Podcast: How AI Technology Helps Recruiters Work Smarter

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Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer.

This edition of PeopleTech is brought to you by Phenom, a global HR tech company with a mission to help a billion people find the right job through its AI-based Talent Experience Management platform. On October 22, they’re hosting a virtual event – AI & The Evolved Recruiter. For details, visit www.phenom.com. That’s p-h-e-n-o-m.com.

Joining me today is Tom Tate, Phenom’s senior product marketing manager. We’re talking about AI and its role in recruiting, and he’ll give us a preview of what you can expect to learn during their October 22 event.

.@Phenom_People spends a lot of time thinking about AI, automation and recruiting. Here's how they see the landscape. #HR #HRTech #Phenom @PhenomAI Click To Tweet

Tom, thanks very much for taking the time.

Tom: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Mark: So, let’s talk about AI. AI means a lot of different things to the average HR person. How would you define it?

Tom: Yeah, I always like to start by thinking about knowledge, right? So knowledge is the information or the data that we have, and it’s just what we know. But then when we think about intelligence, is that application of that knowledge to either make sense of something, make sense of something that’s really complex, or to perform a task? So, when I think about artificial intelligence and when we talk about it, we typically define it as the science of training machines or computers to perform human tasks and to do that in some type of intelligent way, using actual good data so that the outcome is what we expect. And what that typically translates into is automation.

AI can do things automatically to reduce what otherwise would take a human effort, right? Sometimes a lot of effort. Used broadly, and sometimes interchangeably, is machine learning, which is another kind of topic that sits hand in hand with AI and automation. Machine learning is kind of a subset of AI. And when we talk about that, we talk about training the AI and training the machine to learn based on the data coming in, how to do the task repeatedly, and continue to refine and do it better and better each time that it repeats the task. Hopefully, that distills it a little bit.

Mark: Yeah, it does. Thank you. One of the things that strikes me, listening to people talk about HR and recruiting technology lately, is they keep talking about AI and how important it is to the whole field. Why is AI so important to HR and recruiting tech?

Tom: It really boils down to the people, right? So when we talk about HR and we talk about talent acquisition, many organizations say people are our most valuable asset. And it’s all about the people. And I don’t think when we talk about AI as part of the conversation, we’re taking away from that. So it’s still all about the people. The people are everything. And at Phenom, we’re in the business of helping people find the right job. I mean, that’s our purpose. The algorithm and all of the data points that  surround that activity of helping the right person find the right job. The sheer number of interactions and data is just staggering. There’s so much. There’s so much data out there that you could look at to make sure that we’re making the right hiring decisions, we’re making the right recommendations.

So, we’re really pairing the right person with the right job, the best fit. So there’s these thousands of data points. We have the full inventory of skills that an organization might have. We have the number of interactions that occur between recruiters and candidates. We have the time that a candidate spends on a job description page. There’s all this data that we can pore through, but for any human individual to do that, it would just take an outrageous amount of time just to be able to really absorb all this data and all this content and do that.

So we know that organizations have restructured, organizations have hired, they’ve fired without technology. They’ve done that for decades. Before we had AI, organizations were able to do this, but it really is about the sheer volume of data that we now have access to, that when we apply artificial intelligence, when we apply technology like machine learning, what we find is we get a greater level of precision and a greater level of value out of some of the decisions that are made, while using the processing power.

So that was a mouthful. Maybe a better way to put it is if you look at other industries. If I wanted to watch a movie—this is going to date myself a little bit—but if I wanted to watch a movie, my wife and I back when we were dating years and years ago, we’d probably go to Blockbuster. We’d drive to Blockbuster and we’d have to browse the shelves and see what’s available and see what we’re in the mood for. And maybe we’ll land on the right recommendation, maybe we wouldn’t. But now we have Netflix, right? And Netflix can surface the best recommendations based on our individual tastes. My Netflix is not going to be the same as your Netflix, when you log on and you see the home page. You see the same thing with Spotify. Spotify is doing the same with music.

