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Predicting the future of the recruitment industry

Paul Wallbank Profile picture for user pwallbank March 28, 2017
If recruitment is to be an effective and valuable function then modern techniques are needed that are well beyond CV sifting. Expr3ss! offers a view. This is an emerging field and many questions remain open.

Carolyne Burns - MD, Expr3ss!

We're talking about predictive hiring technologies now but if I mentioned that ten years ago people would say I had rocks in my head

Carolyne Burns, co-founder and managing director of Australian hiring technology company Expr3ss!, recently spoke to diginomica about how technology is changing the recruitment industry  along with observing how progress can be a threat to technology companies.

Expr3ss! was founded out of Burns' frustration with hiring tech staff during the first dot com boom in 1998. At the time, she was the company secretary of Hostworks, a hosting company based in the Australian city of Adelaide.

We decided very early on to bring everything into the recruitment up front rather than the end. Most people when they do recruitment perhaps do psychometric testing at the end on their shortlist. That creates a dilemma if all candidates don't look so good on the psychometric tests.

We saw a simple solution to get all the answers about peoples' skills but also their temperament up front in  a simple survey which takes under six minutes on average to complete.

Predictive hiring technology, software that solves staff selection...there's so much technology that automates the CV and collection, Expr3ss! goes beyond that and captures information about the applicant which gives much more insight about not only the skills but also the person's temperament.

Burns expected the company's product would be welcomed by the recruitment industry as it filtered out inappropriate or unsuitable candidates for roles. She quickly learned culling the potential applicant pool challenged the sector's business model.

I was shown the door as I what I was doing was qualifying the stock – recruitment agencies are a bit like real estate agents – to put out to the recruitment company client base.

Anything that puts doubt in the mind of the purchaser is not a good thing, it's okay once they've gone through a fair part of the process but I was turning that process on its head.

Over time, the company found its market, while the service changed with the technology, going from an email delivered survey to an online platform.

It evolved with the fashion of what the internet was, it started out as an online survey to begin with meaning it was delivered by email but then evolved into the webspace.

The Australian mining boom gave the company its big break as employers struggled with managing thousands of applications from job seekers who weren't necessarily suited to the industry's demanding working conditions and practices.

Employers were ignoring the applicants and we wanted to find a way where the employers still had enough time to look after the applicants as well, so we built the Expr3ss! framework around the checklist.

We wanted a framework that looked after the applicant but assisted the employer in treating applicants as people because people often say 'our team is most important to us' but then they go treat applicants atrociously. When they do that then they are setting up the wrong approach.

With the arrival of platforms like LinkedIn, improved features on established job search websites along with the increasing accessibility of artificial intelligence technologies, the challenge for hirers is staying ahead of the market.

We're forever evolving and we find we have to be alert to what's possible. With every change in technology, you need to look at how it affects what you have in mind now and how you can take that tech and use it to improve.

LinkedIn are busy trying to create what I contacted agencies about years ago.

For me, the question is 'what's the next thing', we were ahead of everyone ten years ago and I want to be in a position where we were ten years ago.

I see them going down the path of predictive hiring, there's talent search out there but it's largely based on keyword searching which is garbage in and garbage out. There's a long way to go in getting things like artificial intelligence into the minds of HR and recruiters, they are still stuck on CV reading.

One interesting question is whether predictive recruitment software can overcome human biases in the selection process, Burns believes it's unlikely machines will ever completely remove some prejudice

There's always going to be tension about software and whether it can do things better than a human. I'm of the strongest view that software has to support human decision making, not remove it altogether.

Bias will still come from humans getting involved. Software often removes bias but people don't always trust the software. I don't see people are going to put one hundred percent trust in the software because of their own bias.

My take

Hiring practices, like much of HR are often stuck in the mud of a legislative and regulatory environment. As such, it's proven difficult for HR to extricate itself from the weeds of administration.

Expr3ss! is holding out the hope that advanced technologies help make the kind of shift that sees HR as a strategic partner to the business rather than simply the hire, pay and fire group. Expre3ss! is not alone. Other vendors are thinking the same way. As Ms Burns correctly points out, keeping up with technology advances may already be difficult but keeping ahead is vitally important to bringing the best of what technology has to offer to a wide audience, albeit in a manner that makes HR life more interesting and valuable.

But is Burns right to talk about wholly removing human bias? That's a tough one. Emerging studies suggest that machines can make better hiring decisions than people. There is good reason to believe for instance that machines can almost entirely eliminate bias based upon gender and race. Whether machines can successfully infer characteristics required for team building such that a new candidate is readily found without human intervention is another matter altogether.

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