When Artificial Intelligence Introduces Junk Into the Hiring Process

The use of AI is creating odd recruiting scenarios, from poor job recommendations to increased bias. Hiring processes deserve better.

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Mar 8, 2023

I almost didn’t write my column this week. You see, I have an exciting new job opportunity, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be too busy basking in the glow of my new career.

Apparently, I’m a perfect match for a new role as a dishwasher at a camp in California. At least, that’s what my email tells me. If that one doesn’t work out, I can also look forward to an exciting career in insurance sales, administrative work, or even contract software development.

Who am I kidding? I’m only remotely qualified for one of those positions, and it probably isn’t the dishwashing. But the emails keep coming anyway, claiming to be from job boards, sourcers, recruiters, and probably woodland nymphs, based on the accuracy of the recommendations.

AI vs Humans?

There’s been a lot of chatter about the rise of AI and how it will change the face of recruiting. Samples of how a program like ChatGPT can craft humanistic communication from emails to cover letters have permeated Recruiting Twitter, leading to debates on the merits of such tools.

And then there are the dire predictions that AI means recruiters will be replaced by algorithms and chatbots, so everyone better find new jobs now because the robots have arrived to take over. At this rate, no human beings will even be part of the recruiting process. It will just be AI applying and AI responding.

As much as proponents of the technology want to declare AI a game-changer for recruiting, the actual experience is a far cry from revolutionary. While we all have fun laughing about the bizarre nature of matching algorithms, it’s a real issue for talent acquisition.

I know I’m not the only one to experience the outreach I described earlier, and I’m not even looking for a job. Imagine you are a jobseeker with your LinkedIn profile set to “open for opportunities.” The flood of recommendations you get is matched only by the puzzlement you feel when you see the jobs for which you are a “perfect fit.”

It’s enough to make you suspicious of any outreach.

Recruiting Is About Relationships

At the heart of every successful recruitment is a human connection. With the most recent round of tech layoffs, I saw countless posts from experienced developers sharing that they had lost their job. Rather than simply sending a link or suggesting a job board, hundreds of recruiters sent a personal message to help those impacted by the layoffs find a new role. It’s somewhat frustrating that this personal outreach happens mostly during difficult situations, but the human desire to help often overshadows the need to direct someone to a website.

Any recruiter who has handled a salary negotiation with a candidate or talked through a start date to try and figure out what would allow that candidate to still collect an annual bonus knows that there are just some things handled best by a human-to-human conversation.

The best outreach messages are ones that sound like someone on the other side of the line did their homework — they looked at the experience, considered the career path, reviewed their network to see if they had people in common.

A recruiter connects with a candidate. The candidate connects with the hiring manager and their teammates. Yes, the work the candidate will be doing is important, but the need to belong to a team, to feel like they have found a home, goes a long way in building retention and engagement with a new hire.

On the other side of the equation, when a candidate is not selected, they want a human being to tell them why. Candidates are four times more likely to consider your organization for a future role when they receive constructive feedback during the process, a stat that is critically important for difficult-to-fill roles.

The False Choice of Automation vs Personalization

Too much of recruiting has been focused on sacrificing connection for efficiency. Asynchronous screening and algorithmic matching has overtaken one-on-one conversations in many hiring processes. I understand the desire to add some automated screening, particularly for high-volume hiring. In fact, it’s one of the recommendations we regularly make when helping clients optimize their recruiting process. Where it breaks down is in the application of that automation and how decision-makers use it.

I have heard hiring managers criticize a candidate for “looking wooden” while watching a recorded screening video call. Have you ever tried to act natural while talking into a webcam with no human feedback without going over the time limit? It’s nerve wracking and unfair.

That’s not just my opinion. Investigations into the impact of AI have found a negative effect on hiring equity. Amazon scrapped its screening tool early on because it found that the AI actively discriminated against female candidates. And this year a new law goes into effect in New York City that penalizes organizations found to have AI bias in their hiring process. Not to mention the latest lawsuit against Workday’s screening tools.

Despite all the doom and gloom, there is still tremendous potential with AI. It will be up to recruiting leaders to decide where best to deploy the technology to maximize efficiency without sacrificing what makes recruiters successful.

Using automation to allow candidates to more effectively see their application status, to answer simple questions about the organization and the hiring process, or to schedule interviews would go a long way toward freeing up recruiters to make connections with qualified candidates. Leaders need to really question any provider that claims their AI is unbiased — ask to see the data, and challenge their assumptions.

If that bias can be minimized, there is potential to help streamline some of the screening process. Similar to assessments, the technology needs to be validated and evaluated for adverse impact on a regular basis before it can be fully embraced.

The potential is there.

What it really comes down to is recruiting leaders deciding what matters the most — numbers or people. Just because there is a shiny new technology out there doesn’t mean it will solve all your problems or take all your jobs. I once read a quote from Ray Bradbury: “The machines themselves are empty gloves. The hand is always the hand of man, and the hand of man can be good or evil, while the gloves themselves remain amoral.” We simply need to make the right decisions on how we want to use what science has given us.

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