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The Death of Recruiting OR The Dawn of a New Age?

The Dawn of a New Age in Recruiting

Well, here we go again.  Every couple of years, another article predicts the death of the Recruiting profession, with technology to be the culprit, standing over the profession’s dead corpse with a smoking gun.  At first, it was job boards, then ATSs and CRMs, then Social Media, and now AI.  This has been going on for almost as long as I have been in the profession, over 20 years now.

Yet, the profession is still here.  And not only is it here, it has evolved.  At one time, Talent Acquisition (or Personnel or Staffing or Recruiting) was solely a reactionary, transactional function.  We ran newspaper ads, posted jobs, sorted through resumes and applications, screened candidates, and pushed a lot of paper. The barrier to entry to do this work was very low, and the function as seen as a necessary evil on the path up the HR ladder.  Then, things started to change around the turn of the century, often driven by new advancements in technology and in new, more strategic specializations of the craft.

Specialties such as sourcing and employment branding began to emerge and over time have proven their strategic value.  Technology emerged that (by design) was meant to enable greater efficiencies.  With just the click of a few buttons, you can post a job, move a candidate through the process, schedule an interview, print out an offer letter and get a new hire onboarded.  Technology and the profession have evolved together, not always at the same pace, and often with some pain and friction involved, but there is no doubt that due to evolutions in technology and the profession itself, Talent Acquisition looks very, very different than it did at the start of this century.

The bottom line however is that technology is an enabler, a means-to-an-end.  Technology should provide opportunities for improved efficiency and decision making, and to automate traditional administrative functions, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  Human decisions on how technologies are implemented and how technologies are adopted typically make or break the impact that a technology has on an organization’s talent acquisition effectiveness.  Very often, the promise of technology and automation can have a negative effect on talent acquisition as well.  The candidate experience for example has become a hot topic in recent years because technology, when not utilized properly, can often enable a very impersonal, or even highly frustrating experience for candidates, recruiters and hiring managers alike.

Reports of the “Death of Recruiting” have always been greatly exaggerated.

Rather than “Death”, what these developments often indicate is the opportunity for “Transition” or “Evolution.”  I for one believe that rather than “Death”, that a golden age of the Talent Acquisition profession is upon us.  An opportunity exists today for a professional body to guide this transition/evolution, to advance the talent acquisition profession in a meaningful, long-lasting way.  To advance the profession, the profession must become more strategic, must embrace (and not be fearful) of emerging trends, and must establish its value more clearly and consistently than it does today.  ATAP will lead the effort to build a body of knowledge that will drive the establishment of standards for education, measurement and ethics.  ATAP will do this with technology advancements in mind, by involving technology innovators in the work of the organization to better insure that the future of Talent Acquisition technology aligns with the practical needs of Talent Acquisition professionals.

Technology and automation has already had a considerable impact on Talent Acquisition, and the function and profession has continuously adapted.  In 1998, the company I was at had someone full-time who did nothing but scan paper resumes into a searchable database.  Nobody does that any longer, right?  I was on a train the other day, and one young man asked another if his company was hiring.  The answer given was that he had to go visit the company’s website and apply online.  15 years ago, he may have been told to just walk in and apply onsite.  So much has been automated already, but the profession has evolved and expanded, even surviving the worst economic crisis in several generations.

The other reality here is that advancements in technology do not take effect overnight.  Talent Acquisition unfortunately doesn’t have the best track record historically in effectively adopting new technologies.  Many organizations to this day make hires with little to no technology, with no ATS and tracking activity on spreadsheets.  AI may become more and more of a reality in the business world, but there is no guarantee that effective adoption of AI will become the norm in Talent Acquisition in the foreseeable future.  Some organizations are adopting and implementing these new technologies already, but there is no precedent for effective, widespread adoption of any new technology to support Talent Acquisition.  Cost, complexity and priorities will drive adoption of AI, not the mere existence of these AI.

Talent Acquisition is about being human.

In the end, Talent Acquisition is a very HUMAN activity.

Automation and technology, when applied effectively, can have a very positive impact on candidates and employers alike.  But for candidates, searching (or being actively recruited for) a new job is a very personal thing, and in the end, is one of the most important decisions that they make in their lifetime.  Talent Acquisition professionals must be there to work with their candidates through this critical moment in their life.  At the same time, hiring someone is often not a black-and-white decision, not one that should just be trusted to algorithms alone. There are many variable ‘greys’ that should be taken into a consideration when making a hiring selection decision, and Talent Acquisition professionals must be there to take those variables into account and help organizations make successful hiring decisions.

The Talent Acquisition profession is also becoming increasingly a strategic function within organizations, and automation is typically not a good replacement for a strategic function.  Technology can (again, when applied effectively) be an effective replacement for tactical, transactional functions, and can even help to better inform decisions.  Ultimately, humans must make those decisions, and when it comes to Talent Acquisition, the promise of the future of the profession is just starting to take root, with technology and automation as a tool to be leveraged as a part of the solution going forward.


Ben Gotkin is the Executive Director of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals.  Ben draws from over 23 years of recruiting experience in a variety of tactical and strategic leadership roles at organizations including Recruiting Toolbox, Marriott International, RSM, The MITRE Corporation, Intelsat and BAE Systems. Ben was also the Founder and Past-President of the Washington, DC-based Recruiter Community, recruitDC.  Ben has served on The Candidate Experience Awards Council, was a board member of WTPF (a Washington, DC-based HR organization), and was an Expert Advisor with the Human Capital Institute (HCI). He has been the author of several recruiting blogs, has written and been quoted in articles for numerous recruiting-focused websites and major national publications, and has been a featured speaker and panelist at the ERE Expo, Talent42, Recruiting Trends Conference, SRSC, SourceCon, Social Recruiting Summit and WTPF.  Ben is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

You can follow Ben on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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