2017 global human capital trends

Talent acquisition

Enter the cognitive recruiter

February 28, 2017

​Recruiting is becoming a digital experience as candidates come to expect convenience and mobile contact. Savvy recruiters now have access to new technologies to forge connections with candidates and strengthen the employment brand.


Talent sourcing and recruitment face tremendous pressure. Talent and skill shortages are widespread. Employees are demanding new careers and career models. And technologies and innovations—including cognitive, artificial intelligence, social collaboration, crowds, and the sharing economy—are reshaping the workforce. Leading companies are turning the open talent economy into an opportunity by embracing technologies and developing new models that make innovative use of on- and off-balance-sheet talent sources.

  • Attracting skilled resources is no longer simply the responsibility of HR. It now stands as a top concern of business leaders, ranking third in our survey this year.
  • More than 8 in 10 (83 percent) executives say talent acquisition is important or very important.

Finding talent both on- and off-balance sheet has moved far beyond traditional recruiting to encompass the broader scope of talent acquisition (TA). Once the sole domain of HR, TA now involves multiple teams across the organization. Adding to the complexity, the accelerating pace of technology offers a dizzying array of new solutions, even as the nature and sources of talent markets continue to shift. Current platforms struggle to adapt because many are too old to integrate emerging technologies, capabilities, and needs.

Talent acquisition: Percentage of respondents rating this trend “important” or “very important”

Building a strategic and digital employment brand

In today’s transparent digital world, a company’s employment brand must be both highly visible and highly attractive because candidates now often find the employer, not the reverse. To leverage this interest, companies are intensively managing their employment brand, which can “pull” candidates toward them.

Creating an attractive employment brand involves a complex mix of forces. One major factor is the overall workforce experience, which requires high levels of engagement and strong career opportunities. In fact, outreach campaigns to educate and attract candidates may be just as important as customer-focused advertising. Heineken, for example, developed a series of unconventional videos and web interviews to highlight the employee experience and set the company apart.1

Employers must also reconsider how they communicate their value proposition to the workforce. Dell’s Global Talent Brand and Tools team completely redesigned the company’s global career websites to include consistent messaging and images. The team also launched a job search optimization site and an aggressive campaign of candidate-focused content featuring blog posts and a wide range of videos. These were posted on the company’s career sites, its YouTube channel, and other employee- and candidate-focused sites, such as Glassdoor. The videos, which included employees talking about their experiences at Dell, reached a wide array of social networks.2

Leveraging new technologies—from social to cognitive

The biggest disruptor in talent acquisition today is experimentation with tech solutions and services. With over 70 percent of TA systems coming from third-party providers, vendors are actively seeking to capitalize on these new technologies.3 Many of these are evolving toward cognitive capabilities that build on mobile and cloud technologies, as well as social networks such as LinkedIn. Some of the larger HR systems, such as Workday and Oracle, are building solutions that feed into even bigger systems.

The more innovative ideas and solutions are centered around cognitive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine-to-machine learning, robotic process automation, natural language processing, predictive algorithms, and self-learning. Chatbots are becoming popular, including the recently launched Olivia, which guides candidates through an application process with sequenced questions.4

While cognitive TA is currently the domain of mostly small, single-solution start-ups, IBM’s AI pioneer, Watson, is now moving into the space with three new technologies: a machine learning platform that ranks the priority of open requisitions; social listening for an organization’s and competitors’ publicly available reviews on Glassdoor, Twitter, and newsfeeds; and a tool that matches candidates to jobs through a “fit score” based on career experiences and skills. These technologies take pre-existing social data and information and then apply advanced cognitive capabilities to deliver actionable analysis.

Predictive analytics is increasingly important to TA, as sophisticated analytics teams begin to prioritize recruiting workflows, conduct workforce planning, evaluate different recruiting sources, assess quality of hire, and use pre-hire assessments. Companies that are not prioritizing analytics do so at their own risk.

PredictiveHire, a cloud-based SaaS analytics solution provider, found that one of its Australian clients could have saved 1.1 million Australian dollars by using a pre-hire assessment tool. Without the tool, the client hired 80 people over 12 months but lost 800,000 Australian dollars on those appointments, as measured in people costs offset by the revenues they generated.5

The applicant tracking system (ATS)—which has traditionally been an immense TA filing cabinet—is being reinvented by innovative solution providers. These providers are augmenting the ATS with other TA technologies, including candidate relationship management, video interviewing, and analytics. For example, HR software company Lever has reimagined the ATS to pivot around candidate relationship management, offering built-in, real-time reporting across all pipelines and recruiting functions.

