As technology continues its inexorable march forward, it will continue to permeate areas that were once the exclusive domain of human skill and effort. Hiring and recruiting is one such area. Is automated hiring desirable? Can it really do a job better than a person, or is hiring something that is just too complex for an algorithm?
What can automation contribute?
The arguments in favour of automation are well-intentioned. People have unconscious biases, which are usually irrelevant to the job, but can still influence decision makers’ hiring choices. The idea is to use automation to make hiring decisions more rational and less about human biases like “gut feel.” The theory is that this would result in better matches between openings and candidates.
In an automated hiring regime, the “human element” is necessarily sacrificed. Proponents argue that this is actually a good thing, since automated programs could be created to be 100% impartial, whereas humans are imperfect and prone to being influenced by their personal biases. Certainly, taking objective criteria into account when hiring is an advisable practice, one that is naturally practiced by recruiters and HR professionals today. However, without the nuance of human oversight, automated hiring systems are forced to rely exclusively on measurable criteria like credentials and experience. Unfortunately, these alone cannot usually predict whether or not a candidate will succeed in a job; that takes a skilled analysis of their broader application, personality, “fit,” and other factors that are impossible to quantify.
The area in which automated hiring shows that most promise is in reducing hiring costs. Software can be used to deal with some of the more standardized and labour-intensive tasks associated with recruitment and candidate selection. Employers will be happy to know that professional recruitment companies like ZSA already rely on technology for these types of tasks in order to reduce costs and increase speed and efficiency. What is essential, however, is that the goal of reducing hiring costs not be sacrificed to the more important goal of hiring the right person for the job.
Limits to automation
There are a number of significant limitations to automation’s potential in the HR field. Perhaps the most important is that the software is only as good as the underlying algorithm. Since these algorithms are created by humans, there are many opportunities for imperfections to find their way inside. To be effective, the algorithm needs to be based on objective criteria, and it must be predictive of future employee performance. Poorly designed, an algorithm could merely encode an employer’s existing biases, vitiating its usefulness.
There is also the risk that these programs could unintentionally exclude candidates with characteristics that are protected by human rights or employment standards laws, potentially leaving employers vulnerable to legal action by applicants.
Another significant limitation is the possibility of candidates or third parties gaming the system. In an environment where hiring is either entirely or mostly automated, it would be fairly straightforward to create software that accounts for the hiring algorithm and tailors applications to make it to the top of the pile.
The road ahead
There are few things more important to the success of a business than whom it hires. Automation certainly has the potential to contribute to making hiring more efficient and effective. However, it would not be an adequate replacement for human selection. Where data analytics can effectively contribute to the hiring process will be as another tool for decision-makers to use, not as their replacement. Where automation is used, human supervision and expertise will continue to remain necessary to interpret and apply the data, to make sure that the algorithms produce valid results, and to make the, difficult, nuanced, and important final decisions.
Please be advised that the information in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice on any subject matter. As with all legal issues, we recommend you consult your lawyer. Accordingly, ZSA Legal Recruitment Limited will bear no liability to the reader, in any form. There are no representations or warranties made as to the accuracy or substantive adequacy of any information provided in this article.