Automating your shortlist – is it ethical? | Recruitment Strategies

Selecting candidates for clients is the moment when talent spotters can shine – so why would anybody automate it? Our experts make the case for and against automated shortlist recruitment solutions.

Fresh from our lesson on ethics in last week’s blog post, we wanted to test some of those theories. How do ideas of ethics translate into the real world of recruitment consultancies? For this test, we decided to look at automated shortlist recruitment software, and its impact on the industry.

What is automated shortlist generation?

One thing that all recruiters agree on is that automation is an enormous competitive advantage. Whether you are automating your CV scanner or your lead generation, the reduction of legwork (or paperwork, or phone work…) gives you back your time to focus on the core of your tasks: connecting with talent, making sales, and building relationships.

Few recruiters would raise ethical concerns about automating administrative tasks – if it eliminates paperwork, then it’s good for business. But what about automating the shortlists you build for your clients? Things become a little less clear-cut.

Automated shortlisting – the ethical questions

“Efficiency savings”

Yes, the dreaded “efficiency savings” euphemism. Along with its frequent partner “streamlining”, everybody understands that this means redundancies. List automation could put recruiters out of work. With fewer administrative tasks to complete, an agency can fulfil the same demand with fewer consultants.

Of course, the workforce argument could be made about other types of automation, too. Before end-to-end systems like eBoss, recruitment agencies may have retained the services of any number of administrators, secretaries, and data entry personnel. Many of those jobs are now a thing of the past in a modern agency – and few would want them back.

But in fact the answer to this ethical concern is not simply “adapt to change”. Instead, rather than seeking to do the same work with less, an ethical brand would look to expand with the same team. Rather than cut worker numbers to do the same workload cheaper, ethical businesses seize the opportunity to expand their scope of operations and retain their teams. These are the organisations which make it in the long term.

Where’s the skill in that?

The next argument is an old one. “Where is the skill in using automation?”

It’s a question that accompanies almost any advance in technology. In the case of recruitment, you can certainly understand the logic. Building a shortlist is where many recruiters believe they excel. Gaining an intuitive understanding of both talent and client is something acquired only from years in the game. So why undo all of that learning with a computer programme?

In fact, that experience is vitally important to next generation recruitment. It channels that knowledge into quality control: ensuring that the automations are pulling the correct results, and understanding when they are not – and why they are not.

Your recruitment automation may bring in many changes to the way your business operates, but there has never been a technology yet that completely replaces human ingenuity itself.

Human error

And, as if to dispel that previous point entirely, we come to human error. As with any technological solution, there is a risk of poor outcomes due to misuse. The old programming adage “garbage in; garbage out” still holds true today. If a recruiter misuses their automations, the end results can be no better than if they worked manually. In rare cases, they may actually make the situation worse – as Amazon learned, back in 2018.

Automations require correct use. Far from being a process that “anyone can do”, a sophisticated automated shortlist programme needs careful implementation and regular oversight to ensure it is working effectively – and as intended.

Now, before you start to say that this is just swapping one bit of admin for another, that is not the case. It is swapping hours of admin every week for a few minutes a month to run checks. There is no comparison of workloads. But, without that degree of oversight, no software is going to be a magic bullet for your KPIs – as Amazon learned to their cost.

Automated Shortlists – the compelling reasons

Remove Unconscious Bias

Ever heard of unconscious bias in hiring? Unless you’ve been completely cut off from all media for the last five years, you definitely have. Unconscious bias is a process whereby tiny points of personal data can have a broad impact on a candidate’s perceived suitability and subsequent outcomes. Whether we like it or not, it’s something we can all fall foul of, whether we like to admit it or not.

The frustrating part is that it is difficult to escape these unconscious biases, and they can often appear rational to us. Do we send certain candidates to those white-collar roles, and others to the blue collar sites because we assessed travel times form their home addresses and assumed that the shorter commutes would benefit both? Probably. But then you would also need to consider exactly why the blue-collar industrial site is near a specific neighbourhood. It’s usually because land values are cheaper. Your apparent intuition is in fact entrenching existing biases by sending less well off workers to lower paid roles. It’s often said that “everything is connected to everything else”. It is impossible for a single person to consider each of these tiny connections.

So here’s is the strength of automation: it does all of that for you. It assesses candidates’ suitability based solely on experience given in their own words (their CVs). This enables blind selection. Blind selection is a process wherein all factors outside of the skills and knowledge are removed from the equation. If you are manually building longlists, and even glance at a candidate’s postcode or surname, you are unable to offer blind selection.

Raise Your Market Value

Let’s follow the previous point through to its logical conclusion, then. When you add an early blind selection stage to your process, you can guarantee that every candidate who makes it past that point is a legitimate and qualified candidate. Even if you then choose to take that longlist and manually select certain candidates to move on to a shortlist, you can assure your clients that each applicant deserves to be there. This way, you can prevent under-qualified candidates from making it through simply because of a well connected family name or expensive educational background.

Fairer KPI Recruitment Targets

Another area where automations can provide an enormous benefit are when assessing Key Performance Indicators (KPI). If you are working within a larger organisation, you will find that most agencies set KPI for recruiters. These benchmarks let the organisation know who is hitting targets.

These KPI are typically set by extrapolating past performance trends. But these recruitment KPIs only assess outcomes, not processes. If you have ever felt that you could easily beat your recruitment KPIs if only you were able to spend all of your time on the phone making sales, then you instinctively understand the benefits of automated shortlist recruitment software.

By automating the initial longlist, you eliminate all of the database searching. Future KPI recruitment targets will be calibrated purely around time spent on sales. Automating your admin and search tasks equalises all of that time spent. It means that consultants will not be at a disadvantage simply because they are battling against: an old device or hardware, a slow internet connection, or an unreliable ISP.

And, as any manager will know, fairer KPIs are more accurate KPIs.