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The Algorithm: How AI Decides Who Gets Hired

Written By Michael Ferrara

Created on 2024-01-07 19:50

Published on 2024-01-10 13:51

Hilke Schellmann, in her insightful book "The Algorithm: How AI Decides Who Gets Hired," delves into the profound impact of artificial intelligence on the hiring process. Schellmann, an adept journalist, uncovers how companies increasingly rely on AI for evaluating candidates, from résumé screening to conducting interviews. Through meticulous research, she sheds light on the hidden biases and ethical challenges inherent in these automated systems. Her exploration extends beyond hiring, examining AI's role in employee surveillance, unfair layoffs, and promotions. By highlighting the intersection of technology and employment, Schellmann raises critical questions about privacy, fairness, and the future of work in an AI-driven world.

Excessively Narrowing Down the Applicant Pool

Schellmann outlines four main strategies that companies often use in conjunction with AI to reduce the number of job applicants. These strategies are:

Navigating the Complexities of AI in Hiring

Schellmann's exploration into AI's role in hiring reveals critical insights. Addressing fairness, transparency, accountability, and ethical considerations, her work underscores the importance of maintaining data privacy, inclusive design, and regular audits in AI systems. Schellmann advocates for robust human oversight, thorough training, and strict legal compliance to ensure AI's responsible use in recruitment.

Schellmann covers a broad range of topics related to AI in hiring. Let's overview some key points:

AI-Driven Employee Termination Decisions

Schellmann provides specific examples of how AI tools have been used in employee terminations:

These examples highlight the significant impact and potential issues associated with the use of AI in employment decisions, particularly in terminations and layoffs.

AI-Guided Employee Promotion

Schellmann does touch on the topic of AI in the context of employee promotions. It discusses how AI tools, such as the Eightfold tool, analyze data to track employees' career trajectories and progression within an organization. The tool can identify employees who are advancing faster than their peers, which might be interpreted as a sign of hard work and potential suitability for promotion.

However, she also raises concerns about this approach. It points out that promotions are not always based on employees doing their best work. For instance, employees on a slower trajectory, such as those who take time off or work part-time for personal reasons like childcare or eldercare, or those dealing with disabilities or chronic illnesses, might be overlooked by AI tools. This suggests that while AI can assist in identifying potential candidates for promotion, it might also inadvertently disregard employees whose career paths don't align with traditional patterns of progression, leading to potential biases in promotion decisions.

The Perils of Excessive Authority in AI: Misjudgments and Biases

Schellmann, concerns are raised about algorithms that have too much authority, specifically those used for social media background checks. These algorithms, criticized for being overly simplistic (such as relying on keyword searches), can have significant authority in determining employment outcomes. The concern is that they might misinterpret content, like failing to distinguish between real threats of violence and sharing violent song lyrics, or misidentify instances of bullying online.

The danger of these algorithms is that they might wrongly exclude people from employment based on misunderstood social media content, including those who might be sharing personal struggles or experiences. The book highlights the case of an individual, Kai Moore, who was fortunate that their employer overlooked the findings of a social media background check. However, the implication is that others might not be so fortunate and could be unfairly judged or even fired based on these algorithmic assessments.

According to Schellmann, AI tools like Humantic's AI are used to predict various aspects of a candidate's personality and behavior. These AI tools analyze data, including text from work and social media feeds, to assess and predict:

These predictive tools aim to understand more than just the information provided by candidates; they seek to delve into the nuances of personality and behavior as indicated by their online activities and interactions.

AI's Integration of Psycholinguistics and Computational Psychometrics in Hiring

The CEO of Humantic AI explained how their algorithm relies on natural language processing (NLP) to analyze text, which relates to psycholinguistics, the study of language processing. Similarly, creators of Crystal use AI to assess personality traits based on text data, aligning with computational psychometrics.

For example, imagine an AI that analyzes all text associated with a user, including phrases used on LinkedIn profiles, job titles, and other related information. These examples illustrate how AI tools in hiring delve into psycholinguistics and computational psychometrics to evaluate candidates.

Schellmann's experience with varying AI personality predictions emphasizes a core problem with AI assessments: they can yield highly divergent results based on the data they analyze, such as different social media content. This inconsistency underscores the need for human judgment in interpreting these outcomes. Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychology professor, emphasizes that AI is a prediction tool, while human intervention is essential in determining how to use these predictions. When AI predictions conflict or differ significantly, it's crucial to cross-reference with other data, investigate the reasons behind variations, and consider broader context, like a candidate's work history. This process demands both competence and expertise to distinguish meaningful insights from AI-generated data, separating signal from noise.

One-Sided AI Interactions

Schellmann reflects her personal experience with AI-based hiring processes, particularly one-way video interviews. She says, "I feel like I am speaking into a void and have no idea how I am coming off." This statement captures the sense of uncertainty and disconnection that can accompany interactions with AI in hiring.

In a traditional interview, candidates receive immediate feedback through verbal and non-verbal cues from the interviewer, which helps them adjust their approach and understand how they are being perceived. However, in AI-driven interviews, particularly those without a live interviewer, candidates like Schellmann express feeling isolated and unsure about how their responses are being received and evaluated. This uncertainty can be unnerving and make the interview experience more challenging.

The quote highlights a broader concern about the increasing impersonal nature of job applications and interviews in the age of AI and technology. It brings attention to the emotional and psychological aspects of job applicants' experiences, which are often overlooked in automated processes. This sentiment underscores the need for a more human-centric approach in AI-driven hiring practices.

Critical Issues Exposed

Relying excessively on algorithms during the hiring process has revealed numerous significant problems.


Schellmann unveils the intricate impact of AI on hiring. This incisive work reveals how AI shapes candidate evaluation, from résumé screening to interviews, highlighting both the efficiencies and biases inherent in these systems. Schellmann's investigation extends to AI's role in employee surveillance, layoffs, and promotions, illuminating ethical concerns and potential injustices, such as unjust terminations exemplified by the case at Estée Lauder Companies. The book critically examines overreliance on AI in employment decisions, particularly the misinterpretation of online behaviors. Advocating for greater transparency, accountability, and inclusivity, Schellmann's work calls for a balanced approach to AI, emphasizing the need for human oversight in an increasingly automated hiring landscape.

#AIHiring #EthicalAI #FutureOfWork #AlgorithmicBias #TechInRecruitment

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Tech Topics is a newsletter with a focus on contemporary challenges and innovations in the workplace and the broader world of technology. Produced by Boston-based Conceptual Technology (, the articles explore various aspects of professional life, including workplace dynamics, evolving technological trends, job satisfaction, diversity and discrimination issues, and cybersecurity challenges. These themes reflect a keen interest in understanding and navigating the complexities of modern work environments and the ever-changing landscape of technology.

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