Will AI Usher in An Era of Inefficiency in Recruiting?


Hung Lee from Recruiting Brainfood writes:  

Brainfooder John Vlastelica is one of the most compelling figures in our industry - a thinker / do-er who is able to extract profound insight from operational realities, as well as ask stimulating questions such as what happens when everyone is AI-enabled? One possible answer is an inefficient process might become a positive differentiator if high level human touch was the reason for it. In a same way we prefer an artisanal coffee, will hard-to-hire, passive candidates prefer ‘artisanal recruitment’? Intriguing brainfood


 AI article

If you’re in talent acquisition, you’ve certainly seen some of what the latest AI tools can do to help us recruit more effectively. It’s an amazing time to be alive. While automation may completely change how we recruit for some roles, it may also require us to completely rethink how we approach, screen, interview, and recruit other roles. Big changes are coming. And we may finally move away from a primary focus on speed and – get this – actually get more Inefficient by design.

I’ve seen terrible job ads turned into better ads in seconds. I’ve seen AI source prospects, infer their skills and demographics, and then stack rank them. I’ve seen AI build incredibly personalized outreach messages and InMails. I’ve seen entire interview plans created from scratch — who should interview, focus areas, sample interview questions, good answer themes. I’ve seen job seekers access fast answers to questions via conversational AI on career websites. And I’ve seen the magic of scheduling tools that have drastically reduced the admin burden of many full cycle recruiters. And so much more, including interview feedback analysis. 

There’s an incredible amount of technology — much of it embedded in existing tools that we already use or that are available via OpenAI’s ChatGPT (as one example) for $20/month. The efficiency gains can be incredible!

I have talked to large-scale employers — especially those that hire thousands of hourly workers — describe hiring processes that are faster, with almost zero live-human-recruiter involvement until after the candidate has accepted the offer and completed the background check. And, amazingly, all without any short-term worsening of traditional TA metrics, like candidate experience ratings or time to fill or new hire <90 day attrition. There’s no question that AI and automation can help reduce the need for some of what we — as humans — have manually done in the past. But so far, most of the examples I hear that are at scale are mostly trying to hire from large active candidate populations. 

What happens when that technology is applied to harder-to-recruit, passive talent?

What about the more challenging reqs?

I’ve seen some of that same tech used with our more challenging reqs. Certainly you see it on career sites (chatbots) and integrated into sourcing, CRM, internal mobility tech, and interviewing diagnostic tools. And I’d argue that a lot of the candidate-facing tech — like the chatbots and calendar scheduling/coordination tools — are even preferred by some of those harder-to-recruit candidates. But if they’re passive talent, they’ll likely only appreciate the tech after they’ve been approached by a human, after you’ve passed some kind of anti fraud detection*, and after they’ve been effectively courted and recruited in a more personalized, high-touch way.

*Anti Fraud Detection? Yes. We’re going to see tailored, fraudulent spam going to candidates from bad actors                                             pretending to be employers or recruiters skyrocket, so many candidates will need to see some kind of evidence                                                       that they’re being recruited by a real agent or recruiter of the company before they’ll engage.

So, why did I title this, “Will AI usher in an era of inefficiency in recruiting?”

Good question. Here’s why: I predict AI’s mass adoption by corporate TA teams and AI’s mass adoption by candidates will require us — in recruiting — to go old school and move away from traditional efficiency-focused recruiting practices and tech to something slower, something more personalized, something higher-touch, something more human. All to differentiate ourselves and our companies. All to make sure we’re not hiring in a “have your bot call my bot” world that may not work for really passive, senior, hard-to-recruit candidates who will never — or rarely — reply to something that’s not human.

3 candidate personas in a world of easy AI access and adoption

Let’s visualize a world in which AI is widely adopted by most of those hard-to-recruit candidates. Imagine:

Candidate A: AI creates an almost infinite number of versions of my resume, each tailored to different job ads, and applies — for under $100 — to 500 jobs every week. I don’t care if I’m qualified or not. It’s a numbers game to me. Just apply, apply, apply, and eventually I’ll get my shot at an interview.

