Using AI to Revolutionize Hiring for Top Talent, While Avoiding the Pitfalls

BY Matthew Koehler | November 15, 2023

The influence of AI on our world is profound and ongoing, though its effects may be more understated than the sensational headlines suggest. Instead of the Matrix abound, AI is enhancing the work of human hands by simplifying or eliminating rote tasks, and making it easier for companies and workers to focus on more important tasks.

“AI is a job transformer, right? What it is basically doing is automating things, like high volume, repetitive tasks. And it is giving us more time to think and do something that we’re good at like problem solving,” said Ankur Saxena, SVP & head of strategic operations and talent at Mphasis.

One of those areas of work where AI is improving processes, and will continue to streamline on both the client and user end, is in hiring and talent acquisition. But there are many pitfalls, namely in how AI carries human biases. During a recent From Day One webinar, Matt Charney, talent acquisition leader at HR.com, spoke with professionals in-the-know about AI and how it affects talent acquisition.

The Genetics of Bias in AI

“There was one very famous article about Amazon creating an AI hiring bot, and it failed miserably because it was trained on data. The data was from all the people who are working in the firm. Being about 70-80% males, they unintentionally created a sexist AI hiring tool. It kept on selecting only people who are males,” said Saxena.

The matching of resumes to job descriptions has been a practice for over 20 years, with a historical feedback loop embedded in the machine learning and AI processes, says Dan Finnigan, CEO of Filtered.

To overcome bias Saxena says organizations need to look at the data AI is getting trained on, because the people training the AI carry their own inherent biases. Next you have to monitor the output so you can understand the results you’re getting. He likens this to going to the gym and maintaining an exact regimen but never seeing any increases and positive changes in your abilities. You have to change your workout to see different results.

The full panel of speakers from top right: Dan Finnigan of Filtered, Ankur Saxena of Mphasis, Alec White of Computershare, Madeline Laurano of Aptitude Research, and moderator Matt Charney of HR.com (photo by From Day One)

Madeline Laurano co-founder of Aptitude Research turned the discussion to ethical AI and how it should be defined by transparency and specific use. “Ethical AI is pretty much defined by transparency. And are these providers going to be transparent with their algorithm? Or are they going to be transparent with the methodology that they’re using? Are they constantly re-evaluating it?”

Focusing on ethics, Charney directed the panel to think about two questions. First, will AI reduce bias going forward, or is automation bias simply replacing hiring bias? And within an organization, who is responsible for making ethical decisions behind AI-driven processes?

“I firmly believe that AI and recruiting is by definition biased, and maybe significantly so,” Finnigan said. He says that earlier in his career with Hot Jobs, product people found candidates using unseeable fonts to game the algorithm, and basically create a marketing document for themselves. On the company side, hiring managers would do the same, adding in things to make the job more appealing.

“And so it is biased by definition. It's just like the way we read news on social media; it's an echo chamber. So I would argue it's a bias accelerator so that we don't have to take the time to really try to figure out what's in the resume, or for the candidate to really figure out what's in the job description.” Finnigan says that the power of generative AI should be one that double checks bias and includes a process that is better at matching verified job skills, instead of just looking for patterns in applicants it's been trained to favor.

AI Is Still in its Infancy

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of companies out there that use AI very well for the hiring process, according to Laurano. She referenced Amazon's crash and burn with AI recruiting as a cautionary tale that’s still scary to a lot of talent acquisition leaders.

Charney turned to Alec White global head of talent acquisition at Computershare, which is in the early stages of that journey. White is working on the applicant tracking system. “We started with some fundamental things like digital interviewing, and self scheduling of interviews. And that, from the very beginning, felt natural. It’s the feedback loop that we’ve talked about.” White says that based on their metrics, their process doesn't “feel off putting to candidates, but like they are interacting with something human.”

“They could interview with us at midnight, with a digital interview, and then the system would tell them, ‘Hey, this is what is next’ and respond to questions and send them information that was customized to their role,” White continued. He says by personalizing the application process it doesn’t feel like a black hole with an automated email at the end saying not you.

Defining the Perfect AI Recruitment Tool

“I completely see it as an enhancer. I see AI as providing tremendous value to TA professionals, whether that’s being a campus recruiter all the way to a TA leader. “There’s lots of value in a lot of these use cases where AI can come in and improve the recruiter experience,” said Laurano.

