Ghosting The Machine: Does Recruitment Need More Automation?

24 April 2024

By Daniel Mckeon

At an early careers event, we were trading stories about the main challenges faced in modern recruiting. One woman was discussing the disappointed feeling she’d get when candidates would “ghost” her in the middle of their application that caused a ripple of recognition and agreement from the others in the circle. They seemed at a loss to explain why they would just disappear without thinking about the person on the other side. But as someone who started their career in the modern workforce, I could completely understand why they would ghost.

The application process has become incredibly dense and increasingly gamified (not in a fun way…). LinkedIn notifications need to be set to let you know right away when an opportunity becomes available; even an hour later and you’ll be lining up behind hundreds or even thousands of other applicants. You’ll be staring down the barrel of at least three rounds of interviews and a task that’ll take you likely 4-5 hours, hoping that it’s not a way for them to use your ideas for free.

Once you complete all that work, you have no indication of when you’ll hear back. I still receive emails from job applications I sent off back in September last year. Usually, the emails can’t give you more feedback because of the sheer volume of applicants so you don’t know why you weren’t picked. Then you’re back to the grindstone to reach your quota of ten applications a day. If someone wanted to walk away without so much as a ‘thank you’ email, I’d respect it if anything else.

This is also not exactly a new problem. It would be completely normal for students at my university to swap tips and tricks for navigating the algorithm. Some would go as far as copying and pasting the words from the job description in white font so that the software would scan it through so it would at least get read by a person. For every system you put in place, opportunists will figure out ways to get around them.

More recently, as I found out, these tactics have escalated to using ChatGPT to write their cover letters. It doesn’t surprise me that generative AI is already embedded among today’s early careers population. But how can we begrudge candidates using it given how faceless and intimidating this process can come across, not least to say that a quarter of recruiters are doing the same.

Innovation in the recruitment space doesn’t have to mean incorporating the latest technological advancements at every stage. Many organisations are moving towards CV-less applications, such as The Spectator’s no-CV internship scheme, proving you can find talent without overly bloated methods. If anything, it shows a company’s commitment to actively hiring inclusive talent.

The recruiters at the roundtable were let down that candidates were using AI in this way but the truth is candidates feel a similar lack of personal touch in almost every application they send off. The anonymising nature of these process doesn’t just turn our candidates into faceless numbers, organisations become equally ‘unreal’ to them in the process. So in a relationship mediated by automated technology – is it any wonder we’re all ghosting each other?

Ensuring companies have a human face will continue to be difficult, requiring consistent attention and understanding of your processes. The benefits of a strong employer brand are not just in attraction but in retention, cutting through the noise and laying the groundwork for an attentive and considered employee journey. It starts with something as simple as thinking about how this process would make you feel.

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