Forward-looking organizations are also beginning to employ simulations and gaming to connect with talent, particularly Millennials, and analyze whether candidates are primed to succeed in a given role. However, few are fully utilizing these capabilities. Just 6 percent of surveyed global business leaders say their company is excellent at using gaming and simulations to attract and assess potential candidates, and 71 percent of respondents rate their company as weak. (See figure 2.)

Respondents’ ratings of their ability to use games and simulations to attract and assess potential candidates

Using video as a tool for a compelling candidate experience

The candidate experience is the first phase of the broader employee experience. Yet only 15 percent of global business leaders surveyed this year believe their companies do an excellent job cultivating and monitoring long-term relationships with potential future talent.

Video is emerging as a tool to address this challenge by enabling a more compelling candidate experience. SAP, for example, uses cartoons and video games to illustrate life at the company in an engaging way.6 Other organizations are reimagining the age-old job description in a video format. Job postings on Facebook that feature videos receive 36 percent more applications.7

Video is also transforming interviews. AI and a video interview may be better able to identify promising candidates than a traditional interview, saving money and reducing time-to-hire. For example, Hilton used a video interviewing platform to cut its recruiting cycle from six weeks to just five days.8 Video interviewing can reduce pre-hire assessment questions from 200 to just 5 and raises the possibility of one-interview hires.

Indeed, a consensus is emerging that traditional interviewing—subjective and unstandardized—may be an unreliable method for predicting a potential employee’s success. Just as blind musical auditions increased the number of women in American orchestras, efforts to control unconscious bias are on the rise in business.9

From credentials to skills

To judge whether candidates will be effective, employers are shifting their focus from checking credentials to confirming skills. More than a quarter of global business leaders we surveyed (29 percent) are using games and simulations to attract and assess potential candidates, but only 6 percent think they are performing excellently. Many organizations are turning to job simulation software, which can improve hiring by giving candidates tasks they would do on the job. Still others are using video to demonstrate skills. Skill Scout produces a short job video that serves as a “job post in motion,” allowing candidates to preview what the job is like and the skills required.10

Veterans are a prime example of how technology can identify valuable skills in overlooked talent pools. This group has many of the skills employers need but may lack the certification credentials that many businesses require. Many organizations are now using military “translators” in which veterans can enter their military job code and title and translate their military skills into civilian terms.11

Finally, consumer-facing brands are finding ways to reject candidates without damaging their reputation. To keep rejected candidates positively engaged, Ericsson partnered with third-party vendor CareerArc to create a company-branded job placement portal, launched in 2016, called Candidate Care. Rejected candidates receive a letter inviting them to take advantage of the job placement portal; once registered, participants can learn skills to improve their résumés, boost their interview skills, learn how to leverage personal networks, and improve their job-searching skills. The Candidate Care placement portal has been a huge success, with 98 percent of eligible participants electing to sign up for the platform.12

Optimizing sourcing channels

Organizations employ many sourcing strategies to attract and engage top talent. A company’s own employees deliver the highest-quality candidates, with over half of surveyed organizations (51 percent) citing employee referrals as one of their top three channels, followed by professional networking sites (42 percent) and internal candidates (40 percent).13 In 2014, only 12 percent of surveyed global business leaders thought their usage of social tools for sourcing and advertising positions was excellent; this number has more than doubled, to 28 percent.

In the open talent economy, technology allows talent to move more freely than before—from role to role, within and outside the enterprise, and across organizational and geographic boundaries. Organizations that are leveraging open talent are partnering with temporary labor marketplace companies such as ShiftGig and BountyJobs, e-staffing agencies such as HIRED and CloserIQ, freelance management systems such as OnForce and JobBliss, and crowdsourced recruitment systems such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Gigwalk.14

Our global survey this year found capabilities relative to new sourcing and talent pools to be among the weakest reported. More than half of surveyed global business leaders (53 percent) report weak capabilities in relation to gig and talent economy resources, and only 8 percent rate their companies’ ability to manage crowdsourcing as excellent. (See figure 3.) Improving these capabilities will determine which businesses can attract needed talent and which struggle to identify and incorporate in-demand skills.

Respondent ratings of sub-capabilities related to talent acquisition

Optimizing the talent acquisition operating model

Many big organizations have embraced shared services for HR, yet when it comes to recruiting, local hiring managers tend to work largely alone with the help of local recruiters or HR professionals. Given the expense, corporate HR is the most likely choice to invest in the talent acquisition products that can make the company stand out. And that’s likely to be money well spent. Companies can support this new approach to talent acquisition by starting with a degree of centralization to gain the benefit of scale and efficiency and, more importantly, create a strong and competitively differentiated candidate experience.

