Social Physics Applied to Hiring

In this blog I will explore how the fundamentals of social physics  authored by Alex Pentland  can be applied to hiring. We will explore how these fundamentals help you  not only to target the right candidates but also  to reward and motivate recruiters.

Evaluating Candidates’ Social Media Presence


Candidates who have more connections and are members of more groups are more likely to explore and acquire new ideas. Idea flow happens in diverse networks. Idea flow happens more by overhearing surrounding conversations than by 1:1 communication. Even though some one is not actively posting messages on a social network s/he is learning a lot by eavesdropping on the conversations that are happening.

Harvesting Groups for Potential Candidates


We need to exercise judgment while selecting groups to harvest for potential candidates. Social groups that have more frequent short conversations are better places to look for innovative ideas flowing than groups that are having long but less frequent communication. Also groups where people with diverse backgrounds participate in these short interactions are better than groups where a handful of people lead and drive most conversations – some of them tend to become monologues or an echo chamber.

Like organizations ; each groups has a culture. Some are marketing facades for promoting commercial interest of the group administrators at the other end there are lively groups where valuable ideas are flowing in engaging conversations about topics of common interest. As talent scouts we need to zero down and harvest prospective candidates from groups that have the right culture.

Reaching Out to Potential Candidates

Once you have identified the group worth harvesting; you need to start reaching out to individual candidates within the group. You might use your own network to find common contacts to get introduced. You must exercise judgment while selecting the contact through whom you are approaching the candidate. Not all connections are “trusted”. Each person has only a few “trusted” connections. Look at recommendations and other conversations for determining such a “trusted” connection.

Social Incentive for Recruiters

One of the important findings of social experiments conducted by Alex Pentland was that change of behavior can be brought about by frequent recommendations from “trusted” connections in a short period.

Depending on level of interaction between the influencing buddy and the influenced target Social network incentive scheme works almost four to eight times more efficiently than traditional individual incentive approach . If we can provide social incentives specially designed for a group for a limited time; the same can act to provide positive reinforcement needed for individuals to accept new ideas and change their behavior.

You can use tools like InMaps for LinkedIn to visualize your connections as groups of sub-networks of connections who are well connected with other connections. You can devise a social incentive especially for a sub-network and run a campaign for a limited time. This will create the required buzz and positive reinforcement at a high frequency.

Ranking Game for Recruiters

Social incentives combined with monetary incentives work better than purely monetary incentives to reward recruiters for sourcing the right candidate.  In an experiment (Red Balloon Experiment) better teamwork and quicker hiring happened for teams that were encouraged to share monetary incentives than teams where individuals were rewarded only for their effort. You not only get monetary reward but a social reward when you share your monetary incentive with your friends. That way you can get more friends involved in your mission.

We saw in my last blog posting how limiting the shortlist to top 3 candidates helps to make the hiring process more effective and efficient. We devised a mobile game and invited recruiters in our company to play it. This game shows short summary of 2 candidates on the mobile screen and asks the player to vote for one. The game goes on till you have played for all possible pairs. In the back end a sorting program bubbles up the top 3 candidates based on players’ votes. The recruiter who sourced the successful candidate shares his/her reward with others who voted for the candidate. And all the players share their scores indicating “successful votes” with their social networks. (Peer See Approach )


  • Recruiters act as collaborators instead of adversaries
  • Those who consistently vote for successful candidates receive respect and recognition further motivating them to improve their selection skills.
  • Introduces playfulness that is an inherent component of creative teams.
  • Newbies learn from their mistakes by seeing how everyone else is voting.



2 thoughts on “Social Physics Applied to Hiring

  1. Quite an interesting perspective to hiring and recruiters. Vinayak, the mobile game you’ve mentioned, is that available for in android store? Would like to try it out, please do share the link if possible.

    • Sandip

      We are building this app. For now we have just started testing it with our internal team. There are some bugs that we need to fix. Once done we will let you know.

      Thanks ,


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