UK candidate attraction survey findings

A new report commissioned by Eploy, in association with HR & Recruitment Grapevine, has revealed some interesting findings for how candidates are sourced by sector and how successful sourcing channels are in generating the right quantity and quality of candidates.

The UK Candidate Attraction Survey 2017, now in its second year, surveyed over 700 UK recruiters from both in-house and agency across various industries, sectors and size of organisation. The aims were to:

  • Discover the biggest challenges in candidate sourcing
  • Identify which sources of candidates provide the best quantity / quality
  • Compare differences between in-house & agency strategies and tactics
  • Identify differences within specific business sectors & company sizes
  • Assess the impact of recruitment marketing tactics on candidate attraction

Sourcing channels analysed include Company Website/Careers Site, Professional Social Networks, Generalist Job Boards, Specialist Job Boards, Employee Referrals, CV Databases, Social Media, Employee Referrals, Print and ATS/CRM.

Both in-house and agency recruiters were asked to rate each of the sourcing channels they use on a regular basis for the quantity of candidates they generate and the quality of candidates they provide.

These responses were then analysed and presented visually in a quadrant by sector to illustrate the results. An example of this is shown here.

The midpoint of the quadrants would indicate a marketing channel that is producing sufficient numbers of candidates of average quality.


Summary of the key findings of the report:

1. Scarcity of qualified candidates is still the #1 challenge for recruiters. Although down from last year (70%), 62% of in-house recruiters report the lack of suitably qualified, skilled or experienced candidates is still their biggest issue.

2. There is a squeeze on recruitment marketing budgets. In the hospitality, leisure and tourism industry – as well as the government, not-for-profit and charity sectors, a lack of recruitment marketing budget is forcing in-house recruiters to do ‘more with less’ – 36% of in-house recruiting teams cited this as an issue.

3. Recruitment content marketing drives careers site improvements. Companies with an active recruitment content marketing strategy also have the best performing careers sites. The more content they publish, the higher the quantity and quality of candidate applications they receive.

4. You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Only a third of in-house recruiters regularly measure the effectiveness of their sourcing channels. But those that do see significantly improved returns across every sourcing channel except for job boards.

5. Health and social care in talent attraction crisis? The health and social care sector is struggling to find the right mix of talent across all sourcing channels. Candidate scarcity is a huge issue affecting 78% of recruitment teams in this sector. This sector also can’t rely on professional social networks to identify suitable talent.

6. Only 50% of in-house recruiters market to their existing candidate database. We found that only half of in-house recruitment teams can match new jobs with candidates they already have in their talent CRM or ATS. Agencies rank their candidate database as the number one source for both quality and quantity – it’s the #1 source for 94% of agencies.

7. Social Media continues to disappoint, but Professional Social Networks excel. As with the 2016 survey, Social Media consistently lags behind in candidate attraction despite being used by 64% of in-house recruiters and 67% of agencies, while professional social networks like LinkedIn perform well in many sectors and industries.

8. Job Boards providing uncertain results. While both generalist and specialist job boards are regularly used for sourcing candidates, results are mixed. And while specialist boards rank high for candidate quality recruiters who regularly measure their performance report the reality is somewhat less impressive.

9. Employee Referrals generate the greatest candidate quality. Once again employee referrals are ranked number one for candidate quality, with 70% of in-house teams having an active referral programme, but this comes at the expense of quantity – even for the largest organisations.

10. Company Careers Sites improve with scale. Still the most utilised sourcing channel, used by 94% of in-house recruiters, posting jobs to your company website or dedicated careers site alone can’t be relied upon to generate the levels of candidates required – except for larger organisations.

The full report shows some interesting results across industries/company size and provides actionable insight for recruiters on both sides of the recruiting fence.

You can download your free copy of the Candidate Attraction Report 2017 and examine each channel based on company size and industry sector on the link below.

Full article on HRGrapevine

Employers must use data to tackle ‘absolutely dire’ levels of BAME staff

Policies and good intentions will not be enough to drive change, expert panel agrees

British businesses must be persuaded or forced to publish data on the numbers of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees in their ranks to tackle a ‘dire’ lack of inclusion, according to an influential panel.

