AI in Executive recruitment: A magic bullet for inclusive hiring?

In recent years, AI has become one of the most rapidly evolving technological advances that could fundamentally change how many of us work and, indeed, live.  It’s a widely held view that AI will be shaping the recruitment industry longer term. In fact, it is doing so already.  So what does this mean in practice for executive recruitment?


What is AI?

Most people know that ‘AI’ stands for ‘Artificial Intelligence’.  However, going beyond this, there are several definitions of what this actually means – and if you ask three different people, you will likely receive three different answers of varying complexity!  Microsoft defines AI as ’software capable of analysing large quantities of data, learning from the results of such assessments and using this knowledge to refine future processes and systems’.  To simplify this, AI is a complex area of computer science that allows computers to behave and react like humans do.  Therefore, a wide range of functions become possible, such as speech recognition, problem solving and planning.  In the context of executive search, this includes functions such as the screening, sourcing and assessment of candidates – amongst others.


What are the benefits of AI for executive recruitment?

Data Analysis

Data is key for executive search and AI can link multiple data points from various sources to increase efficiency at a rate that would otherwise be impossible.  The ability to program AI with the “perfect” candidate profile means that relevant candidates can be pulled from a database according to their career history, job title, sector expertise, and qualifications; or conversely, can automatically remove candidates who do not fit the profile from longlist and shortlist reports.  This process can otherwise take weeks when done manually; the efficiencies AI can provide in this regard is invaluable.


Automation & Process Improvement

AI can be used to automatically source candidates, screen CVs, and even conduct interviews.  In this way the administration and research involved in an executive search process can be maximised in terms of efficiency.  As AI brings new capabilities to a business process, organisations need to re-evaluate what tasks are needed, in what frequency, and who does them. When AI is accompanied by partial automation, it also needs to be determined what humans will do and what machines will do respectively in their processes.  This provides a real opportunity for organisations to not only incorporate AI into their processes, but to improve them too.


Eliminating unconscious bias

Something of huge interest in the executive search world is the potential use of AI to eliminate human bias from recruitment processes.  The ability to have pre-employment assessments and ‘blind’ hiring means that the research phase of a search can now be done without a candidate’s name, gender, ethnicity, age, or any other protected characteristic being known.  In itself, this has been shown to improve inclusivity and reduce unconscious bias.


Improved candidate experience

Candidates can receive an enhanced experience when engaging with search firms who use AI as part of their processes.  Regular communication and automated feedback ensure that candidates are looked after consistently throughout the entire recruitment process from end to end – something that is, quite naturally, important to candidates.

But…is AI all it’s cracked up to be?

So far, AI sounds pretty good!  But is it too good to be true?  There are many potential challenges to the use of AI in executive recruitment:


It’s impersonal

A key element of executive recruitment is relationships with clients and candidates.  AI does not have the ability to tailor an experience personal to the client or candidate, which is fundamental in high quality recruitment.  Top quality candidate care can be a key market differentiator for executive recruitment firms, particularly when the market is highly candidate driven.  AI is also very rigid in that it cannot “see” beyond a set statement of facts or criteria – whereas the human touch ensures that subjective elements such as cultural fit and interpersonal skills can also be taken into consideration when assessing candidates.


Connecting data

The effective use of AI can only be achieved according to the data that is made available for use.  Data is typically siloed in recruitment firms – information tends to be stored on databases, shared drives, and across other platforms which means connecting data points can be difficult and requires a human to link the data manually.


Reducing bias – but only to an extent

Whilst AI can be used to help reduce unconscious bias, the extent of this is limited.  AI is not yet advanced enough to understand, and therefore accurately assess, nuances that can limit candidates’ opportunities in the job market, such as economic, educational and other potential barriers.  AI at this stage is somewhat of a blunt tool – possibly too much so.


Emotional intelligence

Perhaps one of the biggest downfalls of AI is that it lacks emotional intelligence.  This can be a critical skill for consultants, particularly when negotiating salaries, providing feedback to candidates, or simply when trying to convince a candidate to accept a role.  Years of experience of handling potentially sensitive conversations and situations is something that AI cannot be a substitute for.


And the verdict is?

It is clear that AI can offer executive search firms positive improvements, particularly in regard to increasing efficiencies for back office functions and research.  However, AI still has its limitations, lacking the human touch that successful executive search requires.  AI can be a powerful tool to complement the offering to clients and candidates, but is perhaps better placed to be an enhancement rather than a replacement.  The robots aren’t coming for us…yet!

If you’re struggling to diversify your organisation’s workforce, please get in touch as this is something McLean Public can support you with.

Alexa Barnett

Head of Operations



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