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This is your brain and we like it

By Bria John
Artwork: Right Brain by  Alfie Ajifo, Flickr Creative Commons.

   Imagine that there is a perfect job out there for you and the employer wants you now, just as you are. The team behind Pymetrics, a New York-based company and an online recruitment tool, believed precisely that and created a system to help you find each other.

“What Pymetrics does is look at the cognitive and emotional traits that spell success within certain industries and then match candidates with those industries based on their traits,” said Alena Chiang, head of marketing at Pymetrics.


   When Frida Polli, co-founder and CEO of Pymetrics, graduated from Harvard Business School in 2012 and was looking for work she realized that the factors used in the recruiting process - resumes, GPAs, and the prestige of schools - were not good indicators of job success. When she told her friend Julie Yoo about her experience they decided to create the game-based recruitment tool.


   The games, 20 in total and played on their website, isolate particular traits and habits of the players. For example a game called ‘Balloons’ measures risk learning in high-risk situations by having players pump up different coloured balloons. The balloons pop at different intervals (some colours pop sooner than others) but the more a balloon is inflated without popping, the more money the player wins. The data derived from this game is collected with the data from other games to create a candidate profile. This game for example extracts data related to how the player reacts to risk, a trait that is valued differently depending on the industry ie. venture capitalist versus social worker.   




















   “I see it as a much more fair and objective way to do candidate sourcing. Regardless of what else shapes the way that your brain thinks about things, all we're here to do is assess the way it is now and be able to recommend to you that based on the way you approach this, these are the industries that you'd be a good fit for,” Chiang said.


   This includes whether the candidate has a history of mental illness because the games level the playing field.

“Our perspective is that it's not really a mental illness, it’s really just the way that your brain thinks might be super different than the majority of the population and that got labelled as mental illness,” Chiang said.


   Youth Employment Services (YES) in Toronto started the Lighthouse Project in March this year to help youth with a history of mental illness find work after noticing a lack of resources in the city.

“It sounds like a really great tool and it could be a great starting point for finding what kind of job someone would suit. But for some people there are just some other factors that would need to be incorporated, like exploring the accommodations,” said Cynthia Ainslie, a career counsellor with the Lighthouse Project.


   Timothy Lang, CEO of YES said that some youth in the Lighthouse project face the same issues as all unemployed youth - they need help writing resumes, learning how to interview or knowing how to dress appropriately.

“So many times it’s the same struggles. But the additional support that we give helps [youth in the Lighthouse Project] deal with specifically the mental illness or challenges they may have,” Lang said. 


   Ainslie says that her client’s mental health issues sometimes shape the job search.

“Everyone who comes in here is a person first, everyone has a different personality. Some clients who have social anxieties, for example, can’t do a lot of heavy customer interaction, they wouldn’t suit working as a cashier where they’re talking to people all day,” she said.




















   YES works with employer partners who don’t always know if a job seeker has a history of mental illness or not. When told, says Ainslie, the reaction varies.

“Some employers have been really accommodating and understanding and we’ve seen a lot of that. We’ve also seen other times where employers might get scared off and we don’t hear from them again,” she said.


   The Ontario Human Rights Commission reported that in 2011 the unemployment rate among people with mental health or addictions disabilities was at 22.6 per cent almost three times higher than for people without disabilities.

Ainslie believes that part of it could be due to a lack of knowledge on the employer side. The other part is cultural.

“I think people encounter a lot of pessimism from their community like their families and doctors. People are often told not to work and are discouraged when they could be working and they’d benefit from working and this gets internalized,” Ainslie said.    


   Yoo and her team also work with partner companies to get people who are successful in their industries to play the games. They then use that data to build industry profiles. Chiang says this can give users a more compelling story and can bolster confidence.

“Imagine if you went into a new job knowing that the way that your brain works naturally fits to the job. That gives you a lot more confidence to fit in for what you feel like is a good fit for you,” Chiang said.


   Ainslie uses tools like Personality Dimensions and Career Cruising in her counselling sessions now but she’s open to using Pymetrics in the future.

Screenshots from the Pymetrics website.
Bria John | YES offices
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