Why Google Getting into Recruitment Is Great for the Industry

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Sep 25, 2017

Much has been written about Google’s foray into recruitment recently, first with the launch of Google for Jobs, and most recently with the announcement of Google Hire. The reaction from recruiters has been cautiously optimistic thus far, but the reaction from recruiting technology vendors — especially those that provide applicant tracking systems — has been decidedly negative.

Fact one: I run a company that makes an applicant tracking system. Fact two: I don’t think that Google’s entry into recruitment is bad news for us or for any recruitment technology providers. In fact, I think it’s great. Here’s why.

Google Is at the Center of Search

There is no other company in the world as synonymous with search as Google, nor is anyone currently better at it. For the last 18 years that I’ve spent in the world of recruiting technology, I’ve continually watched recruiters struggle find the right talent and jobseekers struggle find the right opportunities, all because of language differences. And when I say “language differences” I don’t mean something you can stick into Google Translate. I mean the practically unnavigable challenges of semantic search. When a company publishes a job ad seeking a “program manager,” but what it really wants is a “project manager,” you have a semantic search problem. When a company asks for a “front-end engineer,” but what they really want is a “Javascript/HTML engineer,” that’s a semantic search problem. And it’s a hard problem to solve.

I’ve sat through countless demos of technologies claiming to solve the issue of semantic search misalignment in recruiting, and I’m sad to say that none of them really nailed it for one reason or the other. It’s not that the solutions weren’t technologically admirable, because in some cases they were. But none of those companies had the breadth and the reach that Google has. Even with a decent technology, you cannot create a standard unless you have ubiquity. Google is ubiquitous. And with Google for Jobs and Profile Search, it has an opportunity to create the industry standard for semantic search.

Google Resonates With Jobseekers

Millions upon millions of jobseekers start their career search using Google. Google is the source of origination for most job searches. As a result, the company’s opportunity to solve the problem of semantics in job ads and create a de-facto standard also makes it a potential beacon for recruiting technology providers, who would theoretically have a unified framework of job skill and job title mapping within which to work. Ultimately, the net result here is that jobseekers will have an easier time matching their skill sets with open jobs, and recruiters will have an easier time bridging the divide between talent and job ads.

If you look at Google’s pursuit of the recruiting industry from the vantage point of a technologist solving outstanding problems, then this development doesn’t scare you — it excites you. Making the Google Jobs API open to technology providers wishing to build off of it makes total sense in our environment of extensibility, and the best technology providers will take advantage of this.

Google Is Approaching a Critical Problem From Both Sides, Which Is Smart

Part of the reason that semantic search is still so fraught with challenges 25 years since the outset of Internet sourcing is because it’s very difficult to move quickly and iterate when your intelligence is one-sided. Google for Jobs and Profile Search addresses semantic search from the candidate standpoint, but the launch of Google Hire — a low-cost, lightweight ATS ideal for small corporate recruiting teams — helps Google to validate what it’s doing on the job search side. With Google Hire, it’ll be able to solicit feedback from recruiters as to the quality of candidate results and matching, and that will ultimately result in quicker and most substantive technology advancements. And if a comprehensive skill and job title mapping framework does emerge from Google’s efforts, every tech provider in the industry will want to embrace it.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t agree that Google Hire will discourage new entrants to the market. There are dozens of free ATSs on the market right now. Having another entrant into this market isn’t, by definition, chilling. Creating an ATS with great semantic search capabilities won’t automatically turn the industry on its head. Excelling at semantic search is a natural extension of something Google has essentially owned since 2000. It’s also a discrete element of an incredibly complex industry. Sourcing is just one component of what recruiters do, and it’s the most easily automated by far. Ask any great recruiter if they would still be great if their search engine was less sophisticated, and they’ll still say yes. Because where they excel isn’t in relying on a search engine to do their jobs for them; finding talent is only 10 percent of the job. Furthermore, Google’s entry is unlikely to cause a mass exodus of companies switching ATSs. Changing ATS providers is not easy. It’s time-consuming, it interrupts how your team operates, and it impacts how you do business.

What Google Can’t Do

Ultimately, Google is an exceptionally powerful company with truly great technology. Anytime it walks into your space, you’d be shortsighted not to look up and take notice. For recruiting, however, there are areas where Google will undoubtedly shine, and other areas it likely won’t have any desire to explore. Here’s what Google can’t solve (because, truthfully, no technology can):

  • When a job ad says a position requires an MBA or 10 years of experience, but the hiring manager will actually accept a bachelor’s degree from a top school or three years of experience at a fast-growing company.
  • When jobseekers state on their resumes that they’re proficient in Java, but they washed out in their first job and their code won’t compile even with angels singing in the background.
  • When a jobseeker lives 50 miles from a company’s headquarters, but is willing to make the commute because they value the challenging nature of the work.

There is no amount of automation or algorithmic intelligence that can replace the human instinct and experience that the best recruiters all possess. At the end of the day, human beings are irrational and computers are not. But if Google can help improve and advance the state of semantic search, it will be a positive force driving all technology providers, including us, to adapt and innovate, and the recruiting industry will be all the better for it.

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