Artificial Intelligence: the death of the recruiter?
By Mike Hoffman
Harry Truman once said that “it’s a recession when your neighbour loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours”. This has more or less been the detached view of HR professionals to the threat to jobs posed by mechanisation, computerisation and now machine learning, or AI.
No matter that Deloitte and Oxford University released a study indicating that 35% of all UK jobs would be replaced by machines within 20 years, life in HR goes on. As long as machines couldn’t think, there would always be a job for educated professionals, right? But recently the threat of obsolescence has started to reach into the white-collar professions, including recruitment.
The benefits of AI
Interest in the use of AI in recruiting has been born of wanting to reduce costs and time to hire – as well as a need to ensure a more robust application process that reduces inbuilt biases and gives measurable, quantifiable bases for selection decisions.
A lot of interest has been stirred among recruiters by the high-profile use of AI by Unilever in its graduate recruitment. For the past year, Unilever has been using artificial intelligence to hire entry-level employees, and the company says it has dramatically increased diversity and cost-efficiency. But it’s not just at the selection stages we see the application of AI, but all stages – from programmatic advertising to keeping candidates warm during onboarding.
Even though the market is still immature, machine-learning software is making its presence felt. All this talk has, inevitably, given rise to speculation as to the role of recruiters themselves: if machines can do their job more quickly, efficiently and with fewer errors, what is the value that a human can add? And how significant an impact is it likely to have on HR and recruitment in future?
What the industry is saying
Gareth Jones, partner and head of technology at HR consultancy The Chemistry Group, certainly believes that the growing adoption of AI software will be decisive.
“The fact that, even in our unsophisticated market, some form of technology is already being used to assess candidates, means that some recruiters are starting to be removed from the process. So rather than having 10 people reviewing and evaluating CVs, it’s increasingly being put in the hands of screening tools, for example. The thing people often forget is that if an applicant has a crappy experience trying to get a job, they’ll stop being a customer too. So process effectiveness has a huge return on investment,” Jones says.
As a result, despite current barriers to adoption such as AI software’s unproven nature, cost and data privacy concerns, he believes that “the market is potentially huge”. And once it reaches its tipping point, the opportunity for HR and recruitment professionals will be huge, too.
So should recruiters hang up their moleskins, and turn in their LinkedIn licences?
Well, not yet, according to Jeremy Tipper at AMS:
“Do we see swathes of people being made redundant as a result? No. It’s about giving them back the time they now spend on admin processes so that they can build relationships more effectively.”
According to recruiters like Tipper, AI actually gives them the chance to deliver on a key priority for job seekers: personalisation. Something that seems to have been lost in the era of job boards and Google searches. Angela Hood, chief executive of This Way Global, an AI start-up at the University of Cambridge, agrees.
“Our goal isn’t to try and replace recruiters – we’ll still need them,” she says. “What we want to do is remove the fatiguing part, the grunt work, so they can focus on recruiting, onboarding and engaging people better. It’s about complementing rather than replacing.”
And Becky Mossman, HR director at background screening company HireRight, is not so sure that AI software spells the end for recruiting talent.
“AI software enhances processes, but recruitment is ultimately about people so you can’t take human interaction away entirely. Software will free people up to do more talent planning, but it’s never going to understand culture or see if a person fits into that culture. You need people to do that.”