Saturday December 7, 2019

Remaining human in an AI recruitment environment

Technology can spot skills and eliminate bias when hiring staff, but it won't recognise the subtle signs that mark out a good employee

24th November, 2019

Technology has always played a role in the recruitment process, but more recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have catapulted it to the lead item in the agenda of every chief human resource officer.

From talent engagement to employer branding and candidate assessment, a recent JazzHR study revealed that six in ten SMEs now employ some form of recruitment-specific software, while 25 per cent use AI in their workforce plans.

In HR, AI can enhance the entire recruitment process from candidate sourcing to screening and mapping. It can support onboarding and inclusion by personalising the employee experience and engaging workers. Training and development can also benefit through the use of analytics and predictive tools.

Perhaps, most significantly, it has the potential to eliminate unconscious bias. Whether we like to admit it or not, every one of us has preferences and prejudices, based on a lifetime of experiences, that affect our decisions at an unconscious level, leading to unconscious bias.

In many situations, it is neither a good nor a bad thing. It is what our brains do: an evolutionary adaptation that helped our ancestors to survive. But in today’s workplace, unconscious bias can cause major problems, impact careers, hindering diversity and causing inadvertent discrimination.

Korn Ferry, my company, has worked with a global consumer goods firm adopting AI as a means of eliminating this human fault from its recruitment process. The company’s selection approach involves candidates participating in a series of games.

Combining the services of AI solutions providers, an algorithm assesses the candidates' performance against a predetermined personality profile. That way, the company is not asking someone whether they have the experience. Instead, the algorithm is assessing: does this person actually have the skills?

In the first 12 months after introducing this new recruitment model, the company reported that it had hired its “most diverse class to date”, while also reducing the time needed to review applications by 75 per cent.

AI - and any other technology for that matter - is only as effective as the people developing it. While it has the potential to remove unconscious bias, this can only be achieved if those developing the software ensure it is stamped out.

While the potential of AI in recruitment is clear, its ability to identify and demonstrate emotional intelligence - empathy, compassion, persuasion - is no match for humans.

Anyone who has gone through the recruitment process, either as a candidate or hiring manager, will be aware of the nuances involved. Our human ability to gauge a person and interpret their emotional state, body language and attitudes, are all critical in evaluating whether a potential employee will be a good cultural fit for the organisation.

We may not be able to predict how exactly AI and machine learning will continue to develop and influence the recruitment process, but we can be confident that it will play an increasingly integral role.

We know businesses with higher diversity create happy workforces, who are more productive and generally more profitable - and AI supports just that.

For now, it should be considered complementary to human-led hiring practices, rather than a magic wand that will deliver the best people for your business. Remaining true to your culture and human in your process is the best way to recruit and retain the best people for your business.

Alistair Copeland is vice-president of IT services at Korn Ferry

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