A requirement to account for the level of racial diversity among employees – potentially alongside mandatory reporting of race pay gaps – may be the only way to effect genuine change, experts told a CIPD event in London.

The panel was convened to discuss a recent CIPD report that laid bare some of the barriers to BAME progression inside businesses. The report found that BAME staff were three times more likely than their white British colleagues to feel discrimination had held them back, and were also more likely to report that their career had failed to meet their expectations.

“The position is absolutely dire,” said Iain Wright, former MP and chair of the parliamentary business select committee, who now chairs the CIPD’s Policy Forum. “Eight per cent of directors of FTSE 100 companies have a BAME background, but that is an international field. Only 1.5 per cent are British citizens.

“It is good business practice that if your workforce, senior management team and board look like the society you are interacting with, your business benefits – not just wider society.”

The stats were “horrendous”, added Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, author of an influential government report on race in business that made recommendations for a strong reporting regime on BAME inclusion.

“Whatever sector you are in, if you are of a BAME background and get a job at an entry level, you might be lucky enough to be promoted once but then the stats fall through the floor,” said McGregor-Smith.

BAME employees were three times more likely to say that having a supportive line manager would be key to improving their development and career progression, according to the CIPD report. The panel discussed better line manager training, the importance of role models, and the role of employee networks and mentoring.

But data may be the most powerful lever in improving the bigger picture, the panel agreed. “If organisations published their data once every year and said where they stood and what interventions they were making, I genuinely think it would make a big difference,” said McGregor-Smith. “Every chief executive should have targets and incentives aligned to change [in this area].”

CIPD adviser Dr Jill Miller added: “Some organisations are sitting on a huge amount of data that is not being interrogated – who’s applying for jobs, who’s being hired, who’s being promoted.” She said the CIPD would support the idea of mandatory race pay reporting, modelled on the nascent gender pay reporting regime.

The event heard that the Civil Service has made BAME inclusion and progression a priority. It wants to be the country’s most inclusive employer, and Suzanne Semedo, Cabinet Office lead on diversity, said it was attacking the issue from numerous angles, including data, creating a centre of excellence for research into the topic and working with employee networks.

“As soon as we get into middle manager level, we see a dramatic drop in [BAME] representation,” said Semedo. “It’s not a question of lack of talent – it’s about welcoming that talent and removing barriers to getting them into senior posts. There is hidden BAME talent in organisations – ethnic minorities are likely to have more professional qualifications, for example, than some groups of white people, but is that being recognised?”

Ultimately, concluded McGregor-Smith, the situation depends on visible and successful BAME leaders taking the inclusion agenda to heart: “Nothing will change until we have more BAME people [in positions of power]. Great inclusive policies aren’t good enough. You can’t have a policy that says you’re going to be great on race until you have someone in an executive capacity with a BAME background. Not a tick-box non-executive role, but a senior operational role.”

Full article on CIPD

Technology drivers – efficiencies and candidate engagement

Chatbots and career pages are the future of hiring, say experts

Technology and the need for a human touch dominate agenda at The Recruitment Conference 2017

Chatbots and candidate experience apps will become hugely significant mainstream recruitment technologies in 2018 – but the human touch will arguably become more important than ever.

That was the verdict of some of the industry’s most celebrated names, who gathered at The Recruitment Conference 2017 in London this week to ponder the future of the function amid a technological and cultural revolution.

Outlining some of the fast-emerging trends that are reshaping recruitment, Hung Lee, influential blogger and CEO of, described a time of “disruptive change” in which some of the world’s largest technology business had turned their attention to recruitment. The advent of Google Hire – a cloud-based applicant tracking system – and the Google for Jobs search engine has coincided with the integration of LinkedIn with the Outlook email platform and Microsoft’s new Resume Assistant, an attempt to standardise CV data and job descriptions, said Lee.

But, he added, that has opened the door to some decidedly traditional tools: “Career pages will return to relevance – because that’s what Google wants. Google for Jobs is designed for jobseekers first; they’re going to try and prioritise how jobs are described.” Better career pages, said Lee, were a way to cut through bad data, avoid duplication and prevent republishing of job information by aggregators: “Recruiters have to give their career pages a lot more attention. They are one of the most neglected parts of recruiting.”

