When Robot Recruiters Outperform People, and Other Human Failings

Paul Lewis
Oct 16, 2017

The big HR question that won’t go away—can a robot do your job—is well illustrated by Leslie Hook, the FT’s San Francisco correspondent, in this article on robot recruiters. She refers to a chatbot named Mya that screens high-volume applications for hourly-wage jobs. Its initial filter uses simple questions that require straightforward answers, such as: can you work in the evenings; are you comfortable with the pay range, and how soon can you start? One benefit for applicants is that they get meaningful (if limited) feedback rather than falling into the typical HR black hole. That is not to lay the blame entirely with humans: job hopping is now more common and the internet has made it easier to pump out applications at scale, massively increasing the job of sifting through CVs.

The recruitment process for low-skilled, hourly-wage jobs will be the first to be automated. But machine learning can also assist with searches and matches for more skilled jobs, especially among LinkedIn’s half a billion profiles, and internal job moves. Recruiters themselves probably won’t become extinct anytime soon, if only because in cultural terms, ‘you still need a human to evaluate whether someone is a good fit for a job.’ Nevertheless, the focus may shift to a more ‘sales-type personality’ who can persuade the best candidates to take a job. And when it comes to senior-level recruiting, where personal relationships are vital, the old-fashioned approach seems sure to continue.

Another, example of the clash between human fallibility and high-speed automation can be found in Pilita Clark’s amusing column on the etiquette around email errors. It doesn’t require such egregious examples as the Deutsche Bank staffer who accidentally transferred $6bn to a customer, or the central banker who mistakenly emailed a secret study to a journalist, to elicit concern. Usually, such gaffes generate embarrassment rather than commercial damage, though Ryanair’s email launch of a 24-hour sale ‘to celebrate remaining in Europe’, just before the Brexit vote, was particularly humiliating. But sender beware: most attempts to recall an email sent in error merely draws attention to a mistake that most recipients would otherwise have overlooked. In short, Ms Clark advises: ‘just apologise and move on.’

Paul Lewis

Editorial Director at Headspring