Interview: Artificial Intelligence in HR. A status report with Ralph Dennes, Managing Director DACH

Interview: Artificial Intelligence in HR. A status report with Ralph Dennes, Managing Director DACH

How will artificial intelligence change HR? An interview with Ralph Dennes

Machines can shift through enormous databases, scour resumes and communicate directly and quickly with applicants. How is Artificial Intelligence changing Human Resources now and what can we expect in the coming years? An interview with Ralph Dennes, Managing Director DACH at Textkernel.

Mr. Dennes, Textkernel is a global market leader in the field of artificial intelligence, machine learning and semantic technology for HR and recruitment.

As the Managing Director for DACH, can you tell us whether you believe robots to be better than actual HR recruiters?

No they are not. But they are more efficient and more objective than humans. A computer can work many times faster than humans – and around the clock. It can analyze data in a more objective manner and does not interpret it. In this sense, robots are optimized “workers” best suited for repetitive, mundane tasks such as the screening, collection, sorting and selection of data that requires a high degree of precision, and that then can be further analysed and assessed. This is why artificial intelligence provides an excellent support function to the HR team, but in no way actually replace the HR specialist.  The HR specialist is better suited to assess the relevance and context of the output, and to then make all relevant decisions. 

Artificial intelligence is really “state of the art” technology and seems to be popping up everywhere these days. How can the non-expert really understand what AI is all about?

That’s not so easy – at least if you want to be correct and yet understandable to the general public. Artificial intelligence is intended to simulate human intelligence with the aim of teaching the machine human-like (learning) behavior. There are two main fields of application: so-called machine learning and deep learning. In machine learning, humans use computer algorithms to tell the computer what to do in situation x or y. Speech recognition is an example of this. In regards to deep learning, on the other hand, the computer learns itself and adapts its “behavior” to the situations. In the later case, we are still a long way from the possibility that the machine will be able to wholly interpret data independently and draw the correct conclusions.

How is AI being used today in HR?

Many HR managers and HR service providers already use artificial intelligence in their daily work processes. One example of how AI is already in use by many HR is CV parsing, which refers to the automatic text recognition in CVs so that the contents of CVs can be collected and entered into a structured database that is searchable by HR recruiters. Now, the technology is so advanced that text modules can be scanned and keywords filtered. It can also create a context for the words and can thus classify the information. It can recognize language skills as well as soft or technical skills. This is something that can be done within seconds across significant volumes of documents. The time savings for humans are enormous.

Another example is semantic search technology. While not everyone might be familiar with the term, everyone will understand the following example: If you have googled a search term before, you will know that the search query returns not only the word entered, ie a concrete combination of letters, but also intelligently incorporates synonyms and “related words” into the search. So for example, a search for the term “project manager” will return results for “project manager” as well as “head of Project Management “, or other variations of the title. Semantic search technology strives to find and return what I’m looking for, not just what I type as keywords. For recruiters, this has the advantage that they can search for several databases and social networks at the same time with just one search request and integrate every suitable profile into their own database within a few seconds.

The ability to overcome personal biases is gaining traction in HR. How does AI play into this discussion?

In terms of being objective and limiting decisions based on subjective beliefs and biases, machines beat humans because they don’t color outcomes with subjective value or personal preferences. The computer analyzes the given facts in a completely neutral manner. But on the other hand, it is also not able to assess the candidate’s cultural or personality fit within a particular corporate culture. In this case, having an HR recruiter is essential. It is about to recognize nuances in personal conversations, being fine-tuned as to whether the “chemistry” is right, whether the candidate would be a good fit into an existing team. This is what HR recruiters should and must focus on. I am convinced that the personal connection can and will not be replaced by AI in the future.

A positive candidate experience is important for recruiting success, but many applicants are skeptical of AI technology.  How can we improve acceptance of AI technology that helps improve our application processes?

The problem is that technology is mostly used to make life easier for the HR team. HR work is still understood primarily as a service to the company with the aim of achieving more with fewer resources. That alone is the basis for the adoption of new technologies. The relevance for the applicant is generally a secondary consideration. Of course, if candidates have to complete a highly complicated and annoying registration process to apply to your job vacancy, the overall candidate experience is negative. And here, AI can improve and support an optimized candidate experience. However, HR work is primarily transactional in nature and AI technology is used with the aim of inspiring the best candidates to join the company. Only when the relevance of AI for the applicant increases, its acceptance from candidates will also increase.

Let’s take a look into the future: how will the daily work of a staff member change over the next few years thanks to AI?

I think the image of HR as a pure admin function will shift dramatically. The HR recruiter will (have to) assume a hybrid sales and marketing role in which he sells the added value of the company – both internally to employees and externally to potential candidates. Thanks to intelligent technologies, he is already freed from the repetitive and mundane administrative tasks today.  And this ‘free time’ can now be allocated to higher value tasks such as spending more time with candidates and internal employees. With the future of work, we are about to see more velocity in the HR lifecycle, especially if we consider that Millenials and Gen Y want to change roles more often and place more value on learning and development. If the velocity of the HR pipeline is about to accelerate, HR will need to be supported with the right tools and become more ‘skill consultants’ in their daily work.

Ralph Dennes is the Managing Director DACH at Textkernel.  He works with global enterprises within the DACH region who are looking to adopt AI to enable better HR processes such as internal mobility and HR streamlining by better capitalizing on their available data sources.