Exploring the link between AI, recruitment and HR

By Chris Underwood
HR and recruitment teams are increasingly adopting the use of AI to select the best candidates. How big a role should automation play in HR?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly prominent, and human resources (HR) is no exception. But how is this impacting recruitment? Chris Underwood explores the phenomenon.

Dear hiring managers, please stop sending automated messages! – Yours sincerely, a frustrated candidate

Automation is present in many areas of our lives, from self-service checkouts to telephone answering, marketing and chatbots, so it’s hardly surprising that HR and recruitment teams are increasingly adopting the technology. However, is it enhancing or damaging candidate experience? After all, this is critical for attracting and retaining high quality skill sets – a scarcity in the current talent pool – and maintaining a good employer brand. 

On the plus side, technology can reassure candidates; automated messages increase transparency and encourage faster communication as they are kept updated on application proceedings. Using AI to sift through CVs can also speed up the creation of a shortlist. However, this encourages candidates to write applications for computers. Focused on keywords, it can lead to poorly written CVs and gives little opportunity to fully demonstrate their full range of talents, which can disadvantage candidates at a later stage. 

One of candidates’ biggest criticisms of AI is its inability to create a personable ‘human’ experience. Automating certain hiring activities, for example, recorded virtual video interviews, can lead to candidate frustrations. 

The robotic nature restricts interviews to one-way monologues. Speaking to a “recruitment robot” governed by a set list of questions limits candidates’ ability to act naturally, exhibit personality or divulge relevant experience, which might occur off-script. This box-ticking exercise reduces candidates to a list of qualifications and experiences, which can taint their perception of the business altogether and derail wellbeing strategies. Ultimately, how caring is an employer who doesn’t take time to get to know applicants on an individual basis? 

Dear technologists, can we use AI to do more with less? – Yours sincerely, an over-stretched HR leader 

For HR, as with many other functions, AI promises to save time, streamline processes and scale up operations. An obvious application is sorting through large volumes of candidates to progress to the next stage. However, AI remains very much in its infancy so while it is capable of processing applications to identify qualified candidates for entry-level or manual roles, it cannot effectively assess soft skills essential for management and leadership positions. Similarly, it will struggle to evaluate culture fit.

At first glance, AI is the hero to discrimination issues in HR. Idealistically, technology should remove unconscious bias from the hiring process, where human nature is prone to making assumptions based upon appearances, names and accents. But as a data-driven tool, AI in reality can actually reinforce bias. 

Hiring managers typically recruit based on what the role’s predecessor looked like and by inputting these qualities as fixed data points, they could overlook talent that doesn’t fit the prescription and actively go against Diversity & Inclusion strategies. 

Furthermore, automating talent strategies could restrict businesses from recruiting outside of the company image, meaning HR teams lose out on the new insights talent from diverse backgrounds bring. 

For this reason, Amazon no longer uses AI in HR. The retail giant found candidate screening discriminated against women because it was using data from the last decade, where male CVs were more common and favoured. However, when used correctly, AI can effectively manage employee data to predict skill requirements and desirable qualities to list criteria for job adverts.

What’s the future for AI in HR?

In the age of automation, HR teams are under huge pressure to recruit and develop the teams needed to deliver business transformation but also improve their own processes. This makes sourcing digitally, adaptable and emotionally resilient candidates with true transformation experience essential. 

Current AI capabilities can certainly make hiring processes and development programmes run smoother and improve transparency for both candidates and employers. This is especially beneficial when handling multiple vacancies or filling urgent gaps as it simplifies, or even eliminates, administrative tasks from HR to-do lists. 

On the other hand, AI is far from sophisticated enough to replace the sensitivity, instinct and subtlety human HR professionals possess. For the sake of both the candidate and the HR team, it must be established where technology’s limitations end and when it is time for humans to retain control.

As with any automation decision, it is about automating the right processes. In HR, it is also about not automating the less predictable human.

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