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3 Career Lessons From the OkCupid Human Experiments


Christian Rudder, founder of OkCupid, recently admitted in a blog post that the dating site experiments on human beings. Before you envision the Bride of Frankenstein, or even Facebook’s emotional manipulation studies, relax: OkCupid’s experiments were a bit more lighthearted, not mention obvious, than the usual dark-side-of-data-science horror stories we’ve come to fear. Even better, they might teach us something about how people communicate online — even if their goal is, say, getting a new job, rather than finding a mate.


(Photo Credit: NASA Commons/Flickr via New Old Stock)

1. A picture is worth a thousand words.

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Once upon a time, OkCupid had a blind date app. On the day the app released, the team decided to remove photos from the site for seven hours.

“But by comparing Love Is Blind Day to a normal Tuesday, we learned some very interesting things,” Rudder writes.

During the time without photos:

  • Users responded to first messages 44 percent more often.
  • People had deeper, more meaningful conversations.
  • Users were more likely to share contact details.
  • In Rudder’s opinion, the site worked better.

Over 2,000 people were chatting when the photos were restored; many stopped. It was, as Rudder says, “like we’d turned on the bright lights in a bar at midnight.”

What does this mean for you, the job seeker? PDFs and online resumes have made it possible to include a head shot with your information, a gimmick previously only used by actors and professional personalities. Whether or not you decide to include yours is up to you; on LinkedIn, for example, it’s nearly mandatory, for anyone who wants a response.

But if you’re not photogenic, or there’s anything about your appearance that might not fit the profile of what your prospective employer is looking for (e.g. you look very young, or older than the ideal candidate for your industry) you might want to let words speak for you.

2. Words are worth … nothing?

And speaking of words, OkCupid’s experiment showed that they didn’t count for much — less than 10 percent of what people think of profile holder. In fact, a photo of a girl in a bikini, with no words at all was rated in the 99th percentile for personality.

Probably you’re not going to post bikini photos with your CV. (Note: do not post bikini photos with your CV.) But there’s still a lesson here, even if you decide to skip the photo altogether. That lesson is: you need to make a good impression in a hurry.

Recruiters spend six seconds evaluating your application before moving on. You need to grab their attention fast and keep it. Customize your keywords to the job you want, and remember to keep things scannable.

3. Prove compatibility.

“The ultimate question at OkCupid is, does this thing even work?” writes Rudder. “By all our internal measures, the ‘match percentage’ we calculate for users is very good at predicting relationships. It correlates with message success, conversation length, whether people actually exchange contact information, and so on. But in the back of our minds, there’s always been the possibility: maybe it works just because we tell people it does.”

As an experiment, OkCupid told some bad matches (30 percent compatibility) that they were good matches (90 percent compatibility). What they found was that just telling people they were a good match was enough to make them act as if they were, sending more messages.

You can persuade hiring managers in a similar way, by focusing on commonalities between your experience and the job description. That doesn’t mean that you need to be aggressive in making your point, or that you should stop being observant about things like company culture and opportunities for growth. It just means that a little positive thinking can go a long way.

Who knows? You might find the job of your dreams.

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What tweaks have you made to your resume in order to get hired? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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