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Computer or human? Which is the best recruiter?

A decade ago, the very idea of a computer being used to decide who got a role would have seemed absurd but in today’s climate artificial intelligence advancements are leading many in the HR field to believe that it could soon become the norm.

Streamlining old processes

Finding suitably qualified candidates and then arranging interviews (phone, skype, face to face) takes a long time, especially for technical roles. The interview process can take many months from start to finish, especially if there are fourth or fifth stage interviews.

Companies of all sizes are wanting to streamline the recruitment process as the current system is very inefficient and by the time they’re ready to make an offer, candidates may have found another role or go on to take a counter-offer. This is making companies more open to using technology.

Recent research by Oxford University[1], has revealed that around 50% of today’s job roles are likely to become automated in the future. They predicted that HR administrative roles had a 90% chance of being automated by 2035, but that HR director and manager roles, were much less likely to be automated.

Artificial intelligence

HR departments have actually been using artificial intelligence for many decades, with recruitment software taking over processes that were previously done by human hands.

Recruiting expert Katrina Kibben told the Recruiting Daily[2]: “It’s really simple: if you’re a recruiter or sourcer who currently thinks AI could never, ever replace your job, you are mistaken. In fact, you’re not just naive, you’re dead wrong.

“The biggest change in recruiting will have almost nothing to do with recruiting – the future of the industry will be largely determined by how candidates adapt (and adopt) to new technology.

“I can clearly see how the rise of robotics, advances in automation, AI and machine learning will all coalesce to more or less reduce headcount across recruiting, with most of us replaced by machines quicker than you can say, “SkyNet.”

The main three areas where Katrina believes AI is going to change things in the HR world are:

  • Screening, sourcing and tests will become automated on the whole. Algorithms and previous data will be used to pick which candidates make it to the next interview round. This is already happening in some companies.
  • Applicants will be trackable on a system, with automation allowing records to be updated and possible candidates found by typing in a few key words.
  • Hiring managers will take more control of the process as they’ll have access to the systems themselves so will be able to tailor them to their own requirements.

She adds: “Machines won’t be the only things getting smarter about recruiting – our clients and customers will, too. That will free recruiters up to be way more strategic and actually partner on recurring, impactful projects instead of simply filling reqs just in time, all the time, and do so with what’s now more or less a one off transaction (and administrative burden). This should be a win-win for everyone.”

Sarah Burnett, an analyst at Everest Group, believes that AI could be useful when it comes to sifting through CVs. She explained to HR magazine[3]: “A lot of organisations want people of different backgrounds; whether it is more women or people from underprivileged backgrounds, so this could help with straightforward headhunting but also satisfy other corporate policies on diversity.”

TalkTalk’s group HR director Nigel Sullivan feels that humans still need to be involved in the process, adding: “I think that could be dangerous, to analyse a high volume of emails on semantics structure alone and determine and send a response – I wouldn’t be ready to hand that over to AI yet.”

He sees AI as being useful to narrow applications from thousands to a select few, adding: “AI could give insight into your talent – ensuring you’re putting the best people in the right roles. It could help an organisation to look into an employee’s emails, speech and social media to not just see what they did but how they interacted and how they may have reacted to specific situations and whether this fits in with the culture of the organisation.”

Our view

Julio Behambari, Senior Project Consultant at Rullion believes that technology will be utilised more more in the future but will never replace the humans at the heart of recruitment. He admits: “Technology is already automating resource heavy recruitment processes and matching candidates using complex algorithms. I certainly expect this to continue, especially screening candidates based on keywords and skills. I expect the accuracy to continue to improve as technology advances and technology becoming even smarter for finding the right candidates.

“In the future, certainly for potential high turnover roles, technology could automate the sourcing and the filling of these roles where there is a certain skill set required and a quick turnover is needed, therefore removing the need for in house recruitment for these roles. However, human interaction is required to determine personality and traits as this is something which can be hard to describe or explain on a CV. Only a face to face or phone interview could potentially do this, even then, it is difficult to judge straight away.

"When you’re looking for your next role, it’s the people within a company, that attract you to join, not a machine. Sure, it’s great that technology is automating your emails and keeping you updated etc. but what really sells a company to you, is meeting the individuals, perhaps your future line manager! That is what helps you make your decision. I don’t think technology can ever replace that, certainly not in my life time anyway.”

Sam Williams, Project Consultant at Rullion agrees with Julio, adding: “Certain high turnover jobs, call centre staff for example, could be an example of where you may have success in automating the entire recruitment process, including selection but when we start talking about managerial and leadership roles it isn’t as straight forward.

“Clients on a regular basis tell recruiters, "I have no doubts about the candidate technically but they just weren't the right cultural fit". This feedback proves that there is always going to be a need for some element of human interaction. Some roles are not about the hard skills, the tech knowledge or the qualifications they hold and are instead about the soft skills, their personality, their leadership skill, their powers of influence and in my opinion these are attributes that can only be judged by looking someone in the whites of their eyes or at the very least some form of telephone or web based interview.

“Candidate experience is another element to consider here. Candidates often feedback their frustrations with the growing use of technology in the recruitment process as whilst it certainly makes things more efficient for the client it can, if not done correctly, feel impersonal to the candidate. Do we really think that potentially removing the entire human element of the process will make things any better? And do candidates want to work for a company where they have never met any of the staff beforehand? I know I wouldn't.

“At the end of the day, "People buy from people" and whilst I am very passionate about the advances in recruitment technology I am also keen to retain the personal touches and understand the importance of a good blend between automation and human interaction.”