When was the last time you popped your portfolio into a post box? We can’t remember either. In the meantime, sending applications via email or online portals has become the norm. But what’s in store for us when robots ask us the questions or an algorithm evaluates our facial expressions? Prof. Dr. Ernestine Schafmann currently heads the new master’s program in Human Resources Management & Digital Transformation and explains to us the role of digitalisation in modern-day recruiting.
Prof. Dr. Schafmann, digitalisation is changing every area of work. What role does it play in the application process?
The traditional paper-based portfolio system is now obsolete in most companies. It has become standard practice for applicants to send their documents via email or using an online form on the company’s website. Recruiting has been transformed immensely by the Internet’s impact, the reshaping of our information and media behaviour and various HR market changes. To put it bluntly, you could say: No staff recruitment without digital technologies. Modern recruiting processes need to become faster and easier, thereby relying on artificial intelligence, big data and algorithms even more than is currently the case. We are still at the beginning of a fundamental transition.
How is digital recruiting implemented at present?
Many companies are busy optimising their mobile career websites or online job ads. Seeing as we now use our smartphones for almost everything in our lives, it’s obvious to also look for jobs on the go. In fact, surveys show that mobile recruiting is particularly popular with the younger generation of digital natives. Ideally, candidates can simply import the current profile from a career network into the database of the desired employer or send it by email. Direct application via smartphone has been proven to lower the inhibition threshold, accelerate the application process and increase the attractiveness of the employer. However, acceptance from companies is still a hurdle that remains a challenge. This is where recruiters need to become much more flexible with regard to the documents and, for example, enable brief applications via a social media profile.
Some employers like to test candidates in a playful manner. What’s the idea behind the gamification trend in recruiting?
Gamification or also Recrutainment is an important, albeit no longer completely new trend, which focuses on the media and leisure behaviour of the applicants and consistently utilises the possibilities of digitalisation. The approach cleverly combines enjoyable and entertaining elements with scientific tests or diagnostic selection procedures. It’s therefore possible, for example, to carry out an online assessment and to assess a potential candidate’s suitability for the job without deterring them in advance.
Germany is often accused of sleepwalking its way towards a digitalisation cliff. Is this also true in the human resources sector?
Digital applications are now also run-of-the-mill in Germany. Algorithm-based solutions, such as robot recruiting and chatbots as digital career advisers, are increasingly being used by companies to make the application process faster, more targeted and easier. The main exception is still the application of AI-supported video and speech analyses. For example, Unilever applies the ‘HireVue’ program that utilises algorithms to predict a candidate’s future performance based on a video recording of the actual candidate. The Talanx insurance group has been using the ‘PRECIRE’ language analysis software for pre-selecting staff for some time now. This is actually quite controversial among experts. Ultimately, there’s a lack of trust and there are doubts about the maturity of the systems. Not always without good reason, especially if you consider that Amazon has apparently just scrapped its automatic application vetting system because the AI recruiting tool systematically disadvantaged women. Advocates of this method argue, however, that a well programmed algorithm can make decisions more objectively. It’s more than likely that developments in recruiting will continue to speed up in Germany.
What are the limits of digital application processes?
There’s no doubt that the digitalisation of recruiting will continue. But will robots soon be picking members of staff? That’s unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future. Innovative technologies help to make the recruiting process more efficient, transparent and effective. They support the identification of potential candidates, proper addressing at the right time, candidate management and staff selection. But algorithm-based solutions still reach their limits, at least today, when it comes to evaluating soft skills, uncovering hidden talents and forming a realistic impression of a person’s character. The human factor will probably always play a decisive role in this respect.
Interview: Laura Krause