What will the next 10 years bring to the recruiting and talent-acquisition function?
By Andrew R. McIlvaine
Over the past 30 years, few parts of HR have changed more dramatically, or been more affected by technology, than recruiting. But now many experts believe a turning point is at hand.
Today the U.S. recruitment and talent-acquisition market is worth an estimated $240 billion, according to Bersin by Deloitte. Two enormous, multibillion-dollar companies that didn't even exist 15 years ago -- LinkedIn and Indeed -- dominate the market, while hundreds of much smaller vendors offer services ranging from online assessments to employer branding. Most of these vendors deliver their services via the Internet.
However, despite technology's impact, the recruiting function at many organizations still leaves much to be desired. High turnover rates and low employee engagement plague too many companies, and the talent-acquisition function shoulders a chunk of the blame due to poor sourcing and screening methods, say experts.
In fact, technology has been both a blessing and a curse to recruiters: A poor candidate experience can now be shared virally, tarnishing a company's brand and making it much harder to attract quality recruits. Meanwhile, the rise of artificial intelligence means that tasks performed by recruiters today soon will be automated at many organizations.
Too often, experts say, recruiting exists in a bubble, disconnected from other parts of the organization.
"The root of the problem right now is that the talent-acquisition function and all it encompasses is largely untethered from the business strategy or the results that are most important to the business," says Linda Brenner, who held HR leadership posts at The Gap, PepsiCo and Home Depot before starting her own consulting firm -- Atlanta-based Talent Growth Advisors -- in 2003.
Brenner paints a dismal portrait of the recruiting function at too many organizations today: Overworked recruiters moving ceaselessly from one requisition to the next, desperately trying to fill seats, with scarcely any time left to sit down with hiring managers to learn more about the role or to properly assess candidates to see whether they're a good fit. Meanwhile, as turnover continues to rise, recruiters are blamed for not finding the right people and being mired in administrivia.
Jason Averbook, CEO and Co-founder of LeapGen in El Segundo, Calif., sees three major trends facing recruitment leaders: First, talent acquisition and talent management will no longer exist in separate silos. Second, people will no longer apply for jobs via an applicant tracking system; instead, the jobs will come to them by way of apps on mobile devices based on their pre-set preferences. And finally, companies will respond to a job opening not by opening a requisition, but by first determining whether the job can be performed by inside talent or outsourced, or whether the job can be broken apart so some of it can be outsourced at lower cost. It will involve "reimagining" some jobs -- not roles such as flight attendant or casino worker, but white-collar knowledge management positions.
Averbook, Brenner and others say recruiters must evolve to be "talent advisers," as more tasks continue to be ceded to automation.
"Today, most folks in talent acquisition are order-takers; going forward, they're going to be more like doctors," says Averbook. "I don't think we'll even recognize the talent-acquisition profession 10 years from now. It'll be like the way we think about fax machines today."
In order for things to get better, says Brenner, a line must be drawn between the talent that's critical to the business and everyone else. The majority of recruiting resources should be devoted to finding and retaining the critical talent, she says -- and "critical talent" doesn't necessarily correlate with rank, she adds.
"Just because someone's title is vice president doesn't mean there's scarce talent for that job," says Brenner. At a retailer, for example, a capable vice president for merchandising may be far more critical to find and retain than, say, a vice president for legal affairs.
"That job is critical to driving revenue and profit," she says. "Eighty percent of the value in Dow Jones companies is linked to 20 percent of the roles within the organization."
Segmenting roles by their criticality to the business is the best way to make use of limited recruiting resources, says Brenner.
"If the quality and speed of talent acquisition isn't where it needs to be, companies are no longer as willing to just throw more recruiters at the problem," she says. "They want an innovative approach that is tied to the business strategy."
Brenner and other experts say the next five or so years will see recruiters evolve into the role of talent adviser.
"Part of their responsibility will be finding talent that not only stays but excels in key roles," she says.
A talent adviser knows not only how to find and attract great hires but also those who are a great fit for the job and the organization's culture. He or she tracks source effectiveness and the success of key hires -- and this requires capabilities that are dramatically different from serving simply as a conduit for posting jobs and moving people along, says Brenner.
"I empathize with recruiters who are working 40 or so reqs at a given time -- they're completely handcuffed and don't have the time to do the things they need to do, such as intake meetings, screening and advising," says Brenner. "The only results that arise from piling more work on recruiters are poor outcomes."
Talent advisers will need access to internal candidate information, job-performance data and internal- candidate slates, says Brenner. Talent acquisition and talent management will become closely intertwined, if not completely merged, she says.