She referenced research her firm did in early 2021 that looked at the recruiter experience. There were 14,000 job openings for recruiters that January, and the research found that they were wasting their time on tasks like managing job boards, manually advertising jobs, scheduling interviews, and more,  instead of connecting candidates with jobs. “AI can provide tremendous value in a lot of these use cases for recruiters. And I think recruiters that better understand and get excited about AI, they can get excited about generative AI."

“If you view a human as an algorithm, and you view AI as an algorithm, what do you trust as having less bias? We bring these biases into our organization, and it’s hard to unlearn those. But with AI, you can unlearn things, you can retrain it, and you can reduce bias in a way that you really can’t do with humans," Laurano added.

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Filtered, for sponsoring this webinar.

Matthew Koheler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.


RELATED STORIES

Developing Crucial Competencies Among Managers to Enhance Inclusion

To improve workplaces, leaders need to reevaluate how they are growing their managers and provide the proper support. In a From Day One webinar, Lydia Dishman, senior editor of growth and engagement at Fast Company, spoke with leaders about the strategies they’re taking to address skills gaps in their companies, especially those related to boosting workplace inclusion.Self-aware leaders display a higher level of confidence and empathy, resulting in stronger teams and effective leadership. Yet despite most leaders believing that they exhibit self-awareness, research shows only 10-15% of leaders are self-aware.The disparity comes from the challenge of displaying vulnerability, Khalil Smith, vice president of inclusion, diversity, and engagement at Akamai Technologies, says.“​​We need to be given at least an opportunity to have some of that autonomy to say, “I think that I can be better here or here,” Smith said. “It’s not a bad thing to say, ‘I do struggle with giving difficult feedback and that's not something that’s going to hold me back.’ This is different from being externally assessed because it builds the self-awareness that we need,” Smith said.By showing empathy for others, leaders can cultivate a safe work environment for others to grow, which can be a win-win situation for companies and employees. Singleton Beato, global executive vice president and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer at media group, McCann Worldgroup, says empathetic leaders can reap the benefits of a stronger team.Amanda Grow of ETU, Singleton Beato of McCann Worldgroup, Diana Navas-Rosette of Microsoft, and Khalil Smith of Akamai Technologies spoke in a panel moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company (photo by From Day One)“Being self-aware allows one to understand how to present constructive and corrective feedback in a way that isn’t demeaning to someone,” Beato said. “Doing so safely helps employees to feel that they have the support of the manager and helps them to be aware of not only whatever the correction needs to be but also to feel empowered to make that correction.”Leaning on Newer Learning MethodsWhen compared to traditional learning methods, researchers found immersive learning like VR training to yield better results and also positively impact employees’ performance. Amanda Grow, director of customer success at learning company, ETU, says learning simulations can also provide opportunities for employees to learn skills that may be difficult to learn in traditional settings.“One of the key elements in learning simulations is teaching people how to work through situations that they don't feel comfortable in,” Grow said. “Simulations have the ability to bring some of that emotion to life and make you feel uncomfortable or make you feel anxious.”During these simulations, employees dealing with challenging emotions have an opportunity to self-reflect on their emotions in a safe space, Grow says. “We want to teach people how to reflect and understand their internal processes,” Grow said. “That's going to be valuable if we want employees to improve their self-awareness.”Research found employees who have personal development opportunities are more engaged and have higher retention rates, showing how learning can play a large role in how employees perceive their work and growth.Whether it’s through traditional learning modules or providing a safe environment for employees to learn, leaders play an instrumental role in bridging the gaps. Diana Navas-Rosette, general manager of global diversity and inclusion solutions, communities, and activation at Microsoft, says that Microsoft is leaning on newer technology to offer personalized learning opportunities.“Simulations stand out as probably one of the most innovative solutions that we have in our portfolio right now. They are immersive and allow learners to practice the skills realistically and safely,” Navas-Rosette said. “A learner navigates through a simulation and then gets a report at the end that tells them what they did well and where they have areas of opportunities for them to grow. Employees can always come back and practice if they want to, allowing it to be a continuous relationship with a solution for them to build that skill set.”Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | May 21, 2024

