How’s that for a dramatic title? Might be stretching the whole “isn’t recruitment important?” agenda a little too far? Well, let’s think about it.
The best hires I have ever made, the ones I can look back on and truly say “I did well that day” are the ones where my intuition has overridden the superficial evidence. I remember one in particular, a lady called Pauline, who had been at the receiving end of almost every rough break a person could have. Poor background, limited schooling, and a succession of dead-end, nothing jobs. “People think I’m thick, but I’m not thick” she said to me at interview.
And she wasn’t. But in today’s homogenised corporate world, her face didn’t fit. I’m pleased to say I saw her potential, and within a year of joining the business, she had been promoted twice, and went on to become one of our highest performing client relationship managers. She was straight, honest and effective – she got things done and she earned the rewards.
So what does this heart-warming anecdote have to do with the imminent collapse of society due to recruitment automation? Well, let’s be balanced. I’ve worked a lot of my career in volume recruitment environments, where some degree of automation is crucial and – done well, usually by using carefully-designed, bespoke tools or very carefully selected and benchmarked proprietary tools – it can work effectively.
But there is now a new drive amongst ATS and HR technology providers and other recruitment assessment and technology specialists to automate the processes further using “intelligent” algorithms that can theoretically – at application stage – determine whether or not you are right for a role. Without ever speaking to a person, or having your application reviewed by a human being, you can be rejected. The benefits are clear: quick and cheap, and for some that will be enough. The negatives, however, have implications for every one of us.
Pauline got the job, and then a great career, for one reason and one reason only: potential. She had it in spades. Back that up with her drive and desire, and her intelligence, and you had the most powerful combination of attributes that you can ever wish for in an employee. That we gave her the job (a professional role in a marketing company – she’d spent years working in a betting shop previously) and the vote of confidence, bought us her loyalty. Perfect. But I can tell you now with total certainty that with her CV, and her experience, she would never in a million attempts have made that change to her life if fully automated recruitment had been in operation back then.
Social mobility and diversity are big things right now, and rightly so. We have huge economic migration to the UK and vast swathes of – in particular – young people out of work. Skills and knowledge shortages, are rife throughout our economy. So we have some real challenges at societal level. Think how many Paulines there are out there stuck in jobs they don’t want to do, watching their potential stagnate, while those with the polish, the experience, the right appearance or the right background consistently take the plum jobs, almost without any thought to their fundamental capability (truly – communication skills, background and appearance are still major factors in people securing professional roles).
Society will – of course – not descend into lawless savagery if recruitment automation becomes the norm. But it will be yet another nail in the coffin of that most precious human commodity: potential. And with that, it will become so much harder for people who already have a daily struggle to buck the trend of their often stifling socio-economic groups, to add their true value to our society.