No one cares if AI is real, it’s the wrong question

two person having a conversation on the couch

I was asked on a recent panel about the definition of AI. That scenario was not unique. Often, I am asked to jump into the debate about whether technology meets the “AI threshold,” which changes depending on who you talk to. But the problem is not whether AI is real or how we can find a common standard for AI—these are the wrong questions. They are the wrong questions because, simply:

  • Your candidates don’t care.
  • Your hiring managers don’t care.
  • Your talent acquisition teams don’t care.

The right question is “Can these new technologies solve real problems?” Because, I hope we can at least agree on the fact that there are still big problems to solve.

I started my career in human resources and launched my first recruitment technology company 20 years ago, and two decades later, we still haven’t fixed recruitment. We’ve made it better in some ways and worse in others. We made it easier for candidates to apply by moving jobs online and making them more accessible, but then we made it harder by asking candidates to jump through hoops - by way of a 30-minute job application after creating a user account. We made one-click apply, but now we have TA professionals with hundreds of resumes to screen, from people who don’t meet the minimum criteria, making it take longer to find the ones who do.

We’ve been talking about the candidate experience for over a decade. Industry veterans and candidate champions like Gerry Crispin and Kevin Grossman, two of the co-founders of the Talent Board and the Candidate Experience Awards, have advocated for a better candidate experience since… well, as long as I’ve known them, and that’s a long time.

But today, thanks to advances in computing power and the accessibility of data and technology like AI, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to improve the candidate experience. Talk to a job seeker and the things they want from companies during the recruiting process are simple. Candidates want transparency, they want respect and they want communication. Isn’t that what most of us want from any relationship?

Ben Eubanks, Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory and author of Artificial Intelligence for HR, advocates that “AI can make the workplace more human.” I wholeheartedly agree and here’s why:

Hiring is slow. We hear from companies that it often takes two months or more for a position to be filled after that job has been vacated. This is driven by many factors, but often there is a huge lag at the start of the process. If you’re waiting weeks to schedule interviews, you are waiting “weeks” too long. If you believe that talent is your organization’s most important asset, as so many CEOs say, then reducing the time until first interview with top candidates must be a priority.

In a competitive market, companies with a competitive advantage will hire better talent—no surprise here. You can reach more talent by advertising aggressively, by offering better benefits or higher pay, you can offer a noble mission or a unique culture and strong employment brand. You can also, simply, be faster. If you offer a good job at a good company at a reasonable salary, most people aren’t going to wait on the chance for another offer. When you hire people, most of them don’t keep interviewing—they accept the job and are excited to start. That’s why they said yes in the first place. On average, a person over 16 years old will stay with an employer for four years. If your company has first hire advantage, you can find, hire, and retain top talent for an average of four years. Will some people leave earlier? Of course. But the bottom line is that hiring quickly is a distinct and strategic advantage—regardless of industry. So get there first.

Hiring is impersonal and opaque. In the early 2000’s, many of the print ads, and even some online, stated “no calls please.” It always struck me as odd to intentionally close lines of communication before communication even begins. Today, it’s still happening, but it’s the absence of information and availability. To most candidates, the hiring process is shrouded in mystery. Candidates submit their resumes or applications and it feels like a crapshoot whether they’ll hear back. The organizations invested in hiring the best talent are providing more visibility and frankly, showing more respect during the hiring process.

It doesn’t have to be difficult.

Transparency in the application process can be as simple as letting people know the next step, making sure basic questions are answered (because finding a new job is stressful enough without wondering what to wear or where to park), providing status updates and giving an expected timeline. Candidates don’t care who provides this information because they appreciate having it at all.

Hiring is one-size-fits-all. Great managers understand that people are different and they treat them differently. But most companies treat all candidates the same. I’d estimate that 80% of companies provide candidates with the same application. I find that the biggest exception is between corporate and hourly jobs. Some companies have a different hiring process for employee referrals or for college recruiting, but overwhelmingly, most employers use the same application, regardless of role, geography, or source.

Imagine if we treated dating the same way. We start our first date with the 30 questions we want to know before “hello” or “thanks for meeting me here.” We never acknowledge how we met or if we have anything in common. And what if we cruise right through our preset list of what we want to know, without any follow up questions based on our date’s reply? Any great conversation changes and flows because of the things that people say. It evolves. Most job applications do not, but they should—you’d learn more about the candidate, as a result.

We like to ask ourselves, “what would we do, if anything was possible?” What would your answer be? How would you treat your candidates throughout the hiring process if you had infinite resources? How would you handle the hiring process differently if everyone was an executive level candidate? I think most of us would do things differently than we do them today. We would act as a personal recruiting liaison or concierge through the process, greeting people, supporting them and introducing them along the way. While most of our organizations don’t have the talent acquisition headcount to do this, it doesn’t mean we can’t.

Today, we can play music with voice command, order food and transportation with an app, and have directions recommended to us when we start the car because our phones already know where we’re going. I saw a post on social media recently that said “Why does applying for a job have to be so hard?” Your candidates are asking why your job application isn’t more like Siri. The AI that we’ve come to love in our personal lives, making things easier and more efficient, is missing from the hiring process. Candidates aren’t dreading automation and technology, they expect it. They welcome it and when they get to experience it, they overwhelmingly say “thank you.”

Aaron Matos
Paradox, Founder & CEO

Aaron Matos is an HR practitioner turned HR technology entrepreneur. With a passion for recruiting, Aaron has started several successful companies in the recruiting space; which have served tens of thousands of clients and millions of job seekers. He is the founder/former CEO of Jobing.com and Recruiting.com. Today, Aaron serves as the full-time CEO of Paradox, the AI company that believes recruiting is a people game.