How will AI and machine learning impact the future of recruitment?

10 February 2017 Blog Jakub Zavrel

Our partner Bullhorn published a Q&A session about the future of recruitment and how AI and machine learning will have an impact on the HR industry. You can read the full interview with me below.

There’s been a lot of talk about AI and machine learning in the staffing and recruiting industry, but let’s define the problem space.  If you think about the entire lifecycle of the recruiting process, in the next 5-10 years where will machines really make a difference and where will humans continue to be able to add value?  Will recruiters have jobs in 2025?

To me, it is without a doubt by now, that AI and machine learning will have a huge impact on all areas of business. However, if you believe in the idea of exponential acceleration of technology, 2025 is mainly becoming increasingly hard to predict. So, it is not without reason that staffing and recruiting organizations are starting to pay serious attention to technology, digitization and the impact of these on their business models.

Interestingly, the labor market has not yet seen the rise of a universal dominating platform, such as Uber, AirBnb, Facebook, or Google. Any type of platform has to rely on automation of its core function. In the case of staffing and recruitment, this is sales of value added services to companies seeking to employ people, recruitment — the attraction, selection, and scheduling of candidates to fill those jobs, and matching supply and demand. I think the added value of humans in this process will undergo significant change under the influence of AI and machine learning.

The information seeking, matchmaking, recommendation and scheduling are going to be fully covered by powerful tools. The relational aspect, the persuading of both customers and candidates to make a deal, will remain in human hands for a long time to come. Human hands will simply have much better tools, with more data and intelligence at their fingertips. Usually this means increased productivity, so less people needed to do the same amount of work.

Let’s talk about today.  Many of us can remember the Microsoft autonomous agent Clippy, which was only marginally helpful.  Where do you see opportunities for AI and autonomous agents that can help make staffing firms more efficient today?

Clippy was a bad joke when it came out, and it is even more crudely a joke when compared to the digital assistants we are already seeing on our mobile phone today. I am not sure digital assistants will have a huge impact on recruitment. The main opportunity created by technology at the moment is to actually be able to use of all the data that we already have. When a potential client’s job comes in, to immediately meet that need with candidates that we know to be good and have been in contact with before.

Essentially the type of smartness that every experienced staffing consultant used to do in their mind in the old days on a small scale, but now supersized to the era of very large databases, and national or global coverage … and we call it semantic matching or predictive analytics. Not only does technology make this scale well to huge data sets, it also scales well to a staffing consultant workforce of relatively young and inexperienced people.

The recruitment industry has to handle a lot of unstructured data, from notes to conversations and especially resumes.  How can AI and machine learning help bring meaning to this kind of unstructured data in a scalable way?

AI and machine learning have made substantial leaps recently in understanding unstructured text, being able to translate it, identify the concepts and relationships in it, determining the sentiment or emotions expressed, relating text to psychological characteristics of the author, and even being able to do inference based on the meaning of the text rather than the superficial strings. A machine can read millions of documents and answer questions about their content, even win Jeopardy, right.

So the technology is there… the challenge is to engineer the technological capabilities into products that users actually love to use. This is happening right now, and the accuracy of the technology is very rapidly maturing from just usable, to really useful, to amazing and beyond: hard to believe… almost magic. And the — by now classic — concept of resume parsing is going to get transformed into really understanding the resume.

Google’s been a significant player in the artificial intelligence space, notably with the acquisition of DeepMind.  Now, they’ve announced Google’s Cloud Jobs API, apparently powered by their AI technology.  What impact will this have on the market?

Google is really driving AI hard as a centerpiece of its strategy. And so are Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, IBM and most other tech giants. Personally, I find it quite stimulating that Google is getting into the jobs space, and CareerBuilder is excited to be one of the first strategic partners in this initiative. Google will force all others in this industry to set the bar very high in terms of engineering, innovation and quality of service.

If anyone is sleeping at the wheel, it is time to wake up now! Which moves Google will make, is still open, but in my view it is more a piece in their Cloud strategy, offering a rich AI enabled platform for third parties to develop applications on — competitive to Amazon and Microsoft — rather than the entrance of Google into developing complex enterprise software for HR departments, staffing and recruitment agencies, or sourcing teams. The future will tell.

As automation sweeps the industrial landscape, should staffing firms get into the business of renting robots?

That would for sure be an interesting bet to make. And I guess some of that will happen on a small scale, but staffing firms are also not in the business of renting out construction equipment, cars, cleaning machines, etc. which are all in some form pre-cursors of robots — machines helping humans to be exponentially more productive. If robots will replace people as a work force on a large scale, a scenario which the Czech writer Čapek already envisioned in his seminal play “R.U.R.”, it is more likely that the dominant robotics companies will rent out their robots and become staffing firms than the other way around.

What are some practical steps individual recruiters (and/or tech operations folks) can do today to take advantage of the rapidly evolving tech landscape?

In order to maintain a strong competitive position, as the pace of technical innovation is accelerating, it is key to rapidly make incremental changes to processes and technology to leverage existing investments. New technology offers new efficiencies and new ways of working, but changing the entire business model or IT infrastructure is hard. To upgrade existing systems with new technology is often much easier than people think, especially in an open eco system like the Bullhorn environment. So if you see your database of candidates as a valuable asset, a process that involves paying again, and waiting again to re-engage the same candidates through advertising is a waste. Semantic technology of today can make every recruiter a good sourcer, reduce sourcing costs, and more good stuff is still to come.

Jakub Zavrel

Written by Jakub Zavrel

From a research background in AI, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing, Jakub started Textkernel in 2001, and built it into a global leader in its field. Within Textkernel, Jakub is responsible for general management, product vision, business development, and further growth of a great team. You can follow his tweets on technology and the labor market at @jakubzavrel

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