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Will robots ever replace hiring managers?

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

Open the pages of pretty much any newspaper on any given day, and there will invariably be a story proclaiming that “the end of the world is nigh” – at least when it comes to the world of Recruitment. Whatever mantra is adopted, from the ‘jobs Armageddon’ to the ‘race against the machines’, the fact remains that automation is increasingly influencing every aspect of our working lives. But how will it impact the way hiring managers do their jobs, will it be able to recruit employees, too?

In October, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published its latest research into the impact of automation in the workplace. Rather than harp on about what machines will be capable of doing in some distant future, which seems more sci-fi than reality to most of us right now, it simply takes three core skills (numeracy, literacy and problem-solving) and measures performance between human and computer. You can probably guess who the victor was. So, what does this tell us?

Firstly, the study involved almost a quarter of a million people across 40 counties, which is more than enough to provide a representative sample. Secondly, the study tells us there’s no need to panic.

Indeed, the OECD report found that just because the technology exists, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be implemented into the workplace anytime soon. If anything, it will take a lot longer than most news articles would have us believe. That’s because technological adoption takes time and the notion that we will all suddenly wake up one day in a tech-dominated world, where the majority of hiring functions are fully automated, is a fallacy.

Of course, automation is already commonplace in the hiring process. From CV parsing and video interviewing to predictive analytics and automated responses (tut, tut, we do disapprove), we are all familiar with it to varying degrees. So, the emergence of new technologies that can enable hiring managers to perform essential tasks smarter, faster and more efficiently can only be a good thing, right?

Yes and no. On the one hand, there is the suggestion that the recruiting technology that has been emerging in recent years is focused on ‘weeding out the weak rather than finding the best,” as Lou Adler, one of the most renowned HR thinkers today, argues.

On the other hand, there is the opportunity for developers to create technologies that are focused on helping Employers to find the right Candidates. Rather than determining a Candidate’s suitability based on a minimum number of years of experience or certain degrees, which is what most current recruitment technologies do. The technology needs to be developed to find ways to judge a Candidate’s skill, suitability and potential success in a role based on information available. In other words, the ‘smartification’ of the recruitment process.

What robots can’t do

Recruitment is a process that deals with humans. Therefore, it can be argued that it will always require a human touch. Despite all of technology’s incredible feats, there are certain human aspects that robots will likely never be able to achieve. Robots are unable to feel and understand human emotion, so they lack the personal touch that a human recruiter can offer - particularly when it comes to knowing how to reject Candidates in a sympathetic manner.

Robots are also very regimented beings, programmed to behave in a certain way. When assessing candidates, they will be designed to consider rather strict criteria, such as qualifications and experience relevant to the job. While these things are a big part of identifying successful candidates, there are also other factors that come into play that automation may not be able to process.

Ever get a gut feeling that a candidate was right for the job and the company even though other candidates had more experience? This is something that a robot couldn’t understand. Robot recruiters may be able to identify who is the best applicant on paper, but this ignores everything that comes from human interaction and personality. Understanding a company’s culture and how candidates fit into this is another challenge that requires human input.

Recruiting is a people business and, while there is a risk to certain elements of what of a hiring manager does, the opportunities presented by technology are even greater. It’s a matter of learning what skills need to be honed and identifying those that will need to be learned.

So, although robots are most definitely on the rise, many job roles will still require a certain degree of input from humans. We’d place recruitment firmly in that category. The trick to surviving the robot job ‘apocalypse’ is to keep this human touch in your recruitment process. Rather than acting the Luddite, trying to outpace the rapid advance in technology, just get on board with it and figure out a way to coexist.

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