mindtangle

July 22nd, 2011

The “Talent War” Revisited

What Silicon Valley companies are doing the best job of attracting talent? This turns out to be a complicated question, not to mention great fodder for bored designers to try to answer visually.

Recently an infographic started making the rounds, showing the ratios of employees moving between six top tech companies. This was published on the blog of a social job referral service called Top Prospect, generated using two years of their data. The story they told was one of small, up-and-coming companies poaching talent from more established companies.

A designer (Gene Lu) took issue with the fact that all the flow arrows were given equal weight, masking some important relationships. He did a nice redesign adapting the original to paint a clearer picture. The flow lines scaled to volume do a much better job of visually showing who the winners and losers in the “talent war” are.

However, there’s a more fundamental problem with the data underlying both these interpretations. Here’s a hypothetical to highlight the issue: Let’s say we have two equally-awesome companies looking to hire as fast as possible. They have the same low turnover rates of 1% per year. However, one company is much larger than the other. Company A has 10,000 people and Company B has 1,000. After a year, 10 people will have moved from B to A, but 100 people will have moved from A to B. So, even with everything being equal, the natural movement of people in the workforce automatically gives the smaller company a 10x ratio of hires.

This makes some intuitive sense. Even a large company that’s doing well will have a huge number of employees leaving in any given year. Having some of those people end up at a smaller company isn’t all that surprising.

So, I decided to run the numbers again, but this time scaling all the ratios according to the number of employees at each company. You can see the calculations on this spreadsheet. The resulting graphic is below.

This is a much different picture. Microsoft, with its huge employee base (almost 90k), is actually retaining its people quite well. It may seem to a small company like LinkedIn that tens or hundreds of ex-Microsofters showing up is a big trend, but to the Microsoft leviathan that’s a drop in the bucket. Scaling the ratios by company size shows in fact that there are a disproportionate number of LinkedIn employees actually leaving for Microsoft.

Otherwise, the scaled ratios are all relatively small. Google, Facebook, and Apple are at close to parity. The only other big story here is a sad one, and that’s the hemorrhaging of talent that Yahoo is undergoing.

Now, there are a lot of potential issues with this visualization as well. Is a linear scaling the correct way to adjust for company size? What about the base data itself? This data comes from Top Prospect’s small, proprietary sample. Fast Company has noted that the data might be skewed since it’s a Facebook-seeded referral service.

For these reasons and many others that I haven’t anticipated, I actually generated the infographic you see above with a tool I cobbled together using standards-compliant HTML, CSS, and JS. It’s up now. You can it to try out a different model or assumption, and generate new infographics.

For example, it was easy to pull Microsoft out and see the results right away. Enjoy!

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