The technology behind artificial intelligence (AI)-led recruitment is ready for take-off. Across Asia, ambitious start-ups and tech giants alike are launching software, from chatbots to full-service candidate management systems, that claim to take the hard work out of hiring.

Automated software, at its most basic, can conduct conversations with candidates that save recruitment managers time. But it can also sift CVs using algorithms, conduct and analyse video interviews and even scan the web for suitable hires.

Questions remain, however. Is the technology being over-hyped? Can it really reduce bias and make better decisions, given that some early incarnations of AI recruitment actually introduced greater bias? And in the rush to automate processes, are we in danger of removing humans so that potential employees are left “talking to a dumb machine,” in the words of one industry expert?

To understand what’s on the market, it’s worth paying a visit to some of the leading tech firms tackling the sector’s challenges. Singapore-based start-up Impress, for example, provides AI-led recruitment software, and has been firmly focused on making sure its interactions are as “real” as possible.

“ is a software platform that allows the recruiter to design an automated chat-based interaction with job candidates,” CEO and co-founder Sudhanshu Ahuja told People Management. He said the software not only “screens” but also “engages” candidates.

Ahuja said that in any hiring process, the first stage usually includes a human eyeballing resumes and selecting the candidates they want to engage more closely. Usually, once this is done, companies call candidates personally or meet with them, to ask a few standard questions and some based on their individual background.

If services such as his become part of the process, “all the candidates go through this first round of qualification rather than just a select few,” he said. For example, a candidate interested in an analyst position could click on ‘Apply’ and immediately be taken directly to an interaction with a bot which begins engaging them and simultaneously screening them.

Systems such as this are flexible enough to conduct ‘contextual interviewing’, asking questions based on a combination of CV and job requirements. If an individual claims knowledge of digital marketing, for example, the software can ask them in depth about search engine optimisation (SEO), content marketing or Facebook ads. That way, “the software digs deeper to know the candidate better, and asks targeted, intelligent questions. This also delivers much higher quality of information to the employer,” Ahuja said.

The USP for Impress and others is holding a two-way conversation – answering candidates’ questions by giving information about the company (location, salary, benefits etc) and keeping them informed about the status of their application, while gathering information that will help recruiters make objective decisions.

What that means for human recruiters is an open question. Optimists say they will be able to concentrate on higher value tasks such as executive recruitment or internal progression. Others fear automating processes will remove huge swathes of people from the recruitment industry and in-house teams alike.

As software becomes smarter, it can develop human-like ‘intuition’ about candidates. Singapore-based AnyMind Group Ltd launched a screening platform, TalentMind, In January. It combines information from CVs and results from competency tests with the sort of contextual information recruiters spend valuable time trawling the web for – such as social media activity (assuming the applicant has opted in to allow this to be viewed). This allows a company “to score and screen candidates to find the best match to a business,” said communications manager Chris Lu. The aim is to get an idea about personality, preferences and even travel footprint.

Meanwhile, employment agency Randstad is deploying a screening chatbot, ‘Wendy’, among its clients. Wendy invites applicants to enter a conversation where she asks tailored questions in a way the firm claims is role- and function-agnostic – allowing her to recruit across tech, IT, sales, marketing, customer service and more.

Eventually, she will be used in sourcing, re-engaging previous applicants and helping encourage candidates to apply for specific roles. “Consistently, we hear from candidates that somewhere in the chat they actually forget Wendy is an AI. It's quite remarkable,” said Ximo Soler, Randstad’s senior vice president – global digital strategy and innovation.

“AI is emerging as the most innovative and promising tech, and it can do wonders for recruiters – from sourcing potential candidates across databases, both online and offline, shortlisting and matching candidates based on jobs and requirements, to sending automated emails and responses,” said Ishan Aggarwal, a consultant with Robert Walters in Singapore.

Nevertheless, he warned: “AI is only so good as the data it is fed, and more often than not, candidates are not always what they write on paper.” AI could make life easier for a lot of recruiters, but relying solely on technology to screen candidates “will take away that edge that recruiters have – engaging with people and using intuition and gut feeling,” Aggarwal added.

Inevitably, he said, if technology could be made cost-efficient and scalable, it would open even more doors. For recruiters and candidates alike, however, the balance between removing bias or cost and retaining an authentic recruitment experience will always remain a fine one.

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