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Artificial intelligence, or AI, is an area of computer science that sees intelligent machines behaving and reacting as humans do. Computers with artificial intelligence perform cognitive functions, such as learning, planning, problem-solving, and speech recognition. Whilst there is a science-fiction fuelled misconception of the world being over-run by human-like robotic beings, the reality of AI is far removed from this Hollywood-created fantasy.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that sees intelligent machines behaving and reacting as humans do. Computers with artificial intelligence perform cognitive functions, such as learning, planning, problem-solving, and speech recognition. While there is a science-fiction fuelled misconception of the world being over-run by human-like robots, the reality of AI is far removed from this Hollywood fantasy.

The landscape of the everyday is populated with instances of AI. Examples of AI include Siri, Amazon Echo, and Google Dot – even video games, online banking fraud detection, and purchases prediction from online retailers. As the technology advances, the use of AI within the business world is increasing, with many examples in the health care, retail, manufacturing, and sports industries amongst others.

There is no doubt that technology is at the heart of many industries – but it is confined, as technology only does what we tell it to do. Another limitation of AI is that it builds on data input, so any inaccuracies or limitations going into machines affects the quality of the results going out.

Lukas Neumann, chief engineer and architect at Invenias with a PhD in Artificial Intelligence and a role as research assistant in AI Visual Geometry at Oxford University, is in a leading position to comment: ‘The current thinking is that AI is only good at tasks which are repetitive and don’t require any intervention – such as searching databases, driving a car, or predicting weather for the next 24 hours. Executive search presents different circumstances, where each individual is unique and every assignment distinct. If you are hiring a larger volume of candidates for the same position, AI might be able to help you to score the right candidates. This is almost certainly not applicable to executive search.’

However, Lukas continues, there are, in fact, opportunities for the search industry to apply AI to processes undertaken daily by search professionals. ‘Although it is unlikely for AI to take a leading role in the search for top talent, it can help with processing large volumes of public data automatically, to facilitate the initial search process. Allowing machines to mimic the cognitive workings of the human mind, tasks such as defining a long-list of suitable candidates for a particular assignment could become a simple automated process.’

Rick DeRose, managing partner and co-founder of global executive search firm Acertitude, is a leading voice on AI in the search industry. Rick comments: ‘There is a place for AI at a number of levels within executive search. While the application of AI is at its infancy, it is already starting to enhance sourcing, matching, and selection. AI is also helping search firms gain better insights into candidate profiles suited for particular industries or roles. For Acertitude, focusing on recruiting for private equity firms and portfolio companies, AI helps us define what the profile of a top performer looks like across a portfolio and more deeply assess against those traits to mitigate risks and place truly brilliant people at work.’

However, the most immediate benefits of AI will be in productivity enhancements. It has been suggested that machines with artificial intelligence could conduct first level interviews. Algorithms scouring the internet for likely candidates and chatbots asking initial questions to determine candidates’ suitability are just two ways in which the wider recruiting industry can use AI for process automation. Recent advancements in video technology are also now readily available for search professionals, with solutions such as Montage and HireVue gaining popularity. Advanced video technology analysing non-verbal communications, such as body language and facial expressions, act as foundational tools for initial interviewing.

The introduction of AI into the initial stages of the recruitment process has the potential to help eliminate unconscious bias – however, we have seen several early stage deployments of AI within this area result in just the opposite, with the algorithms reinforcing unconscious bias that has been learnt from observing real-life data sets. Applying AI to search could level the playing field when it comes to diversity, pre-screening, and creating lists of qualified candidates by measuring verbal and non-verbal communication skills scientifically correlated to success predictors.

Developing personal relationships is so integral to the role of search professionals, that it is unlikely to ever be replaced by machines. This is where the element of human interaction comes into its own, freeing up consultants’ time doing admin tasks to spending time on what is truly important. AI in the search industry will almost definitely become an analytical tool rather than a decision-making one, performing daily, labor-intensive administrative tasks. This empowers search professionals to focus on building personal relationships, which are vital to delivering outstanding search results.

There is bound to be some apprehension about introducing AI into the search industry, but there is no need for scepticism. The reality of AI is already here, and we are not seeing a trend of robots taking over human jobs. Rick goes on to state: ‘an increase of millennials and Gen Z-ers entering the C-Suite is increasing the use of video technology. Consider how video is the norm in daily life – for example with FaceTime, Snapchat, and Instagram stories – and the leap to introducing this as a go-to in business is by no means inconceivable.’

And how would introducing AI affect clients and candidates? Marketing director at Acertitude, Linnéa Jungnelius, comments: ‘Digital hiring tools are particularly reshaping the initial stages of the candidate experience. For instance, chatbots can help communicate employer value propositions and automated interview scheduling can speed up the process. While these are great benefits, search firms must be careful of becoming transactional and leaving candidates feeling side-lined. Recruiting at the board and executive level is a personal process built on trust. From the initial contact forward, it’s a consultative experience with human connection at its core. To thrive, firms must connect and embrace their two most powerful tools: digital technology and human interaction.’

It is imperative for search firms – indeed, all businesses – to take a step forward by harnessing the power of AI to streamline business operations. In leading the charge with AI, search professionals can be ahead of the game by spending time on what is important in this industry – human interaction. Rick goes on to say: ‘Technology will never replace the role of building meaningful relationships with people. I believe technology will instead complement and enhance human relationships, which are so intrinsic to executive search. Building personal connections—really getting to know someone—is what allows us to understand at depth what clients and candidates want and need. Only with those insights can we attract the best talent, connect them with our clients, and help unleash their shared potential.’

An important part of recruiting is building excitement about the opportunity, presenting the vision and possibilities of what coming together could mean for the client and candidate. With the assistance of trusted search professionals, clients can be presented with better choices and better insights—setting businesses on a path to unleash their true potential. This is an element of the search profession that AI will not be able to replicate.

David Grundy, CEO at Invenias summarises: “Technology is the co-pilot, not the auto pilot, of a search firm’s day-to-day workload. Existing and emerging technologies are valuable enablers in the executive search toolkit—but will remain as a complement to the search professional.”