There are very few industries in the world that have escaped the clutches of the Internet and the recruitment industry is no exception. Gone are the days in which puff-chested baby-boomers marched up and down the streets from dawn until dusk delivering hand-written CVs to prospective employers. Now, job-seeking millennials can obtain gainful employment, a piping hot pizza and a new gym membership without even having to leave the supine position. Conversely, employers have also learned to harness the power of t’Internet, freeing themselves from the shackles of newspaper advertising (at their peril…) in favour of newer tools of modernity (LinkedIN, ZipRecruiter etc.).
In the wake of this fourth industrial revolution, the industry remains divided as to whether these technological advances have augmented or supplanted recruiters, but a much greater threat lingers on the horizon: automation. According to the Bullhorn 2018 report on recruitment trends, recruiters have been resistant to the adoption of large-scale automation systems, due to fears that they will lose their jobs. The fear is unjustified. Over the past 20 years, technology has helped recruiters efficiently source candidates with more precision and there is little evidence to suggest that automation will not further enhance this process. By automating the early stages of recruitment (identifying and screening), a largely quantitative task, recruiters can broaden their focus towards more strategic and qualitative elements of hiring.
Over the past two years, hysteria surrounding automation has accelerated. Last year, a BBC report warned that robot automation would ‘take 800 million jobs by 2030’ around the world and that developed companies would be worst affected. The report cites that mortgage brokers, paralegals and accountants were most vulnerable to an automation takeover but, importantly for recruiters, their industry did not feature in this list. In fact, the primary function of automation in automation is not to eliminate the recruiter but, to aid them, especially in the early stages of the recruiting process. Automation is turning a process that was highly individualised and time-intensive into a faster and more efficient way of screening a wider range of candidates. According to Hasting’s Direct, even rudimentary changes to the second stage of its interview process made a drastic difference: by changing from telephone interviews to a pre-recorded video assessment, the administrative work for recruiters fell from 55 minutes per candidate to 10.
These time-saving benefits and fringe adjustments have thus far failed to persuade recruiters to begin adoption. Based on a global survey of over 1,400 recruitment professionals across agencies in all sectors, Bullhorn’s 2018 report found that when recruiters were asked about what their top three considerations for 2018 were, only 29% of responses featured any mention of automation whatsoever. This delay in implementation of automation illustrates a staggering disconnect between the proven advantages of automation and the desultory response given by industry leaders. Even Jack Ma, CEO of Tencent, warned in no uncertain terms that “artificial intelligence and robots will kill many jobs”. For a man who made billions in the world of e-commerce, it is a strangely apocalyptic view.
To be sure, automation presents a number of challenges to the recruitment industry but they are not existential. Arguably the most damaging effect of the mass-scale adoption of automation lies in the client-candidate relationship. Recruitment is a relationship-driven industry that thrives on fostering long-term partnerships between recruiters and clients. Without these relationships, candidates are left demoralised by the constant beat of rejection-by-automation and over time, this dearth of human interaction could de-incentivise candidates from applying to jobs in the first place. Yet it is important to note that automation will not eliminate the entire human relationship between applicant and recruiter. While it may be reduced in the initial stages of the recruitment process, the relationship is likely to strengthen in the latter rounds when the sorting process has already taken place. Thus, clients can gain a better qualitative and deeper understanding of the candidates that they are interviewing.
Another advantage is the removal of unconscious bias that can occur in the screening process. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness and it is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice. In recruitment, this may take the form of rejecting candidates on the basis of their social background or even their home address. It is something that the civil service has sought to redress by implementing AI features in their own recruitment process. Last year, it was one of 30 organisations to trial a new tool, Applied, that requires applicants to fill in a series of questions based on work they might be expected to do in the role. The aim was to focus on what they can do, rather than what they have done in the past, or the sort of person that they are. As recruiters adopt more sophisticated methods of sorting of this nature, the playing field will invariably level.
It is difficult to ascertain the true scope, influence and timing of the incoming wave of automation, but recruiters have been slow to embrace it. Due to the proliferation of digital recruitment companies like Upwork, Shiftgig and Catalant, it is imperative for traditional recruiters to be more responsive to these shifts in order to stay competitive. The growth of new and more agile platforms will mean that candidates can directly contact employers, thereby posing a greater risk to the legacy recruitment industry. When used effectively, automation is a powerful tool that not only helps recruiters find the best candidate from a vast pool of talent, but it also eliminates leaden, time-intensive tasks. Through a gradual implementation of automation in recruitment processes, recruiters are spared from the tedium of administration and will be pushed to think more strategically. By creating a culture of innovation and not stagnation, firms can fully tap into the power of the digital world.