The use of chatbots, said Lee, would be “ubiquitous” over the year ahead. “We believed a chatbot would replace a human recruiter by having a fully fledged conversation with a candidate. It won’t – human beings don’t respond well to first contact from someone who’s not a human. But it does replace an FAQ.” That might mean answering questions about where a role is based, what the pay structure looks like or what the visa requirements are.

A chatbot recruitment assistant, said Lee, might deal with people through the later stages of the recruitment process, while ‘customer candidate experience apps’ would help guide potential hires through interview and assessment stages and keep them engaged by introducing them to people in the business.

In this new world, according to the conference speakers, traditional recruitment roles would be replaced by brand evangelists, audience builders and community managers. But it would be important, too, to consider some profound questions about talent attraction. Steve Ward of CloudNine Recruitment said ‘unsexy’ brands needed to work harder to stand out, but could learn to use online tools to their advantage.

“Very few people love your brand because of your jobs,” said Ward. “It’s much more about what you represent as an organisation, or the uniqueness of your people or products. Too often, all we do is talk to them about jobs. That’s not enough to persuade people to join you.”

Ward outlined several strategies that could help less glamorous businesses punch above their weight in recruitment, including the use of content written by senior managers to engage very niche audiences. One blog he commissioned from a senior leader at a B2B marketing firm was viewed 170 times, but led to four people joining because it was highly tailored and influential in its industry: “It reached the right people. They would have paid about £70,000 for those hires if they’d gone through the usual route.”

Dave Hazlehurst, director of client services at Ph.Creative, urged the audience to use stories to grab candidates’ attention. Getting hiring managers enthused and engaged in interviews and other interactions could help land the hires you want, he said.

“Brand isn’t logos and pictures – it’s experiences and how you make people feel,” said Hazlehurst. “The more technology we have, the more digital we are, the more human we need to be. The more we hide behind data, the harder that becomes.”

Full article on CIPD 

HMRC hint IR35 will hit private sector

HMRC has dropped strong hints that IR35 changes could soon be rolled out to the private sector, despite being slammed as a ‘failed’ reform.

The news will put private sector recruiters on high alert, having witnessed the disdain with which their public-sector hiring colleagues treated the tax law changes.

At the time, recruiters and contractors called the changes ‘chaotic’ and ‘open to misinterpretation’. Many feared an exodus of contractors from the public-sector roles they were placing them in.

Yet, it is increasingly likely, despite strong condemnation from recruiters, recruitment trade bodies and contractors, that in the Government’s next budget, IR35 changes will be extended.

Both The Times and The Financial Times are running stories that claims the Government is considering enlarging its fight against ‘bogus self-employment’ in efforts to crack down on tax avoidance.

Cast your minds back to before April, and there are similarities between the words used in this article and the words used before IR35 rules were changed in the public sector. Earlier this year, HMRC claimed tax law needed to evolve to stymie a £400million black hole in the treasury coffers.

In an interview with the FT, Mel Stride, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said that there was an issue of fairness between the way public sector and private sector contractors were taxed.

These, by the way, are changes the Treasury implemented themselves – thus tilting the public sector-private sector playing field they now appear to be so interested in levelling.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is also reported as planning to ‘raid’ freelancers and contractors – workers who set up as public limited companies.

However, a recent forum meeting on IR35 found that the tool used to determine whether a contractor falls inside or outside the tax law changes, isn’t working all of the time.

Seb Maley, CEO, Qdos Contractor, shared his concerns with Recruitment Grapevine: “HMRC were slow to announce public sector IR35 reform, causing chaos for contractors, recruitment agencies and the public sector itself.

“If they have plans to extend reform to the private sector – which these minutes hint at – they have a responsibility to end the ambiguity and give contractors and agencies suitable time to prepare.”

Recently, Recruitment Grapevine covered IR35 from its inception to implementation. You can read more about the IR35 journey, in this month’s cover feature, here.

