A Digital Brave New World or Are We Human?

Posted in : HR Updates on 2 September 2020
Hugh McPoland
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered: Recruitment and Selection; Policies and Procedures

As we move out of the current public health emergency it is a good time to reflect on recruitment practices both in the past and perhaps and to the future. 

The digital utopia that many articulate,  would suggest that future recruitment will be based on a series of algorithms which will sort through not only the soft copies of application forms but also in a dystopian way the social media profile of potential applicants. This would all be in the name of progress, efficiency and effective selection.

Having shortlisted and reduced the number of candidates to a reasonable number to interview we would then virtually connect with them through Zoom, Skype Microsoft Teams or as yet undeveloped communication apps, which will enable the candidate to be assessed by their non-verbal communications. Facial and trait recognition software will empower recruiters to ensure that we have the right candidate.

However, I think the actual reality may be somewhat different. Thirty years ago Brian Carlin a former chairman of my employer at the time and former vice president of HR in Shorts, Bombardier, provided an insight to me that has proven itself correct through the passage of time over the last 30 years.  It is that “we appoint on experience or qualification and dismiss on behaviours. Over that time we have seen the rise of competency-based interviews, behavioural interviews, value-based interviews, strengths-based interviews, occupational psychological assessment and many other techniques which proven to be passing phases as we strive as HR professionals to find the best way to identify future employees either for ourselves or our clients.

There is no doubt that technology will improve the efficiency of processing of applications but there is undoubtedly a need for personal interaction in that process which can only come through a face to face meeting.  Imagine a hospital appointing a consultant surgeon without seeing them. I have a sense that many people are tiring already of the novelty of resume interviews or Microsoft Teams and you're desperate for a basic social interaction - that makes us human.

However, what is the future? I believe that the future is like the present - multi-layered and quite conditional on the type of job that is being recruited. Given our experience on the essential value of low paid workers to our society why should we not spend a little more time on their recruitment. Too often much of our debate as recruiters is about the white-collar office based professional roles. What about the warehouse worker who has demonstrated their intrinsic value to our society; why should their application be dismissed with an on-line questionnaire while we have to go through more detailed assessment processes for auditors, management consultants and other such jobs. Is it time to fundamentally treat people as people and think about that dystopian future of algorithmic based virtual recruitment? 

The coronavirus has also highlighted a major forthcoming issue for recruiters the impact of the current generation of school children. Many have adapted to the virtual world through telecommunications and technology communications, but others are struggling probably in a manner which is as yet unquantified. These people will be our future employees and we will need to ensure that our recruitment systems take account of their lived experience and its impacts. We have already adopted our processes to take account of the Millennials coming into the workforce and the implications of their attitude of wanting to “work to live” rather than previous generations attitudes of “living to work”.

So, in five years’ time, how will we be recruiting our future employees - assuming of course that digital utopia of automation and artificial intelligence have not replaced all the jobs that we need and recognise today. Will the digital utopia that is evolving mean that school children will be added to multiple databases along with University graduates which would be stratified to take account of the occupational classification of the work they seek and or are qualified for and their academic qualifications and these databases along with AI scraping of social media profiles and activity be how we do it?

Is that truly what we want for ourselves or for our children and future generations? In truth future recruitment is likely to be similar to what we do now, we will seek potential employees using digital platforms and subject to legal protections try to use artificial intelligence to come to a better understanding of their social values and potential future behaviours by looking at their past actions and opinions. We will then bring forward that select group of people from further consideration and depending on the type of work that's required to look at them in more detail. At this point, I hear in the background the Killers song “Human” and particularly the lyrics,

 Pay my respects to grace and virtue

 Send my condolences to good

 Give my regards to soul and romance

 They always did the best they could

 And so long to devotion

 You taught me everything I know

 Wave goodbye

 Wish me well

You got to let me go

Are we human?

Or are we dancer?

My sign is vital

My hands are cold And I'm on my knees

Looking for the answer

Are we human? Or are we dancer

Or in this context as recruiters are, we are algorithmic?

I really do believe that as we are human, we need to deal with people on a human interaction level and there will be nothing that can fully replace conversations that we will have with people in an interview format. That format will change as we continue to develop the multiplicity of competence frameworks for different types of jobs many of which are effectively “old wine in new bottles”.

Ultimately, the questions that try to answer in the interview process are:

  • will we be able to work with this person;
  • will they be able to align themselves to share our ideas;
  • will they contribute with our current teams to provide organisational success be it dividend returns to owners, return on investment for shareholders or the delivery of better public services for the population and taxpayers?

And sometimes the algorithm does not do that. 


This article is correct at 04/11/2020

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Hugh McPoland
Clarendon Executive

The main content of this article was provided by Hugh McPoland. Contact telephone number is 028 9072 5750 or email hugh.mcpoland@clarendonexecutive.com

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