The Rise of the Robots: Can automation kill the recruiter?

Keep everything crossed. It seems the UK economy might, finally, be turning a corner.  So while we wait with baited breath for the next quarterly GDP report, perhaps now is an appropriate time for the recruitment industry to take stock and assess the impact of that poisonous double dip. How should we react to continuing uncertainty? At the heart of this question is the need to understand how employer and candidate attitudes have shifted since the trouble began, together with the resultant change in behaviours on both sides of the recruitment fence.

To start with candidate attitudes toward salaries have polarised. Many candidates are now more than willing to accept a pay cut in order to raise their chances of landing a job. Others, fearful of future pay cuts and salary freezes, still display a reluctance to make any compromise at all. It’s a similar story for employers. Some see a growing pool of available talent as an opportunity to lower remuneration, safe in the knowledge that competition amongst candidates will nonetheless remain. Others, conscious of the heightened resources required to filter a larger pool of talent have opted to use more attractive packages as bait to attract the best, most ambitious people to their business.

Whatever their strategy, the recession has resulted in higher and higher volumes of applications for each role. This fact is leading larger organisations to incorporate software tools to automate the CV screening process in a bid to increase efficiency, reduce administration and save costs.

A recent story from the BBC[1] explains how ‘most, if not all’ big businesses now use applicant tracking systems to help make the recruitment process more manageable. These systems search the CVs for particular keywords that align with a specific job role. If the correct words are found, a candidate is approved to go through to the next round. If not they are dropped from the process. There is of course a danger to using this software, especially if large organisations are implementing it as a human replacement rather than as an accompanying tool to support the recruitment process. Taking a fully automated approach to recruitment can end up with candidates simply being seen as a series of words. The question recruiters need to ask themselves is, is it easier for candidates to optimise a CV than to actually get the job?

Recruiters need to be savvy to these changes. Our role is not only to find a suitable candidate for a client, but to also add value and provide guidance on the recruitment process itself. Regardless of how we feel about this automated approach, we need to understand the process, together with the advantages and disadvantages it affords those businesses that choose to roll it out. We also need to be working with candidates to ensure their CVs are appropriately optimised, in order to boost their chances during the automated screening process.

Ironically, one clear advantage that a recruitment agency offers over automated screening is that it takes precisely the opposite approach. An agency’s ability to make a human assessment of an individual’s attributes can not only identify suitable candidates, but also those which may positively challenge an employer’s preconceptions of ‘suitability’. The best recruiters take the time to get to know employers, together with the dynamics and culture of the business and can match this understanding to the traits of individual candidates. This skill lays well beyond the capabilities of any automated system and can, in the long term, save employers a great deal of both time and money.

The recession has put the squeeze on all departments and HR is no exception. What is important now, however, is that common sense prevails. While unemployment remains high and economic growth weak, there will continue to be high numbers of applications for open positions. While automated tools clearly have their place, those in charge should keep in mind that recruiting isn’t about keywords, it’s about people. The earlier a human can be introduced to the CV screening process, the smaller the chances will be that the perfect candidate slips through the net.

Perhaps this is an opportunity for recruiters. As automated screening continues to focus client-side HR on quantitative processes, agencies may just find that they can command a greater proportion of the qualitative work which, of course, is where their true value lies.

If the recession has taught recruiters anything, it is that we must stay close to the technologies in play. As employers increasingly seek to cut costs and raise efficiency at each stage in the recruitment lifecycle, agencies that are unable to demonstrate their value and point of difference will quickly become redundant. After battling through the worst recession in living memory, it would be unforgivable for us to be sidelined just as things are beginning to pick up.


[1] Source –