Five Scenarios for the Future of Recruiting 6: Invasion of the Shallybots

Feb 18, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

I spent an hour on the phone yesterday with yet another entrepreneur who imagined that the future revolved around the “eHarmony for Jobs.”(The idea was tired a couple of years ago.) I regaled him with stories of Intellimatch, itzBig, JobFox, and 40 other matching services. They all planned to use structured profiles and assessment tests to ensure a fit. The primary problem with these schemes is that they always require too much investment of time (from candidates and employers alike) to actually work. The secondary problem is that the investment required to make the technology make sense is measured in billion$, not million$.

Lots of forecasts for the future of recruiting and HR focus on phenomenal breakthroughs in technology’s ability to personalize and match environments. That’s probably not really going to happen in the foreseeable future. The triple disciplines of sourcing, attraction, and selection will continue to require human intervention at the decision making point.

Some commentators are beginning to notice that the world is already heavily served by a bot-mediated culture.

Forget about HAL-like robots enslaving humankind a few decades from now; the takeover is already underway. The agents of this unwelcome revolution aren’t strong AIs, but “bots” — autonomous programs that have insinuated themselves into the Internet and thus into every corner of our lives. Apply for a mortgage lately? A bot determined your FICA score and thus whether you got the loan. Call 411? A bot gave you the number and connected the call.

Highway-bots collect your tolls, read your license plate, and report you if you have an outstanding violation. Bots are proliferating because they are so very useful. Businesses rely on them to automate essential processes, and of course bots running on zombie computers are responsible for the tsunami of spam and malware plaguing Internet users worldwide. At current growth rates, bots will be the majority users of the Net by 2010.

We are visible to bots even when we are not at our computers. Next time you are on a downtown street, contemplate the bot-controlled video cameras watching you, or the bots tracking your cellphone and sniffing at your Bluetooth-enabled gizmos. We walk through a gauntlet of bot-controlled sensors every time we step into a public space and the sensors are proliferating. — Paul Saffo (See here (long video), here (book) and here for a crisper understanding of the bot-mediated future.)

In other words, rather than a huge, monolithic big brother, it’s more reasonable to expect something like a swarm of little tools: Shallybots.

Contemporary software development processes emphasize incremental progress rather than grand vision. While the “big idea” is certainly an important force, tools like the scrum methodology focus on the delivery of high priority results in an iterative environment. (Translation: keep your eye on what’s important.) Older approaches to technology projects echoed their industrial roots. The big project/big picture approach with a cascading series of “waterfalls” worked to get a man on the moon. It doesn’t work as well when you want to make daily forward progress.

So, we will increasingly inhabit a world that is riddled with bots. These one-task-at-a-time bits and pieces of automation will increasingly hold the responsibility for Internet filtration. To the extent that a job req is designed to fill an empty slot (find a replacement worker), bots can be developed on a case-by-case basis. The technique doesn’t work as well when the job is brand new or the organization is small.

That suggests a world with lots of job boards, sourcing bots, and highly targeted advertising networks.

There’s an incredible temptation to think of the future as more of the past with a little something extra. Even asking a question like “What is the future of recruiting” assumes that things will continue to behave similarly. More likely, lots of little things will get automated and we’ll develop architectures and nomenclatures for the new structures.

Hadoop is the network architecture that underlies the calculation speed of Google and Yahoo. By organizing around single-instance problems spread across many, many servers, the framework produces quick results to one-off problems. It’s another aspect of the move to solving micro-problems rather than their imponderable macro cousins.

There are only a few instances of scrum methods and Hadoop implementations in the recruiting and HR space. Rest assured, they are coming and will be the foundation of the next waves of change. The essence of the approach is to take a lot of bite-sized moves to produce change.

In the Shallybot scenario, tens of millions of little alerts and triggers are constantly going off as you move through time and space. Potential employers know you by characteristics and have set thresholds for paying for your attention when they need it. At the same time, sourcers, working at complex dashboards, monitor availability and requirements while they continue to try to discover novel answers to oft-repeated queries. Selection bots use behavioral indices that resemble credit scored background checks to winnow the funnel.

As the tools create ever-refined personalization, recruiting becomes less and less standardized. Nuances for regionalization, industry specifics, cultural attributes, and other factors. In the Shallybot future, recruiting produces better matches as a result of 10,000 little things rather than one big one. It’s the opposite of the eHarmony for jobs.

This research is sponsored by Pinstripe Talent.

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This article is part of a series called News & Trends.