Artificial intelligence (AI) and other automation tools are being applauded as digital disruptors of business. But what are the practical uses of AI for the HR function, and should technology replace this people-centric department?

Managing job applications

Automating time-intensive and frequently repeated processes, such as pre-screening applicants against job criteria, can free up HR experts’ time, which can then be deployed elsewhere. Particularly for entry-level positions or roles that require specific hard skills, automation can sift through a high volume of online CVs and proceed candidates with desirable qualifications onto the next stage.

Yet, I have two main reservations with using AI in recruiting talent: its propensity to overlook valuable experiences and its potential to limit hiring from diverse backgrounds.

By approaching candidates’ credentials as a box-ticking exercise, AI fails to identify soft skills and personality traits essential to building a diverse business culture. Furthermore, applications can be rejected for missing keywords, which can introduce bias and counter diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies. If candidates are assessed against a narrow list of qualities – which are likely to be based on those of the role’s predecessor – organisations will miss out on talent from new sources, industries and backgrounds.

Virtual interviewing

The use of automated video interviews is rising. This technology eliminates the need for an interviewer to be present as AI assesses candidates’ responses and cognitive abilities for HR professionals to review later.

However, the robotic delivery and sterile atmosphere where candidates cannot respond to visual cues or body language is frustrating. Denied the freedom to express their true personality or showcase their talents, HR teams fail to hear relevant applicant experiences that would occur ‘off script’.



Again, this approach could divert from the company D&I agenda. Yes, virtual interviewing may be time efficient. However, failing to go beyond standard questioning may favour “traditional” hires and limit opportunities to enrich the organisation with new insights and perspectives.

A digital workforce?

As technology advances, there is a growing concern that its future potential to perform human tasks might jeopardise the human workforce – especially if lowering labour costs is on the corporate agenda. Will the future see humans replaced by AI altogether?

The short answer is no. While automation has and will become more sophisticated, it is unable to replicate the emotional responses involved in human decision-making. History shows that advancing technology will only ever produce new lines of human work, as opposed to completely eliminating them. Rather than anticipating science-fiction-style robot takeovers, HR professionals should focus on ensuring that present and future employees are capable of managing changing technologies. The workforce’s soft skills and attitudes towards technology will be critical in guiding the company through technological change.

Final thoughts

As with any form of advancing technology, its effectiveness lies with the people who implement it. Used for its operational proactivity, AI can streamline HR processes and enable them to manage more work with fewer resources. The risk is that organisations automate processes before considering if they are fit for purpose to start with, which leads to ineffective data output or can introduce bias.

Humans still play a valuable role in managing emotionally led interactions.  Therefore, it is vital for the organisation to establish what is automated and when it is time for humans to take over and not the promises in the vendors pitchdeck. All in all, while AI will undoubtedly change the way we work, talent will remain at the centre of successful business transformation.


By Chris Underwood, Managing Director at Executive Search and Leadership Development consultants, Adastrum Consulting


Author biography

Leadership development expert Chris Underwood is Managing Director of executive search and leadership advisory business, Adastrum Consulting.

Businesses from FTSE 100 and Fortune 500 organisations to venture capital backed start-ups trust Adastrum Consulting to assess, define and shape their senior talent management and attraction strategies allowing them to identify, attract, validate and appoint leaders who will deliver business excellence.



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