Article on Recruitment Grapevine

Quarter of retirees head back to work

But former pensions minister warns of ‘unhappy older workforce’ who can’t afford to quit

Around a quarter of retirees return to work, with most of those heading back to the daily grind within five years of retiring, according to a new study.

The research by the University of Manchester and King’s College London also found that men were 26 per cent more likely than women to return to paid work following retirement, while people whose partner still worked were 31 per cent more likely to return following retirement than those whose partner did not work.

Additionally, those with post-secondary qualifications were almost twice as likely to return to work than those with no qualifications.

“The fact that older people with more human capital are more likely to ‘unretire’ suggests that it may be difficult for those in poorer financial circumstances to find paid work,” said Professor Karen Glaser, professor of gerontology at King’s College London and a senior investigator on the study. “This may lead to future disparities in later life income.”

Professor Debora Price, director of the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing and a co-author of the research, added: “This research points to the changing nature of retirement transitions, and the more fluid relationships that people have with paid work around mid and into later life. There are messages here for employers that might want to think about these new demographics, but also for policymakers as it looks like the possibilities to supplement savings or retirement income in later life through ‘unretirement’ are available to a greater extent to the already advantaged.”

And Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said: “With our ageing population, and the experience and skills older workers offer, employers need to consider how they can attract and retain the significant talent pool of older workers. Often, simple adjustments to working time or the job role can enable people to continue to contribute to the success of the organisation.”

However, other commentators noted that the research may have uncovered an issue with people financially having no other option than to work in their golden years. Steve Webb, former pensions minister and now director of policy at Royal London, told People Management that although many of those who head back to work after retirement do so because they “miss the stimulation and social contact”, there is a “real danger” that a whole generation of people will simply be unable to retire in the first place because they have failed to save enough into their pension pot.

“If employers do not address this issue they could find themselves with an unhappy older workforce that does not want to work but cannot afford to stop,” Webb said.

Kate Smith, head of pensions at Aegon, added that it is in “employers’ best interests to encourage pension saving and retirement planning”, as what people have saved in their pensions will ultimately dictate when they can retire.

However, the University of Manchester and King’s College London study found that people who reported having financial problems before retiring or were on a low income were not more likely to return to work than those who had no such issues, although those who were still paying off their mortgage were more likely to return to work.

Article on CIPD

Candidate attraction strategy – getting it right

An interesting article by Kallidus. While some of the views and recommendations are focused on larger volume recruitment and related automation, key aspcects are around making life as easy as possible for candidates. Sometimes employers dont realise how hard they make it to apply for their jobs. Candidates want to feel informed with great insights into the job, expectations, the future and if the role could be a good fit. When they do apply, they want slick systems which make the process of applying easy and reliable, followed by personable and accurate updates on what is going on and what comes next. Its not hard nor costly to deliver this experience and it does not rely on paid for technology if administration is efficient and their is a commitment to good communications.

The candidate experience includes everything from a potential candidate’s initial interest in your organisation through to applying, interviewing, hiring and on-boarding. Candidate experience has been directly linked to recruiting performance, making it increasingly important to the success of talent acquisition.

There are two major frustrations for candidates: complexity to apply and lack of communication.

Is complexity to apply impacting your candidate application rates?

Ask yourself – ‘How easy is it for me to apply to my organisation’s roles?’. By reviewing your application process, you can identify areas for improvement.

Questions such as:

  • Is the process mobile optimised?
  • Are there unnecessary questions?
  • Are forms long and complicated?
  • Can CVs be uploaded with ease?
  • Does the job description contain all the information they need?

This will encourage the right talent to apply to the right role. If application forms are unnecessarily complex, candidates may apply elsewhere – such as a competitor company.

Poor communication results in a poor candidate experience

Application confirmations, status updates and general information should be provided to candidates so that they are aware of their progress through their entire recruitment journey – 44% of candidates said that not knowing if they have been successful for a role significantly worsened their candidate experience.

34% of candidates suggest that more frequent communications will improve the application process. This could include an estimation of how long the application will take, informing interviewees of how long it will take to make a hiring decision, proving information regarding the vacancy’s closing date, and detailing the interview process that candidates should expect.

