Column: Is the startup that calculates your expected salary gamification or Big Brother?


I downloaded the Nike mobile phone app three summers ago to answer two simple questions: do I run more miles when I play soccer than my friends and family do when jogging? Do I run as much as a professional soccer player? (Most often, the answer is “yes” in the first instance, but still a mile away, on average, for the second.)

Therefore, like millions of people, I am able to self-quantify my physical activity. According to Nike, I am worth 1,703 NikeFuel on average.

These apps and other wearables such as Fitbit have been quite successful (if not always accurate) in measuring movement and activity in each of us. But what about measuring our social performance and aspiration?

Enter Adzuna, a job-hunting start-up based in “leafy South-West London in the UK.”

So far, most job hunting sites simply ask an applicant to upload a resume and then allow both applicants and recruiters to find the ideal match through searching for keywords. Making Sen$e “Ask the Headhunter” Nick Corcodilos has reported skeptically on the value of such sites.

Adzuna, on the other hand, evaluates your resume in seconds and comes up with a single number: that of your expected salary.

Adzuna, on the other hand, evaluates your resume in seconds and comes up with a single number: that of your expected salary. That’s right, your expected salary. This is calculated by Adzuna’s algorithm which, according to the company’s website, compares the content of your resume against 50,000 resumes in their database.

This and other features not only allow quantification, but also the gamification of the job-search process.

By uploading several versions of your resume, you can identify which skills are most desirable by potential employers. For instance, adding “Excel” or “MBA” will give you hints as to the competencies that might be worth obtaining. Short of doing this, Adzuna will give you basic feedback on how to improve your resume. (You can see how much each spelling mistake may cost you.)

Similarly, you can upload your resume and immediately test how it is valued in different cities. You can then contrast this with the cost of living in that city and make a judgement as to whether you can afford to live and work there.

There is also an implicit leader board aspect. If you feel you are currently being underappreciated, there is a button that allows you to send a standard email to your boss which ends with, “When can we have a chat about this?” In addition, you can compare and contrast your potential against that of friends and colleagues.

Of course, there is room for improvement. Adzuna is clever enough to recognize gaps in your employment history, but clever enough to determine that these gaps may be due to your taking time to pursue a Master’s degree, say.

But Adzuna and its future competitors will have access to more data and more refined algorithms. The larger point for us consumers is that this kind of software will allow anyone to take a good guess at anyone else’s salary, simply by copying a colleague’s LinkedIn profile and feeding it to the algorithm, for example.

A 2014 “Planet Money” episode discussed the pros and cons of revealing the salaries of all employees in a given company. The episode assumed it would be done voluntarily within the company but not beyond.

We are, however, facing the prospect of making this one number, the salary, transparent and accessible to all. Technology tends not to care whether something is desirable for society and individuals. Technology happens, it spreads, and then ethics, laws and mores are forced to catch-up. (Remember Napster?)

Now extrapolate a little further. Increasingly transparent access to someone else’s data may mean that each of us will be assessed and judged by just a few numbers. Dating apps might well include your NikeFuel number (because you shared it on Facebook) or your earning potential. These two numbers may in turn be averaged into one after weights have been assigned, say 30 percent for physical performance and 70 percent for career value.

In a Ted Talk and here on the NewsHour, author Dan Pink highlighted autonomy, mastery and purpose as intrinsic motivators. Best case scenario: gamification and the quantified self offer a new path to mastery and purpose. Worst case? Big Sibling will be watching.