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How Anixter is integrating AI into recruiting - with AllyO

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed September 4, 2018
Recruiting has been a stale area when it comes to transformation. The "AI" we've seen to date for recruiting is problematic. But with the help of AllyO, Anixter's Matt Mackin is finding new ways to infuse recruiting with smart automation.

I'm leery of the impact of "AI" in hiring. As Brian Sommer argued in “You’re not our kind of people” - why analytics and HR fail many good people, algorithms can end up reinforcing bias and screening out talent.

When AllyO approached me about their "end to end AI recruitment" solution, I was wary. But when I leaned Anixter was using AllyO not to screen people out, but to bring more of the best people in, I asked for a closer look.

"But I'm not an HR person"

Soon I was talking to Matt Mackin, Anixter's Corporate Director of Human Resources. Anixter is not your typical communications, security and electronics company. They might be a Fortune 500 company, but they sure don't seem to be stuck in conventional HR.

Mackin is a good example. He's not an HR guy by training. Prior to joining Anixter in 2016, Mackins was knee deep in operations and logistics with Target. So how did he wind up in HR with Anixter? Mackins:

I was actually contacted by a recruiter through LinkedIn... I finally asked her, "What is the position? What's the title?" She was like, "Well, it's HR manager." I actually said, "I'm sorry, I'm not an HR person. I don't think I'm right for this job." She said, "Well, that's why we think you are right for this job." I thought that was kind of cool.

Mackin started as HR Manager for Anixter's National Distribution Center in Chicago. When the Corporate HR Director Role opened up, Mackin was asked to move to Glenview, Illinois and take that on. He now supports corporate operations from an HR partner standpoint, including Finance, IT, and Legal:

We take a different approach with HR than other companies do. We run very lean from an HR perspective.

Lean on HR admin overhead, but not on talent

For Mackin, "lean HR" doesn't mean sacrificing on talent acquisition. It does mean automating as much as he can:

One of the things that I've challenged myself with in all these roles is: how can I be as productive as I can be? How do I support my employee groups the best way possible? I've looked through a variety of different technology solutions, and that's where I ended up stumbling onto AllyO.

So how does Mackin pitch job seekers on Anixter?

I talk a lot about our culture. Our culture is really rooted in what we call the Blue Book. Anixter was founded in 1957 by two brothers, Bill and Alan.

The brothers saw a need in the construction industry for selling smaller increments of electrical wire. So, like many startups, they got a family loan and started cutting cable in their garage. An early document called the Blue Book speaks to Anixter's commitment to excellence, and what that means for each employee. Mackin tells job seekers how they could fit into that story:

I think we do a really nice job of empowering people to make decisions. It's really cool that I joined a Fortune 500 company that does $8 billion a year in sales, and I get to help influence and control how our entire recruiting process works... That's really the story that I tell people.

He also talks about flexible career paths. That matters when you consider many of us aren't doing what we majored in anymore:

We recognize that people will come into our company, and maybe they'll come in as a supply chain analyst right out of college...  That person might start off as a supply chain analyst, and they might end up moving over into maybe our international business transactions in our transportation group.

We're flexible with people on that, and the career path doesn't have to be so linear with us.

Adding AI to the recruiting mix

So how does AllyO and AI-enabled recruiting fit in? It all started because Mackin's team was struggling to recruit a warehouse associate position in Wisconsin. They weren't getting a good applicant flow for the position. Mackin wondered if they were losing people during the application process. He started by kicking tires on text-to-apply solutions:

I don't even know how I stumbled upon AllyO, but I did, because that's one of the things that they do with their applicant capture. So we started from there.

Mackin got an immediate result:

I was normally getting about ten applicants over the course of two weeks [for that role]. Then we rolled out text–to-apply with the AllyO screening questions module. We ended up getting about 35 applicants within a week, and I was able to fill the position faster because of that. That was my first run-in where I was like, "Wow, this type of solution is really valuable and has a lot of potential."

Next up, Mackin's team used AllyO to staff up a new facility in South Chicago with 50+ new hires. He worked with AllyO to set up and automate applicant capture, screening questions, and scheduling. They ended up scheduling a whopping 600 pre-qualified applicants during one hiring day event:

If you just think through it administratively, having to schedule 600 people, you have to make all those phone calls? It's just never going to happen.

Automating the process changed everything:

I posted this ad on our normal job boards, worked with my marketing team to run a Facebook ad, and that was it. Then we had a lot of people come in. There's a lot more to it, obviously, but from a scheduling and screening perspective, there's no way I would've been able to do that all on my own. For me to be able to do that in addition to my normal stuff was a lifesaver.

Ally sent out a text reminder to all 600 interviews the day before, something that wasn't logistically feasible before. Anixter also used AllyO for a similar event in New Jersey and "had a lot of success there." For 2019, Mackin told me is is looking to expand the role of AI:

I'm trying to figure out what consistent type of thing we could do with AI, and with AllyO specifically for it. We've got some proposals together. We're just waiting on approval from a budget perspective, and then we'll hopefully roll it out in 2019.

The wrap - doesn't matter if it's AI or not

We got into a deeper talk on automating recruiting, and whether this type of tool is really "AI" or not. For Mackin, the value of AllyO is that it doesn't screen in a brute force way, like resume scanners that sort on certain keywords:

I think a typical recruiter gets 100 applicants. Are they actually talking to all 100 people? There's no way they are... If you say, "Hey, I want an AI solution to help me screen candidates." Well,  you [typically] get a resume screener. To me, that's not really AI... I think we've got to define what AI is. I  didn't want a resume scanner.

I didn't need a service to go do a keyword search on all the resumes that warehouse associates submit. That doesn't make sense. Anyone who spends a little bit of time on a resume nowadays gets all their keywords in there anyway, so you're not necessarily getting the best candidate from that type of service.

Mackin sees way more value in automating screening around candidate Q/A:

To me, the AI solution around the screening part is a lot more valuable to ask candidates specific questions, and get specific answers back from them on it. I think that interaction is very valuable for the company. I think it also puts out a positive image of the company to be able to contact people right away when they apply for a position.

You could argue what Anixter has used AllyO for to date isn't technically AI, but robotic process automation. But while those definitions do matter on some level, Mackin is much more concerned about results:

I don't know how much of that is AI. I don't know how much of that the machine kind of learns from.. Frankl,y I don't think I care because to me, what "AI" is at this point is a way to simplify the tasks that we do, and allow us to be more productive.

That said, Mackin is certainly thinking about the what "intelligent recruiting" might mean, and how next gen tech can boost his lean HR vision. We also talked about what impact AllyO could have beyond screening and scheduling. That's meaty enough to save for a follow-on post.

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