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The Evolution of Recruitment: Balancing AI and Human Expertise

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“The value of AI in recruitment has already been established,” says work futurist Dr. Terri Horton. “The primary question is: How can we continue to leverage it in meaningful ways?” 

In today's dynamic business landscape, where the competition for top talent is fierce, Talent professionals find themselves at the forefront of a recruitment revolution driven by cutting-edge technologies. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation have transformed the Talent Acquisition (TA) landscape, promising increased efficiency, cost savings, and faster results. However, the journey into AI-driven recruitment is far from straightforward; marked by complexities, ethical considerations, and an ongoing debate about the indispensable role of human expertise in this evolving landscape.

The rapid rise of AI tools has undeniably reshaped the TA landscape. It's not just about automating repetitive tasks; AI has become a strategic enabler for HR professionals. From initial CV screening to candidate matching and even predictive analytics for identifying future talent needs, AI is redefining how talent is sourced and selected.

“The recruiting industry has been a fairly early adopter of using different AI tools,” says Jennifer Shappley, VP of talent at LinkedIn, “whether that be through chatbots or other ways to help improve the candidate experience and the overall efficiency of the recruiting process.”

In LinkedIn’s recent Future of Recruiting report, 68% of hirers said they were either “very hopeful” or “cautiously optimistic” about the impact of AI on recruitment. We’re undoubtedly on a journey of discovery with AI and recruitment, so let’s explore the possibilities and pitfalls together.

Expanding on Efficiency: Data-Driven Recruitment

AI's ability to analyse vast datasets in seconds has led to remarkable efficiency gains in recruitment. For HR teams that previously spent countless hours sifting through CVs, this is a game-changer. AI can quickly identify the most suitable candidates based on predefined criteria, significantly reducing the time-to-hire.

But AI isn’t all about using key words to match CVs with vacancies. Hewlett Packard have taken a truly innovative approach to embracing the world of AI, installing a chat bot onto every page of their careers site.

“Our chatbot sits on every page of the HPE careers website and greets new visitors with a friendly prompt, offering to help them find a job,” said Lavonne Monroe, vice president of global talent acquisition and onboarding at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). The bot starts by asking for a CV or information on their background and interests. It uses this data to narrow down relevant jobs to present to the potential candidate. It can also answer questions about the hiring process, compensation and benefits, or even the company itself by accessing an extensive library of answers managed by an in-house team.

“This functionality,” said Monroe, “makes it easier for applicants to understand more about what they can expect when interviewing and working at HPE.” The main aim of the chatbot was to improve the candidate experience, “making it more likely for them to take the next step to apply.”

In the first 3 months of 2023, Hewlett Packard have more than doubled the industry standard for the number of visitors to their careers site, and have converted 26% of casual job seekers into actual hires.


Beyond Automation: Unleashing Efficiency

The allure of cost savings is a compelling reason for HR leaders to embrace AI and automation. But these savings extend beyond merely automating repetitive tasks. When companies can reduce the time-to-fill vacant positions, there's a tangible financial impact. Studies suggest that reducing the time-to-hire by just ten days can lead to substantial cost savings.

According to the 2022 Benchmarking report by the Society for Human Resource Management, the average cost per hire was over £3,700 ($4,700). However, Edie Goldberg (SHRM Foundation chair-elect) believes it can be three to four times the positions’ salary. “Of those costs, I would say 30 percent to 40 percent are hard costs, and the other 60 percent are soft costs.”

According to SHRM, soft costs include the time line managers invest in supporting HR during the hiring process. Meeting with potential candidates, screening applications, scheduling multiple rounds of interviews and even making final decisions are all tasks that take managers away from their core role of delivering on company goals.

In 2019, Unilever reported that using AI saved its’ recruiters around 100,000 hours of interviewing time and saved nearly £1m a year. Other big names such as Vodaphone and McDonald’s have admitted to using AI in at least one stage of their recruitment process… and with good reason!

