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Algorithms, Chatbots and AI screening: Have job candidates become a commodity in our digital world?

By July 25, 2019No Comments

The article which follows was written for the Globe & Mail “Leadership Lab” series by Mary McIninch, Executive Director of ACSESS (the national Association of Canadian Search, Employment & Staffing Services), and Ted Maksimowski, Board member of ACSESS and Owner & Franchise Developer of Express Employment Professionals.  It has undergone minor edits for clarity with the authors’ permission.


In our haste to streamline hiring through automation, have we turned candidates into vanilla units on a production line?

We’re not against innovation in talent acquisition, but the human touch needs to be at the heart of recruitment.

Think about the first contact candidates have with your brand.  Many are told to upload their resume to the company website in plain text (after they’ve spent hours refining its format) and then an algorithm scans keywords to decide if they’re worthy of moving to the next step. We’ve done a fine job of keeping motivated and talented candidates away from our phone or email until a computer ranks them.

In our social “click for immediate gratification” world, we’ve disintermediated the personal way employers once sought new employees and the staffing firms/recruiters they worked with attracted talent.  Many candidates called the new hiring process “dehumanizing” but we forged on, buoyed by the power imbalance of the employer’s job market and our mandate to drive operational efficiencies.

Enter the new reality where the unemployment rate has plunged to a low never tracked by Stats Canada in its 48-year history.  Exasperated and empowered candidates are rising and flexing new muscles. Now, we’re balancing our workday around high turnover, disengaged employees and a frustrating phenomenon called ghosting, where candidates ditch scheduled job interviews or sign an offer but never report to work. The fallout reduces productivity and profit.

In its 2018 report, the Conference Board of Canada cited attracting and retaining talent as CEOs’ top issue. Yet, Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends’ report reveals few companies are developing innovative rewards programs to support retention and attract candidates.

It’s time to reset the focus from “filling a job” to “placing top candidates in career opportunities.” We know how to do this. No one places more staff in roles across the country than members of the national Association of Canadian Search, Employment & Staffing Services (ACSESS), representing Canada’s $15 billion staffing industry.

Here are our hiring and retention best practices to help leaders shift back to putting candidates first and secure top talent for the long-term:

  1. Back to basics — Candidates judge an employer at every contact point, including the frosty receptionist or the disgruntled employees in the hall.  Take a regular audit of all of the candidate’s points of contact. Make sure yours align to highlight your brand values and company benefits.
  2. Know, communicate and demonstrate your brand — Have a clearly defined vision statement and outline your corporate culture’s principles and values. Ensure your brand is reflected throughout social media platforms and in your company’s online reviews.
  3. Use technology to humanize your brand — Take a lead from global leaders. In Deloitte’s 2018 Human Capital Trends report, it showcased global brands that are leveraging their employees as brand ambassadors to share their stories about the corporate culture via videos, blogs and social posts.
  4. Offer lucrative referral bonuses to internal employees — This incentive will increase your likelihood of finding candidates who are endorsed, have a successful track record and fit your culture.
  5. Develop a detailed “performance profile” — Make it specific to the role versus a generic job description hastily drafted to meet a deadline. Before posting, show the profile to colleagues for feedback. This extra care will increase your probability to attract top performers and ensure your ROI.
  6. Immerse candidates in your culture — Include members of your team in the hiring process to give candidates a good flavour of the job and talent on the team. Provide an office tour to show them how you work and introduce them to other employees who can share their views of the company.
  7. Sweeten the pot — Ask candidates what will motivate them to take the job.  You may need to offer a higher salary, reduce standard trial periods or even offer a bonus for staying with the company for a specific period of time.
  8. Develop a detailed onboarding program — Start onboarding during the hiring process. Ideally include other new hires and mentors in the program to help candidates learn about your organization, their potential role, who’ll they’ll work with, as well as their accountabilities.
  9. Focus on employee engagement and retention — Create programs to make your recruits feel valued and supported as they start building a career at your organization. Managers need to support engagement with regular performance reviews, which include career mapping, mentoring and action plans for skills development.
  10. Partner with the experts — It takes expertise to recruit, screen and establish a network of candidates and effectively present your company’s value proposition. Consider partnering with a search firm or a staffing agency that understands the market and operates with principles, values and ethics that mirror yours.

It’s a challenging market but some things never change. Treat each candidate with the same respect, fairness and personal element to make your brand shine with the talent you need to soar.