"Owning the Relationship"
To succeed in this future environment, recruiters will need to be good at probing, asking line managers what a job might look like in the future, understanding where the best talent can be found, and they must be solid at building relationships.
"The experience [job candidates] get once they're hired into the company is nowhere near as good as when they were being courted," says Averbook. "So the concept of long-term relationships is going to be important, as is having the talent-acquisition person own that relationship."
"Owning the relationship" may involve TA conducting 30-, 90- and 130-day check-ins with new hires to see how they're doing and answer any questions they may have about the workplace culture, future career opportunities and career planning. The point will be that they don't have to rely only on their line manager for career support, says Averbook.
"It's going to change the TA function completely -- if 70 percent of the job today consists of finding the talent and 30 percent on keeping it, soon it's going to be 50 percent on keeping the people," he says.
People with high-demand skills, such as software engineers, are being bombarded with emails, phone calls and text messages from recruiters and they're sick of it, says Howard Schwartz, CEO of New York-based Crowded. Meanwhile, younger candidates are not fans of email at all -- they prefer texting or chatting via Skype, he says.
"The biggest recruiting innovations will be around automation -- assisted intelligence, not artificial intelligence," says Schwartz.
Schwartz says he's seeing a lot of confusion and fear surrounding A.I.
"A lot of people are worried that it's going to replace recruiters, but I don't think that'll be the case," he says. Instead, A.I. -- or "assisted intelligence" -- will help recruiters do their jobs better, such as identifying the best times to contact a candidate, helping them craft outreach messages to potential candidates and ranking candidates on who will be the best fit with the organization.
"A.I. is a confusing term that's being used too broadly," says Schwartz.
These days, Jon Bischke -- CEO of San Francisco-based recruitment vendor Entelo -- finds himself being bombarded by questions from heads of talent acquisition: How will AI and machine learning affect the profession?
"I tell them vendors like to throw around buzzwords a lot, and that they have to stay focused on one question: How is this new technology going to help me?" he says.
One clear example is that it can make the top of the "recruiting funnel" more intelligent by helping recruiters better identify folks who are open to changing jobs, such as people who are on the verge of quitting, says Bischke.
These tools use publicly available data such as how long a person has been in his or her current role, their five-year work anniversary (when people are more likely to search for a new job), their activity on the social web (have they updated their bio, for example), and data on the company they work for (have share prices been trending downward, etc.).
"You combine all those signals and you start to see some interesting patterns emerging," he says.
"These tools can steer recruiters away from people less likely to be in the market and toward the people who are more likely to be looking," says Bischke. "Recruiters want to talk to people who want to talk to them."
Other areas ripe for innovation include helping companies make better use of the vast amounts of data sitting in their systems -- including candidates whose information may already reside within their ATS, says Bischke.
"A lot of companies will pay a recruiting agency to find a candidate who had already applied to a job at the organization a year ago, but the ATS lacks the layer of intelligence that would identify a good fit among previous applicants," he says. "So the company's spending money to find someone who's already in their system."
Meanwhile, bots can converse back and forth with multiple parties to find the best times to schedule meetings between candidates, recruiters and hiring managers, tasks that are still handled manually at many companies but could, if automated, free up recruiting teams to focus on higher-level activities like candidate care, says Bischke.
"Vendors get some criticism that we're trying to put recruiters out of their jobs, but my answer to that is 'Absolutely not,' " he says. "If you can use tech to automate the mundane things, you'll free up recruiters to do things that will make them high- powered and more employable than before the tech existed."
Technology can also help companies hire more diverse candidates by, for example, stripping out identifying information that could inadvertently lead to unconscious bias so recruiters and hiring managers can focus on the merits of the individual rather than their name or sex, says Bischke. "This effort began in Silicon Valley and now companies in the financial-services sector are all talking about this," he says. "This is going to be a big issue going forward."
Technology is changing people from "job hunters to job shoppers," says Mahe Bayireddi, CEO of Phenom People in Horsham, Pa.
"A job description is not doing enough to communicate between the hiring manager, recruiter and applicant," he says. "The fundamental problem is there is no connection between the silos: talent management, recruiters and managers. That's the reason why every candidate is angry: 'I don't want to look for a job because I don't understand what this job is.' "
Organizations that haven't taken the time to ensure that candidates are treated with respect are struggling the most to fill positions, says Elaine Orler, CEO of Talent Function in San Diego and co-founder of The Talent Board, which oversees the annual Candidate Experience Awards.
"Talent acquisition is in the crosshairs in terms of how they're going to recruit from various demographics and building a culture that's more inclusive while wrestling with the fact that areas they may have recruited from before are becoming limited by access," such as the Trump administration's restrictions on work visas, she says.
