A Sydney software firm is helping Snapchat figure out what your referees REALLY think about you

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An Australian technology company has invented a machine learning engine to help employers figure out exactly what a referee means in their testimony for a job applicant.

Xref, which listed on the ASX a decade ago, counts Qantas, Westpac and NBN as customers that use its cloud software to automate reference checking in the staff recruitment process.

But co-founder and chief technology officer Tim Griffiths told Business Insider there was one constant feedback his company received throughout that time.

“The only pushback we’ve had is: ‘I’d like to hear the tone of voice’,” he said.

But with artificial intelligence and machine learning maturing in recent times, Xref was finally able to work on what’s now called the Sentiment Engine that figures out what reference givers actually mean outside just the mere words.

“We sat down about two years ago and we said, we have so much data on the platform… We should be able to find a way that gives a graphical representation about an answer.”

The project has now resulted in the Sentiment Engine becoming more consistent than humans in judging tone from references.

“We have trained the Xref Sentiment Engine to be capable of achieving 92 to 98% accuracy – meaning it is a close as you could get to establishing the exact sentiment intended in a piece of text every time, without actually asking the writer,” said Griffiths.

“While we cannot put a number to the average accuracy of human perception, we can confidently conclude that the Sentiment Engine will guarantee a consistently accurate reading every time – making it more reliable than human perception.”

The Sydney software firm announced last week that the company behind social media phenomenon Snap, Snap Inc, had taken up its services.

“Previously, Snap Inc faced challenges trying to conduct reference checks for graduates and technical talent, which make up a large proportion of its workforce,” Xref said in a statement to the ASX.

“Following a successful trial, Snap Inc selected Xref in order to reduce the amount of time its recruitment team spend on the reference checking process and to allow them more time to identify, attract and onboard top recruits with the required technology expertise.”

That announcement, accompanied by other customers wins in Europe and Australia, saw the share price jump more than 10% to hit 76 cents at Friday close. The stock price was hovering around 50 cents at the start of this year.

Griffiths told Business Insider that developing the Sentiment Engine was difficult and nuanced work.

“There are so many questionnaires on the platform and we could see that the type of language used by say, bus drivers’ references, is very different to senior executives,” he said.

“It’s been an amazing 18 months. There’s some crazy people that do lots of maths [here].”

Xref in September re-domiciled itself from New Zealand back to Australia, while announcing 137% growth in sales for the 2017 financial year, to hit $4.1 million. The firm made a $6.5 million loss but in August raised $7.5 million through a share placement.

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