Technology can revolutionise the hiring process – but only if internal barriers are overcome.
Can technology reduce the age-old problem of bad hires? Many HR professionals certainly think so, according to our survey.
The Ius Laboris forces for change 2020 survey asked which area of HR would be most affected by technology. Easily the top answer (from 25 per cent of professionals), was optimising recruitment.
It may seem counterintuitive that technology can help a process that in some cases boils down to human chemistry. But a host of solutions are lining up. This includes more accurate traits-based solutions, predictive analytics and tools that assess cultural fit and the ability to work with others, as well as facial recognition software that claims to unlock an individual's "risk" to a business.
If it works, it will be a real blessing – as this report has already noted, talent attraction and retention are today's number one challenge for HR. But ask what they are using, and there is a big gap between hope and reality: just 8 per cent deploy AI or machine learning in recruitment, and even fewer use robotic process automation, which can slash the human time needed to winnow large pools of applicants. Cost is the big problem for many firms, with 42 per cent pointing to a lack of budget as their most significant barrier.
Part of the problem may be that HR directors and recruiters aren't making a case for investment with enough force: 10 per cent say the greatest barrier is a lack of buy-in from senior stakeholders. Perhaps both HR professionals – and the board – still believe in the human magic of recruitment, the amazing "click" when a candidate in an interview seems perfect for the role.
Outside the box
"Many organisations seem not to understand that as their talent needs change, so too must their recruitment strategy – and the need for them to think outside the box with technology," says Charles Hipps, founder of Oleeo, a talent intelligence firm with offices in the US and the UK that is one of a growing number of new technology platform providers. The company claims it can boost sources of hard-to-find talent by 50 per cent, using technology to analyse where a business's most successful hires come from and modeling against these profiles to find new pools of potential employees.
A good example is provided by work that Oleeo recently conducted with Bank of America. As the bank transitioned to digital, it realised it was increasingly competing with tech startups for talent. Aiming at students worldwide, it piloted first-round video interviews via mobile devices to reach a wider audience and enhance the candidate experience. As a result, it found 22 per cent more candidates than in previous attempts, including a 28 per cent rise in female candidates and a 32 per cent increase in black and African-American candidates. It was so successful that Bank of America and Oleeo earned a 2018 Best Advance in Emerging Talent Acquisition Technology award from Brandon Hall Group.
Part of the problem for HR may be the firefighting nature of much recruitment. As organisations transform digitally, HR is under more pressure than ever to get critical roles filled quickly. This leaves little time to plan huge projects such as organisation-wide upheavals of recruitment processes. "Many recruiters we meet are literally scrabbling to find talent; they're too heads-down, they're not able to step back and think about strategy," says Tom Price-Daniel, chief revenue officer at recruitment artificial intelligence (AI) software provider Headstart. Individual markets also have their own quirks. For instance, due to its growth in temporary employment, Spain has the largest proportion of 20 to 64 year olds (22 per cent) in insecure work, which doesn't boost demand for expensive technological profiling.
But according to Devyani Vaishampayan, former global head of HR at Rolls-Royce and managing partner at The HR Tech Partnership, HR directors have often failed to keep up to date with technological advances. "HR tech has moved on so much in the last decade," she says. "No longer is it simply about reactive HR information systems. It operates across the whole HR spectrum, from recruitment all the way through to talent, engagement and culture. But I still feel HR directors are scared of it because they don't quite have the understanding of what it means."
It is not a view shared by HR professionals themselves. In the Ius Laboris survey, just 18 per cent said a lack of skills was the greatest barrier to using more technology for recruitment. A safety-first approach to innovation is perhaps understandable given that much of this innovation mixes not just big data and machine learning, but advanced psychometrics.
For instance, digital disruption company Good&Co, part of multinational organisation StepStone, doesn't just give applicants a personality rating – it decides how well they'll fit with the person they'll report to or the team they'll work in.
James Isilay, chief executive of Cognism – which makes technology that trawls social media to predict whether people are likely to be receptive to being approached about a new role – says bias is a real fear (see pages 30-33) but not the biggest barrier to adoption. "A lot of new technology is in its nascent stages and a big problem is that HR departments simply aren't given any budget for experimentation. Usually, if there's demand for a product, one will appear, but without money to test solutions, providers won't create new products."
Greatest benefit recruitment technology can offer:
Others are more critical of HR professionals. "Organisations are changing so much, needing to be more digital in every way, yet HR lags behind so much," argues Dr Ryne Sherman, chief science officer at global psychometrics firm Hogan Assessments. "Interestingly, we hold the personality data of thousands of HR practitioners globally and we can see this for ourselves. HR professionals, who score highly for being personable, score very low for scientific thinking and being data driven." Yet companies that embrace technology can achieve powerful results. Since September 2018, Accenture has been using groundbreaking virtual reality (VR) technology to assess its next cohort of graduates. Instead of a face-to- face interview, applicants wearing VR headsets find themselves navigating an Egyptian tomb, using a flaming torch to dissolve the darkness and identify a set of eerie surroundings. They must complete tasks like reordering hieroglyphs into the correct sequence in as few moves as possible.
These VR tests have now replaced traditional group tests, where it was easy for one or two individuals to dominate, leaving less vocal people sidelined, according to Accenture. The approach discovers people's hard-to-fake innate problem-solving skills and allows them to exhibit their strengths individually, the company believes.
Lloyds Bank has also started using VR for assessment, while Walmart-owned e-commerce specialist Jet.com allows potential employees to take a virtual walk around its office to see if it's the sort of place they want to work.
For such trailblazing companies, new HR technology that might initially take them outside their recruitment norms is now business as usual. But for some HR directors, advanced recruitment technology isn't yet a reality. Something may need to change. Perhaps it starts from something as simple as gaining greater confidence in what the technology can do.
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