Despite the much-discussed talent shortage, there remains a large number of people who are unemployed or under-employed, says Orler. This apparent mismatch, along with other issues, is leading many companies to rethink their approach to talent acquisition.
"At this moment you have a unique opportunity to ask for what you want and need because the likelihood of getting a 'no' is far less right now," says Orler.
For the first time since the recession ended in 2010, more companies are stepping back to examine what their talent-acquisition strategy should be, she says.
They're finding a number of things that need to be fixed, including how they cultivate their relationship with candidates early on, improving candidate communication and being a brand ambassador for the organization, says Orler.
One of the key areas that needs to be addressed is integration between different systems, she says.
"The concept of integrated talent acquisition is still on everyone's wish list even though it should have been done by now," says Orler. "There's a lot of chasing after front-end solutions, a lot of spin around recruitment-marketing tools versus candidate-relationship management versus data mining, and a lot of fascination with AI and chatbots and widgets that will help you find or initiate relationships, when the more-complicated and longer-term value pieces are, how do you manage all these relationships, what are you doing with onboarding capabilities and the tie-in between succession planning and performance management, which is badly needed but still hasn't been done."
What's needed is agility, says Orler.
"TA is still predominantly focused on immediate hiring needs," she says. In the future, TA may oversee initiatives such as encouraging more kids to pursue studies in STEM and other areas that have talent gaps, and identifying when hiring contingent labor or outsourcing makes sense versus hiring full-timers. But first, successful integration needs to happen, says Orler.
"Right now we're still stuck in transaction because the information doesn't flow from one system to another -- we're still using data from six to 20 different systems to bring on one person," she says. "There are so many different, fragmented processes and technologies in talent acquisition, it's like having to bake a cake from scratch over and over again."
Vendors need to set up their initial system implementations with clients for long-term success, says Orler, which will make it easier to integrate with other systems.
Meanwhile, recruiters need to get over their fear of technology, she says.
"I don't see a lot of recruiters losing their jobs to artificial intelligence," says Orler. "The really good recruiters and sourcers . . . will finally have the flexibility to do more with less."
Recruiters who fear being replaced by software that can perform advanced matching should keep in mind that machines still have to be taught the right information, and that information changes quickly, she says.
Scheduling interviews is another area where automation will help make recruiting more effective, says Orler, while the systematic communications between recruiters, hiring managers and candidates will be made easier by chatbots. "By putting chatbots on your careers site to answer FAQs and help candidates navigate to the right jobs for them and update them on their status . . . automating those transactions creates high value," she says.
Recruiting the Younger Generation
Despite the stereotype of the millennial always hunched over his or her mobile device, job candidates between the ages of 25 and 35 actually aren't big fans of texting, says Bayireddi. "The people who really live on Snapchat don't like to text that much. Voice is the natural interface -- you can order a pizza through [Amazon's voice app] Alexa now, so why can't you use it to apply for a job?"
"We believe voice conversations will take over 30 percent of web traffic," he says, with candidates using Siri and Cortana to search for jobs. "As humans, the best way to communicate with each other is by voice, not through text."
Bayireddi predicts that letting candidates complete forms via voice will become the norm.
Recruiters can't let themselves forget about millennials once they're hired, says Karen Minicozzi, vice president for HCM product strategy at Pleasanton, Calif.-based Workday. "It's the nature of the changing workforce," she says. "Millennials have a different mindset around careers: They tend to leave more quickly and are looking at a job as an opportunity to learn something new and acquire new skills, and because of that, recruiters have to start thinking harder not just about looking for people on the outside but, how do we focus on our internal people and re-recruit them? Is that a recruiter's job or a manager's job? I think it's both, because recruiting is a team sport."
Recruiters need to keep a close eye on their internal talent and view a requisition as an opportunity to look inside the organization to fill a job, says Minicozzi. "The internal employees get ignored because talent acquisition has an externally facing recruiting system, so in many cases it's easier for an employee to go to an outside system to apply for a job within their own company."
"Talent mobility should be a critical part of recruiting," she says.
As for finding external talent, candidate relationship management is core to the future of recruiting, says Minicozzi.
"I think if we can winnow down the pool of candidates to the ones who are going to be most successful based on past experience, that's good."
Yet there are also potential risks to this strategy, she admits.
"I think we really have to be thoughtful about the risk of having recruiting systems that continually hire essentially the same person over and over again, and we need to ensure we're not doing that," says Minicozzi.
The next 30 years will be nothing if not interesting, she says.
"I think recruiting is the most dynamic area of HR -- it's such an exciting space to watch."