Read our exclusive interview with Ji-A, the head data scientist at Ideal. Ideal specializes in AI for recruiting software that automates time-consuming tasks such as sourcing, screening, and messaging - all within your ATS.
As the head data scientist at Ideal, Ji-A's expertise in artificial intelligence for recruiting makes her an indispensable part of the team. She has a Master's in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (I.O. Psych) and her interests include data-based recruitment, HR tech, and diversity. Off the clock, Ji-A enjoys lifting weights, playing with her greyhound, and amusing friends with her freestyles.
* Give us a screenshot (summary) of what your average day entails. What are your key tasks?
Because Ideal is a smaller company, it’s a very start-up life day-to-day. My current role is more of a marketing role and an in-house expert. My main focus right now is getting rid of bias and unconscious bias in recruiting. There’s a growing interest in diversity in the industry, so I work to make sure that our system doesn’t replicate or perpetuate this bias.
Another role I have is content creation, I like to write about industry news and trends for our company's blog. I've also just started a new video series about AI for recruiting.
A lot of people are looking for a research/data-based approach to their recruiting process, and as someone who understands the science, sometimes I go in for customer meetings and help them see whether Ideal is the right fit for them.
* How did you get into this line of work? What keeps you coming back to this job?
Organizational psychology is kind of obscure, not a lot people have heard of it. Most of the people in this field go into management consulting and other workplace-related roles.
Industrial-organizational psychology majors kind of go into two buckets. Most end up in either the assessment/data analyst side of the organizational development/coaching side, so basically, data vs. people-oriented. When I first graduated, I was definitely more interested in data. In retrospect though, I actually find that I do enjoy working with people instead of having a pure data analyst job.
Ideal was a really good fit for me because it started out as an assessment-focused company and I was really excited about the opportunity. I feel lucky that my bosses got a recommendation to hire an industrial psychologist. I wasn't particularly interested in working at a startup at first, but now, I really love it! I really enjoy the autonomy and having a voice in the company. For example, if I want to talk to my CEO, he’s sitting right across from me. I actually feel really spoiled, and wonder if I could ever go back to working for a bigger company.
* What are the different career paths someone can take if they want to enter this field?
Data science is an emerging field that is attracting more I.O. psychologists to it. The biggest stumbling block is you need to know some coding and data architecture, which is not something that most of us have in our background. However, machine learning is becoming more of a technique that people are adding to their skillset. Some professors even encourage students to learn skills like Python in grad school now.
There are also more traditional “pure” I.O. psych firms or consulting firms who are focused on designing engagement surveys, job analysis, and competency profiles. More and more large companies like banks and retailers are creating people analytic departments to help with recruiting and retention, and they'll often hire a team of I.O. psychologists into their HR. For example, Google was a pioneer for hiring people with I.O. psych backgrounds.
If you are entering this field, your choices are basically divided up by your skillset. If you really like data/numbers, you’ll probably take on more of an analytic role. Others who want to coach or work 1-on-1 will usually become coaches or organizational development specialists. There is a wide range of careers to choose from!
* Why did you choose an HR Tech company like Ideal to grow your career at?
I.O. psych is very niche field so job searching is based a lot on networking. You usually find out about jobs from mentors or professors. Generally, you can’t really just go after or pursue a role at a startup because most startups and HR Tech companies don’t hire specifically for I.O. psychologists. I kind of fell into the role almost by accident.
Some I.O. psychs avoid HR tech because it seems too administrative or technology-focused, but after working at one myself, I would definitely encourage others to try it! From the onset, you might not think it’s a good fit, but if you apply your I.O. research and knowledge to the role then it becomes a really great fit.
* What does work/life balance mean to you?
So, this might be kind of rare for most startups, but I don’t really have to work overtime or on the weekends. Obviously, if there’s a deadline or something else I want to get done then I’ll finish it, but it’s generally rare and I don’t mind doing it.
Work-life balance for me is having a job I like, having time to enjoy the city I live in, as well as socializing and doing leisure activities. I think most of the people in the office would probably say the same thing. We enjoy the job, but we also have time to pursue our own lives outside the office.
I think it helps that the founders are a bit older and this isn’t their first startup company. For example, my COO has children and doesn’t expect us to live and breathe our work. I think they have an intelligent recognition that working people to death doesn’t result in better quality or productivity. It might be different at other companies, but this is my company’s culture and I really like it.
* Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!”?
I’m still very early in my career, I wouldn’t say I've felt that yet. Our startup is still fairly young, so there’s still a lot of excitement and momentum going forward in terms of the possibilities we can achieve. As a person and as a company, we’re not quite “there” yet, there’s so much more to accomplish and so much progress still to be had.
In terms of happiness in a job, I think I've made it! I really enjoy my job and coming to work. I get along with everyone in my office. I get to use my intelligence and don’t ever regret coming into work which I think is rare today.
* Are you involved in the hiring process?
I will sit in on interviews and have done interviews before, especially when hiring for sales. I’ve done some interviews with colleagues when meeting potential coworkers. I haven’t been directly in charge of hiring.
* When you interview or sit in on interviews, how do you separate good candidates from ones that aren’t a good fit?
If interviewing, I follow a structured interview format. I ask each candidate the same questions in the same order, take notes on their answers, and use a rating scale. I try to use the empirical approach when it comes to hiring to eliminate as many biases as possible and try to be objective when looking at performance metrics.
Sometimes people find it a little too formal or sometimes it makes them nervous, so I try to explain the reasoning behind what I do. I do recognize the value in small talk and taking a softer approach. Hiring is basically marketing now, you’re trying to win the candidate over to your company. I’ve come to realize it’s a balance, and finding that balance is key to recruiting the best candidates.
* What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
A Netflix movie called Okja - It’s about a girl who raises a super pig! My vegan friends recommended I watch it because some parts of the movie talk about animal cruelty and ethical farming methods. I also watched The Social Network for the first time and it was really fun to watch it as someone at a tech startup because you feel like you have an “insider” perspective of what’s going on.