Has tech taken the soul out of recruiting?

Recruiters and candidates are increasingly using technology to manage the high volume of available roles. How is this impacting the recruiting experience? Tim Stone investigates.

Over the past two decades, technology has helped people get jobs. From databases to job boards, emails to videos and websites to AI, technology has sought to make it easier to connect people with organisations and candidates with opportunities. But has this intervention been all positive?

As tech has grown more sophisticated and more capable, it has also widened the distance between recruiters and candidates.

The ability to sift, swipe, delete and ghost has made the process more impersonal, and reduced the human element – the heart and soul – of the recruitment process.

Read more: 45% of candidates are ghosted by recruiters, research suggests

“The worry for me is that recruiters begin to select those who only look good on paper and tick all the academic boxes but miss those who entered a career late due to following an unconventional career path,” says Jesper Diget, chief people officer for Emagine Consulting.

“Someone who enters an industry later in life after being an elite sportsperson, for example, likely has all the qualities you are looking to have in your team, including motivation, determination and teamwork skills, but AI won’t see that.

“It’s important to build relationships with candidates early on, so that you hear these kinds of stories and decide whether they might fit the team. Otherwise, there is a risk that we will miss untapped potential.”

This concern that talent may be overlooked is shared by many in the sector. Craig Bines, CEO of the job aggregator CareerWallet, lists automated screening processes, keyword matching algorithms and AI-driven assessments as technologies that at once streamline the initial stages of candidate selection but can also overlook traits that a human recruiter would catch.

“These systems might prioritise specific metrics over difficult-to-measure human qualities, such as cultural fit or potential for growth, for example,” Bines notes.

“This could lead to missed opportunities for both employers and candidates.” For Bines, recruiters should still use technology to complement their own skill sets though.

Bines also notes the impact of automation on candidates, explaining that they can feel like they’re sending their applications into a digital void, with little-to-no feedback or personal interaction.

“The recruitment experience – ideally a dialogue between employers and candidates – can feel transactional and impersonal due to technology,” he says. “This can erode trust and engagement, leading to disenchanted candidates and potentially damaging the employer brand.”

Read more: HR Focus podcast: 'How to introduce AI to talent management'

Kelly Scanlon, CEO of the data and recruiting business Fenway Resourcing, asserts that there is no substitute for human interaction in hiring. For Scanlon, tech should enhance rather than replace the nuanced human judgement in recruitment.

“Using a fine-tuned algorithm or rules engine can help to filter out a large percentage of clearly unqualified or ill-fitting CVs from the initial process, to enable recruiters to more critically engage with the ones with real job suitability potential,” Scanlon says.

“On the other hand, if lazy or unchecked selection criteria are used, we run the risk of mistakenly disqualifying candidates and potentially alienating them to our practices in general.”

Scanlon explains that getting the balance right means placing an increased emphasis on nuances that can be difficult to articulate in a CV. Attention should be paid to body language and the multitude of other behavioural signals given out by the candidate, as well as their general capabilities and the transferability of their skills. “It’s all part of how we place candidates precisely,” says Scanlon, “putting people before algorithms.”

“Recruitment is an area where we should be even more considered in our approach to technology,” says Sophie Austin, people director and partner for the accountancy and business advisory firm Monahans, “because ultimately, we want candidates to choose us.”

Austin is clear that the hiring processes and its systems will influence a candidate’s impression of the organisation that they’re looking to join. But she goes further and notes that a technology-driven recruitment process should consider all candidates – including people with additional needs.

“It’s crucial to consider whether your recruitment process is accessible to all candidates,” she says. “For instance, it is important to understand whether candidates may require reasonable adjustments that an automated system simply cannot facilitate.

“At Monahans we give candidates the option of adjustments up front, but we also let them contact us to discuss what they need, covering nuances which cannot be communicated through a simple tick box.

“In other words, you still need people around the edges of processes, to fill in the gaps that the technology is unable to reach.”

Read more: Most HR teams are avoiding use of AI in recruitment

According to Simon Geere, director of HR and internal communications for business services agency Alexander Lloyd, job seekers do complain that online application processes, often delivered via an applicant tracking system, can be unresponsive and generic. At the same time, he sees technology sometimes making recruiters’ lives harder by making it easy to apply for a post with a few clicks of a mouse or touches of a phone screen.