Candidate B: AI takes all of the post-apply tests I’m asked to complete and gets 100% scores on all of them, without me needing to even review the tests. When I get a link to schedule my Zoom interview, I’ll ask AI to generate 50 sample interview questions and answers for me, based on questions I’m likely to get asked. My copilot will learn what questions I’ll be asked from reviewing and analyzing the company’s job ad, values, Glassdoor reviews from recent candidates, and current employee LinkedIn profiles. Then, when it’s time to interview, I’ll already have my answers prepared and — just in case — I’ll have my handy AI copilot there 1) listening to the interview questions I’m being asked and 2) giving me real-time “best answers” to share in my responses. Interviews are mostly employers and candidates lying to each other anyway. And by the way, this whole live interview on Zoom is just the way we do it now, in 2024. Eventually, I’ll just have my avatar do the interview for me. And even if I’m not very qualified but get the job anyway, I’ll just use the same kind of tech I used to get the job to help me perform in the job. It’s not like I won’t have Google, ChatGPT, YouTube, code repositories and code writers, analytical tools, Microsoft 365 Copilot, and everything else that exists on the web available to me in minutes.

Candidate C: I’m incredibly good at what I do, and I do leverage tech to help me manage my career and track job opportunities — sometimes by simply leveraging algorithm-driven matching tools to serve me up with job recommendations aligned to my interests. But I’m not the only one that knows I’m good at what I do, so I get bombarded by emails, InMails, voicemails, texts, and — get this — highly personalized ads on social media tailored just to me, using my name in the ad. All the time. Every day. I’ve tried hiding ☺ — it doesn’t work. The AI the search firms and corporate recruiters use is just too good, and it’s getting harder and harder to tell the personalized AI-generated content from a real human. I’m not looking for a job, but if I were, I’d want to have a live career conversation where a real person — ideally the recruiter and hiring manager, who work for that company — talks to me, listens to me, makes me feel like a human, and credibly answers questions I can use to make a great decision about this major life choice. I’m not going to take a job based only on bot-to-bot interaction. Sure, I get it’s 2024, so I know there may not be a human involved at every step in the recruiting process. And, sure, I’m willing to complete assessments and definitely want access to a chatbot and scheduling tool that’ll make aspects of my job search and interview process easier. But it’s going to take a human to genuinely engage and recruit me into a new career opportunity. And I’d only want to work for a company that isn’t so focused on efficiency that it makes me feel like a number being processed by a bot.

Those first two candidate personas probably exist today as real people, who are already seeing opportunities to respond to automated outreach, screening, scheduling, assessment, and Q&A about the job with their own candidate-focused AI tools, leveraging their own bots to help them show up as super-appealing to employers. And the third persona — Candidate C — is probably very real now, as well.

Now imagine the recruiter who depends so much on some of this tech that they, well, stop being a recruiter, and turn into something else. They’re no longer personally doing these things below but, instead, are using tech to:

  • coach hiring managers on realistic target candidate profiles
  • fix terrible job ads (and create new ones from scratch)
  • post and take down job ads
  • set realistic expectations on compensation
  • source, review, screen, test, short-list, and recommend candidates
  • develop interview plans
  • coach interviewers on good and bad questions
  • communicate status updates to candidates
  • chase interview feedback
  • enter status updates, key data, and interview feedback into recruiting systems
  • track and report on metrics and determine the ROI of sourcing, screening, and offers, so they know what works best
  • give internal candidates tailored developmental feedback
  • decline external candidates

Why? Because there’s tech today — today! — that can probably do all of that. And more.

My prediction: Inefficiency by design as a differentiator

I think there will be three common types of recruiting that takes place in the next few years, ranging from very AI-enabled to very human, with a third option that may not even have much of a recruiter role at all. 

High-volume, low-touch

The first will be highly automated. We’ve been on a path to get here for years. It started with ATSs, CRMs, sourcing tools, DocuSign, online assessments, and video interviewing years ago, and has extended into many other parts of corporate TA. Go to any HR tech conference, and you’ll finally see tech that’s not just derivative of what we’ve had for 10 years. There’s a fundamental shift going on. And I’m here for it. This kind of recruiting will have low human touch, and it’ll work well for employers who are both 1) hiring a high volume of similar roles and 2) appealing to those target candidates. It’ll be mobile first, 24/7, super-efficient, with an experience that’s at least as good as the average experience provided by the overloaded recruiters who have been doing this high volume recruiting the past few years.

Low-volume, high-touch

The second will be high-touch, with some AI-assisted productivity tools. But this kind of recruiting will be focused more on talent that doesn’t find your employer’s jobs immediately appealing (these candidates will need listening, career coaching, selling — early and throughout the process). The candidates have learned to see traditional outreach messages — even as they get hyper-personalized — as mostly noise. The way you’ll engage, source, screen, sell, interview, sell some more, offer, negotiate, close, and onboard will be high touch, very human, and incredibly inefficient when compared to the first approach. Similarly, the hiring manager in this scenario will depend on you — the recruiter — to be a true talent advisor. And if the kind of talent your hiring teams need requires this kind of old-school recruiting — more like an exec recruiter — but you’re operating as a more transactional, process manager, I’m afraid your role will either go away or you’ll be asked to level up, fast.