Lessons from the front lines

Global consumer products giant Unilever is combining gamification and video interviewing to create an all-digital graduate recruiting process, simplified into four easy steps.15

First, candidates complete a short online form tied to their LinkedIn profiles—no résumés needed. Second, candidates spend 20 minutes on a series of games that are available on computers, tablets, or smartphones. Working with gamification solution provider Pymetrics, the Unilever TA team developed 13 games that provide insight into various capabilities such as problem solving, personality, and communication style. After completing the games, all candidates receive a personalized feedback report.

Only candidates selected by the Pymetrics program move on to the third step: recording a video interview. Unilever uses HireVue for its video interviewing platform, which digitally assesses and ranks the video interviews to determine candidate fit. The strongest candidates then move on to the fourth step, when they are invited to a Discovery Centre for an in-person “day in the life at Unilever” simulation.

Unilever proudly announced the transformation of its graduate recruitment process on its website: “Good news for new grads—that time you spent on Minecraft and World of Warcraft may have actually been time well spent. Unilever has digitized its recruitment process and 20 minutes of gaming is now part of the mix.”16

While the process is in its early stages, Unilever recruiters are reporting significant improvements in the hiring process. Under the old system, recruiters screened six candidates to put one through the process; now recruiters are screening two candidates to put one through all the four steps.17

Another large employer in the retail industry was struggling with high employee turnover, a lack of focus on the candidate experience, and overall brand/social presence as it tried to raise the level of talent in the organization. Most of its workers were nonexempt hourly staff. Hiring managers on the line were burdened with high volumes, especially at seasonal peaks; to avoid getting overwhelmed, they were taking people on with little regard to talent development. Potential new sources of talent were left untapped.

The company decided to implement a new human capital management software package to replace its hodgepodge of manual and automated systems. But the software wasn’t enough—HR needed to get involved to show line supervisors the importance of managing talent over time, from hiring through orientation and beyond. HR set up a centralized recruiting center to pre-screen candidates for individual stores. It also established a series of standardized processes to make sure candidates didn’t fall through the cracks and would enjoy a better and more consistent experience. New employees were set up with learning plans as part of their onboarding, and HR took note of their competencies and career interests.

By centralizing the employee data, HR was able to move the organization toward an “open market” approach to talent and mobility. This helped not just with retaining current employees but with attracting outside candidates, driving a consistent candidate experience across the enterprise that better aligned with the company’s talent strategy and desired reputation in the marketplace.

As this large employer found, technology isn’t enough to elevate a company’s recruiting experience. To help ensure a steady flow of talent into the organization and create an approach that delights candidates, especially with the job market tightening, companies should start with a broader perspective on hiring through the lens of the candidate. They can no longer afford to rely on local managers to represent the company.

Start here

  • Leverage new technologies:The world of recruiting is becoming a digital experience—perhaps leading the pack among the rest of HR processes—as candidates come to expect convenience and mobile experiences. Explore the value of cognitive tools, video, and gaming, especially when they build on social networks and the cloud.
  • Build a digital employment brand: Everything an organization does in the digital and socially networked world affects candidates’ decision to work there. Be sure to monitor and align messaging across sites and experiences.
  • Create a compelling candidate experience: Put yourself into the candidates’ shoes: What is unique about your organization that can add richness to the candidate experience? What qualities both set your company apart and make it more attractive to candidates?
  • Broaden and expand sourcing channels: Open up talent pipelines to nontraditional sources. Think about how best to source and recruit for the many types of talent needed, both on and off the balance sheet, including full- and part-time employees, freelancers, gig workers, and crowds.
  • Integrate sourcing: Talent acquisition sourcing should be connected across HR, business, procurement, IT, and other functions. Move beyond silos toward coordinated talent sourcing channels.

Fast forward

Accelerating digital, video, and cognitive technologies and ever-increasing transparency are quickly changing how recruiters find and court skilled employees. Rather than continuing to focus on sourcing and selection, recruiters are now relationship builders and managers. They are looking to enable a positive candidate experience for new employees—a task that requires both new responsibilities and new skills.

Savvy recruiters will continue to embrace new TA technologies and hone their relationship-building skills. Indeed, this is the promise of cognitive recruiting. As AI and other technologies take over the basic, time-consuming tasks of sourcing candidates, human jobs will shift. A recruiter in this new world can add value by building psychological and emotional connections with candidates and constantly strengthening the employment brand.

Talent acquisition: Old rules vs. new rules

Originally published at Deloitte Insights

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