Candidates who are not hired but were treated well are more likely to apply again, to refer others to apply and to remain a customer or an admirer of the company.

Applicant Tracking System

More organisations are realising they can utilise technology to streamline their recruitment process, driving significant cost reductions and dramatically improving candidate experience. The most common software solution used is an Applicant Tracking System or ATS.

An ATS gives you greater control of the entire application process. You can ensure that every stage is mobile optimised and long forms can be broken down making them short and quick to complete. This removes many of the barriers at the application stage.

One of the key areas an ATS can improve candidate experience is that of communication. With automated notifications, your candidates can receive regular updates about their progressions with their application as well as additional information relevant to the next stage.Automated notifications ensure that candidates are kept up-to-date without impacting on HR resource.

Steer clear

  1. Long application forms
  2. Not updating candidates on hiring progress
  3. Minimal job descriptions
  4. Unclear application instructions
  5. No salary information

Top tips for recruiting success

  1. Optimise the application process for mobile devices
  2. Explain how the hiring process works
  3. Provide estimates of timings – from being offered an interview, to their interview outcome
  4. Short application forms
  5. Timely communication

Beware of poor candidate experiences

For a great experience, you need to ensure that your candidates have access to all the information they need from initial application to hire and onboarding. ATS empowers organisations to provide a great level of information and communication through the recruitment process. This helps to reduce time and cost to hire, removing the strain from HR resources whilst improving candidate interaction and experience.

Full article on HR Grapevine

Is unconscious bias blurring recruiter mindsets?

Charles Hipps explains the most common bias traps businesses fall for when hiring

In recruitment, two things to avoid are adverse impact and bias. Employers are not allowed to apply any requirement or condition that disadvantages people or makes them ineligible for a job without a justifiable reason, as this could constitute discrimination.

Bias, simply put, is a person’s inclination or prejudice against another person or group of people. Unconscious biases are the prejudices every human has and acts on without thinking or malicious intent. Instinctively, people tend to like those they align with most. Sometimes that alignment is racial or gendered. Sometimes it is personality-based.

Here are a few of the most common forms of unconscious hiring bias to watch out for:

Conformity bias – Like peer pressure and groupthink, this bias occurs when an individual follows the majority, ignoring their own opinions. In recruiting, conformity bias might surface in a panel interview where individuals hesitate to voice their thoughts for fear of disagreeing with the majority.

Halo/horns effect – This hiring bias occurs when one aspect of a candidate or their resume becomes the foundation of the analysis of the individual. For example, pushing for an unfit candidate because they participated in a specific fellowship or assessing a fit candidate as unfit because they went to a certain college.

Affinity and similarity bias – These are some of the most common forms of unconscious hiring bias. Affinity bias occurs when a recruiter favours a candidate because he has shared traits. This could be attending the same college, growing up in the same city or simply reminding them of someone they like. Similarity bias occurs when the recruiter sees themselves within the candidate and is more open to pursuing their employment because of it.

Contrast effect – Common for recruiters sifting through resumes, this bias takes place when the recruiter or interviewer has multiple people or applications to compare. Naturally, instead of considering the individuals on their own merit, the interviewer uses another individual’s skills and attributes to make decisions on the next person.

Beauty bias – As the name suggests, this bias is rooted in external appearance. If the recruiter or interviewer believes the more handsome individual will be most successful, they might suffer from beauty bias. On the other hand, when someone who is more traditionally attractive is hindered by their appearance  – especially in the case of women – this is considered the ‘bimbo effect’.

Conformity bias #2 – When a recruiter or interviewer makes assessments to support their initial beliefs of the candidate, they are falling for conformity bias. For example, if a recruiter has decided that a candidate will fit well within the company, they might overlook warning signs to back up their first impression.

Unless carefully monitored, these biases can lead to a vicious cycle, reproducing already established patterns of under-representation and further ingraining bias against already disadvantaged groups, such as older and disabled workers, women and ethnic minorities.

To avoid hiring biases, an increasing number of organisations are using blind hiring strategies. Used wisely, these can lead to impartial selection, personal bias removal, gender parity, workplace diversity and the development of a skills-based meritocratic organisation.

