In a new Pew Research Center study, most respondents expressed anxiety rather than enthusiasm when asked about the growing importance of numerous automation technologies. When questioned about the growing use of algorithms in hiring decisions, 67% of the more than 4,000 Americans surveyed indicated that they were worried about a potential future in which “algorithms...make hiring decisions without any human involvement.”
Respondents showed the highest levels of anxiety when questions focused on decision making, not on tasks. (For example, they were more nervous about fully automated cars and less nervous about automated cars with drivers who can take control of them if necessary.) The problem doesn’t seem to be the use of algorithms and automation per se, but rather the elimination of “the human element from important decisions.”
Such anxiety is natural. Although many job seekers loathe the hiring process and dread interviews, most of them will acknowledge that an in-person meeting with a hiring manager is a great opportunity to make a positive impression–one that might overcome any real or perceived shortcomings in their resumes. It’s much harder to charm a computer algorithm, though, and for that reason some candidates are at a disadvantage in a hiring process that relies too heavily on algorithms for decision making.
But will companies turn to algorithms for all their recruitment and hiring decisions? That’s unlikely, because even though algorithms are increasingly finding their way into the human resources department, nobody can judge “human” factors–such as cultural fit and character–as well as an actual human can. Those things don’t come across quite so well in algorithm-derived data.
A more likely scenario is that companies will increasingly rely on robust ATS systems integrated with better search tools (such as Google for Jobs). The most difficult task in the hiring process isn’t making the final decision: it’s recruiting and sorting candidates at the start of the process. The biggest advantage to using algorithms in hiring is that they can do any initial, high-level ranking of candidates more efficiently and effectively than any human can. A closer evaluation of a small pool of candidates and courting the best ones are jobs for humans.
Algorithms offer another advantage: they can mitigate hiring managers’ unconscious biases and help an organization meet its diversity goals. Even when a company is aware of biases, it can be difficult to keep them top of mind throughout the hiring process. But an ATS system can track which candidates are in underrepresented groups and issue warnings when hiring managers fail to follow company policy.
Algorithms can help organizations meet their hiring goals, but they can’t help hiring managers say the right things, craft the right policies, or develop a better company culture. So although many people are excited about the prospect of putting the hiring process fully in the hands of algorithms, that goal isn’t likely to become a reality. For the foreseeable future, at least, nothing can take the place of the human touch.
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