Recruiting Technology: ‘Degree’ versus ‘Kind’

An endgame is in sight. It won’t bode well for many recruiters. The recruiting function is ready to pivot. Are you?

The hypothesis I want to tee up here is that up until now, and with a few exceptions, the last 20 years of tech tools and toys adopted by recruiters have, at least from the recruiter’s perspective, been a difference in Degree. (However, I would love to see this issue debated openly at a major HRTechnology Conference where perhaps it would Unleash a more innovative approach from both vendors and practitioners. I’ll offer to populate the panel…and moderate it.)

Without an ATS, without Google, without the Internet, without Social Media campaigns, without LinkedIn, without all those special apps and cloud software tools....recruiters of old managed to use spreadsheets, check-off lists, newspaper classifieds, specialty magazines, printed directories, paper and pencil tests, Rolodexes, postcards, envelopes, stamps, the US mail, ERPs and the phone to do the same thing they do now. They showed up to professional meetings and stuck invitations under windshields at events. Some ‘old school’ tactics are still in play but most recruiters today are virtually and firmly cemented in the cloud.

Don’t get me wrong. The difference in Degree between then and now is amazing. No recruiter would ever go back (although a few of us long for more phone and less spam) and, while many of their 20th-century tactical arrows are still in their quivers, their success is based on added virtual tools conveniences, reach, networks, and more. It's just that the timing is right for a rapid transformation of recruiting as we know it.

Setting the Stage.

The “What to do” of Recruiting has been pretty much been the same thing recruiters have always done- Find, Engage, Select, Hire, PreBoard. The technology stack changes constantly but little else. Improvements in Degree around ‘how to do it’ notwithstanding, recruiters are wired to a 100-year-old process map that incrementally improves while its complexity increases exponentially.

I maintain that the “Results” of the Recruiting function (productivity and efficiency) have also changed little in 30 years). Speed, Quality and Time. There are certainly exceptions but, take any and every study: I4CP, GlassDoor, CareerBuilder, Bersin, Conference Board, CEB and the average time to fill, and the cost (adjusted for inflation) is little changed when you back out the last 20 years. Really! (I’m skipping Quality for a reason. Its such bad science and lacking an agreed upon standard, the discussion about Quality should be separate…if you like, I'll concede that decisions made by employers are generally of a higher quality today because of the technology tools…ummm maybe not. See what I mean? This isn’t a useful path).

Misdirection.

What triggered my post was the article, Will Robots Replace Recruiters? by Michael Tresca at GE. It is well written, well-thought-out and concludes that any replacement of recruiters is years away. Michael quotes a colleague at GE who manages ‘TA Innovation’ and points out that “It’s too early to state that AI replaces Talent Acquisition. We should focus on efficiency first.” The article supports this notion in describing three near-term improvements [AI] technology might tackle with the latest tools: Job Descriptions, Helping Candidates Apply, the Application Process. All focus on Degree.

Michael’s premise and logic are sound and, more to the point, representative of many other articles and conversation that are equally sound but, in my opinion, all are misdirection ascribing and the anthropomorphic rise of a new generation of technology to ‘replace’ recruiters. The real issue is that Recruiting as practiced is simply not sustainable by attending to Degree alone. Technology tools of all kinds have exhausted these differences and are choking on integration and complexity challenges. We are poised to change recruiting in Kind and this means experimenting with more far-reaching differences about who makes what Decisions, what Content is curated and how Communication takes place between the stakeholders.

Differences in Kind have already begun, we just aren’t recognizing them for what they are. And yes, these new approaches will force a significant reduction in the need for 20th-century recruiters. Some examples:

  • Asynchronous interviews. I watch my grandson (who is 17) communicate with his friends via Snapchat and text. Short bursts, articulate, without a need to have a person ‘live’. A few employers are now allowing “Every. Single. Applicant.” to take an interview. A recruiting model where ‘everyone gets up to bat’ who has an interest is a difference in And it goes without saying that it is a continuous process (until the position is closed) and neither the recruiter nor the hiring manager is involved in pre-screening. Add to this a stronger pre-application self-screen by prospects to gauge their competitiveness for the position and you are beginning to solve for a different path to hire. One perceived by prospects as fair to all. And we thought this would only be relevant where the manager was not available or where time-zones were impossible barriers. Will sourcers still be needed? Of course. But millions of positions are likely going to be filled via self-service models.
  • Google Matching. Design Thinking requires you to get into the other person's head. Nearly every model looks at monetizing their matching innovation by offering the employer the ability to match the 'right' candidate...assuming the candidate's compliance or available virtual content. Google's approach is the exact opposite and if job boards and ATSs begin to adopt Google's matching algorithm, it will be the equivalent of the universe of employers helping the Machine Learn for the benefit of the candidate and it will improve immediately the choices candidates can be best served...hopefully unencumbered by too much commercial glitter. That is a change in Kind.
  • Self-Assessment. For high-volume job families especially, imagine simulations that replicate critical work components and test knowledge, skill, experience and potential to learn or games that map to competencies that map to job success or algorithms that can examine culturally unbiased physical attributes for speech, tone, and posture for a variable that predict success. All this exists and is working now. Online costs are coming down on these new forms of testing but it is the growing ability to objectively offer large numbers of candidates feedback that can help them understand more about themselves and compete for future positions... and that raises the possibility of a change in Kind.
  • Candidate as Customer. Growing evidence that pinpoints what prospects need to before converting to candidates, before interviewing, before accepting a position, during onboarding and more have demonstrated the value of improving the candidate decision process to match the employer’s decision capability. This 2-way focus is a change in Kind. It’s not selling. It’s coaching about the best job decision in relation to a career…and life.

These practices and more are the tipping point that is changing the nature of the skills, knowledge and experience professionals in recruiting will need in the future. As the results they generate improve, and as they fill more positions faster with candidates that perform better and last longer, there will be fewer and fewer ‘old-style’ full life-cycle recruiters in play. Productivity first and efficiency second will cut 50-75% (IMHO). The percentage of TA specialists in Operations, Branding, Analysis & Selection will fill some if not all of the gap.

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Gerry Crispin
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Gerry co-authored eight books on the evolution of staffing and has written 100s of articles and whitepapers on similar topics during a career in Human Resources that spans more than 40 years from HR leadership positions at Johnson and Johnson; to boutique Executive Search firms; a Career Services Director at the University where he received his Engineering and 2 advanced degrees in Organizational/Industrial Behavior; and, GM of a major recruitment advertising firm even as he launched CareerXroads 20 years ago.

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Recruiting Technology: ‘Degree’ versus ‘Kind’

by Gerry Crispin time to read: 5 min