Charles Hipps is chief executive and founder of WCN

Full article on People Management

Are UK employers attitudes to career gaps outdated?

British workers are more reluctant to take a career break compared to other nations, due to fears that they will reduce their employability. However, by refusing to take sabbaticals or extended leave, they could be increasing their risk of burnout.

According to research commissioned by, UK employees, among other European nationals surveyed, are most likely to be allowed extended leave by their current employer, with one in five (20%) saying their workplace allows them to take this break.

However, more than half (54%) of those questioned believe it would be hard to return to work after a sabbatical. One in five (21%) feel it could make them less employable, while a further one in ten (13%) believe it will harm their career prospects.

On the contrary, almost two-thirds of people (61%) in Spain believe extended leave will help them in the future, in terms of employability, and more than half (60%) of those in Germany agreed.

Despite this, Brits are well aware of the benefits to their wellbeing that leave could bring. The research finding that a main motivator for extended leave is to get away from work-related stress. Over two-thirds (69%) of Brits believe that they currently don’t have a good work-life balance.

Three-quarters added (75%) that they don’t have a generous holiday allowance. However, UK employers were rated among the most generous of the nations polled when it comes to leave.

The research also found the difference between the benefits offered by UK employers, in comparison to other nations polled including France, Germany, Sweden, the US, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

The difference between benefits offered by UK employers, in comparison to other nations (France, Germany, Sweden, the US, Italy, Portugal and Spain).

Benefit UK Worldwide
A generous holiday allowance 25%   22%
Flexibility around working from home i.e. for house maintenance visits 19%   17%
Time off in lieu for days worked over the weekend 16%   16%
Flexibility to leave early to catch a flight/go on holiday 15%   22%
Flexible working hours for parents to juggle childcare 15%   16%
Leave early on Friday 14%   19%
An unpaid sabbatical 13%   10%
A paid sabbatical 7%   9%
Summer Hours’ schedule i.e. 8-3pm shift 4%   11%
None of the above 38%   32%

Induction or Onboarding? Whatever… but it is key for new appointments

As recruiters we are often intrigued by the level and quality of induction and onboarding for new recruits or promoted internals. There are significant costs in firstly recruiting, but also the costs of losing someone because they dont settle or fail to perform to the required standard. So why invest time and cost in getting the right person, only to not fully support them. Some similar views found in this article:

Onboarding: A bespoke approach that reduces costs and increases productivity

Approximately 25% of the working population make a job move every year. Given the rise of the gig economy and the game changing impact of virtual technology, our increasingly automated workplaces can anticipate even higher levels of employee movement.  As the trend takes hold the cost of replacing leavers has the potential to rocket.  In fact, according to a study by Oxford Economics in 2014 it costs the organisation a staggering £30,000 to replace a single job. This includes costly recruitment campaigns, lengthy selection activities, unsatisfactory temporary resources, labour costs, logistical expenses and loss of productivity.

Over time, faced with a new reality, organisations will be forced to take steps to reign in the direct costs of recruitment finding innovative, faster and more cost effective ways to attract and select employees.  However, indirect costs such as loss of productivity are more evasive and more complex to address.  For example, there is a period of time when the departing employee starts a process of ‘letting go’.  As they disassociate the impact of their diminishing productivity will be felt keenly by the people who rely on their know-how and contribution.  To further compound the dilemma, it also takes some time for the incoming employee to reach an optimal level of productivity.

So, is loss of productivity inevitable and can it be minimised?

Full article on HRGrapevine

AI or not?

Would you trust your future to machines?

Ok, I’ve calmed down now, but I had a bit of a rant last week.  What provoked this you might wonder?

I’m in the people business – recruitment, coaching, developing talent, leadership spotting, career courses.  I like people, I find them interesting on an intellectual and emotional level.  Everyone is different, everyone has a story and everyone has something to offer.  My job, and my passion, is to identify this.

I don’t have all the answers.  I’m lucky, I can learn from the people I meet.  Because I’m blessed with a good memory, each new meeting or insight helps build my knowledge, my experience, my insight into what makes good (and bad) leadership, management and impact.  I use my insights to inform my judgement when talking and listening to people.

