Business comment: Why AI isn’t the future for applicants or employers

Technology is a wonderful thing and comes in many forms – along with intrigue and, at times, bewilderment as to how it works.

Euan Cameron, CEO and founder of Scottish tech start-up Willo.

Even those who reckon they have a good handle on tech have grappled with the more recent phenomenon of the digital world in which we have all been forced to live over the last year.

The digital line has been well and truly drawn. Zoom – how many people had heard of it pre-pandemic? – and Microsoft Teams are just two forms of communication adopted by businesses forced to embrace different ways of working in a world that we call the “new normal”.

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Remote working, however, doesn’t just extend to doing your job from home – what if you are recruiting or looking for a job? How do you interview candidates effectively without that crucial face-to-face interaction? I know that many companies – and candidates – have struggled with the process.

Enter AI to assist with some of those difficult judgment calls. Really? It’s certainly worthy of debate. Technology has role to play in streamlining the recruitment process but is automating the application process and handing over the early part of the decision-making process the best solution? It might be for some businesses and, according to a recent BBC article, multinationals including McDonald’s and accountancy firm PwC are already using AI software in their initial recruitment stages.

Scroll through your LinkedIn feed and it won’t be long before you read a post from someone who has applied for countless jobs yet not heard back. This confirms that the typical candidate experience is pretty awful. Application forms go deep into a database never to be seen again – after candidates have had to spend hours completing them and sitting tests for which they are given a score, the criteria of which are unknown.

This gives recruitment a bad name. Candidates are becoming numbers within a database. This is toxic and is leading to businesses treating people – their most valuable resource – as a capital asset. So, maybe AI recruitment software is the answer? Is this fair?

Well, using AI in recruitment isn’t entirely new and many companies have turned to it in some shape or form during the Covid-19 – people have lost their jobs because of the pandemic so it’s no surprise that companies are receiving a far higher number of applications than they would have expected pre-pandemic.

But interestingly, my company, Willo, has carried out research that confirms 60 per cent of businesses with AI screening tools are not using them. A little bit about Willo. We’re a Scottish video interview platform created specifically to streamline large recruitment processes while ensuring human interaction and judgement remains part of the process at every stage.

In our world of remote working from home – from anywhere world, in fact – the days of going into an office for a one-hour interview are gone. The Willo vision, mission and values is centred around our belief that amazing talent can come from anywhere. Yes, if you’re based in Edinburgh or Glasgow or Dundee or Inverness it could well be that the best people for your business live in your city.

But equally they could be on the other side of the world. That’s where the Willo platform comes in: we enable businesses to connect with talented people wherever they are, on any device and in their time zone. We’ve hired people ourselves having never met them face to face and it works. And in the first two months of this year over 5,000 people have completed a virtual interview in 138 countries – 98 per cent rated the experience nine out of ten.

It works as a standalone system or as part of a hiring tech stack with partnerships with Greenhouse and Workable, as well as Zapier to really automate things. To say I get my kicks from coming up with, and executing systems and solutions which help businesses scale through efficiency and automation, is an understatement.

And for us, it’s about focusing on how technology can enhance the human aspects of the hiring process. Because let’s not forgot that every business has people at its core. Good employers should encourage candidates to show their personality – candidates should be given the opportunity to say why they should be hired.

While using AI in your recruitment process may help you whittle down hundreds of applications and save hours of your time, it won’t shine a spotlight on that great person who slips through the net because they don’t give the desired answer to a computer-generated question.

The pandemic has taught us that in 2021 and in the future, businesses should take a team-first approach – that involves putting a lot more effort into hiring the best people. We believe that can only be done through a collaborative interviewing process.

We’re a growing company. Last year, we raised £250,000 in seed. Since April 2020, our video interview software has grown by at least 30 per cent per month.

It’s time for businesses to push the button and embrace technology in a positive way. As we emerge from lockdown, there will be a gradual return to the workplace with many businesses adopting a hybrid of both office and remote working. That will be a positive change for many companies and part of the recruitment process, for some, will return to physical, face-to-face interviews.

For others, however, it has changed forever and platforms such as ours will become the only way that people apply for jobs in the future. So, are we saying goodbye to CVs and long, drawn-out application forms? That’s certainly our vision at Willo.- Euan Cameron is the CEO and founder of Scottish tech start-up Willo

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