Advances in recruitment technology present exciting opportunities for improving the hiring process (Candidate matching! Self-scheduling interviews!). There’s also the risk, though, that technology could make everything much more impersonal.

Artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, algorithms are all guaranteed time savers, but will that crucial touch of humanity be lost?

Adam Godson, Cielo’s Chief Technology & Product Innovation Officer, answers some of the most burning questions surrounding this topic, which will profoundly and permanently impact talent acquisition.Adam Godson headshot

What are some common fears people have about AI as it relates to identifying qualified candidates?

Adam Godson: A lot of the fears surround accuracy and AI’s ability to understand nuance. That’s probably pretty well-founded, to be honest. How can a machine understand something with so much complexity as a person’s background, skills and ability to do a job? That is particularly true for people who are changing careers and are leaning on transferable skills. Maybe they have project-management experience as a volunteer, or experience that might transfer with soft skills or people skills to another industry that a human could certainly understand but that a machine or bot just won’t see.

I think that carries over as well into fears about bias and legality. The legal areas around using AI in hiring are yet to be written, so companies are rightly concerned about the legal and ethical implications of using AI in hiring.

Do candidates worry that the machines will not capture the full scope of their skills and abilities?

AG: Absolutely. People don’t want to be treated like a number. They want to express what’s unique about them, they want to convince a recruiter or hiring manager that they’re a good fit, and they also want to learn about the company, role and team. One part of the interview process often overlooked is that candidates are interviewing the company, too, and whether it’s a fit for them. By significantly limiting or even eliminating personal touch points in the process, you risk hiring someone who would’ve otherwise self-selected out after meeting future coworkers and deciding it’s not the right fit for them. That has long-term, potentially damaging consequences for morale, satisfaction and engagement.

How does AI affect actual candidate experience?

AG: Many organizations right now use some version of sourcing like, “Let us send an email to one million candidates. We’ll ask them 10 questions and see who might be interested.” That’s really useful for the organization, but you’ve potentially just wasted the time of one million people. So the question is, who is the automation for? Whose time is it supposed to save? We always should consider how a change in process or technology will impact candidate and think twice about implementing anything that does not make it easier or faster for them to connect with us.
Automation in the hiring process is still in the early stages of maturity. How would you assess the progress so far?

AG: We see some talent acquisition teams using automation really well, using technology to scale. What separates those doing it well from those that aren’t is that question of whose experience they are trying to improve with it. Companies designing the experience focused on their own internal process mostly have bad candidate experiences.

Companies that take a Design Thinking approach to when and how to use automation, with the candidate as the focus, are automating things in a more positive way. But just like 20 years ago when we first got Applicant Tracking Systems, everyone thought how amazing that was going to be. It turned out that we automated just to improve our own data flows and ended up getting a lot of the candidate experience wrong. It’s important as an industry that we look at the candidate experience first and get it right this time.

What are the keys then, to making AI a force for good in candidate experience and not something that takes humanity out of the process?

AG: Start with a Design Thinking approach and use that as a framework to think about who benefits from the automation, and what does it feel like.

Next, I would chart the thoughts and emotions of a jobseeker as part of your process. What is that jobseeker thinking or feeling at each point? For example, after they send the application, they’re probably thinking, “What happens next?” How do we communicate the next steps to them and give them some assurance?

The third thing is to let users choose their experience. For example, in one of our programs where we want to highly automate, we give users three choices: They can answer questions from a chatbot via text message or web interface; they can hit the “Call Now” button and record an answer using their voice whenever they want to do so; or they can schedule a time to talk to a person.

The key is that the users get to choose their experience, not the company. We ask the same questions in each of those three options. If they work third shift, and they really want to respond off hours, that’s great, they can do the recorded piece. If they want to talk to someone live and ask a couple of questions, they can schedule a call. Giving users control will lead us to positive automation.

Many people prefer self-service. For example, when I go to the airport I don’t want to talk to anyone, so I just use mobile apps. But I know that if I needed to, I could. There’s a phone number to a customer service line with a real person ready to help me. A recent survey showed that people were highly satisfied talking to bots as long as they knew they could talk to a person if they needed to. If they were forced to do it, though, the response was less positive. If they’re choosing their experience, they feel good about it, so that philosophy applies here, too.

What are the benefits to getting automation right when it comes to candidate experience?

AG: Companies that get it right will stand out from their competition and reap the benefits and talent. They’ll be significantly ahead as far as speed-to-hire and staying fully staffed. We’ve seen really good results for companies that are faster and more efficient in the recruiting process, compared to organizations that have slower methods.

Jobseekers’ expectations are changing, especially in this economy where they can pretty much get a job wherever they want. They’re going to select a company that’s the fastest and that treats them the best.