Accept no substitutes: Why robots won’t replace recruiters

Mateo Cavasotto

Mateo Cavasotto · Jan 18

In the pre-pandemic world, the conversation around artificial intelligence was all anyone in recruiting could talk about. It was top of mind, and for many, AI seemed scary, as if somehow, we were about to enter into The Matrix.

Then, COVID-19 showed up, and suddenly the idea of robot recruiters didn’t seem so terrifying when faced with a deadly virus. Now that we’re making progress, given the introduction of vaccines, AI is back on the scene. We’re in a different place this time, so let’s forget the rumors and cautionary tales and put those behind us. It’s time to move beyond the fear that robots are coming for recruiters. They’re not. Yes, AI is here to stay, but so are you. Here’s what you need to know:

Understanding what it means

By definition, AI is intelligence demonstrated by machines (computers), something completely different from natural intelligence, which we see in humans and animals. AI is also a blanket term that accounts for several subsets, and robotics is just one example. And in the case of recruiting, much of what we call AI involves the subsets of natural language processing and machine learning. You might have noticed that word natural again. It will continue to come up, so we’ll start there.

Natural language processing (NLP) is what gives computers the ability to recognize human language. Pretty simple, right? More than that, as Investopedia wrote, “NLP combines computational linguistics and computer science to process human or natural languages and speech.” NLP helps computers break down language until it understands and then converts what it learned into a response. Chatbots, or conversational AI, represent a frequent use case for recruiting, engaging candidates, and gathering information relevant to their application.

Machine learning, on the other hand, is broader and deals primarily with algorithms. The MIT Technology Review said, “Machine-learning algorithms use statistics to find patterns in massive amounts of data. And data, here, encompasses a lot of things – numbers, words, images, clicks, what have you.” The more you rely on machine learning, the smarter it gets, able to learn which candidates you’re looking for and where you can find them, helping speed things up and make your search more efficient.

For recruiting, this is where AI excels. However, what AI can’t do is forge connections with candidates or intuit the emotion behind an exchange. But recruiters can do both, which is why hiring remains deeply human.

Owning your domain

The Deloitte 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report explained, “artificial intelligence technologies … can guide people in making decisions, technologies integrated with humans on teams can enable those teams to pursue new and better outcomes at greater speed and scale.” Once again, you’ll notice they included the words people and humans repeatedly. That’s right, you, the recruiter, remain in control of the AI. It is yours to use as you see fit, not the other way around.

As a whole, we need to make peace with AI technologies and embrace it. Sure, what AI means for recruiting and where it fits in the talent acquisition lifecycle is likely to change in the coming years. That’s part of what you do, too. You evolve and adapt with every candidate interaction and each new hire. AI is just another layer, not some supreme ruler that we need to follow. AI allows recruiters to get ahead and stay ahead.

If you trust AI in its purpose, it becomes possible to reap the rewards. Much of that purpose involves automation and facilitation of otherwise administrative tasks, streamlining the overall process and giving you time back in your day. If you don’t trust the technology or continue to avoid it due to irrational fears, you miss out on the potential to create new value, and new value is what will be needed, post-pandemic.

Deloitte shared that its 2021 report survey showed, “Executives are shifting their focus away from work optimization and redesign towards work reimagination, with 61% saying that they would focus on reimagining work going forward as opposed to 29% before the pandemic. But to move from optimization and redesign to reimagination, organizations must also change the way they’re leveraging technology in work … Humans and technology together can unlock organizational potential and achieve greater results together than either humans or machines could achieve on their own.”

This isn’t an us versus them story anymore. There is no man versus machine. There are humans, and there are machines, and what you’re able to accomplish depends on how well you work together, with recruiters calling the shots and technology supporting the strategy.

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