The UEFA European Championship (soccer) is currently underway. Contenders like Spain, Germany, and Belgium have AI assistance based on performance data to help them with their starting eleven. Professional sports give us a great perspective on the future of selection.


Algorithms are Not Always a Straight Shot

As we all know, in the labor market we’re already using algorithms in selection. If done badly, they will increase bias, if done right they diminish bias.  

The right way to go about this is always to use scientifically validated tests that measure traits necessary for the job and ignore the resume as the primary pre-selection document.

When we’re talking about traits necessary for work, think about stress resilience for air traffic controllers, listening skills for contact centre employees, and at least some inhibition for security guards and bouncers. As talent doesn’t run by lines of age, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, when selection on relevant traits, diversity will always increase.

There is, however, a risk that using selection algorithms, even when well implemented, can lead to a monoculture. Because almost every job can be done really well in more ways than one. Some salesmen are great at building relationships while others excel in customer acquisition. Having both types of people in your sales team makes for a better team.

Team at Stake

Playing for England, Harry Kane delivers his way as a forward. Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, and Raheem Sterling all have their own skillset to perform. The differences between all of them are striking.

Not only physically or technically, but also in decision-making, anticipation, attention, and information-processing. Some of them match very well together, others to a lesser extent. When two strikers both excel at predicting and arising spaces, they will do so, together.

Filling those spaces by running into them at the same time isn’t what you want to see them do. When one of them anticipates and the other reacts by acting fast, they could form the crown couple. Foden acts more like the cockpit of the Three Lions’ jet fighter; Sterling is its deadly weapon.

A good team manager understands these differences and applies this in favour of the team.  

Even when co-workers do very individual work there are still multiple ways to excel. Let’s take a journalist for example. You have journalists that have a specific area of expertise and can talk in-depth with the experts in the field. You also have excellent listening skills and have high information processing speed and hence can ask really good questions. Both can produce excellent articles, but if you train an algorithm to have only one profile, one type will always be selected and you will end up with a monoculture editorial staff.


Diversity On the Ball

Back to sports: Southgate’s choice between the available options is determined by specific game needs. Metrics like ‘Number of goals in last season’ or the trending ‘expected goals value’ alone won’t solve his problem. Does he prefer excellent anticipation skills or extremely fast responsiveness? Will he prevail speed of action or positioning? It’s not about selecting the eleven best-performing individuals, it’s teamwork that makes the dream work.

The fact there are more ways to excel at the same job doesn’t mean there isn’t a certain baseline of specific traits for everybody in a job. Every journalist needs a minimal skill level of listening ability and linguistic knowledge. Every striker needs an above-average information processing speed and every stock market trader needs Indycar racer-like reaction speeds.

But when you are developing AI or any algorithm for selection, it should always have more than one perfect profile. There are always more ways to excel in any job.

Let’s use the diversity in soccer, in all facets, all systems that can be played, and all the ways we can play the same system to be a guide to our own hiring.

This article was written in co-production between Bas van de Haterd, consultant on modern selection tooling and Eric Castien, founder and CEO of Brainsfirst, a tool used in professional sports and business to match talent to opportunity based on brain profiles.

Bas van de Haterd

Bas van de Haterd is a self-employed professional that helps companies recruit smarter by using the right technology. He is mainly known for his in-depth knowledge of pre-screening assessment technology. He also runs a research, award, and event called Digitaal-Werven that focuses on the candidate experience. Follow Bas on Twitter @bvdhaterd or connect with him on LinkedIn.