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This article was originally published on HR.com

Tech, social media advances offer both opportunities and challenges

By Jason Leverant

There’s a scene in the science-fiction classic “Blade Runner” in which a government investigator is trying to determine whether an individual is a “replicant,” a rogue android originally designed to perform manual labor in space colonies.

The individual is indeed a replicant, but that doesn’t become apparent until the investigator moves beyond rote questioning and tries to elicit emotion. After a couple of questions about the replicant’s mother and how it would respond to a dying tortoise, the replicant shows its true colors and the investigator meets an unpleasant end.

The point? Even the best artificial intelligence programs and video conferencing and profiling software can’t replace face-to-face human interaction when hiring a job candidate. But technology is still playing a larger and larger role in the world of temporary or temp-to-hire staffing agencies and candidate recruitment.

Technology’s role as a disruptor in the traditional job-application process began largely with online job sites such as CareerBuilder and Monster. These sites, coupled with the free online job boards offered by Craigslist, absolutely ate traditional newspapers’ lunch in terms of classified advertisements. That was one of the first blows that sent newspapers into a slow decline that continues today.

But these job boards were a two-way street. Companies could place modern help-wanted ads, and job seekers could also post their resumes.

And then came LinkedIn, one of the most disruptive and phenomenal advances in both recruiting and job-hunting.

Many employers encourage the use of LinkedIn by their employees, but that could have unintended consequences as qualified applicant pools continue to shrink. Managers might see their employees poached.

LinkedIn has become one of the largest databases of resumes on the planet. User profiles are built around accomplishments and what’s happening in the work world, and it’s estimated that half of the U.S. workforce has a presence on LinkedIn. It’s not just about manager recruitment; one of the fastest-growing sectors is geared toward a lower-skilled demographic, such as warehouse or industrial workers. This represents a large pool of so-called “passive” job candidates. This could be an increasingly important stable of potential candidates as fewer workers actively seek jobs in an economy approaching full employment.

That also means recruiters have to more actively seek out potential candidates, and technology can help with that, too. Recruiters have to pitch their businesses in much the same way colleges recruit outstanding athletes. A good sales pitch is important, and recruiters must tailor job descriptions to prospective candidates. Leveraging social media as a passive recruiting tool is increasingly important, too.

If recruiters target potential employees via both LinkedIn and Facebook, they might have access to the vast majority of workers in any given market.

But how do human recruiters cover such broad ground, especially in the temporary or temp-to-hire market? Few employees want to trade a permanent full-time job for a temporary or even temp-to-hire position. Technology can lend a big assist.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help recruiters cull thousands – if not millions – of potential candidate resumes from job boards and social media. Artificial intelligence can not only be used to determine proper credentials but to identify prospects based on how long they typically stay at one job, or whether they are amenable to relocating for a position.

Artificial intelligence and appropriate programming can also serve as an initial screening tool. It’s no secret that the “how can I help you?” prompt on a website is actually a program, not a real human. But these chatbots will likely have an increasing role in culling candidates through an initial screening process. If the chatbot deems the candidate a potentially good fit, it can then refer the candidate to a human staffing associate who can complete the second round.

Videoconferencing technology is also useful in determining whether a candidate is a good prospect for a second, or third, round of interviewing.

But there is a risk that technology can create bottlenecks. If a candidate walks through the door of a staffing agency with all requisite paperwork at 9 a.m., and they don’t secure a job by the end of the work day, they are going to seek the services of another staffing agency. That’s how tight the job market has become.

The staffing world has not yet reached a point where employees are hired without a personal, face-to-face interview. The exception may be a contracted or freelance candidate whose merits are obvious in a quality portfolio or CV. Live interviews allow for deeper examination and understanding of a candidate through body language or gut instinct. Failure to host a face-to-face could ultimately lead to a bad hiring decision and subvert quality controls.

Artificial intelligence and its application in the staffing industry will continue to be refined and honed, but it is not yet in a position where it can actually screen, interview and make a hiring decision.

We are, after all, in the people business.

And no one wants to hire a replicant.

Jason Leverant is President and COO of AtWork Group.

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