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In Talent Acquisition, the Future Holds More AI

April 28, 2022 Talent Management
Mark Feffer
By Mark Feffer

Talent acquisition has been a hot topic since the onset of the Great Resignation. A lot of ink has been spilled discussing the tight labor market and the creative ways companies go about recruiting and retaining skilled workers. One aspect that is less discussed, however, is the role artificial intelligence (AI) can play in supporting those efforts.

Recruiters spend a lot of time connecting with applicants, reviewing their materials and scheduling interviews. Much of that involves drudge work that keeps them away from the tasks that machines can’t do, like speaking with a candidate, sending a personalized text, coaching managers ahead of an interview or negotiating salary.

In 2022, nearly two-thirds of American companies (63 percent) are investing or planning to invest in artificial intelligence for use in talent acquisition. That’s up from the 42 percent recorded in 2020, according to Aptitude Research, the Boston-based analyst firm that conducted the study "The Power of AI in Talent Acquisition."  

But while AI has been a recruiting tool for years, proving its merits is difficult. An Oracle report on the use of AI in human resources shows 40 percent of employees quit their jobs within the first year of being hired. If AI is supposed to be as good — if not better — than humans at predicting and forecasting, why didn’t the technology anticipate that nearly half of employees would leave their jobs inside of 12 months?

The Problem With Really Big Datasets

Simply put, artificial intelligence draws knowledge from really big datasets and applies it to the task at hand. While machine learning — AI’s not-so-distant cousin — gathers and parses data to create these datasets, AI is the tool that extracts and applies the knowledge.

So, let’s say we have a dataset of resumes, which we scan for preferred skills or experience. That saves us from the tedious task of screening resumes by hand and helps surface preferred candidates more quickly. But while it’s scanning, AI doesn’t understand nuance or context. For instance, a candidate who’s worked three years for a top competitor may be far more valuable than someone with 10 years in a general field. If a recruiter sets up a parameter requiring at least five years of experience, even exceptional job seekers with three years under their belt may never be asked in for an interview.

And consider: Even advanced technology systems make mistakes. In 2018, Amazon shut down a machine-learning recruiting tool after discovering that, as reported by Reuters, it didn’t like women. The system was built to review resumes to free up recruiters for other work, and since Amazon had pioneered the use of AI in recommendation engines, customer service, order processing and logistics, it seemed natural to apply its expertise to its own recruiting efforts. 

It didn’t work. Since the technology workforce has traditionally been made up of more men than women, the system inevitably machine-taught itself that male candidates were stronger than their female counterparts. Resumes that included the word “women’s” were downgraded, as were the graduates of two all-women’s colleges. After four years of trying to make it work, Amazon abandoned the effort. 

“Everyone wanted this holy grail,” one of Reuters’ sources said. “They literally wanted it to be an engine where I’m going to give you 100 resumes, it will spit out the top five, and we’ll hire those.”

Related Article: AI Is Not Coming for Jobs Just Yet

The Role of AI in Quality of Talent Acquisition Efforts

Knowing the technology's shortcomings, why should organizations include AI in their talent acquisition (TA) efforts? For one thing, there’s the Great Resignation. For another, there’s recruiter turnover and high demand for remote work. Plus, there’s the desire to improve TA results.

"The talent acquisition benefits of AI extend beyond just efficiency and process improvements," according to Aptitude Research's report. "When used correctly, AI impacts quality of hire, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, and overall candidate and recruiter experiences.”

According to the report, efficiency is the number one driver for adopting AI in talent acquisition because recruiters want to save time and improve their time to fill. But the study also found that DEI is playing a larger role in TA tech decisions than it has before, with over 30 percent of employers creating dedicated budgets for diversity-focused recruiting.

Not surprisingly, recruiters told Aptitude that finding applicants, reviewing their materials and scheduling interviews are their most time-consuming activities. Their number one resource need, they said, is a better set of tools to automate their processes, as well as more time to engage with candidates.

Related Article: Why Humans Should Remain Central to Digital Recruiting

The Future of AI in Recruiting

Only 9 percent of companies surveyed in the Aptitude study reported using AI for talent acquisition. Things may change, though, because 22 percent say they are beginning to explore the technology's power, and 15 percent say they use it inconsistently. All of this indicates there’s ample room for AI’s growth.

Last year, research by talent intelligence company Eightfold showed that nearly 82 percent of HR practitioners thought their teams would incorporate more AI tools into their talent management processes over the next five years. Some 60 percent of HR leaders planned to leverage AI to promote inclusion and equity, as well as to upskill and reskill employees to prepare them for a future with the company.

The companies not using AI offered several reasons for holding off:

  • 44 percent said they don’t know enough about the technology to pursue some kind of implementation.
  • 17 percent said progress was hung up because senior leaders won’t get behind the technology.
  • 12 percent said they don’t trust it.
  • 9 percent worry that AI will somehow impair the candidate experience.

Those concerns spotlight an evident disconnect between AI at work and AI at home. Most everyone involved in recruiting and talent acquisition is already being touched by AI in one way or another, primarily through services like Netflix, Amazon Alexa, virtual banking and The Weather Channel. For those reasons, the landscape isn't likely to remain in its current state for long. After all, 63 percent of companies are planning to increase their spend this year, as mentioned earlier.

“There’s certainly an increased investment and interest in AI, and I think we’re going to expect to see a lot of these percentages change over the next year,” said Aptitude's founder and chief analyst Madeline Laurano.

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