not Be Such a Big Deal.” The New York Times. N.p., 19 June 2013. Web. 18 Sept. 2013

7. “Robot Recruiters: How Software Helps Firms Hire Workers More Efficiently.” The Economist. N.p., 6 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 Sept. 2013

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