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Man vs. Machine:

Can AI Replace the Human Touch in Recruiting and Hiring?

I have met Alexa and Siri, and I would not say they knocked my socks off with their capabilities. Perhaps I am resistant to change or hopelessly Generation X, but I haven’t been able to get either of those robot ladies to do much of value other than giving me a weather report, looking up a phone number, or eavesdropping on my living room chit chat and blurting out “I’m not quite sure what you mean” at unexpected and jarring moments.

The Amazon Echo Dots my husband and I were gifted a couple of years ago have since been re-gifted (after we decided they did not spark joy… at all), and we’ve never regretted it. With that said, the engineers of artificial intelligence applications are hard at work elevating this technology to replace a number of tasks at home and in business, medicine, the practice of law, and beyond.

Here, we take a look at the current state of artificial technology in executive search and recruiting through each step of the process, and how these developments will change how high-performing organizations find the very best talent.

Writing a position description.

Language is powerful, and the words we choose in a position description can have a significant effect in attracting an ideal candidate—consciously and subconsciously. Language can reflect biases that the writer isn’t aware of, such as an unintentional string of masculine words that might signal to a female candidate that it’s not the right culture or fit, or vice versa. Automated writing platforms may help a writer to elevate his or her language and approach, adhere to a style guide of a specific company, and/or steer the writer towards more positive language that will sell a position more effectively. However, I would argue that artificial intelligence—at least in its current state—would not be effective in gaining an understanding of culture of an organization and the unique challenges of a leadership role, and that human-to-human interaction is still essential.

Target list creation and research.

Not that long ago, the research process in executive search was long, painful and arduous with few, if any, online resources available. LinkedIn was merely a figment of our collective imagination. Companies were extremely guarded when it came to information on their leadership, and they actively worked to prevent their employees from being approached about other opportunities. Human resources practices have evolved—in a positive way—towards greater transparency and availability of information, and retention tactics that address the quality of the employee experience as opposed to digging a moat around the corporate castle.

Today, creating a target list of candidates to approach has been streamlined with the prevalence of LinkedIn and other social media outlets. Artificial intelligence tools should be easily leveraged to compile a list of ideal candidates, mining the information available online, but of course that relies upon candidates providing that information online in the first place. The human touch in research will still be crucial to sorting through the nuances of incomplete online information until executive level culture supports broader self-promotion and online presence-building. I suspect the Millennials have accomplished that goal before they’ve even started.

Developing a shortlist of top candidates.

We might be just a few years away from machines being able to interview effectively, as long as “effective” is defined by getting the necessary factual information to qualify a top candidate. AI is, or will soon be, finely tuned enough to even read body language, non-verbal cues and match personality test results with a hiring executive and the existing team. That said, strong relationship building is truly the make-or-break element in executive search, and while the movie "Deus Ex Machina" led me to believe that AI is on its way to truly becoming human-like in this respect, we’re a long way from being able to skip this critical step with candidates and clients. Our clients look to us to not only deliver highly qualified candidates for critical roles within their organizations, but also candidates who are compatible with the organization’s culture and team dynamics—something only a human (and an experienced human, at that) can intuit.

Offer negotiation and onboarding.

In my work as a search consultant, my job is part psychiatrist, part financial advisor, and part tough-love provider for both my clients and the candidates when it comes time to making tough decisions about offers, handling family issues that arise with big decisions that often involve relocation, cold feet, analysis paralysis, and all the other wonderful things that make us human. I am regularly called on to navigate the nuances of the search and onboarding process, handle tricky political situations, think creatively around roadblocks, and sometimes for simple reassurance when unavoidable problems arise.

I believe that AI tools can be leveraged to arrive at a fair offer, especially with equity packages involved, but I don’t think I will live to see the day when a machine can talk a candidate off a ledge when he or she is getting a counteroffer from their current employer and they are racked with guilt.

That said, like many other professions and functional areas within an organization, the talent acquisition function does stand to gain from advances in AI, and already has. AI can help with rudimentary chores, such as culling out duplicate candidate profiles from internal databases and gently letting down unqualified candidates—crucial for consumer brand companies, for example, that say ‘no’ far more than ‘yes’. Chatbots have also been successfully deployed to field online candidate inquiries.

Still, I don’t think Alexa will be taking over my duties at the office any time soon.

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