Learning from Mistakes: The Future of Recruiting in a Digital World


By Sarah Wilson

Anyone who visited Walt Disney World during the 1980s and 90s likely has a solid memory of the Tomorrowland attraction.

I remember getting onto the ride that took you through history – all the way back to the dinosaurs (the tar pit scene still haunts me) – and then into the future.  It was the near future.  The air smelled cleaner (and faintly of oranges) as if we’d solved ozone layer and global warming issues, people dressed in white, cars flew and there were robots EVERYWHERE. They looked like metal people with blank expressions and they were doing all kinds of tasks – they mowed the lawn, dusted the shelves and took out the trash.

Compare this vision to today. It seems completely in the future, completely out of reach. Cars are still on the ground. I don’t know where you live, but where I live, there is definitely still pollution, carbon fuel, and the air does not smell faintly of oranges.  The people around me are not dressed exclusively in white (aside from the Diner en Blanc annual event). Everything about the vision of Tomorrowland seems like a funny upside-down version of the future.

Nonetheless, there ARE robots EVERYWHERE.  They may not look like a traditional robot stereotype, but they are present in so many parts of my daily routine.  An app tells me the best way to drive into work, my watch tells me when to pause and take a moment to breathe, the fancy coffee maker at my office calculates the water temperature for a perfect cappuccino, and my phone covers everything else I could need in a regular day.

For as long as I have been in this industry, I have heard that recruiters are frustrated about the overwhelming effort needed to find the perfect candidate, that hiring managers are flaky or change their minds too often, and that candidates apply for roles that are not a bad fit.

Recruiters often say they have too many tasks and not enough time, and that the business doesn’t understand what takes them so long. Recruiters say the senior leadership team thinks there are too many recruiters for how few people the company is hiring, and they need technology to make things more efficient and help get end results.

Recruiters say automation is the answer.

As head of people at SmartRecruiters, I responded to recruiters’ need by creating the applicant tracking system – an automation tool that would reduce the likelihood of candidates receiving a personal response to their applications.

When this didn’t solve our time and resourcing issues, we layered in more technology: ‘knock out’ screening questions that stopped an application dead in its tracks; artificial intelligence (AI) that prioritized which candidate to call first, video interviewing that allowed quicker assessments and that saved the precious time the recruiter was spending on the phone with unqualified applicants.

Here’s the thing about super smart computers: they aren’t always right. To be fair, I’m not always right, either. I’ve let my past decisions and their repercussions impact my future decisions. I’ve let my surroundings and mindset cloud my judgment. I’ve learned from my successes and my failures.

These tech-based systems weren’t infallible. That era of recruiting technology made the job search process impersonal, robotic, and lonely for candidates.  Sending out countless resumes in hopes that maybe a human will someday read it is daunting, frustrating and ultimately depressing. The void got wider. We’d arrived at the tar pit for candidates.

So where does this leave us? Emerging technology in the recruiting space seeks to connect candidates to jobs in the most efficient way possible. The best recruiting solutions are talent acquisition suites that encourage the actual hiring managers and executives to get involved directly with applicants – sending messages, reviewing resumes, and providing real feedback (in real-time) about a candidate’s application status.  We are starting to see more and more recruiting teams acting like sales people, building communities of talent and nurturing them so they know exactly who they want to chase when an opening comes up within their companies.

Let’s fast forward to the Tomorrowland of recruiting. The applicant tracking system is replaced by a true talent acquisition suite of tools designed to be inclusive, personal and easy to use.  Candidates will see in real-time whether a recruiter has looked at their resumes, and they can directly interact with a prospective employer to learn more about what it’s really like to work there.

AI is used for candidate discovery and job matching to increase the likelihood that you apply for the right job on the first try. It is also used to rediscover a candidate who may have applied months (or years) ago to another job, but whose profile now perfectly fits with an open position.

Video Interviewing gives candidates a chance to tell companies why they should take a chance and give them a call, and allows them to provide what isn’t on their resumes.

Most importantly, we harness the collective power of our organizations and realize that recruiting really is a team sport.

Hiring managers can contact a candidate directly and they can even (gasp) deliver an offer to someone they want on their teams.

Recruiters can spend time getting to know a candidate on a deeper and more meaningful level because the tools and technology they use will help them with the technical assessments of skill and ability.

Maybe cars don’t yet fly – but we’ve cleared the air.

In a digital world where you can have any piece of information available to you at the swipe of your finger; we need to focus on using technology to help us create more intimate relationships with our candidates – not divide us further.

Here’s the wildest thing about this idea – this future world is here.  These technologies exist and the companies who built them want to help you figure out the best thing for you and for your candidates. The key to remaining human is to use your intuition.  If you think like your applicants for a moment, you can find a way to balance efficiency and intimacy.

Sarah Wilson is speaking at the HR Conference + Tradeshow 2018. Her session, When Robots Descend: Using Technology to Enable White Glove Candidate Experience, is on Wednesday, May 2. For more information on this and other sessions, please visit cphrbc.ca/conference.

Sarah Wilson is the head of people for SmartRecruiters, an HR technology start-up in the Bay Area. After starting her career in contingency search, Sarah’s spent the past 15 years in the Talent acquisition and HR space, consulting for top tier brands on their recruiting and performance management strategies. She has worked in professional services, telecommunications, lending, retail and tech.

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