Technology in the Recruitment and Selection of People in the post-Covid-19 Context
Technology in the Recruitment and Selection of People in the post-Covid-19 Context Complygate, Sept 2020
Professor Chris Rowley
Kellogg College, University of Oxford & City’s Business School, University of London
With a stream of technological innovations change, we all too easily forget that it is actually people who are the business. Even the most innovative idea, business plan and strategy requires people for implementation. Without people there would be no business. This maxim has been brought into stark relief by the Covid-19 pandemic and medical emergency with the consequent changes to both personal life and organisational and business operations, routines and procedures - as well as ways of thinking about them. How profound and permanent these changes are awaits to be seen.
Nevertheless, the impacts from the Covid-19 ‘lock down’ and the long, winding and bumpy road out of it and continuing future uncertainties, have both highlighted the role of people to organisations and condensed discussion and decision making on numerous people-related topics into much shorter time frames. One of these areas is remote and ‘virtual’ working. The enforced ‘taste’ of a different world of work that at one stage seemed many years away, may well encourage continued or even greater consumption of technology in the years to come.
One of the areas of work where technology has such a role concerns the critical resourcing of people for organisations. Hiring types and sophistication (and commensurate costs!) depends on the job. Here we start from first principles - what is the purpose of the hiring and time orientation? Is it looking to fill existing roles by, first, proven capability (backwards looking) versus potential (forwards looking); and second, covering existing skill set requirements (backwards looking) versus training (forwards looking)? Of course, recruitment is forged by what is considered important to the recruiter. For example, Sempio, the Korean food products company, used group cooking to evaluate teamwork, collaboration, character, creativity and leadership and a chopstick skills test to evaluate understanding of Korea’s dining etiquette and culture which encompasses the spirit of sharing with those you dine with, a core value it seeks in candidates. Also, companies need to be able to justify decisions as based on comparisons of as objective as possible criteria relevant to the job at hand.
Resourcing traditionally would have been relatively simple and straightforward – involving both remote and in-person methods – with widespread use of the ‘classic trio’ of application forms, references, interviews. The Covid-19 implications are obvious on the third leg of these, albeit not insurmountable with online interviews. One good recent example is The Home Depot, the US DIY retailer. They use 4 video interviews consisting of: 1 hour group interview, an Excel test, a case study and a final interview with potential team mates (Mulholland, 2020).
Recruiters sometimes also used a variety of ability tests and assessment centres involving a battery of simulations, exercises, presentations, leaderless discussions and assigned leader tasks, teamwork, etc. even using several assessors to pool results. Psychometric tests of occupational personality tried to determine if candidates had the ‘right’ kind of ‘personality’. In the US alone there are about 2,500 personality tests on the market. One of the most popular is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, translated into 24 languages and adopted by governments, military agencies and top companies globally and taken by 2 million people annually in a US$20 million industry. Its attraction lies in its seductive simplicity – the 93 question inventory distils personality into 4 letters: INTJ (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging) and sorts people into 1 of 16 permutations of character types.
Technology could address some Covid-secure requirements in resourcing. Yet, this implies satisfaction. Therefore, now is an opportune time to rethink resourcing more critically and strategically. First, leaders should recall that classic methods have poor reliability as predictors of job performance and are open to discriminatory behaviour by both firms, ie noting certain names as implying ethnicity, gender, etc, and applicants exaggerating and making false claims. Hiring in some countries, such as South Korea, even involves asking applicants for photos and HR manager rejections because of appearance. Here firms also requested personal details, such as age, religion, medical history, weight, height, blood type, eyesight, whether they live with their family, occupations of family members, even drinking and smoking capacity. Thus, employers are being encouraged to use anonymous or ‘blind hiring’ (‘bulaindu chaeyong’) and remove personal information from CVs, such as at Saramin the recruitment portal and Sempio.
