‘Computer says no’ – how technology is really being used in recruitment

In March 2022 the BBC broadcast a documentary called ‘Computer says no’.

It was all about how recruiters are increasingly using technology to sift through CVs and applications, and even for interviews. The documentary focused on how algorithms, artificial intelligence software and automation could actually be unfairly disadvantaging some jobseekers.

Luckily we’re here to bust some myths and tell you exactly how we use technology to improve our recruitment processes. All without losing the personal touch that only comes with human-to-human interaction.

Jobs are big business. In fact, the UK recruitment industry is on track to be worth £35 billion by 2028. And more and more companies – including Pure – are using tech to speed up processes and get more value for clients and job seekers alike. It has some great advantages. But the BBC’s documentary revealed a darker side to it – facial analysis tech that misinterprets race, gender and emotion, for example, and voice transcription services that can’t cope with regional accents. So do artificial intelligence or AI, and similar technologies really have a place in recruitment?

What types of tech are recruiters using?

Here are some of the software and programs on the market designed to help with hiring.

  • Applicant tracking systems (also known as CV scanners): software that scans CVs for particular keywords or phrases, only forwarding those that contain the right ones.
  • Automated video interviews: applicants answer pre-recorded questions on a video call. Their answers are often analysed by a computer program that looks for certain words, gestures and even emotions. For example, if you’re looking for people who are team players, you could program your algorithm to score applicants who say ‘we’ a lot higher than those who say ‘I’. The answers might also be converted into text by a transcription program for someone to read later.
  • Games-based assessments: interactive games that assess people’s ability to do something, for example by measuring their creativity.

What are the advantages of using tech in recruitment?

It improves objectivity

Technology like AI can be a great tool for improving objectivity in recruitment. It can take away human biases, both unconscious and not. It also recognises specific skills and information about the applicant that relate to the job role, as well as those that could relate to others – great if you’re looking for someone for a role you can’t advertise for security reasons (like a cybersecurity job, for example). AI can also analyse people’s public online presence, like their social media profiles, then make predictions about, for example, roles they might be interested in or how likely they are to accept a job. It can then target them with relevant job adverts.

It speeds things up

CV scanners speed up the recruitment process by quickly pre-screening applications and only putting forward those that have the right qualifications and experience – vital if you have hundreds, or even thousands, of applications to sift through.

It’s convenient

Automated video interviews can be done anywhere at any time, day or night. Applicants can even get automated in-the-moment feedback with these. And finally, technology can automate responses, answer applicants’ questions with always-available chatbots and set up interviews.

What problems did the documentary find?

The documentary focused on the fact that technology can’t cope with the many nuances of human behaviour. And it can only ever be as good as the information that’s programmed into it – unbalanced datasets can lead to bias. It included a story about three make-up artists who were made redundant on the basis of an AI’s analysis of their video interviews (combined with other factors like sales figures). They argued that AI shouldn’t be making decisions about someone’s ability to do their job.

Another problem highlighted in the documentary included issues with transcription software that can’t understand regional accents. It also singled out emotion recognition software – used to detect subtleties in interviewees’ facial expressions and body language – that can’t read Black faces and consistently chose the wrong emotion (disgust instead of happiness, for example).

Finally, it highlighted that AI in recruitment presents a big problem for neurodivergent people – that’s people with conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. That’s because they process information differently to neurotypical people. For example, someone who struggles with eye contact could be ruled out of a job by an AI, even though they’d be really good at it.

Our technology

We believe that technology can be a great help in speeding up recruitment processes. But we’re not overly reliant on it – the human touch is very important to us. For example, when someone applies for a job through our website, a member of our team always reviews their CV to check they’re suitable. The system then sends the applicant an automated email letting them know we’ve got it, and that someone will be in touch within five days. So we only use tech at the start of the process.

We also use Sourcebreaker and LinkedIn, both of which are AI-based, to match people’s skills and capabilities to roles. We think AI is very useful for this, especially at the moment as we have many more jobs than job seekers registered with us. It helps us find people with transferable skills who might not realise they could be suited to a different type of role.

We don’t use automated video interviews though – because we don’t believe they’re a substitute for meeting someone face to face (or video call to video call). We also don’t believe you can find out someone’s career goals or aspirations with these, or work out how they’ll perform in an organisation, for example. That needs a two-way conversation.

Finding the right balance

Like it or not, hiring tech is here to stay. And it’s great for helping to put the right job seekers in front of the right organisations. But it’s up to us as recruiters to be vigilant about its limitations, and make sure we continue to always put people first.

If you’re in the market for a new position, or you have a job that you’re looking to fill, we can help. Contact us to find out more.


 Judith Pugh profile picture

Written by

Judith Pugh

Judith joined Pure in 2017 and is responsible for marketing the business, building our marketing strategy and delivering campaigns. Judith’s worked in marketing for more than 20 years across a range of industries – from health and fitness, horticulture, GIS software, education and now recruitment.

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