Fast Company


Fifteen years after Billy Beane disrupted Major League Baseball by applying analytics to player scouting, the corporate world finally has the technology to rewrite its own rules of recruiting.

THE ONLINE GAMES WERE EASY—UNTIL I got to challenge number six. I was applying for a job at Unilever, the consumer-goods behemoth behind Axe Body Spray and Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise. I was halfway through a series of puzzles designed to test 90 cognitive and emotional traits, everything from my memory and planning speed to my focus and appetite for risk. A machine had already scrutinized my application to determine whether I was fit to reach even this test-taking stage. Now, as I sat at my laptop, scratching my head over a probability game that involved wagering varying amounts of virtual money on whether I could hit my space bar five times within three seconds or 60 times within 12 seconds, an algorithm custom-built for Unilever analyzed my every click. With a timer ticking down on the screen . . . 12 . . . 11 . . . 10 . . . I furiously stabbed at my keyboard, my chances of joining one of the world’s largest employers literally at my fingertips.

More than a million job seekers have already undergone this kind of testing experience, developed by Pymetrics, a five-year-old startup cofounded by Frida Polli. An MIT-trained neuroscientist with an MBA from Harvard, Polli is pioneering new ways of assessing talent for brands such as Burger King and Unilever, based on decades of neuroscience research she says can predict behaviors common among high performers. “We realized this combination of data and machine learning would be hugely powerful, bringing recruiting from this super-antiquated, paper-and-pencil [process] into the future,” explains Polli, sitting barefoot on a couch at her spartan office near New York’s Flatiron District on a humid May morning, where about four dozen engineers, data scientists, and industrial-organizational psychologists sit behind glowing iMacs.

Pymetrics is part of a legion of buzzy startups leveraging artificial intelligence, big data, and other tech tools to disrupt the hiring space. Research firm CB Insights expects VC investments in HR-tech startups to hit $2.9 billion in 2018, up 138% year over year. When Polli and I meet, she’s in the midst of raising a Series B round.

What’s driving all this investment? A January 2018 survey of 1,000-plus C-suite executives found that attracting and retaining talent is their number-one concern, outranking anxiety over the threat of a

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