Professional sports are doing this. So sports have existed for decades, right? But now they’re using data and artificial intelligence to make better decisions. GPS products are the same way, too. I was always able to get from point A to point B. I remember driving to Vermont with my wife using maps, like physical maps that we had in our car. And I look at those days with a level of nostalgia, right? Because now we have Google Maps and we have Waze and all these products that really just help us get from point A to point B faster.

We’ve always had movies. We’ve always had sports. We’ve always had music. We’ve always had to get from point A to point B. But now we have this technology that’s leveraging tons and tons of data to really support the experience of getting from point A to point B and support, getting a better outcome, getting there faster, doing it better. And we believe that this is super beneficial for HR in a lot of ways.

Mark: Now, one of the things about all this technology, as you say, it’s changed the way a lot of things get done, but this year is 2020, we’re dealing the pandemic, with Covid-19. How has Covid-19 impacted AI and this kind of advanced technology among employers, among recruiters and so on?

Tom: Yeah, definitely. We know HR teams have always been looking to optimize their practices and optimize their function. So, pre Covid you would hear about the fight for talent, the war for talent. You’d hear about that a lot. Very competitive. So there was always an interest in using AI and machine learning to help hire faster and get the best talent in.

There’s been so many shifts in 2020, and it really varies by industry. It varies by organization. But we’re seeing so many organizations that are shifting more toward employee retention re-skilling and up-skilling of employees. We’re starting to see that becoming much more prominent in the conversation.

Engaging alumni is another shift that we’re seeing. And it’s all tied to being very reactive to market changes. There’s a lot of uncertainty, right? So a lot of organizations, they’re not sure what the next quarter is going to look like, or the next quarter after that is going to look like, and we have to make very important decisions based on complete lack of data, and a lack of projections.

So we’re starting to see that, a lot of reactiveness. We know that companies have had to lay off and furlough employees, and now they might be in a position where they need to bring employees back or they’re in a position where they need to hire even more employees than they previously had due to demands that we’ve seen based on the pandemic in certain industries. So HR, we know there’s always been a constant readjusting to how the market’s doing and what the needs of the organization are, but it’s just been tenfold since the pandemic. And we’re starting to see that. So we know that artificial intelligence is one of those tools that can really help transform HR organizations into being more strategic and forward-thinking leveraging the data that they have.

And I mentioned machine learning earlier. That’s all about refining and improving over time. So making sure that as new data comes in, you’re continuing to improve the outcomes rather than just running it through the same old algorithm that quite frankly is going to yield different results because so much has changed since Covid. So if you’re using the same technology and it hasn’t quote-unquote learned anything since the pandemic, then your outcome is going to be based on market conditions previously that might not be super-relevant. So that’s an important factor as well.

Mark: One of the things that occurs to me is we’re talking about AI, artificial intelligence. We keep using that phrase. Is AI a product that you can just purchase? Or does it sit someplace in a system? Or how does it integrate? Basically, what is it? Can you put it that in context for me?

Tom: Yeah, definitely. And that’s a great question. So for us at Phenom, AI sits, and I don’t want to get too deep into the Phenom platform, but AI sits at the platform level. So when I talk about AI and all the data that it requires to really produce the best results, it needs to have access to the data and it needs to have access to all the different interactions, right? So it needs to be able to interact with the data at a data level, but then bubble it up to what we call the experience level, so that you actually start to see the recruiters be able to experience the outcome of AI doing its thing. You start to see candidates experience AI doing its thing.

If it’s a bolt-on product that kind of sits outside all these different tools, and if it doesn’t talk to those different tools that you use in your HR tech stack, you’re not going to see the full benefits, because there’s not going to be that two way communication between the data, AI and machine learning’s ability to make sense of the data, provide insights or automate tasks, and then the actual end user experiencing it. So, we like to make sure that it’s fully integrated. So there are bolt-on products, but they don’t always speak to your full suite of tools that impact the entire talent journey.