While technology can sift through high numbers of candidates quickly – perhaps thereby helping to solve the problem it has created – caution is still advised, Geere says.

“Leaving AI to handle these high volumes still raises too many concerns and questions for me around equity, diversity and inclusion, and technical errors,” he notes.

Geere goes so far as to suggest that recruitment is now about how well one can use technology to find candidates who are a potential experience and skill fit for an organisation. Building relationships, he argues, is of secondary concern, occasionally even non-existent. “I sense that the 40-year-old-plus recruiters and their little black books will soon be a thing of the past,” he says.

However, a more real sense of contact is still achievable, and can be easily realised through technology. Geere says that it’s easy to connect with candidates over Teams, for example, giving recruiters no excuse for not making real contact with their prospective placements. Indeed, making this kind of contact is so easy that Geere advises recruiters to regularly use technology to call and update candidates during the recruitment process.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s CEO, Neil Carberry, encourages a pragmatic approach to technology use, explaining that the value of technology for recruiters lies in how they use it rather than what it is. “A mixed approach is the right one to take,” he says.

“If you look at the large language models they can provide help with outreach, but you still need a human to help. The process design in this mixed world needs to be run not by IT but by the business.”

Technology does have a positive role to play in generating and supporting brands, as Carberry explains: “Employer brand is about how people feel about joining your company and there is a technology-rich version of that which can be good for employers.”

A candidate who interacts with a chatbot on a website, for example, and views a presentation along the way, may very much feel that the company is interested in taking care of them.

Carberry also notes that recruitment goes through different phases, changing the demand and emphasis of the function, and what should be gained from technology. Some solutions worked better when recruiters needed a quick sift of numerous and diverse applicants. But in today’s tighter market, things are different.

Technology needs to help recruiters solve a corporate strategic issue rather than play a numbers game, according to Carberry: “Process optimisation is one thing but problem solving is a more human activity.”

Going further than both Carberry and Geere, Allyn Bailey, senior director customer marketing for SmartRecruiters, believes that technology can take the recruitment relationship to a higher level, one that the industry has aspired to for some time. Bailey gives the example of the potential for personalising interactions through technology, to maintain consistent communication and provide timely feedback throughout the recruitment process.

“These are all crucial components of building relationships,” Bailey states.

“By leveraging technology wisely, recruiters can better understand candidates’ needs and preferences, fostering a sense of trust and connection.”

Bailey goes on to state that candidates now expect a seamless and efficient experience in recruitment, akin to their interactions in other areas of life.

“By meeting these expectations we not only enhance the candidate experience but also bolster the organisation’s brand image,” she says. “A positive recruitment experience sends a powerful message about the company’s values and commitment to its people.”

The development of technology for recruitment is not slowing down, nor should it be ignored by recruiters, because candidates are undoubtedly ready to be contacted through this means. However, care is always necessary so that the process is still understood and its impact recognised.

Faster is not always better.

While technology can line up hundreds of possibilities it can also miss the diamond in the rough. As the capabilities of AI and technology continue to grow, employers should always bear in mind that at the end of the day, the process is still about people.

Candidate experience is key

“The recruitment process is a critical component in the employer brand lifecycle,” says David Burke, senior director, global talent acquisition and employer brand for the technology firm Workhuman. “This is where words and pictures become reality.

“The recruiting process can be a validation and force multiplier, or expose your employer brand proposition as hollow and insincere. How a candidate feels about their experience and the way they are made to feel throughout the process is a key influencer when it comes to deciding what they think about your brand.

“In today’s digital age, technology streamlines processes and can potentially enhance the candidate’s journey, as well as support your employer brand in the process, if done correctly. It is important to use technology as a complement to showcase your company’s culture, which should be built on genuine connections and gratitude first and foremost. This must be transparent to candidates during their interviews.

“Well-run, organised interviews and regular, transparent, and respectful communication throughout the recruitment process builds trust. After all, this isn’t only about first impressions. At the end of the day, it’s the people and experience that are the true differentiators for prospective employees joining an organisation.”


This article is from the May/June 2024 edition of HR magazine. 

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