How to Provide Fertility Benefits Without Breaking the Bank

Infertility impacts one in every six couples who are trying to conceive, according to the World Health Organization. “That number is staggering,” said Jenny Carillo, president of Ovia Health, who spoke in a recent From Day One webinar.“We’re seeing the average age of people who are trying to initiate their family building efforts increasing,” she told moderator Lydia Dishman. “People are now trying to conceive in their 30s and 40s, when they’re becoming less fertile.”However, a new report from Ovia Health suggests only 15% of employees have access to fertility benefits. “This benefit is very difficult to justify in terms of return on investment, and the reason why is that it’s crazy expensive,” said Arturo Arteaga, the senior director of total rewards at VCA Animal Hospitals.However, employees now see providing fertility benefits as their employer’s responsibility, says Kim Duck, VP of global benefits at News Corp. “I think it’s ramped up very, very quickly, where it used to be nice to have and now it is expected,” she said.That discussion began in the United States, but Duck said she was surprised how quickly it spread to global employees. “It’s just exploding everywhere,” she said. The Case for Fertility BenefitsOffering fertility benefits can be a difficult decision for employers because it serves only a small group of employees, says Arteaga. “You have to balance providing that benefit for a few or think of something else that can impact more people,” he said.However, 80% of the employees at VCA Animal Hospitals are women, so “it is something we need to do,” Arteaga said.Lydia Dishman of Fast Company moderated the panel on providing fertility benefits without breaking the bank (photo by From Day One)Even if a company offers fertility benefits, employees who use them still need to spend a lot of their own money to access care, says Arteaga. “But just imagine if you didn’t have the company helping you,” he said. “It’s just impossible for the majority of people.”For companies with difficulty recruiting new employees, fertility benefits can be a big advantage, says John Von Arb, VP of total rewards for Essentia Health.“We rely on our benefits as an employer of choice, and things like that encourage and incentivize individuals to come to us or to stay with us as we move forward,” he said.Fertility Benefits and the Continuum of CareHistorically, women’s reproductive health has been viewed as fragmented stages, such as conception, pregnancy, post-partum, and menopause, says Carillo.However, “the reality is this is a continuum of one’s life, and these periods of one’s life are connected to one’s whole health,” she said. “So, if we think about it from a whole health perspective, we’d like to anchor to the thought of prevention. And when you think about prevention, you’re able to really think about what preconception care looks like.”Carillo said helping employees be in a healthier place so they can conceive naturally is cost-effective compared to assisting them with fertility treatment costs.Providing benefits for young families doesn’t end after conception, says Duck. Some News Corps business units offer 20 weeks of parental leave that is gender agnostic.Essentia Health offers childcare support for mothers returning to work. Von Arb said this support is not just for day-shift employees, but also for those on the evening and overnight shifts. “All of those go with the broader context of family benefits,” he said.Talking to Employees About Fertility BenefitsInclusive language and inclusive perspectives are critical when talking to employees about fertility benefits, says Carillo. It’s important to be inclusive to men and the LBGTQ+ population seeking these treatments.Sometimes the male half of a heterosexual couple is only tested for infertility after healthcare providers have exhausted all the options for the woman in the relationship, says Arteaga. “I think that’s a cultural shift we have to change,” he said.Fortunately, younger generations are more open than older ones when it comes to discussing infertility, according to Von Arb. “Nothing is off the table,” he said. “I do think that it becomes a little easier for us to address some of these issues as we move forward, and frankly to communicate them a little more effectively, as there’s not a taboo around them.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Ovia Health, for sponsoring this webinar.Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa. 