Some leaders might retort that the use of psychometric tests should continue as they can easily be Covid-secure and they are so simple. Yet, their simplicity is precisely what makes for skepticism and criticism, with some tests discredited as unscientific and irrelevant. For example, question “bimodality” forces stark either-or answers. For example, Extrovert or Introvert? Thinking or Feeling? Yet, what if you fall in the middle? Also, personality types have no grounding in science; the same person can take the test twice with different outcomes. Therefore, the results can read like horoscopes. There were earlier warnings about tests, even when used in similar cultures as to where they were developed Famously Stagner (1958) asked 68 managers to complete a personality questionnaire and they were presented with an individual written profile summarising their personalities main characteristics. The managers then completed a further questionnaire asking how accurate they believed their profile to be. Some 50% ranked their profile overall as being 'amazingly accurate' and a further 40% as 'rather good'. However, the researchers had given them all the same faked personality profile to assess instead of genuine summaries of their own personalities. Thus, tests can appear a more accurate and meaningful than they actually are. There is also the tendency for people to accept vague, ambiguous and general statements, known as the ‘Barnum Effect’, after the famous circus owner who wanted to have a little something for everyone!
So, rather than such tactics and simply applying technology as a ‘sticking plaster’ in order to carry on with previous methods, leaders should develop and use more critical thinking and use not just technical, but more importantly human and conceptual skills and be more strategic and creative in the area of hiring.
There was already some increasing use of technology in hiring. For example, the use of virtual reality, such as with headsets to tour offices and have meetings while having personality judged and assessed, as used at L’Oreal, the beauty business. Candidates were shortlisted based on submitted Instagram videos, such as at South Korea’s Jeju Air. The initial application process was replaced by the Space Gentleman chabot at Byte London, a marketing technology agency. HackerRank, a platform facilitating remote assessment and recruitment, conducted 100,00 interviews in 30 days earlier this year (Hill, 2020a).
If we take resourcing as more holistic - as also involving ‘on-boarding’ in the jargon and induction, again technology for ‘virtual starters’ can be used. This is especially so for businesses with strong corporate cultures and values which they want to introduce and instill in new recruits. Some HR departments send new online office recruits senior staff welcome videos and invitations to ‘buddy’ virtually with colleagues and even being sent breakfast (Hill, 2020b). The Home Depot, the US DIY retailer is a good example (Mulholland, 2020). On the first day two boxes are delivered to the new starter’s home: not just the equipment, but a welcome kit – small artifacts representing the company, to try to create a sense of belonging and build team cohesion, reinforced by virtual ‘Meet and Greet’ lunches whereby new staff have giftcards for home delivered food to eat and chat over a video call. One new starter saw these as a way to ‘humanise’ her and her colleagues. Another example is Clifford Chance, the law firm, whose new onboarding system eases joiners into new roles online two weeks prior to start dates and with a £400 stipend to buy technology, chairs, desks and other equipment to help set up home workspaces (Ibd.). Another great example is Rakuten, the Japanese e-commerce giant, where a substitute for the traditional - and in Japan highly important and significant - ‘office walkaround’, are inducted through virtual meetings, where they share stories about the founding of the company.
Finally, it would be beneficial if small businesses could try to emulate these practices. Hiring here is critical as each person is a larger percentage of the total workforce and hiring mistakes even more costly or even catastrophic. Such firms are unlikely to use these due to investment of time and money needed. So, technology can be of use and service if appropriately priced.
What can we conclude from all this? First, in terms of Covid-secure ways to recruit people there remains the need to reduce bias and allow as objective as possible comparisons across candidates. So, a mix of CVs, application forms PLUS semi-structured interviews and relevant tests – as especially if actually job/work related as these are better predictors of job performance. Second, looking at examples over time and especially internationally and comparatively can teach us more about ourselves and systems – what we may consider to be ‘normal’ is not to many others around the world - thereby usefully reducing ethnocentricity and highlighting institutional and cultural constraints to ideas behind globalization (Rowley and Harry, 2011; Mukherjee Saha, 2015; Nankervis, Rowley and Salleh, 2016).
Hill, A. (2020a) ‘If you can work anywhere, can anyone do your job?’, Financial Times, 20 July
Hill, A. (2020b) ‘Remote staff must build a new corporate culture’, Financial Times, 14 September Mukherjee Saha, J. and Rowley, C. (2015) The Changing Role of the HR Profession in the Asia Pacific, Elsevier.
Mulholland, P. (2020) ‘Recruitment shifts top the kitchen table under “new normal” ’, Financial Times, 20 July
Nankervis, A., Rowley, C. and Salleh, M. (2016) Asia Pacific HRM and Organisational Effectiveness: Impacts on Practice, Elsevier.
Stagner, R. (1958) ‘The gullibility of personnel managers’, Personnel Psychology, 11 (3).
Rowley, C. and Harry, W. (2011) Managing People Globally: An Asian Perspective, Elsevier.