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L'Oreal sifts applicant pool with cloud recruitment software

Chinese students used mobile phones to compete for L'Oreal jobs by answering questions that were analyzed by Seedlink software.

After being overwhelmed with student resumes in 2013, the Chinese operation of L'Oreal, the world's top cosmetics...

and beauty-care company, last year began searching for a fast and efficient way to narrow down thousands of management trainee applications.

For this summer's class of trainees, the company turned to a new type of cloud recruitment software from Seedlink Tech in Shanghai, said Jacob Bonk, recruitment director in China for L'Oreal. Seedlink, which began commercial operation last year, uses algorithms and natural language processing to rank candidates' answers to questions and predict their future behavior.

Bonk said L'Oreal was looking for leading-edge cloud recruitment software and is pleased with the results.

"If you are not taking a risk and trying to imagine what the norm will be in five to 10 years and doing it now, you are behind," Bonk said. "We want to push the edge of what we can do for innovation and recruitment."

In seven weeks, L'Oreal received 33,000 applications from students over the WeChat mobile application in China.

Students were asked three open-ended questions in their native Mandarin and answers were limited to 200 characters apiece. "If you need to communicate with someone who has a different opinion than you, how could you make this communication effective?" was one question, for example.

The cloud recruitment software -- called QuestMatch -- reduced the applicant pool to a more-manageable 600 for further scrutiny in video interviews.

After the video interviews, 150 were invited for group assessments and interviews in Shanghai. To avoid skewing the views of people conducting the interviews, the Seedlink rankings were concealed during the process, Bonk said.

It is all about you as a person and the way you think and the way you answer the questions. There is no correct answer.
Jacob Bonkrecruitment director, China for L'Oreal

Out of the 600, about 30 were selected for the management trainee program, which starts July 1. In what Bonk called "a massive step forward in terms of efficiency," the mobile application process ended on a Friday and the rankings from Seedlink were completed by the following Monday.

L'Oreal chose the cloud recruitment software partly because it easily integrated into the company's hiring process and because it could be rolled out over the mobile-device platform, Bonk said. It was used as standalone cloud software but may be integrated in the future to an applicant tracking system (ATS), he said.

L'Oreal also wanted to free the time of recruiters, who would spend countless hours manually examining resumes, Bonk said. The company feared it was overlooking a lot of good candidates.

He said the students loved the new process and applications more than doubled from 2013.

"A typical student is probably applying to 10 to 20 companies in China and most of the application process is taking one-and-a-half to two hours," he said. "With ours, it was extremely quick. They are able to do it through mobile. They did not have to head back to their room and go on a PC and remember they wanted to apply to L'Oreal."

Bonk said he made a campus presentation in front of 1,000 students and many applied while he was on stage. Others wanted to know the secret of the technology.

"I told them there is no way to crack it," he said. "It is all about you as a person and the way you think and the way you answer the questions. There is no correct answer."

Other questions, for example, ask:

  • "If you had one month and 25,000 RMB [Renminbi] of budget to tackle any project you desire, what would you do?"
  • "Assume that you are given an assignment at a university that you do not fully understand how to complete, or the professor is not descriptive enough on what is expected. How would you make sure the assignment is completed well?"

L'Oreal used Seedlink in a pilot, but Bonk said he is confident the Chinese operation of L'Oreal will purchase the cloud recruitment software and integrate it into its ATS.

He said he will be able to determine the success of the software after seeing how the Seedlink winners fare in the management trainee program. He is considering Seedlink for additional campus recruitment and professional hiring.

Mimicking the interview

Rina Joosten-Rabou, chief commercial officer for Seedlink, said the company chose China because the nation has the biggest talent pool, investment capital and a huge amount of data. China also has less-stringent data laws than Europe or the U.S., she said.

"To build the algorithms, you need data to feed into the system, to make the statistical models work," she said.

Language correlates highly with future behavior, she said, and QuestMatch mimics traditional interviews in asking open-ended questions and searching for skills and competencies.

The algorithms analyze patterns between words or a series of words and look for particular content or meaning in words. "Our case studies show that algorithms can predict 25% better than humans," Joosten-Rabou said. "Technology is not replacing the full recruitment process, but it provides more data-driven insight, a more analytic view on who might fit better than just looking at a resume."

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