LinkedIn's Talent Solutions team found that AI can reduce the screening time for CVs by up to 75%. This not only accelerates the hiring process but also allows HR teams to focus on more strategic aspects of talent acquisition.

One popular use case of AI in recruitment is candidate matching; utilising AI to scour CVs or profiles on professional sites such as LinkedIn for key words in job descriptions such as skills or qualifications. When paired with an AI outreach tool, such as those that craft messages to send via email or InMail, hiring managers can fire through their outbound sourcing in minutes rather than hours. But automating recruitment processes in this manner should come with a clear warning.

Glen Cathey, a thought leader in recruiting and HR tech says, “If you’re on the receiving end, I think there’s a different perception of having completely robotic outreach rather than a human being reaching out to you, showing genuine interest, and listening to you.”

“When you’re dealing with people who don’t need to make a change, there’s a level of influence and relationship-building that’s important,” he adds. “A skilled recruiter can convert the conversation from ‘Why are you reaching out to me? I’m not looking’ to ‘Actually, I’d like to be considered for that job.’”

Beyond cost savings, AI expedites the hiring process, ensuring that new hires can make a swift impact on business profitability. According to a report by the Boston Consulting Group, embracing a “balanced human and AI strategy” could boost HR productivity by up to 30%. In a world where agility and competitiveness are paramount, faster results can be a game-changer. Imagine having a new sales executive onboarded and driving revenue within weeks rather than months.


The Dehumanisation Dilemma: Striking a Balance

However, efficiency and speed should not overshadow the critical importance of the human element in recruitment.

While AI excels at processing data and streamlining processes, it lacks the essential human quality of empathy. Hiring managers and HR professionals bring a personal touch to the recruitment process, a quality that can't be replicated by algorithms.

In a world where candidate experience is paramount, this personal touch is invaluable. TA specialists have the ability to empathise with candidates, understanding their unique aspirations, concerns, and motivations. They make candidates feel valued and understood throughout the recruitment journey.

Assessing cultural fit is a complex task that goes beyond what's evident on a CV or application. Every organisation has a unique culture—a blend of values, behaviours, and norms that define its identity. It's this culture that can make or break the success of a new hire.

Recruiters, armed with cultural insight and a deep understanding of the company's DNA, play a pivotal role in evaluating whether a candidate will thrive within the business’s unique environment. They can decipher the intangibles—whether a candidate's values align with the company's, whether they share the same vision, and whether they'll integrate seamlessly into the existing team.

Consider a start-up known for its collaborative, innovative culture. HR professionals can assess not only a candidate's technical qualifications but also their adaptability, willingness to embrace change, and creativity — the qualities that will help them excel within this specific environment.

And whilst CVs provide a snapshot of a candidate's qualifications, but they often fail to capture the full scope of their potential. Here's where the human touch really shines.

Hiring Managers have the ability to look beyond technical qualifications and consider the broader qualities a candidate brings to the table. These qualities include adaptability, creativity, leadership potential, and the capacity to drive positive change within an organisation. These traits are not always evident in a straightforward application.

For instance, you may be faced with a candidate who has taken unconventional career paths, switching industries or roles. On paper, their qualifications may not align perfectly with the job description, but a human can recognise the adaptability and fresh perspective they would bring to the business; something AI would simply overlook.

These qualities often define the "soft skills" that are increasingly valued in today's workforce. As businesses evolve and adapt to changing circumstances, employees with soft skills such as adaptability, creativity, and leadership potential are essential. These skills can help a company thrive in uncertain times and drive innovation. For further reading on why soft skills are the new critical skills, check out the We Are Adam blog.


Can AI-Centric Recruitment Ever Be Ethical?

As AI's role in recruitment grows, ethical concerns become increasingly important. AI algorithms, despite their capabilities, are not immune to the biases present in historical data. These biases, often related to race, gender, age, or other factors, can perpetuate discrimination in the recruitment process if left unchecked. In June 2023, The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) declared the current AI safeguards are ‘inadequate’. Responding to the recent government whitepaper on the topic of AI regulation, EHRC Chairwoman Baroness Falkner said “As AI technology continues to advance at an unprecedented pace, we must strike the right balance between innovation to improve public services and UK businesses, and the safeguarding of human rights and equality for everyone in Britain, as enshrined in law.”

