A Human-Techno Approach to Recruitment: Robert Downey Jnr, Breweries and a little thing called conversation.
I have worked in recruitment for almost two decades. Just writing that sentence makes me feel old! The industry has changed so much since those early days; that when I look back, it’s hard to imagine how we ever had the time to make placements at all.
When I made my first recruitment call in 2003, I relied on just three critical tools: roller decks of business cards, a very basic CRM and a telephone. We were not distracted by flashy AI tools, LinkedIn, Facebook or job boards we see everywhere today – they didn’t exist.
My manager would say “look out of the train window during your commute and make notes of all the billboards you see along the way, then call these clients when you get to work”. He would exclaim “The bigger the billboard, the bigger the client!”. It certainly made those dull train journeys more interesting! It was a time when looking out of a window to take in the world was a commuting activity. These days, everyone suffers from neck pain as they lose themselves to smartphones and Candy-Crush.
A Human-Techno Approach to Recruitment?
Back then, I would arrive at the office keen to research the numbers of the clients spotted that morning. I couldn’t wait to make my introductions one by one, in the hope I could form lasting recruitment partnerships with every contact I called.
Looking back, I realise my first clients all seemed to be breweries! Maybe these were the billboards I was seeing each morning, or maybe my unconscious bias was telling me to call beer-related clients. Who knows, but it is true!
I struck up one such relationship with a great Suffolk based brewery. I remember every time I called, we would spend more time talking about sailing, football, family and friends than we ever did about recruitment. It never stopped me making placements. In fact, these conversations formed the basis of a very successful long-standing recruitment partnership.
I cared about this client; I felt like I knew them. We became friends. We met for drinks. Locating the best talent for them was no longer just a commercial exercise, but an emotional one. Providing anything less, would be to risk the relationship turning sour. These calls, and the client relationships I developed, formed the basis of what made a sales-focused, KPI-driven role, fun and enjoyable.
I highlight this example because today, for every piece of flashy, fantastic tech we see flooding the market, each one designed to improve the efficiency of recruitment, we seem to move a little further away from developing the personal relationships that used be so important.
A Human-Techno Approach to Recruitment
Sometimes less is more. Being limited to just three tools may have reduced our abilities to locate hard to reach talent, but they drastically improved the one-to-one relationships we had with those we could contact. Recruiters didn’t hide behind keyboards, InMail’s, emails or messenger apps to get their message across. Instead, we dialled numbers; we had meaningful conversations, we enjoyed lunches, attended networking events, met in hidden coffee-shops and bars, and ultimately, developed long-lasting relationships, many of which I still maintain to this day.
Now is the time for the recruitment industry to take a step back and re-evaluate itself.
A Human-Techno Approach to Recruitment? Most definitely! The mavericks amongst us are already doing this. Recruiters at the top of their game already recognise that a return to meaningful conversations is the way to go to grow through this period of technical revolution.
Unfortunately, many recruiters will not see this until it is too late. They are missing the transition because they have their heads bowed into their chests while they press buttons on their smartphones.
But here’s the rub. The more we rely on automation, the easier it becomes for technology to automate us. In my opinion, no robot can replicate the human relationships recruitment professionals have the power to develop. Artificial Intelligence may understand questions, and perhaps use machine learning to provide meaningful responses. However, the second a human asks a robot about a subject outside of its sphere of expertise (such as sailing, football or family), the relationship-building process fails.
Are you sure of a Human-Techno Approach to Recruitment?
Perhaps clients no longer want to develop meaningful relationships with search firms? After all, many HR and internal talent teams seem to be as keen on automating conversations as some recruiters are. Perhaps they also no longer see the value in it? I hope this is not the case. Indeed, I cannot answer for them, but how many of us have opted to send an email when it was just as easy to pick up a telephone?
How many of us have gatekeepers that protect us from talking? Do we really want to see everything automated at the expense of human relationships? I think if we blindly follow this route, we start a costly and slippery path into misinterpretation, poor-hiring decisions and robot-obscurity.
I cannot deny that technology has made our abilities to gather and disseminate information significantly more straightforward; however, in doing so, it has made the skills we associate with developing meaningful rapport, much harder. Who wants to develop a purely virtual relationship?
