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In the age of AI and automation in recruitment are we at risk of dehumanising?



AI and automation has promised so much to the world of recruitment, from faster candidate sourcing and screening all the way through to algorithms that promise unconscious bias and the ability to analyse facial expressions and tones in a candidate’s voice to select the ‘perfect’ employee.

Indeed, the pre-hire screening market is one of the fastest growing areas of the recruitment industry and when you consider the levels of accuracy that can be achieved, the time it frees for recruiters and of course the cost savings, you can see why.

However, with the ‘human side’ of recruitment decreasing every day, are we at risk of dehumanising the recruitment process?

Some would say yes as so often many candidates do not even get any contact with a human being before they are rejected and there certainly isn’t any feedback offered.

Indeed, there are those in the industry who argue that AI and automation is a step back for the recruitment industry way beyond the loss of the human touch. Candidates are feeling alienated during an already difficult time and there are those that call into question the equality and bias of the data used to ‘sort’ candidates, after all what can you do if you think you have been discriminated against by a robot or algorithm?

How can equality be assured for those that are not completely tech literate, are older or poorer or are non-traditional applicants who are screened out automatically? The simple fact is that whilst AI and automation has so many benefits there are so many candidates  discouraged by these systems and unfortunately these are often the candidates that are most desirable and in demand.

Plus, many are starting to rebel against the move towards AI and automation in recruitment and the internet is full of forums helping candidates fight the system. Within these forums candidates trade information, answers and advice, some obvious and some bizarre such as a story about a HR employee for a major technology company who recommends slipping the words “Oxford” or “Cambridge” into their CV in invisible white text, to ensure you pass the automated screening! 

This advice has now gone ‘formal’ with companies collating information from jobseekers and former employees about recruitment tests and selling practice versions, as well as tips and tricks for navigating them.

Although late in coming, a number of unions are looking at some type of workers’ digital rights legislation which will govern automated and AI-based recruitment decisions, however this is in the very early stages of development.

The first step is an imminent update to the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which will require a company to disclose whenever a decision that “significantly affects an individual” was automated. The applicant will also be entitled to contest the decision or request human intervention.

However, even a minimal level of human involvement, such as approving a list of automatically sorted CVs, could provide exemption to companies from the obligation of disclosing that they use automated systems and of enabling individuals to challenge the decision. 

The real question should be, where are the limits?

This comes at a time where the latest screening software, significantly utilised by Goldman Sachs and Unilever interviews candidates in front of a camera where AI software identifies barely perceptible physical changes and cues such as posture, facial expression and vocal tone and word choice then coverts the data into a score. 

This score is then compared against the scores previously recorded and identified from ideal and top performing candidates with the idea being that a good prospective employee looks a lot like a good current employee, just not in any way a human interviewer would notice.  

Although many are hailing these tests as more favourable than personality tests, many are calling the tool to be used with caution, especially as the software has been previously used to assist policing and intelligence work with little clear success. 

However, the fact is that most large companies are focused on using some form of AI and automated screening within their recruitment process, with small and medium businesses also increasingly adopting it.

The real potential of AI and automation in recruitment lies in the proper balance between technology and the human touch. Ideally AI and automation can be utilised at the beginning of the process, producing more candidates at lower costs freeing up recruiters’ time to prevent the dehumanising of the overall recruitment process. 

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