“AI won’t kill recruitment – it will only make it stronger”

Posted on 27/04/2017 by Adrian Kinnersley


Author: Adrian Kinnersley | Global Managing Director 

All recruiters are the same – they all sound the same, do the same thing, charge too much, don’t add value, ignore process and there is no place for them in the world any more. Let’s just replace them all with some black box, data model, chat bot, artificial intelligence and be done with them.

Sound familiar?

These are the sentiments I keep seeing on my LinkedIn and I can laugh at this tongue and cheek portrayal of recruiters. However, I do think the idea that ‘AI modelling’ is the future for recruitment is one that needs unpicking.


The real problem

Recruiters used to sell themselves based on their access to data/CV’s that no-one else had access to and therefore this data had a perceived value in the service that was provided. Now information is ubiquitous and diversity within how companies recruit has exploded alongside the explosion of social media platforms.

Despite the history of the recruitment industry most people still don’t seem to understand what it is that recruiters do. Some seem to assume we have no real value to add to the market and that we are just money-grabbing and obsolete.


The “big data” argument 

According to the REC the total industry turnover in the UK is around £30 billion which is steadily increasing. The industry employs over 100,000 people and on average each recruitment consultant places around 20 candidates per year. We are actually very successful, particularly in the UK, at recruitment and our model of delivery is very advanced.

What is usually a surprise to a lot of people is that to stay ahead in this massive and hugely competitive industry we already do use a lot of data analytics to run our businesses. We also understand that with analytics “you get out what you put in” so we focus heavily on the quality of our data. It is this data entry point where a lot of the problems regarding data in the recruitment process occur and the likely cause of failure in an automated candidate selection process that could be developed.

At Twenty we constantly analyse how efficient our own processes are to refine them and highlight areas to focus training of our recruiters but we also closely monitor the data regarding the relationships we have with each client and organise our business accordingly.

The core of the argument leading people to think we need to replace recruiters with an ‘AI processes’ assumes that recruiters are in fact the problem. The problem with that argument is that it fundamentally oversimplifies the recruitment eco-system and the number of different data points within it.

Whilst AI might be able to automate the candidate selection process and elements of administration it is unlikely, in the near future, to be able to handle the objections and questions of both candidates and hiring managers or navigate the complex layers of process in most corporate companies’ talent acquisition. IBM’s Watson might be able to win at Jeopardy but that is a walk in the park compared to navigating a role released via an third party RPO with an unqualified and automatically produced jobs spec bearing no resemblance to the real role. Posting CV’s to a portal not fit for purpose that isn’t actually used for anything other than a CV receptacle to deal with candidate representation disputes, arranging interviews via an offshore administrator who confirms a date in the diary for a hiring manager at the same time they are at a parents evening that they forgot to put in their calendar. All the while keeping the candidate excited about the opportunity and convinced the company really does value talent and isn’t really as disorganised as the hiring process would suggest. By the time AI that can process the variability of human decision making throughout the hiring process exists I’m sure it will be deployed to solve greater problems than replacing recruiters.

Recent research from PWC suggests that nearly a third of all jobs in the UK and US could be at risk of being lost to machines / Artificial Intelligence in the next 15 years. The sectors at risk are those that don’t require a significant element of human interaction i.e. not recruitment / staffing.  


In short

It’s a difficult job and we love doing it – the fact is we are a necessary part of the business ecosystem.

Those arguing for an “AI model” to replace traditional recruiters don’t seem to understand what it is we do and are therefore attempting to solve part of a problem that doesn’t really exist. Streamlining the talent acquisition process would be a necessary and much easier first step but even this seems a long way off.

We can train a graduate to find a CV to match a job spec in a couple of weeks on pretty much any subject matter but it takes years to become an excellent and highly skilled recruiter who is a genuine subject matter expert in an ever changing market. There isn’t much point the smartest minds in the world trying to automate the CV selecting process – if that was what we spent most our time doing as recruiters then our fees would be unjustified!!

I’m nearly Twenty years into my recruitment career and ever since I started the industry has been about to die because of technology disruption. Technology has changed the industry irrevocably and as a result the recruitment industry has grown tremendously. We have actually exported recruitment talent globally from the UK and I would argue Britain is the best in the world at it. It’s much more likely that recruiters will adopt advanced data analytics to be even more essential before the end user companies can unwind their complicated web of talent acquisition and procurement. The essence of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is

” It is not the most intellectual or the strongest of species that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself”

 This is a key strength of recruiters and the industry in general – we will be around for a lot longer than many like to predict!!