Machines or Humans — Who Will Win the Battle for the Future of Recruiting?

Unless you happened to be called Rip van Winkle, it is impossible to have missed the gloomy predictions of many doomsayers that humans are set to be replaced in wholesale numbers by machines in a dystopian future of work.

Just this week, the Bank of England’s Chief Economist (see article) suggested that 15 million British workers —  about 50 percent of the working population — will be replaced by robots in the “third machine age”. Similar predictions conclude that 45-50 percent of American jobs are also at high risk of being taken by computers within the next two decades.

Certainly, the potential of artificial intelligence and robotics to replace tasks hitherto performed by humans is no longer confined to science fiction. Most routine, standardized work will be automated as machines will be able to perform these types of tasks cheaper, better and faster. From driverless cars to McDonald’s restaurants run entirely by robots, the world of work is on the cusp of a magnitude of change not seen since the industrial revolution.

Where this leaves recruiters: It’s hard to dispute that much of the recruitment process — comprised as it is of a series of repeatable processes — can be analyzed, mapped, and therefore automated. Many recruiters and hiring managers will also likely concede that for too long hiring decisions have been primarily based on intuition and unconscious bias.

Indeed, commenting on findings from the National Bureau of Economic Research, Bloomberg has recently published an article with the incendiary headline that Machines are better than humans at hiring the best employees. The jury is still out on this one, but it is revealing that the article cites that where hiring managers chose to ignore the algorithm that had been developed, the result was worse hires in terms of earlier attrition and lower productivity.

This combination of technology, algorithms, and an increasing shift towards data-based decision making is likely to be the perfect storm for those who believe there is significant room for improvement in the world of hiring — if not for recruiters who fail to keep pace with the “new normal.” As Dr John Sullivan wrote persuasively on these pages a few months ago, the future role of the recruiter is likely to be focused on influencing and selling to prospects, candidates, and hiring managers. He goes on to explain how sourcing, matching, screening, testing, and even interviewing will all be better performed by machines rather than human recruiters.

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There are two main ways that recruiters could look at this. The first option — rather like the Luddites from the Industrial Revolution — is to either fear or deny that the revolution is taking place and do everything possible to fight it. This will likely pan out to not be the smartest move. It is probably far wiser to embrace the change that is already within our midst and adapt to the new future it will bring to the role of the humble recruiter.

In any case, those who excel at recruiting arguably do so because they are also great marketers and possess well-honed sales skills. Technology may make it easier to find people in most (if not all) cases, but it is great recruiters who persuade candidates to apply and join. We are not at the point yet where machines are better than humans at persuading and cajoling other humans into making decisions about where they are prepared to work.

Recruiting is set to follow the majority of occupations in that humans will be augmented with and not replaced by machines. Some parts will be automated, which means the entire recruitment process will be transformed and jobs performed by recruiters will need to be redefined. Hopefully this combination of recruiter and machine will create more effective and efficient outcomes. Recruiters can do what they do best, machines can do what they do best, and combined the sum should be even greater than the parts. If so, both candidates and hiring managers will be better off and companies should reap the benefit of happier and more productive hires. Progress.

There’ll be a few bumps on the road ahead, but great recruiters should welcome rather than fear the revolution that is already brewing. Taking away routine, less interesting, and frankly cumbersome tasks will allow them to focus on what they do best. Mediocre recruiters have something to fear, as it is they that will find themselves being replaced. But is that really such a bad outcome?

David Green is a respected influencer, writer, and speaker on data-driven talent acquisition and people analytics. He was recognised as Best Writer at the 2015 HR Tech Writers’ Awards, and was awarded a LinkedIn Power Profile for HR in January 2016. His role as global director, people analytics solutions at IBM enables him to help clients apply an analytical, insight-led and business-outcome-focused approach to their talent strategies and people decisions. Connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter.

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