Artificial Intelligence for Human Resources: Less of the Human Touch, or More?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the way people in all kinds of fields do their jobs, and human resources is no exception. While there’s room for some healthy scepticism that AI is just the latest buzzword, fundamental changes in technology mean that this time, the technology may really have a revolutionary effect on how companies attract, develop and retain employees. If that happens, it will free HR professionals from routine, repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on areas where the human touch adds more value.

Artificial Intelligence for optimised job posting and possible candidates evaluation

Opportunities for HR departments to use AI in the employee relationship begin with the preparation of the job announcement. Online travel agency Expedia is one of many companies using AI to analyse the writing in job announcements and suggest ways to remove gender bias. Other companies are taking this even further: not just removing bias, but actively fine-tuning the language in their announcements to make them slightly more female-centric in an attempt to redress gender imbalance among their staff.

AI can also be used to identify possible candidates by examining their public social-media profiles and performing sentiment analysis to identify those who may be open opportunities to change jobs. While many companies are starting to use this with their own employees as part of their retention efforts (about which more later), using AI to identify rivals’ employees who are ready for a change is an obvious application of the same technology. Of course, as always when scanning social media, companies must take great care to address privacy concerns and comply with local regulations.

Artificial Intelligence for resume screening
Another of the most obvious applications for AI is in the area of screening resumes. This is a classic priority for automation: a high-volume, low-reward task that typically takes way too much of a recruiter’s time. And in addition to reducing drudgery, here again AI can also help avoid bias in hiring, by ignoring candidates’ age or sex. But it’s important to set the parameters correctly: AI can learn human biases, particularly that which it sees in data on a company’s current employees, such as a preference for hiring graduates of a particular school. HR professionals need to discuss the issue of learned bias openly with vendors, and probe software producers’ responses on how their solutions address it.


Once candidates have been selected, AI can assist recruiters by scanning video of candidate interviews to analyse word choice and facial expressions. Research has identified speech patterns that are typical of successful and unsuccessful candidates, and by looking at candidates’ faces, AI can read emotions that may not show up in their words alone. AI can also help identify seemingly unquantifiable elements of a company’s culture and help measure whether candidates are a good fit.

Chatbots for improved responsiveness and interviews online  
Chatbots are another application of AI in the interview process: In addition to answering questions from potential candidates, they can conduct interviews online. This can help preserve employer brands, as candidates are likely to develop negative perceptions of companies that don’t respond to their inquiries. AI provides a fast, efficient way of keeping communication open with candidates who turn out not to be a good fit now, but may be just right for a position in future. There is also software that helps rejected jobseeker find a better match for their skills and personality.


Chatbots for employee onboarding and internal 
communication

And the value of AI for HR professionals doesn’t stop once a candidate is in the door. The routine of getting new employees up to speed is a perfect fit with AI technologies such as chatbots. AI can help answer new hires’ queries about policies and benefit programmes; it can also inform current employees about the new candidate and request assistance for them (e.g. asking the IT department to set up a workstation).

AI’s role in providing information about benefits isn’t limited to new employees. Software can also push information about programmes – from pensions to gym memberships – to current employees based on their needs and interests. All of this can help with employee retention, another area where AI gives HR departments an edge. By examining information such as social media postings and performance data, AI can help predict when employees are looking for a change, and suggest strategies for how to keep them on board – or offer the opinion that they’re likely to move even if given a raise, so the employer shouldn’t bother.

AI-enhanced performance reviews 

Performance evaluations, employee metrics and feedback are another area where AI is being deployed with positive effects. As the data series lengthen, this will also make it easier to measure the performance of HR departments by keeping track of how their hires perform.

Of course, HR professionals (and others) have been hearing for years that AI is about to revolutionise their field, and so may be inclined to shrug off the latest developments as just another fad. But while some scepticism is always wise, there is one key argument for why it really is different this time: the vast amounts of data that are now available for AI software to scan and learn from. Thanks to increased connectivity, the machines now have a huge base in which they can recognise patterns of past behaviour, and thus learn how to predict future performance more reliably.

Legal issues

As mentioned earlier, some of the AI techniques raise legal and privacy concerns, particularly in the area of accessing employees’ social media data. If companies have access to data on gender or race, they may open themselves to charges of bias in hiring. Care must be taken to be able to demonstrate that such factors weren’t considered in the hiring process. And for multinationals, working across borders in several different legal systems, the use of AI for HR-related tasks can add another legal headache if HR professionals aren’t careful to communicate effectively with the company’s legal department.

Takeaway

Finally, the question arises of whether AI will simply end up replacing HR departments. So far, the answer seems to be that the software will supplement human judgment, not replace it. By helping free up HR professionals from repetitive tasks such as sorting through resumes and telling new hires where the gym is, AI can allow them to concentrate on areas that need more of that most intangible of qualities: the human touch.