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Does Big Data Live Up to Its Hype?

If there was a business world equivalent of the Billboard Hot 100 list, “big data” would be setting a record for most consecutive weeks at the top of the charts.

The term big data has been used so heavily of late that it’s quickly starting to sound like a meaningless industry buzzword; however, if ERE’s Kevin Wheeler is to be believed, big data “may change everything about what we [as recruiters] do and how we do it.” But is big data really that powerful? Well…yes and no. Because, as is true of so many other things in life, it’s not the size of the data that matters, but how you use it.

For further insight, I talked to Rob Sentz, vice president of marketing for EMSI (Economic Modeling Specialists International), a CareerBuilder company, who broke down for me – in layman’s terms – exactly how big data can enhance the recruiting process, what employers can do to battle information overload, and why they need to embrace big data sooner rather than later.

In your own words, how do you explain big data?
Big data is that scary file cabinet you’ve been stuffing for years: It’s got to be full of useful (even essential) information. It’s just a bit scary to open.

How does big data enhance a company’s ability to recruit?
If you can harness it, you’ve got a lens that gives you better vision and perspective, which will ultimately result in smarter hiring decisions. For instance, big data on the economy and labor market can yield detailed information on occupational earnings and how much you might need to pay based on different regions, what specific industries or occupations are growing and at what rate, and what jobs are highly compatible with what you need.

Why do you think so many companies are slow to embrace big data? Do they underestimate its importance? Are they simply overwhelmed by it? Or is it something else entirely?
The problem isn’t data. It’s too much data and too little actual information. Companies aren’t going to deny that they should tap into data to improve their business process. However, if their current business process has been the thing that got them there in the first place, slowing things down or changing things to figure out something new is intimating and time consuming and inefficient, which translates to expensive.The shift should occur once companies start to see how much of a competitive advantage they can gain if they start to integrate it into their strategic decisions.

What are the top data points on which companies should be focusing right now in order to enhance their recruitment process?
I’d say that a good way to wade into it is by gaining a better understanding of the key industries driving local economies and labor markets, because this helps you understand where there is the most demand for skilled workers.

What are the limits of big data? In other words, is there any information we can’t rely on it for?
The biggest limit to big data is our ability to interpret it. People need to understand why they are using data. What is the end goal? Data is also like an assembly of facts, which aren’t necessary the same thing as truth. If facts are poorly interpreted, it could lead to the wrong conclusions.

What are some of the misconceptions around big data?
A lot of people just want data to kick out answers like cows give milk. It’s trickier than that. Data can support better decisions but it can’t make them for you. Big data still requires smart decision makers.

Rob Wittes, manager of business intelligence development at CareerBuilder, has likened big data to an ‘easy button’ for recruiting. Would you agree with that statement?
I think it can be. You’ve just got to know how to turn that data into information, and you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish. At that point, it gets easier to start plugging the data in at the right places.

Are you still trying to figure out how to turn recruitment data into real insights at your organization? Ask your questions in the comments area below and I’ll try to help you figure out how to tackle the issues you’re facing.

For more info about how CareerBuilder can help, here are some links to our most popular talent analytic tools: Supply & Demand Portal, Compensation Portal, Analyst and Career Coach.

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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