Want to change jobs? The AI will see you now

Alicia Clegg
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Since joining IBM nearly 20 years ago, Srinivas Chitiveli has switched jobs nine times. Mr Chitiveli, who works in Ohio, believes change is good for his career. It helps him develop professionally, broaden his skills and keep on top of the trends in his industry. But he used to hate the time it took to scour internal job boards, and to research and write applications.

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So when IBM introduced Blue Matching, a tool that uses artificial intelligence to connect employees to internal job opportunities, Mr. Chitiveli, who was working on the internet of things, signed up. It took him three weeks to find a new position as a senior product manager for IBM's AI-powered computer vision technology, which enables computers to recognise visual images — less than half the usual time.

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"In the old days, I'd type in search terms, apply to a huge list of jobs, meet hiring managers and, after some initial discussions, realise the job wasn't for me," he says.

Since it launched last year, about 12 percent of IBM employees have used Blue Matching to find new roles within the organisation. The software crunches data about each applicant, including previous roles, skills, experience, location and performance, and recommends suitable openings.

As working lives lengthen and automation replaces tasks once performed by people, more of us are changing career. According to CEB, a research and advisory company now part of Gartner, 40 percent of roles that exist today will be significantly different in five years' time. Helping employees change direction without leaving their employer is in everyone's interests. Could the pattern-matching capabilities of AI put underused human intelligence to better use?

But even as employers seek to plug gaps by hiring from outside, studies point to workers being pigeonholed, rather than helped to explore new careers within their organisations. Research conducted for Cornerstone OnDemand found that under half of UK workers see opportunities to progress, and 11 percent say their employer forbids moves to other departments.

Orange is one of several French employers that use AI developed by Clustree, a Paris start-up, to help people move within their companies. Employees submit a CV describing their experience, pastimes and aspirations. Details can reveal surprising abilities, according to Véronique Biecques, director of recruitment at Orange. "What you do in your spare time sometimes says more about you than your job," she says.

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Studies suggest that we view those whom we resemble in background and tastes as more able, but machine intelligence is — at least in theory — neutral. Ms Biecques notes that graduates of France's top academies, the grandes écoles, favour team members who share their credentials. By generating a diverse slate of candidates, backed by proof of ability, she hopes the software will help her to convince managers to judge everyone in the round.

Jean Martin, head of research at CEB, says Orange's efforts mirror a wider push by employers to "build an archive of skills that goes beyond what managers can see". As part of its search methodology, Blue Matching trawls employees' blogs on the IBM intranet. Other businesses cast their nets wider, arguing that anything staff post publicly is fair game for analysis.

Not everyone is sanguine about AI's potential. Privacy advocates argue that web-monitoring tools give organisations new powers to peer into employees' lives — and there are signs that regulators are toughening their stance. According to new EU data protection guidelines, employers should not assume that because an individual's social media profile is publicly available they are "allowed to process those data for their own purposes".

The politics of AI can be tricky, too. Line managers may feel that self-service career tools threaten their authority.

Abi Weeks, HR operations director at Harrods, the London department store, argues that experimenting with different roles, not AI, gives people the confidence to put themselves forward for career development. To encourage staff to sample different opportunities, the retailer runs careers weeks with "backstage tours" of hard-to-access departments, such as personal shopping.

Though optimistic that AI will, over time, improve the hiring process, Ms Biecques says smart machines can't do everything. "You can say: this person would be perfect because they have all the qualities. But, in the end, the manager must choose. Every morning they must come in and work with that person — there has to be a chemistry."

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This article originally appeared on Financial Times.

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