Techsploration: Mass Automation Can’t Help Recruiting Rebound

Editor’s note: You are reading the first article by Lance Haun in his role as ERE’s new columnist as he covers the world of TA technology. In case you missed the post and video introducing Lance, you may view it here

As weeks have stretched into months and the global pandemic has taken its economic toll on businesses and people, recruiting continues to feel its way through what’s next. 

For individuals like Vanessa Raath, who wrote here late last month on how she’s staying relevant, transforming into the role of a helper for the good of her team and the industry is an amazing example. 

Talent acquisition and recruiting technology companies would naturally prefer a more technical approach from TA leaders on their next steps, though. Many of them will suggest that you look at their technologies as a way to simplify or streamline.

Automating More Than a “Thanks for Applying” Message

Hiring is stalled in many organizations, so technology providers are trying to entice talent acquisition teams to do more with less — or start doing some things virtually when hiring does pick back up again. 

For example, Phenom unlocked message templates, SMS, and virtual events for all their users. Video interviewing platform HireVue has practically spammed the market with how to hire virtually and automate certain parts of the recruitment process. AI solutions like Wade & Wendy promise to offload the dirty work of recruiting so recruiters can focus on, well, something else, I suppose.

I’m a marketer so I get it: Recruiting tech players need to sling software to make money, get their next round of funding, and not die off in the time it takes to recover. 

But is an efficiency play right?

A Craven Candidate Experience Calculus?

Unemployment is high and is likely to remain volatile for a while. The quit rate tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a good barometer for employee confidence. Quits dropped from 3.4 million in February to 1.7 million in April’s preliminary figures.

In short, those looking for jobs now likely really need them. And recruiting tech vendors were ready and willing to help…employers, that is.

In an interview with HR Dive, Mike Hudy, chief science officer of ModernHire, explained:

“[T]he recruiting climate quickly ‘flipped’ from employers having ‘lots of jobs and fewer candidates’ to ‘fewer jobs and candidate abundance,’ leading to a point where candidates are willing to ‘put up with a little bit more and go through the process.’”

That’s right, since there are now more people looking for jobs, we can make them jump through more hoops, put up with more automation, and ask more of them during the hiring process. Maybe we can rely on AI to solve some of these challenges, even though the AI itself is being challenged.

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Was candidate experience just a competitive play in a candidate’s market? Lip service to reasonable candidate effort and expectations in the job-seeking process? 

Certainly, automation of certain parts of the hiring process can enhance the experience, making it richer and more responsive. In fact, when ERE’s sister publication TLNT did research on chatbots as one area of automation, findings showed wide acceptance of chatbots and no negative experiences reported by candidates. 

But clearly, when we are asking candidates to put up with more simply because we are getting more candidates, that’s not the best that automation can offer. 

This Future Will Be Difficult to Automate

It seems short-sighted for companies deciding to automate the parts of the hiring process that deserve in-person contact. Even if you get a more efficient hire, it’s not exactly going to speak volumes about your commitment to talent. 

The real goal for leading recruiting organizations shouldn’t be cost-cutting and adding automation because candidates are more desperate. The best organizations use times of uncertainty to add better talent to their rosters. Better talent doesn’t want to jump through hoops just because there are a few more candidates out there, either.

And while that may be the norm of past recessions, this current crisis will be even more challenging for automation to handle. Companies have never laid off or furloughed so many workers in such a short period, nor have they ever tried to hire them back at the same pace. Asking automation to handle any part of a process where you’re hoping to retain key people in an unprecedented business interruption? 

Good luck with that.

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Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.