Recruitment is in danger of losing its human touch, which seems ironic when humans are the commodity that drives the industry.
I appreciate getting to know someone doesn’t just take many meaningful conversations, it also takes time, resilience, perseverance, patience, humour and grace. Tones in our voice help us to understand attitudes, feelings and emotions to bring these conversations to life. However, when it comes to virtual communications, elements such as tone can only be interpreted by the recipient and are, therefore, often misinterpreted. A perfectly innocent email sent in good nature (but in haste), could easily be read as direct or aggressive. How often have we found ourselves trying to explain what we meant to say after the receiver of an email has misunderstood our written tone?
Sadly, virtual methods of communication are allowing recruiters and hiring managers to hide behind technology because it is easier and quicker. Sometimes, we hide due to pure laziness or other times through fear. We know it is easier to have an awkward conversation virtually than it is face-to-face. If you have ever been dumped by text, you will know what I mean. Of course, digital discussions have their place for these reasons and more. I just don’t want to see technology change the human-centric elements of recruitment that make it enjoyable and exciting.
That is why, in my opinion, the best recruitment professionals and search firms are those who continue to embrace human-centric, meaningful and collaborative relationships with the candidates and clients they engage with. Conversations that go beyond the life of a search assignment are often the ones that generate the most significant returns too. As humans, it is the relationships we form during our lifetime that define us. The very essence of a relationship is developed through communication. It is, therefore, how we communicate that determines the strength of each relationship. The power and breadth of these relationships also helps us discover our identities; they form an essential part of what makes us human! It’s both very simple and extremely important. The more we embrace the reality of our interconnected world, the more purpose and meaning we will find in our work as recruiters.
The UK recruitment sector is currently worth over £35billion, so it is easy to see why there is such an appetite for deploying new technologies that streamline the recruitment process. However, in our hunger, let’s not lose the meaningful conversations that keep our industry human.
Of course, we need to embrace technology, but let’s do so with one eye on progress and the other on what makes us human. If we do this, artificial intelligence, automation and other technological breakthroughs will continue to progress the recruitment industry. There is no doubt digital advancements can drive improvements in diversity and inclusivity and help eliminate unconscious bias in the hiring process. AI can help us to access more varied talent pools in a quicker, more efficient process than a single individual can undertake.
Robots can help businesses not just to find talent, but then provide the analysis that allows us to retain it. After all, it is the people behind a brand who are responsible for its success! In these circumstances, I am all for utilising technology as harnessing its power in the right way will allow search firms to remain competitive, agile and relevant.
Let’s be honest; it is easy to get left behind in this fast-moving, technology-driven world. We need to grasp new technologies so we can engage with contemporary workforces reliant on smartphones and social channel exchanges for information and opportunities. However, it is our inherent human ability to do things that technology can’t, like creating ideas, opportunities and contextualising individual requirements that will drive long-lasting results. Therefore, we need to combine the two, not reject one approach in favour of another.
I think we need a human-techno recruitment approach.
I believe that developing engaging relationships is as crucial today as it was when I first started in recruitment in 2003. As a recruiter myself, I want to transition to a recruitment world where I can enjoy lunches with my clients and candidates, I want to build personal rapport and enjoy meaningful conversations. At the same time, I want robots to take care of the administration and help me to tap into new, diverse talent pools that I cannot reach on my own.
So, I say this. If you want to prosper in recruitment tomorrow, invest in developing meaningful relationships today. Stop emailing, pick up the phone and start talking! Let’s utilise technology to access new talent, eliminate unconscious bias, improve workplace culture, boost ED&I and streamline the hiring process to reduce inefficiencies. Meanwhile, the modern human recruiter can focus on building proactive relationships built on meaningful conversations that develop influence, collaboration, referrals and engagement.
Human-techno recruitment utopia is possible. Follow my advice, be maverick and pick up that phone. If you do, like me, you can have client-book full of breweries you can’t wait to chat to. You may even find yourself on client stag-do, sat on a tractor-trailer next to Robert Downey Jnr (true story).
It’s amazing where a little conversation can take you.