So, is it possible to mitigate against this bias? If you choose to use AI to speed up your recruitment processes, keep the following front of mind:

  • Data Scrutiny: HR teams must rigorously analyse historical data before using it to train AI algorithms. This involves identifying any patterns or biases that may have emerged and taking steps to rectify them.

  • Algorithmic Audits: Regular audits of AI algorithms are essential to identify and mitigate bias. These audits involve examining the decisions made by AI tools and assessing their fairness and accuracy, as well as establishing clear, transparent policies around the use of AI to make recruitment decisions.

  • Diverse Data Sets: To mitigate bias, HR professionals should aim to train AI systems on diverse and representative data sets. This can help ensure that the algorithms make fair and unbiased decisions during candidate assessment.

Addressing bias is not only an ethical imperative but also a legal one. Discriminatory hiring practices can lead to costly legal repercussions and damage to a company's reputation. Therefore, vigilance in bias mitigation is crucial for ethical recruitment.

Back in September 2021, a UK based campaign group called Global Witness accused Facebook of discrimination in its’ job adverts after it conducted an investigation showing certain jobs were being advertised to a specific sex. Their experiment consisted of posting two job adverts on the social media platform – one for mechanics, one for pre-school teachers. They found that of the people shown the advert for mechanics, 91% were men whereas for those who were shown the pre-school role, 95% were women. Global Witness’ complaint was that the Facebook algorithm, which was responsible for deciding who saw which advert, demonstrated a clear bias in its’ application.

Ethical considerations extend to the transparency of AI algorithms used in recruitment. Both candidates and hiring managers should have a clear understanding of how AI is employed in the recruitment process. Transparency not only builds trust but also ensures that candidates and hiring managers can make informed decisions. Here's how transparency can be upheld:

  • Algorithmic Disclosure: Companies should be transparent about the role of AI in their recruitment processes. Candidates should be informed when AI tools are used for resume screening, chatbot interactions, or any other aspect of their application

  • Explanations for Decisions: AI-driven decisions should be explainable. When a candidate is rejected or selected based on AI assessments, HR teams should be able to provide clear and comprehensible explanations for these outcomes. This helps candidates understand why certain decisions were made and can alleviate concerns about unfair treatment.

  • Candidate Data Privacy: Transparency extends to data privacy as well. Candidates should be aware of how their data is collected, used, and stored during the recruitment process. Companies must adhere to data protection regulations and communicate their data handling practices clearly.

Transparency is not just about ethical considerations; it's also a means of building and maintaining trust with candidates. When candidates understand how AI is employed and that the process is fair and ethical, they are more likely to have a positive perception of the company, even if they are not ultimately selected.


Partnering for Success: TA Specialists and AI

In this evolving landscape, it's worth considering partnerships with specialists who understand the nuances of your industry and the power of human input. These specialists can complement AI by providing insights, personalisation, and cultural understanding that go beyond automation.

Recruiters serve as connectors between top talent and your organisation. We invest the time to understand your unique needs, culture, and goals. We bring the human touch that ensures candidates feel valued and excited to join your team. Moreover, we have access to the latest AI tools and best practices, allowing us to harness technology while preserving the essential human element.

AI and human expertise are not mutually exclusive. They can harmoniously coexist in the world of recruitment, elevating your talent acquisition efforts to new heights. When AI is thoughtfully integrated with human judgment, the result is a recruitment process that not only identifies the best-fit candidates but also resonates with candidates on a personal level.

We all need to embrace innovation but cannot afford to forget the value of human insight. This balance is the key to unlocking the full potential of your recruitment efforts. It's not merely about automating tasks; it's about creating a seamless, human-centric experience that attracts top talent and drives your organisation's growth and success.

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Photo by Mojahid Mottakin on Unsplash