Hiring manager self-service: Hey, Siri!

The third approach that I see coming is a world where many of these great tools that tech providers are packaging up and selling to us will move from “recruiter as primary user” to “hiring manager as primary user.” There’s been a trend over the past 15 years to arm our middle managers with many more self-service tools. Not just in hiring, but in almost all areas that touch talent processes. Picture a Siri or Alexa bot that a hiring manager talks to directly to describe their hiring needs, find external talent, uncover internal talent, short-list based on prebuilt screens, schedule for live intro conversations, prepare the hiring manager and their team for interviews, capture all interview feedback, make a hiring recommendation based on hiring criteria and what’s trainable and what’s not, create the justification for the offer to the internal approvers, generate the offer, initiate and review the background check, and prepare the hiring manager for the live closing conversation with key talking points aligned to the candidate’s individual acceptance criteria. The hiring manager’s “virtual recruiter” lives in the cloud. And the 2.0 version will be super proactive around all things internal and external talent — from recruiting to developing to performance managing to retaining.

2 critical issues to tackle

If you’re a corporate TA leader, I think now is the time to dig into what AI and automation can and will do to the way you recruit.

  1. What will my team need to look like in a world where AI and automation can do many of those administrative tasks that I’ve been trying to get off their plates for years? What will the presence of inexpensive copilots do to the role of the recruiter, especially if I have recruiters who are largely transactional today? How will I level up individuals on my team to ensure my boss, our hiring managers, and our CFO still see the value of the recruiter role (that is, willing to pay great salaries for great recruiters)? How do I navigate a world where the headlines focus on massive cost savings by eliminating corporate function roles — like recruiters — and now the vendors start selling automation and AI directly to the business/CIO? Can I effectively justify how much we still need live, skilled recruiters by segmenting our roles into low-touch and high-touch?
  2. How will we verify/trust the identity, skills, behaviors (formerly known as culture fit), and two-way job match of candidates in a world where candidates can relatively easily game the whole system with hyper-tailored resumes, perfect scores on assessments, ideal answers to our interview questions, and — someday — avatars that interview on their behalf and really lean into predictable biases that, unfortunately, drive so many hiring decisions today? What is cheating in this new world? And how do we effectively assess talent in a way that’s fair, in a world where some candidates will have access to these amazing tools, and others won’t?

I’m pro-humans ☺, I’m excited about the evolution of tech and the role of the recruiter, and I’m both optimistic and worried.

I definitely don’t think today’s bots can recruit highly skilled, senior, passive talent without a lot of great human involvement. But as I like to tell my friends when I show off some new piece of tech: “Remember, this is the worst and most expensive this tech will ever be — it’ll only get better, smarter, and cheaper over time.”

At a minimum, if you’re doing high-volume, low-touch recruiting, you should be actively exploring and investing in new technology. The company is our customer, so we should be leading the conversation around technology and recruiting, not waiting for the CFO or CHRO to tell us what happens to our team and process after the investments were already made without our input.  We need to get in front of this, people! 

And then for those roles that have candidates like the Candidate C persona above, you need to be sure your recruiters can deliver a differentiated, high-touch experience to both the candidates and the hiring managers. And that may require way more time spent per req and per candidate on live conversations, with more consultative discussions, more relationship building, and more influencing. Think how inefficient that will be! 

You’ll probably see traditional TA metrics like “time to fill” get much worse versus the highly automated recruiting other teams will do, but that’ll all be by design, as your focus will be much more on human-to-human engagement and quality of hire.

I’m certain the smart futurists in the talent space are actively writing whole books on this topic. There’s a lot to unpack here. This is a start and, I hope, a helpful lens to look at some pretty disruptive, exciting changes that are happening now.

I’ll share this article on my LinkedIn feed, and would love to hear your comments and vision for TA going forward.

John Vlastelica is a former corporate recruiting leader turned consultant. He and his team at Recruiting Toolbox are hired by world-class companies to train hiring managers and recruiters and help raise the bar on who they hire and how they hire. If you’re seeking more best practices, check out the free resources for recruiting leaders at RecruitingLeadership.com.  

Also, if you’re a director/VP level talent leader at a larger company, check out the new Recruiting Leadership Lab 50 event in Seattle in September 2024: www.RLL50.com.


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