AI Sourcing Bots, existential threat or exciting opportunity for job boards?

By Richard Collins, Co-founder - 30 April 2024

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Just as modern warfare has recently been transformed by the use of low cost drones, the recruitment industry is about to face its own arms race with swarms of AI powered, outbound “autonomous sourcing bots” that are coming to market. These bots scour databases and web profiles to enable employers to automatically find, engage with and screen candidates for their jobs from the outset of the recruitment process, and potentially represent the biggest threat to date to the job board industry.

Job boards are currently engaged in battles across multiple fronts, but are about to find themselves at the forefront of yet another one. Speak to any job board owner and they will tell you about the headwinds they are currently facing, including:

Economic slowdown, and layoffs resulting in less hiring. A quick read of any of the listed job boards' latest filings or tracking the numbers of jobs being carried by job boards clearly shows the stark extent of it.
The continued dominance of the two “superpowers” of Indeed and LinkedIn adding competitive pressure.
Jobseekers’ increasing adoption of GenAI as part of their job search, resulting in many more applications per job, that are harder to tell apart, and are full of information that is increasingly hard to trust.

Never before have there been so many applications and yet so few candidates who are actually qualified.

These factors have combined to make recruiting more challenging than ever for employers.

Even as a small startup, our own experience has borne this out when we recently hired a remote developer. A year ago, we attracted 30 applicants for the same job, whereas today we had 300 from one source and 500 from another! All in 48 hours. I can only imagine how much worse it must be if you are a big brand.

The problem becomes how to sort through them all to find the good candidates, especially when you don't know what data you can trust and have so many who are unsuitable.

It was in anticipation of this problem that we built CV / Resume Wallet’s verification platform for employers, the idea was to create a proof-based system of trust between employer and jobseeker within the application process. One that was low cost and real time for employers, and for job seekers was low friction and allowed them to fast track their applications.

Imagine how talent acquisition teams must feel when facing this wall of applicants. It's no wonder advertising is dropping off when employers are getting hundreds and sometimes thousands of applications per job just from their own careers site. No matter how good a job board's applicant quality is, if the hiring teams are collapsing under the weight of their own responses, then one of the first things that will get pulled is the thing that generates even more of them, i.e. paid advertising.

All three factors, Economic dynamics, Competitive pressures and Jobseeker adoption of GenAI have combined to make the job board business an incredibly difficult one to be in right now.

Unfortunately, there is another threat coming that will only make things worse.

We are now starting to see significant numbers of AI-powered outbound sourcing bots being launched into the market, both from new startups and existing players.

After being automatically “briefed” using the job description/advert, these bots are designed to independently find suitable applicants by sourcing from existing talent pools, databases of silver medal applicants, internal staff lists and trawling the web for matching candidate profiles. They then engage with these candidates, messaging them about the job, the company, and chat about what they are looking for, before arranging a time for them to talk to the hiring manager about the role in more detail. With no human intervention required.

And they will cost very little.

Unlike the hiring bots before them, with all the bias that was experienced, they won't need to try and learn what a good candidate looks like, they will use simple matching (job title and location), before engaging in conversation with the prospective applicant, putting them through some simple screening, before handing them off to a human recruiter.

The lure to recruiters – I imagine staffing agencies and RPOs initially – of engaging from the outset a fully automated low cost solution that delivers pre-arranged interviews with a shortlist of screened candidates will be hard to resist.

And it seems likely that it won't take long before employers follow suit.

If we think about how a typical TA function approaches hiring, it is usually step-based, with each step moving to a higher cost method, as follows.

Advertise internally
Advertise on career site
Advertising on job boards
Database and web-based sourcing or staffing agencies.

The beauty of the sourcing bot is that it easily combines elements 1,2 and 4 simultaneously. Though I would be surprised if the more sophisticated ones didn't have a programmatic advertising element built in as well in the event of a shortage of skilled candidates.

It's not hard to imagine a company that is using this approach reducing its advertising spend as a result.

Job boards won't be the only ones who will be affected though. I suspect success-based staffing agencies will have an even harder time of it, though RPOs will be perfectly placed to take advantage by adopting the technology first.

Companies like Cielo, Scotty AI, Holly hires, Kleos already have offerings, and I would be staggered if players such as Paradox, SmartRecruiters and iCIMS were not also working on one, along with a string of other startups who are launching them daily. In our world of readily available, low cost, conversational AI, they are relatively simple to build.

So what can job boards do to defend their position?

Firstly, the bots won’t get it all their way, as there are some obvious issues, such as data protection, spam legislation and personal information security, all of which will cause them problems.

There will always be bias concerns, and the AI recruitment legislation from New York City and the EU to be contended with.

But given the size of the opportunity worldwide, these things are unlikely to deter them.

But for job boards to just sit and hope, seems like a lesson in dinosaur thinking.

Job boards do have one thing that the bots do not have, yet desperately need, and that is quality candidates. Resume databases are full of them, and usually sit under-utilised, out-of-date, and unverified. Whilst employers and their ATS’s also have candidates, it is generally the ones that got rejected previously, so not the best starting point.

Players such as Indeed and LinkedIn, that have the largest candidate databases of all, have been quick to recognise this, both as a threat but also as a potential opportunity.

Indeed has, for some time, been enhancing their Resume database with their SmartSourcing products. I remember watching Raj [Mukherjee] demo it at Indeed Interactive in Austin in 2019 just after my previous company was acquired by them, and thinking this is actually very impressive tech – though they have taken quite a while to bring it to market. LinkedIn has recently announced a partnership with Hubspot, and its automated marketing tools, so I imagine we will see them doing similar things soon too.

The rest of the industry needs to follow their lead; strength will be found in numbers, so as with programmatic networks, the industry needs to come together to start offering access to their niche/specialist audiences through these types of sourcing products before it's too late.

Not only will this generate more revenue for job boards, it will also ensure that they, along with the communities of job seekers they bring together, remain a vital part of the hiring infrastructure of the future.

On a final note, the one big unknown in all of this is jobseekers and how they will react to this swarm of recruiting bots relentlessly harassing and spamming them about jobs. Personally, I expect to see them adopt their own AI tools even faster as a result.

Time will tell, but food for thought I hope.



Via TAtech 

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