The death of the cover letter — and other ways automation is changing hiring
The U.S. economy lost 33,000 jobs last month — but people who are out of work may soon have an easier time finding new employment thanks to technological innovation.
Automation technology promises to alter dramatically how people apply for jobs and how recruiters scout potential candidates. From simpler application forms to the death of the cover letter, there are myriad ways in which technology will improve the job search. In fact, some 67% of people are worried rather that algorithms will evaluate and choose job candidates, a survey of more than 4,000 workers by the Pew Research Center found this week.
They’re not wrong. Or paranoid.
Automation has already altered hiring methods. Employers today can use keyword searches on résumés and job applications. “Recruiting has changed a lot — 20 years ago, you would submit a résumé and the thickness of the paper was looked at to find a higher quality candidate,” said Brian Kropp, HR practice leader at CEB, a subsidiary of consulting company Gartner. “Now more progressive companies are trying to determine the characteristics from a LinkedIn profile or résumé.”
’We’re in a paradigm shift from where a job seeker looks for jobs to where the job finds the job seeker.’
Restless Bandit was founded three years ago by the team that created the job search startup Bright.com, which LinkedIn bought in 2014. It sells “talent rediscovery” technology to employers. Its algorithms aim to search the content of résumés to find potential candidates.
The technology could dramatically speed up the recruiting process, since roughly 40% of the résumés an employer receives are from people already in its database, said Steve Goodman, Restless Bandit’s CEO and co-founder. “I fundamentally believe that we’re in a paradigm shift from where a job seeker looks for jobs to where the job finds the job seeker,” Goodman said.
Looking for a job online is not unlike looking for a date: People are turned off by too much eagerness. It’s cheaper to hire someone who applied for a job rather than hiring a headhunter, Kropp said. But people may grow tired of recruiters. “We’ve grown wary of communication through social media,” said MaryJo Fitzgerald, community expert at job search website Glassdoor. So allowing people to apply en masse and using algorithms to sort applications seems like one obvious solution.
Cover letters could become as ’quaint’ as business cards
The same technologies that can scan résumés can also scan cover letters. But as hiring databases amass more information about potential candidates readily available online, their usefulness could diminish. “The idea of a cover letter is going to feel as quaint as a business card is starting to feel now,” Kropp said. The downside: Nuances about a person’s character and personality, and his or her extra-curricular experience may not always be detectable by a computer.
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Online applications will change, but only higher-ups may benefit
For the most in-demand, highly skilled jobs — such as artificial intelligence programmers — the design of online applications will be simpler. “Those people will have multiple job offers,” Kropp said. “Why would they spend a half-hour filling out an application, when they could go to another company that doesn’t have an application?” In those cases, he added, “employers invest money and energy to flesh out the whole picture of the candidate.”
You already order food on your phone, soon you could be applying for a job that way
Mobile will be the big development in hiring technology in the next year, FitzGerald said. A 2014 Glassdoor survey found that nine in 10 job seekers use a mobile device while searching for a job. Less commonplace though is the ability to apply for a job on a smartphone or tablet. “They’re already searching for jobs on their phone, so having the ability to make a smooth transition is important,” Fitzgerald said.
Job seekers could have to take more tests
More jobs will probably require formal assessments such as tests or sample presentations in the hiring process, experts told MarketWatch. “Research shows that the more difficult the candidate feels the recruitment process is, the more satisfied they will feel in their job in the long term,” Fitzgerald said. There’s a fine line though: If you make hiring someone too difficult, the job seeker understandably won’t be too happy.
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Automation has real implications for diversity
Experts agreed that “algorithmic bias” was a valid concern — automation technology can reproduce existing biases. At Microsoft MSFT, +0.04% for instance, only 25.8% of employees are women, according to data released last November. As of 2012, only 14% of engineers were women, according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee — so algorithms looking for specific skills could very well identify more men for a computer engineering role than women, because there’s a greater chance that candidate with those qualities would be a man.
Switching careers could get trickier
Even those who are creating this technology, including Goodman, admit it will have limitations. The reliance on these systems could make it harder for people to change careers, Goodman pointed out. “If you want to do a career change, you’re going to have to fundamentally change the way you present yourself, which means you may have to get training or the entry-level job for the algorithms to pick it up,” he said. Algorithms don’t often give applicants chances the way people do.