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Dec 13, 2022

Amazon is getting rid of recruiters because the company has advanced AI technology that will automate the hiring process.

OK, that technically may not be exactly what is happening, but that’s how such developments typically get spun. So, what is really happening? 

A leaked internal memo indicates that the company is moving forward with AI  recruiting — or rather, candidate evaluation tech — called “Automated Applicant Evaluation,” or AAE, that began years ago. At the same time, Vox’s Recode reports that the retail giant was extending buyout offers recently to hundreds of its low- and mid-level recruiters, which included three months of severance, along with one week of pay for every six months worked at the company. 

Are the buyouts related to the new tech? (An Amazon spokesperson did not provide a comment.)

Let’s get back to that question in a moment. In the meantime, it’s worth pointing out that an earlier version of the AI make decisions that discriminated against women. It will be interesting to see what Amazon has done to change the technology to make the software less likely to transfer biases of previous hiring managers and recruiters. 

The newer iteration reportedly looks at resumes of highly performing current employees and selects applications that mimic them. “[T]he model is achieving precision comparable to that of the manual process and is not evidencing adverse impact,” the 2021 internal paper read, according to Recode. 

Still, if the human-done hiring was biased, that carries through in programming. AI is supposed to learn on its own, but it’s dependent on data and programming. There is no other-worldly morality added.

Regardless, this isn’t a threat to the job of recruiters in general. Not yet, anyway.

This Is Basic Screening, Not Recruiting

According to Recode, the AI attempts to “predict which job applicants across certain corporate and warehouse jobs will be successful in a given role and fast-track them to an interview — without a human recruiter’s involvement.” 

This isn’t the first time there’s been talk of Amazon making a greater push for automating work. A previously leaked memo said that the business has churned through so many warehouse employees that it will run out of workers by 2024. 

So, is this recruiter AI tech leading to AI robots recruiting warehouse robots?

It’s clear that the recruiters aren’t the issue here. If you struggle to fill entry-level roles, it doesn’t take advanced technology to screen the candidates for those roles. Do they breathe? Are they legal to work? Bring them in.

While the corporate roles aren’t defined, its unlikely that the AI is screening senior management candidates. It is undoubtedly focused on lower-level jobs with numerous people in similar positions, making it easier to find similar candidates. In other words, this is a sensible use of technology.

Besides, recruiters do far more than just screen applicants. While Amazon’s new effort may sound fancy and may be a highly complicated piece of technology, it doesn’t actually go out and find qualified candidates.

AI Is Part of a Recruiter Toolbox

At most, in its current state AI recruiting technology will assist recruiters rather than replace them. If you get 1,000 applicants for a job, it’s handy to have a tool to help you pull out the best ones. Plus, AI can ignore things like candidate names, ages, and university names to reduce unconscious bias that a human may have.

“People have been talking for decades that this or that is going to kill recruiting,” explains Ed Han, a senior recruiter at Cenlar FSB and a self-described talent acquisition geek. “They said Monster was going to destroy recruiting.”

Monster did not destroy recruiting. Perhaps it merely started making roles more accessible to candidates who as a result could more easily find jobs when they didn’t have an “in” with employers.

While Amazon appears to be pushing out recruiters, it also will be laying off 20,000 employees. (This is double the number rumored just a month ago.) And so of course any company doing a large layoff will shed many recruiters. You don’t need to hire as many people when you are busy terminating people. 

It’s therefore important not to infer a causation, or even a correlation between the tech Amazon is developing and its current staffing decisions. Assuming that this leaked memo indicates a significant change in recruiter jobs is not necessarily the most logical conclusion. The more reasonable view is that Amazon is in flux right now and needs fewer employees.

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