Mary Pieper | May 10, 2024

Skills-Based Hiring: Getting Started and Overcoming Common Objections

It’s never been easier to put skills-based hiring into practice. The tools and the resources are there–and the potential benefits are abundant. And yet, some leaders and hiring managers are skeptical.“One of the major positives about the skills-based approach is that it adds more science and rigor to the hiring process,” said Christopher Rotolo, vice president of global talent at Mitek. Adding science, Rotolo says, adds objectivity, which can remove some of the bias and “increase the validity of the whole hiring process.”“The fact is that over 60% of people don’t have a college degree. But that hasn’t stopped employers from benchmarking candidates that way,” said moderator Lydia Dishman, senior editor for growth and engagement at Fast Company. Dishman moderated a panel of leaders during From Day One’s recent webinar about Skills-Based Hiring: Getting Started and Overcoming Uncommon Objections.Unconscious bias can easily creep into the hiring process when looking at a candidate’s resume, which can reveal indicators like elite educational opportunities, prestige, race, and even generational wealth, none of which are necessarily predictors of career success. Hiring almost exclusively on skill can help employers dial into what really matters.Rather than focusing on degrees, says Amanda Richardson, CEO and head of people at CoderPad, “You have to dissect the role into the skills that are needed, working with the hiring manager and people who are currently in the role. The most important part of the conversation is not just ‘What are the skills?’ but ‘What does good look like?’” This approach requires more in-depth conversations between hiring managers and department leaders to get a stronger sense of not only what success looks like, but how previous successes can be communicated during the interview process.“I find that taking a practical approach [means] literally saying, ‘What does a great answer sound like? Does this person really know what they're talking about?’” said Stacey Olive, VP of talent acquisition and employer branding for Medidata, Dassault Systemes.“Because there’s not an empirical objective test for everything, we really have to go based on our conversations with people.” This means hiring managers need to prepare upfront so they can infer if they’re hearing “flowery language” merely alluding to past success, or if a candidate actually has lived experience that will be beneficial to the role.Focusing on skills-based hiring isn’t just a great way to reduce unconscious bias, it can also make the hiring process quicker. “A little bit of upfront work on understanding and aligning on the skills and the level of the skills needed will actually make a much faster hiring experience,” Richardson said.Semoneel Bamboat, VP and global head of diversity, inclusion and talent acquisition at Capri Holdings, shares that while her organization has a rubric within which they score talent competencies on a scale of one to five, her team does not let the skill scoring fully dictate the conversation.“While we have numbers and rigor around it, nothing is set in stone,” she said. “The purpose of that really is so we can cast this wide net. We don’t want to be that specific, because we don’t want to then lose sight of someone that might not fit that exactly.” Skills-forward hiring should be used to identify previously untapped candidates, not a blanket way to eliminate unusual or creative choices that could be an interesting fit.Richardson adds that getting too technical in the taxonomy can overwhelm the conversation, especially as hiring managers try to parse the subtleties between junior and senior versions of the same role. “I've seen the situation where developers start arguing about the nuances of ‘What does it mean to be very proficient versus mildly proficient?’ And I think you can lose the forest for the trees pretty quickly.”Copying and pasting old job descriptions when looking to fill a role is no longer enough. Instead, there should be periodic check-ins to make sure descriptions are up-to-date as the nature of the work, and therefore the role, continues to evolve. Part of this can be solved by shortening and simplifying the job listing. “It tends to be a lengthy laundry list of desires and needs. Instead, employers should aim to distill it into ‘What is the required skill for success?’” Olive said.With an eye toward DEI, Bamboat’s organization uses short external job listings with neutral language, keeping the more elaborate and specific job description for internal use only among the hiring team. “We take a lot of the details out to be able to cast that wide net,” she said.“We never want to post the exact job and be very specific about those requirements, because we feel like we’re decreasing our talent pool.” Bamboat shared the well-known study that showed women tend to only apply for jobs where they feel they will fit every single benchmark. Shortening the list of requirements can make it more inclusive. Once candidates make it to the interview phase, the hiring manager can discuss the specific details from the full listing to gauge if it’s a fit.In conversation moderated by Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, the panelists discussed the topic “Skills-Based Hiring: Getting Started and Overcoming Common Objections” (photo by From Day One)Pamela Rodas, global senior director of talent acquisition at Telus International, hires for a company with more than 3,000 types of job profiles, all of which are changing rapidly as her organization embraces hybrid workplaces and remote opportunities. In turn, she and her team must change how they assess skills. For example, her newer sales development hires may not have been exposed to an in-person environment where they could hone their technique. Therefore, she finds herself hiring more for soft skills or what Dishman prefers to call power skills, especially as the post-pandemic corporate environment has higher than ever expectations. “All of our clients want to go faster. So forget about skills, do you know how to do the job and do it in less time?” Rodas said.Trying to identify those more amorphous qualities, like being a fast learner, in a candidate can be a challenge. Panelists offered two solutions. The first is reviewing case studies. “To identify these characteristics that lead to outstanding performance, you study what those outstanding performers do,” Rotolo said.The second, is conducting actual testing during the hiring process. “Work simulations can be helpful, whether that means programming together for two hours or sitting and doing a sales demo. What are those real-world experiences where you can actually test the proof points?” Richardson said. Just having a great conversation in an interview is not necessarily enough.But the interview process can still be helpful if you are asking the right questions. “The research still says that behaviorally based questions are the most valid. And there’s really two types: ‘Tell me about a time when’’ past experiences, or situational questions,” Rotolo said.Rodas believes it’s also important to have an honest conversation about the nature of the role and pay attention to the applicant’s response. “The recruiter can [now] spend more time with the candidate talking about how they would endure the type of workload we’re going to put on them. In any type of business today, that’s worth 10 times more,” she said.This also means asking the right questions internally too, to ensure there is no unconscious bias at play and that a candidate’s competency is still at the forefront. “We have an opportunity now to ask [hiring managers], ‘What's the basis of your decision?’” Olive said. “You have to understand and politely point out where you think you see bias happening.”Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost, Honeysuckle Magazine, and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | March 19, 2024