So why the rant?

An allegedly leading headhunter wrote an article promoting artificial intelligence as a legitimate replacement for effective search and selection.  The article was a bit confused, but essentially the proposition was that technology could be used to attract the best candidates to a role and that online selection was a critical part of this offer.

Yes, responsive websites with embedded media and comprehensive links are vital for recruitment.  But these have been around for nearly a decade and are hardly innovative.  We’ve built these for clients for more than 7 years.  I wholeheartedly endorse this.

However, online selection is a crude tool that should not feature strongly as an attraction tool in executive search and should not play a part in early stage sifting of candidates for senior, executive roles.  It is only necessary or useful for high volume recruitment – the completely opposite end of the market to executive recruitment.

I don’t accept that an online assessment tool can replace experienced people exercising judgement based on years of experience.

Yes, artificial intelligence has its place – that’s why high street retailers (like M & S) or grad recruitment programmes use online assessment as part of an initial sift.  They’re dealing with a high volume of candidates and must find an automatic way of cutting down numbers.  But this is not appropriate for executive recruitment.

This has no place in a quality service.

It might be appropriate where the emphasis is on cutting costs or moving a product down-market to increase margins.  But this does not make it a quality offer.  It is not what local government needs at senior levels and it’s certainly is not what the public sector buys when it chooses an executive search partner.

People would rather talk to other people about a job – someone who knows a client, their dynamics, foibles, preferences and challenges.  We want to talk to people as it gives us an insight into character, experience, motivation, communication style and fit.  No technology can be an effective substitute for people connecting with people.

On top of this, such use of AI as an initial selection tool raises serious questions about unconscious bias and therefore indirect discrimination. When local government has serious problems with the glass ceiling, I think this is also sloppy intellectually and borders on unethical.

As a psychologist I learnt the need for real caution when designing psychometric tests.  The norm group must be clearly referenced and relevant, the test must be both valid and reliable.  It’s not just about designing online tools, it’s about designing online tools that do not unfairly or unlawfully discriminate.  Where’s the scientific data to show this is not the case?

I remember when joining local government in 1990 I went to an assessment day for a frontline Housing Advice Officer role. The initial sift including verbal ability and critical reasoning tests from a leading international supplier.  The core of these tests are still used.  There were 30 ish people in a room, for 6 jobs.  After the tests HR came into the room and read out a list.  All but 2 of the black candidates in the room got up and left, as did a small number of the white candidates.  We went from about 30 to 12 people.  I was in the 12.  We’d passed and I got the job.  When I started I spoke to the manager about the norm group used to reference the test.  It had been designed and tested on graduates in the US, UK, Western Europe and South Africa.  I said it was discriminated, he didn’t accept this.  He went on using the tests.  Four years later I’d replaced him as manager.  The first thing I did was stop using these discriminatory tests.  We made all future recruitment skills based, properly administered and then discussed. Suddenly we had a much more diverse and talented workforce.  This lesson stuck with me.

Using an online selection tool as an initial sift will often build in the conscious or unconscious bias of the person who designs the tool – whether this is an IT programmer or a psychologist.  These tools are often not properly norm-referenced, samples for testing or development won’t be representative and tests can lack both validity and reliability. Are they reliable?  I’d like to see the evidence.

I think recruiters need to be more honest.

Technology offers the opportunity to cut costs and increase margins.  The cost of executive recruitment is the time spent by people crafting a bespoke, tailored service to each client. Cut out the people, you cut the cost.  But you also massively increase the risk – of indirect discrimination, of poor appointments or of non-appointment.

We have seen an increasing number of jobs being abandoned because of a lack of candidates – stopped at shortlist or beforehand.  This has never happened to us.  I think now we’re starting to understand why.

Recruiters need to be honest.  We regularly make decisions that have major ramifications for people’s lives.  Can we responsibly trust AI with those decisions just to save money?  The prospect makes me uncomfortable. Actually, it scares me and makes me angry. We owe our clients and candidates more than this.

Steve Cooley