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Guiding Trend 17 December Dec 2018 0830 17 December 2018

Algorithms and AI: using technology to recruit staff

The development of algorithms for use in recruitment has massive potential, but also signposts (perhaps) more concerning scenarios. Here are the many pros and cons.

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The world of work today faces a crucial issue: for every vacancy (there are few exceptions), the number of candidates is growing. Jobs are becoming increasingly scarce, the minimum level of requirements is going up, the fierceness of the competition is intensifying. And as applicants find themselves bending over backwards during the selection process, employers – naturally – are seeking to exploit the latest means of optimising and speeding up the search for new staff, trusting in technology and algorithms that have been designed specifically to help them assess applications (if not simply to cut a few steps out of the process). Indeed, technological advances are making huge steps forward in how hiring processes work, diversifying how evaluations are conducted and assessments are carried out. The purpose, however, remains the same as ever: find the best candidate in as little time as possible.

69% of talent professionals are increasingly using data analysis as the key strategy in their work

Among the systems that today use algorithms for in hiring staff, the simplest and most widely used is one we have all come up against at some point: a database that stores unsolicited applications. It is a simple method that a large number of companies offer today, through the classic “Work for Us” or “Careers” page. You can upload your CV at the touch of a button and there you have it: your profile is in the system. It offers a particular advantage to recruiters, who can save time with keyword searches that identify a shortlist of feasible candidates in seconds. But it is also useful for the hopeful applicants: the fact that your CV is available to the company at any time means one more opportunity for you to find a job that matches your profile.

According to LinkedIn’s latest Global Recruiting Trends report, 69% of talent professionals are increasingly using data analysis as the key strategy in their work.

The use of search activities at companies is, in effect, gaining importance on the hiring scene. And it begins with social networks, which companies use not only to publish job offers but also to scan the web in search of fresh talent. If the latest developments are anything to go by, recruitment is increasingly seeking professionals through their movements online. So much so, that search engines that compile candidates’ profiles to collect big data are springing up all over the internet. Their analysis not only looks at people’s skills, but also at who is best aligned with company values.

Another interesting use of digital selection methods is gaming: there are short games designed to test the cognitive, emotional and social skills of the applicant. This not only assess soft skills (a variable that LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends report says 63% of recruiters find difficult to assess in an interview) but it also has the advantage of creating conditions under which the applicant can show his potential without the stress of appearing before an interviewer. In this sense, technology can offer recruiters vital support, maximising their opportunities for understanding applicants’ potential, aptitude and skills.

Finally, algorithms can be useful even before the preliminary selection stages, acting as an “inlet filter”. An example of this (still not that widely used, but the use of which is likely to increase in future) are chatbots. They can provide data on questions asked by those interested in a vacancy, thus helping to screen them even before they submit an application.

Chatbots can provide data on questions asked by those interested in a vacancy, thus helping to screen them even before they submit an application

Enthusiasm for the use of technology to improve and speed up processes, however, is often coupled with a natural concern for its dehumanising aspect. This means that, when it comes to job applications, algorithms generate significant fears, concerns that even a small typo in a CV could automatically exclude a candidate from getting the job.

The most questionable use of AI in recruitment and the one that has aroused the most scepticism so far is in Britain. It involves candidates being interviewed in front of a computer, which analyses their facial expressions, shifts in posture, tone of voice and word choices via the camera on their home computer, so as to evaluate their personalities and level of creative thinking. TheGuardian wrote about this phenomenon, discussing a company called Hirevue that uses this very method, placing particular emphasis on the dehumanising aspect of it. Applicants are frustrated, feeling they are not even worth a few minutes of face-to-face contact with an HR employee. The practice is concerning, as a machine seemingly does not subject candidates to conditions ideal for “selling themselves well”. A similar system might, perhaps, be more suited to less qualified employees, where motivation is less important. Although it is difficult to establish with what success these methods will take hold.

Does this scenario signal the apocalypse? The disadvantage of algorithms is that they do not perform well at the most human aspects of hiring staff. On the flip side, the speed and efficiency they can offer are advantages any company would struggle to pass up. That is why AI use is an inevitability we cannot sweep under the carpet but, because of the obvious ethical dilemmas it poses, it must be confronted and regulated in a healthy and responsible way.

Hiring staff in future will combine the use of technology with human elements, making recruitment more efficient and balanced, while at the same time allowing us to preserve the element of human deduction

Recruitment is a process in which recruiters need to empathise with candidates to get a sense of their potential and their limits, something that, thus far, AI has struggled to do. So are algorithms the best way to hire or not? While on the one hand it is easier to integrate technology into the HR sector to create a shortlist of candidates, it is possible to say with relative certainty that, even in future, the most crucial stages in the hiring process will be carried out by experts - in person - whose role will be to assess all those unique human aspects, such as needs, skills, aspirations, quirks and personal expectations. In other words, it is likely (even advantageous) that hiring staff in future will combine the use of technology with human elements, making recruitment more efficient and balanced, while at the same time allowing us to preserve the element of human deduction, which is what allows us to truly understand whether - beyond qualifications and skills - applicants can add value to a company. Today, this aspect remains important as it was 100 years ago.

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