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The Robots are Coming to Recruitment

Alastair Blair


We all know that the robots are coming, but we tend to think it won’t be our jobs they take. Doubtless the hand-loom weavers felt much the same when some pesky industrialist/inventor came up with the power loom. Yet despite our state of denial, there are many industries where it’s clear that the current employees are all going to be having a lot more leisure time in the relatively near future. Robert Colville’s fascinating book, ‘The Great Acceleration’, is chock full of examples of the ways in which technology is taking over our world. Why should recruitment be immune?

The fact is, recruitment is already well down this path. I have seen quite a few webinars on this subject and also read up quite a bit about it, and the overwhelming consensus is that, while there are algorithms that match candidates and jobs quite well (obviously I’m not talking about Linkedin here, as it still seems to think I want a job as a junior media buyer in London), we really do need human beings to do all the serious assessment and stuff. Well, yes, but only up to a point. No-one disputes that we have developed quite decent technology that tries to pair people with jobs. A recent article in The Recruiter magazine, which featured very senior execs at some of the biggest job-boards discussing this very subject, rather, in my view, misses the point. An algorithm that matches people on one specific site, be it Reed, Monster, Jobsite or wherever, is one thing – but I’m talking about a Holy Grail that can apply anywhere across the world-wide-web. I’m not a techie, but I don’t believe that one day this won’t be achieved.

But, the argument always is “oh, humans are not what they seem on paper…they lie on their CVs, they inflate their worth on Linkedin, they claim things which are false…so we need someone to check up on them”. Yes, of course people tell porkies, but that doesn’t alter the fact that we’ve gone from a situation where there was no technological matching to one where we have some quite advanced matching. In addition, many recruiters have learned Boolean and, more pertinently, X-ray search is already finding people that are not found by other means. Why does anyone think this will stop now? Google is now getting into recruitment in a much bigger way – watch their partnership with Dice (formerly theITJobBoard) and see what happens there. We all bang on about disruption: this is real disruption, except this time it affects our world. The pressures of the market will ensure that it does.

To illustrate just how the market will drive these changes, consider the fact that a big problem for recruitment consultancies nowadays is finding high quality staff. It’s not hard to find rubbish recruiters, and even not too difficult to find quite good people, but really good ones are like whichever euphemism you care to name. Also, in many industries, especially IT and engineering, it’s really hard to find good candidates for the simple reason that our governments have not worked out over the last few decades that we need to educate more children with the necessary skills. To illustrate this point, in the Highlands of Scotland there are (at the time of writing) only seven teachers of computing science, as this rather interesting and scary blog explains. Consequently, anyone who can a) find candidates and b) persuade them to move, and c) persuade them to resist the counter-offer when it comes, is worth their wait in gold or pizzas at most rec-cons. How much easier would it be if an algorithm could do all this for you? Or to put it another way, if IBM Watson can do brain surgery then what’s to stop it (her?) doing recruitment?

The fact is no-one really wants to face technological redundancy. In the Hollywood movies the good guys always win out over the computer that is hell-bent on destroying the earth. That’s not real life though. Instead of going to your local Odeon, we should all learn from the language industry. There are thousands of interpreters and translators, but machine translation means that, rather than having the human beans translate everything, the technology does the backbreaking stuff, which is then checked and polished by a real person. Result? In the near future we won’t need thousands of translators and interpreters, just a few very good ones. And for translators and interpreters, read recruiters…

We shall, of course, still need some very good people. All those rec-cons who have a revolving door of young tyros and/or old and past their sell-by date experienced hands, can get the tech to do the heavy lifting, keep their really good people to check everything and Bob’s your uncle (other genders are available).

Just to finish this little theory off…I was talking, as one does, to someone quite senior in the media, who said that their publisher had come across a couple of geeky people who claimed that they had some great matching technology. His first reaction was, ‘yeah, right’, but in the event, it turned out the geeks were right and this kit really is the canine’s cojones. Where next? Watch this space…

Alastair Blair

Founder - thePotentMix

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