Chatbots Expedite Recruiting, Save HR Time

By Lin Grensing-Pophal Feb 13, 2018
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Think how all the myriad steps of the recruitment process could be simplified, and productivity enhanced, if chatbots could take on some of the load.

What's a chatbot? It's a computer program that can simulate conversation—either via text or voice. Chatbots, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and armed with machine learning, can interact with humans and become increasingly agile with each interaction. Chances are you're familiar with robo-assistants like Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana. If you've ever interacted with one of these tools, you were interacting with a chatbot.

These tools can support recruiting professionals with the human interactions common to the hiring process—receiving a resume or application, setting up times for interviews, conducting interviews, making an offer, receiving an accepted offer and beginning the onboarding process.

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Does This Trend Have Legs?

Allegis Global Solutions conducted a survey in 2016 of 200 job candidates to determine how comfortable they were interacting with "online robots" during the interview process. The results may surprise you:

  • About 57 percent of respondents were either "fairly" or "extremely" comfortable interacting with AI applications when answering initial questions during the application and interview process.
  • Candidates were most comfortable interacting with bots during the scheduling and interview preparation process: 66 percent were either "fairly" or "extremely" comfortable.

Additionally, Deloitte's 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report makes reference to Olivia, a recruitment chatbot created by Recruiting.ai and introduced at HR Tech in 2016. Utilizing chatbots seems a natural fit for HR and other business functions. But Deloitte's research also notes that, when asked to identify the trends impacting HR by importance, respondents ranked "robotics, cognitive computing, and AI" dead last. Only 40 percent of respondents indicated it was "important/very important."

Still, while HR professionals may not feel immediate pressure to incorporate chatbots and AI into their talent acquisition and recruiting processes, those that are hoping to appeal primarily to a younger, more tech-savvy audience may find that they need to explore the concept sooner rather than later.

Easing the Burden on HR

Kurt Heikkinen is president and CEO of Montage, a recruiting technology provider focused on the candidate experience, based in Delafield, Wis. "Companies understand that they have to innovate and update their recruiting practices to engage and attract candidates," he said. Recruiters are overwhelmed by too many open positions. Candidates are frustrated with hiring processes that they view as too slow.

Montage's on-demand, text-based service allows job candidates to use their phones to interact with a virtual assistant. "Through text, recruiters can find out if candidates are eligible to work in this country, whether they can work certain shifts and so on," Heikkinen said. Depending on the responses received, the interview could end at any point.

Chatbots can save time, expedite the hiring process and reach more candidates. Heikkinen offers the example of ESPN, which worked with Montage to recruit interns and diversify its on-air talent. ESPN attracted 560 candidates from 53 countries in six weeks. "That never would have been possible in such a short time frame using traditional recruiting tools," he said.

Another company that has had success with chatbots is oMelhorTrato, a South American-based company which offers an insurance rate comparison tool. After nine years of answering new-hire questions through live chat and calls, the company started developing its own HR chatbot about nine months ago. To date, it has automated 66.9 percent of those queries, said Cristian Rennella, vice president of HR and co-founder of the company. Users receive responses in seconds, and Rennella's internal team need only answer questions not previously posed.

"The results have been outstanding," he added, noting that productivity has increased by 24.4 percent, allowing for more time to interview candidates and resulting in more employees hired.

Success didn't come without learning pains, though. Based on his experience, Rennella offered this advice: Don't let the chatbot go it alone, at least not initially.

"During the first few weeks, it is essential that some people on your team are monitoring each conversation to correct the bot when necessary," he recommended. Bots, like humans, can make mistakes. Some early hiccups included asking candidates to complete the wrong forms and scheduling interviews that overlapped with other meetings.

It's unlikely that chatbots will entirely replace the human factor in recruitment. They can, though, take on some of the more labor-intensive, rote and transactional elements of the process, freeing HR professionals to focus on more-valuable responsibilities.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

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