How AI is transforming talent acquisition during COVID

This is the first in a three-part series.

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In the already fast-changing world of HR, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is creating unimagined twists and turns as 2020 progresses, leading to unprecedented attention on HR technology to help employers manage these new challenges.

No emerging technology arguably has had more impact on the evolution and refinement of the pandemic workplace than artificial intelligence—which is expected to continue in the months and years ahead.

One HR area that has benefited the most from AI-based solutions is workforce management, mainly in recruiting for employers whose business sectors continued to thrive, or in managing challenges such as furloughs and layoffs for the sectors hit hardest by COVID-19.

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According to Greg Moran, CEO at OutMatch, a SaaS-based talent intelligence platform, the movement toward HR digitization, with the use of AI and machine learning, was already well underway at the start of the year. But it took off with coronavirus.

Greg Moran

“During the pandemic, we have seen new technologies really start to emerge because it wasn’t happening as quickly in talent management as maybe you would see in other parts of the organization,” Moran says. “More than anything, what we saw was just this almost immediate adoption of those tech solutions.”

Moran adds that the quick shift was out of pure necessity.

“You had to find the tools that were going to enable you to identify a candidate, which we’ve always been doing online, but then very quickly be able to screen that candidate and identify whether this person was going to be a good fit or not,” he says.

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His firm began more phone screens and moved to Zoom interviews instead of in-person interviews, he notes.

Moran explains that, during the early stages of the pandemic, his firm saw many organizations experiencing the same inefficiencies—now, they were just moved online. And that’s where he believes AI and machine learning can make a difference.

“Where AI really started to help was an organization saying, ‘OK, this is not working. We can’t have our recruiters just sitting on one Zoom call after another, after another, after another, all day long.’ It’s not a productive use of time.”

“What AI has really enabled more than anything else is a truly candidate-led process.” — Greg Moran

Moran notes it’s important to determine how to incorporate AI tools that can help make more efficient decisions and create a more candidate-driven process.

“What AI has really enabled more than anything else is a truly candidate-led process, as opposed to a more recruiter-led process,” he says. With the latter, the candidate applies, and hopefully, a recruiter actually calls them back—what Moran calls an “empty box” approach. Such a strategy is a particular turnoff for talented job seekers who are still in demand during the pandemic, as employers seek to remain competitive in a rough economic landscape.

“AI really gets an organization away from that negative process, when used effectively,” he says.

With AI-based tools, candidates can apply online and take an assessment immediately. Based on the results, they receive a tailored interview to complete in real-time. If they’re still a good match, an online interview can focus on targeted questions based on the results of the assessment.

“At that point, what that means for the organization is they’re down to a very select group of people,” Moran says. “That’s where the Zoom interviews with just your finalists really start to be effective.”

Humair Ghauri, chief product officer at employment website CareerBuilder, adds that, as cities begin to reopen and employees return to work in some areas, the way businesses source talent is shifting to meet changing demand.

Humair Ghauri

“Leveraging technology and AI-powered tools was important in the tight labor market we saw just a few months ago and will remain critical as companies rebuild their post-pandemic workforces,” he says.

Even during the pandemic, Ghauri says, employers are looking to capitalize on broader talent pools while finding ways to consolidate vendors, achieve cost savings and get a higher return on their investment.

With HR teams especially strapped for time and resources in recent months, they have leaned heavily on automation and smart technology such as AI, he says.

To meet that demand, for example, CareerBuilder recently updated its Talent Acquisition Suite, with advancements on its AI-powered tools. The move aims to improve efficiency, deliver more qualified, diverse candidates and reduce cost per candidate by as much as 50%.

“HR technology partners that offer tools to support HR teams throughout the entire funnel—while being agile enough to adapt to changing hiring needs as the economic situation changes—are invaluable,” Ghauri notes.

Ken Lazarus, the former CEO of Scout Exchange, a Boston-based staffing and recruiting firm that was recently acquired by Aquent, says the most fundamental change to talent acquisition during the pandemic has been the decoupling of living location from work location. Pre-pandemic, employers looking for an employee most often searched for those who lived near where the office was located. As the pandemic unfolded, the change was swift and dramatic—and AI was there to help make that adapting a bit easier, Lazarus says.

“With AI tools and people getting more comfortable with remote working during the pandemic, employers were able to take advantage,” he says. “The AI tools existed to make that happen.”

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Check back for part two in this series.

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