Mark: How does AI impact recruiters specifically?

Tom: That’s where that experience layer comes in. That’s where candidates and recruiters start to be able to experience what AI is capable of in their day-to-day and their everyday actions. We also know, since the pandemic, that some teams they actually had to make cuts to their talent acquisition teams when hiring froze. Or if they unfortunately had to lay off employees, there was no need to have as many recruiters on the team. So with fewer recruiters, and now as companies start to rebound, we’re starting to see some recovery with fewer recruiters, they’re now being asked to do more with less. So there’s definitely this challenge of needing to do a lot, needing to hire for a lot of roles with maybe even less people than they had before. So that’s where we find AI-powered automation.

There’s an opportunity for AI to automate certain steps in the hiring process that would take a recruiter a lot of time. My colleague Kumar, who is really the genius behind a lot of the AI that we work on here at Phenom, he talks about the three S’s. So he talks about sourcing, screening and scheduling. And these are three tasks that take up a lot of human power from recruiters that we can cut down the overhead significantly. So, sourcing, finding ideal candidates or finding ideal internal candidates, learning from past hires and making sense of what worked in the past and then matching candidates based on skills, based on location, based on previous or past experience. Then we have screening. So screening, candidate scoring is something that we leverage AI to do. So giving you an AI-powered fit score, really, just to say based on your qualifications and based on the qualifications required of this role, we can give you a really quick score based on how you fit. And all of that is powered by AI. It doesn’t require the recruiter to dig through the entire resume, do a lot of manual screening. We can bubble up and eliminate that faster.

And then the other thing is scheduling, and we’ve all been there, especially even as candidates. The phone tag, or I like to say it’s like playing Tetris, looking at everyone’s calendars, trying to find where those open gaps are. When you’re trying to schedule a phone screen or an interview, we can leverage chatbots, we can leverage automated, conversational email to really get those interviews scheduled with a ton of ease, by syncing all the calendars and then having automation kind of take over. So AI can help with a lot of these automated tasks that frees up the candidates to do what we think really matters, which is create a human connection with candidates.

Tom: So recruiters can then spend time connecting with candidates and doing all the things that AI can’t do. AI can’t necessarily connect with people on the human to human level. So we want recruiters to be able to do that. And by cutting out all this overhead, it really helps them do that.

Another conversational piece that has come up in 2020, of course, is hiring for diversity. And one of the things that we find as well is that AI can help reduce human bias. We’ll never fully eliminate bias. And as a product, we don’t claim to ever be able to do that, but we can use AI specifically to illuminate best fit candidates, regardless of their gender, their race, their implied economic status, so when we talk about the AI fit score, we are not drawing conclusions based on any of those implied things like gender, race, or economic status, we’re doing it based on their qualifications for the role, which can really help eliminate some of that initial human bias that sometimes it’s hard to identify.

Mark: I guess the thing is, there’s so much going on with AI and it’s being applied in so many places, where do you see it going? What do you think the future of AI is in HR?

Tom: We have a virtual event coming up and in that virtual event, we actually have a panel who’s going to be speaking on just this topic. So, that’ll be coming up next week. I’ll share some details later on, but I will share one thing that I’m really excited for about the future of AI. And that is a concept called conversational AI. So I’m personally really excited about this. Anytime I’ve interacted with conversational AI, whether I need customer support from an organization, or I’m chatting with a chatbot trying to learn more about a product, it’s super-beneficial and it’s an exciting piece of technology.

Just to kind of break it down, it’s when artificial intelligence can kind of interact with humans at the experience level in a way that is very familiar and human-like. So, if you’ve ever had a conversation with a conversational chatbot on a website, and it didn’t feel very stale and it didn’t feel very stiff and it actually felt like you were talking to a human where you had to actually kind of take a double-take and say, “Hey, are you a real person?” That is really solid, really powerful, conversational AI in action. We see this with voice as well. It’s similar to how you can chat with Alexa or Siri. My kids talk to our Google Home all the time, which is really interesting to watch as a parent. They ask Google Home questions and they get answers back and they’re able to learn. And when they’re trying to search for a fact about dinosaurs, they can ask Google Home and they can get a quick answer.

