Becoming a Robot-Proof Recruiter

A Q&A with Katrina Collier on being more human in the automation age

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer January 30, 2020
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happy recruiter at desk

​Recruiting veteran and candidate-engagement expert Katrina Collier is an activist for a human-centered approach to talent acquisition at a time when a great deal of industry chatter is about the rise of automation, artificial intelligence and chatbots replacing recruiters.

Katrina Collier

Collier, the founder of The Searchologist, a consultancy in London, and author of The Robot-Proof Recruiter (Kogan Page, 2019), spoke with SHRM Online about the need to adapt to emerging technologies, the human-centered skills necessary to survive the automation age and how recruiters can use technology to do their jobs better.

SHRM Online: What should recruiters be doing to robot-proof their jobs?

Collier: Adapting to recruiting in a world of interruption and practicing transparency. Recently, I was trying to get in touch with someone; I e-mailed, sent a message on LinkedIn, sent a text, and eventually, when it suited them, they sent me a Twitter DM [direct message]. I was staggered. All the usual methods of communication had failed, and it's like that in the world of recruitment. People are messaged in so many different ways, regularly having their workflow interrupted, that they don't feel the need to reply to anyone, let alone a stranger.

So if a recruiter manages to catch someone's attention, the recruiter then needs to make sure she looks genuine. Think about the last time someone did catch your attention. Did you look them up? We go to Google for everything from help spelling a word to researching products and services, so it's only natural to look someone up. The last LinkedIn InMail I received was from a salesperson, and his profile picture alone made me distrust him—hence, I dedicated an entire chapter to this.

SHRM Online: What are some robot-proof skills recruiters need to develop?

Collier: Besides a willingness to adapt, expressing empathy to what it's like to be changing jobs or even considering changing jobs and having the curiosity to ask, dig, delve and show you care, from initial communication to offer or rejection. Robots are yet to emulate creativity, so being open to trying new ways to stand out from others.

Recruiters who provide certainty and clarity through the process will be less likely to have candidates "ghost" them. In our pockets we carry these amazing tools that give us instant clarity and access. Think about looking up a journey on a map app just so you know when you'll arrive or where you can avoid traffic. This is expected in the recruitment process now.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Recruiting Internally and Externally]

SHRM Online: In your book, you mention a human-first approach to recruiting. What does that mean?

Collier: I'll caveat my answer with the fact that the book was written for recruiting people with skills that are in high demand and who have many different job opportunities, not for high-volume recruitment. Human-first recruiters hold a thorough intake strategy session with the hiring manager to really understand the job, team and growth potential and so they won't waste the time of the candidate—or the hiring manager, for that matter. When they initially get in touch with a candidate, they show that person that they've done their research and that they truly care about bringing this person into the organization. Human-first recruiters don't just talk about diversity and inclusion but will make sure that people can be interviewed in such a manner that they feel comfortable. Basically, human-first recruiters put themselves in the shoes of the candidate and will even go so far as to apply for a job on their own website and clear all the blocks in the recruitment process, which could be technology-made or even human-made.

SHRM Online: Technology is surely making some recruiting practices and processes obsolete. What are things that recruiters do now that will soon be phased out?

Collier: The technology that should be obsolete is things like calendar scheduling and interview booking—all of the mundane transactions involving multiple e-mails that can be replaced with one quick click on a link. U.K.-based delivery company Yodel uses a chatbot where applicants, who have already arrived at the careers site, can go through the application process and find out if they are selected or declined right then. I expect to see more of this in the future.

One area I don't expect to see it being very successful in is sourcing. Many will argue differently, but I believe [that in current recruiting practices] we are sourcing on someone's ability to write a resume or a LinkedIn profile, and most people are really bad at doing that, so it's poor data. And, of course, there is much talk about AI [artificial intelligence] being used in interviewing, and I am sure it will get better in the future, but right now both humans and algorithms are biased, and that is of concern.

SHRM Online: Has talent acquisition become overly reliant on technology?

Collier: I think it is more that talent acquisition has either had the wrong technology forced upon it by the C-suite, who doesn't understand what it takes to recruit or has fallen for the hype of an overpromising vendor who cannot deliver. The ramifications of using the wrong tech can be as obvious as lost applications and ruined reputations, or as hidden as a recruiter in tears because the new software demands so many workarounds. During my research, I came across technology built by recruiters or with the input of recruiters that is of incredible value in improving candidate, recruiter and hiring manager experiences. The important part is to purchase technology that will save you time, improve the process, and create ease because it delivers clarity and certainty. Don't fall for the sales pitch, and instead ask your industry peers or HR technology experts for their recommendations.

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