And that’s all conversational AI in action. We have these natural questions and natural responses. And hopefully what we’ll see is see that conversational AI will also blend with the automation tasks. So maybe a recruiter will be able to say, find me 20 candidates who have the following skills, and they can do that with their voice. And then the technology can go use artificial intelligence and automation to go out and find best-fit candidates who meet those requirements and then serve it up to the user. That would be awesome. We’re already starting to see this with interview scheduling and phone screening, using that conversational AI to really simplify that process and free up the recruiter’s time.

At Phenom, we recently acquired a company called My Ally, and this is their specialty, so we’re really excited to integrate some of My Ally’s technology into our platform as well, so that we can start to, again, cut down on all the overhead so that people get from point A to point B faster. They get the right answer faster. They get to the destination faster. They find the best-fit job faster, and do it in a way where the recruiter isn’t being replaced, but the recruiter is now being freed up to do what recruiters do best, which is connect with other humans on a human to human level. So we’re really excited about some of that technology.

Mark: You mentioned the event that you’re having next week. Could you tell me about it?

Tom: Yeah, definitely. So we are doing a four-hour live event. It is called Phenom presents AI & The Evolved Recruiter. It’s going to be on October 22nd. We’re going to start streaming the events at 11:00 AM Eastern, but the whole thing’s going to be available on demand. So whether you’re listening to this weeks in advance, weeks in the future, you can still head on over to phenom.com. It’s phenom.com/ai-and-the-evolved-recruiter. You can head on over there to sign up. It’s completely free.

Here at Phenom, we know that there’s a really strong advantage for teams that adopt this technology. So our goal is to help those teams and anybody who joins this event to really level up your knowledge on artificial intelligence and machine learning, whether you know nothing about it, or you know a little bit, our goal is really to help you take it to the next level and understand how it applies to talent acquisition so that you, as an individual, can become the advocate for this technology.

You can become the subject matter expert. You can become that hero in your team meetings, in your boardroom. Who’s able to talk super intelligently about how we can start to leverage some of this technology to solve some of the real problems that you’re experiencing day to day, whether it’s scheduling hundreds of interviews or trying to source candidates, or trying to dig through 500 profiles and resumes. There’s a lot of great solutions to some problems that you might be experiencing. So our goal is to demystify some concepts around AI, simplify it, so it’s not super confusing. Hopefully I didn’t confuse you today. Hopefully the Netflix, the Spotify examples helped paint a picture of how it really bubbles up to the experience level. The best AI will blend into the background. You won’t even know it’s there. So we’re really trying to offer a lot of the education.

The format is really cool. We’re doing short snackable sessions. So this isn’t going to be 55-minute webinars, or stale, dry sessions where you’re going to want to hit the snooze button 40 minutes into it. We’re doing 25 minutes or less for each of the sessions. So we’re going to pack them with actionable content. There’s no sales pitches here. It’s going to be very product agnostic. So we’re really just focusing on the content, the education, and we’re looking forward to it next Thursday or this Thursday or last Thursday, depending upon when you’re listening to this and it’s going to be at 11:00 AM Eastern, you can head on over to phenom.com. We have a big banner on the homepage and it’s AI & The Evolved Recruiter.

Mark: Well, Tom, thanks very much. I appreciate your taking the time.

Tom: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure Mark, and I’m looking forward to continuing to listen to the podcast. Really appreciate it. And thanks for having me.

Mark: Tom Tate is senior product marketing manager at Phenom. On October 22, 2020, they’re hosting AI & The Evolved Recruiter online, which will also be available on-demand. Find out more at www.phenom.com. They also sponsored this edition of the podcast.

And, remember: To keep up with HR tech news, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us, at www-dot-hcm-technology-report-com.

I’m Mark Feffer.  

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