David Helfrich

Senior Client Partner, Americas

Harmonising AI with a Human Touch

With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) many industries are experiencing significant changes in technology and the world of talent management is no exception.

We are in an age where entire sub-industries are constructed to disrupt long-standing paradigms. For example, with advances in FinTech, Biotech, Blockchain, Machine Learning or AI, many of these technologies are poised to disrupt (or even replace) essential functions within various industries. Understandably, this has created anxiety and uncertainty about the future – particularly when emerging technology is not being balanced with a human-centric perspective on how we can harness AI to improve lives, champion equity and create abundance instead of simply viewing AI as a replacement to supplant human function.

Instead of viewing AI as adversarial or wholly disruptive to recruitment processes, how can we optimise AI to streamline mundane tasks, supplement DE&I initiatives, and effectuate better results?

Perhaps a first step would be to fully harness the current ability of AI to simplify some of the more rudimentary analytical tasks, such as AI-powered background checks, automated referencing checking, and guiding conversation analytics with equity and cultural competency.

But outside of these practical AI functions, is there legitimate concern about its usage in the modern world as it pertains to employment opportunities and recruitment strategies?


A recent Ipsos Mori survey found that 60% of adults expect that products and services using AI will profoundly change their daily lives in the next three to five years.

However, the survey also found that a substantial portion of Americans think AI will trigger changes in social needs such as education and employment. In addition, many expressed anxiety about how AI algorithms are scanning online applications for key phrases and deploying body language software in an effort to be predictive in differentiating between potential good and bad recruits, supplanting human review of key applicant features.

The survey also highlighted a clear difference in perception and attitudes toward AI between high-income and developing countries:

Citizens from emerging countries are significantly more likely than those from more economically developed countries to report being knowledgeable about AI, to trust companies that use AI, and to have a positive outlook on the impact of AI-powered products and services in their life. Ipsos Mori survey

Indeed, the emergence of AI has raised legitimate concerns about the ethics of AI usage in the modern world pertaining to equitable distribution. As data scientist and author of Weapons of Math Destruction Cathy O’Neil puts it:

Employers are turning to mathematically modelled ways of sifting through job applications. Even when wrong, their verdicts seem beyond dispute – and they tend to punish the poor. Cathy O’Neil, Author

While understanding the emergence and utility of AI-powered recruitment tools, we also must acknowledge that some human factors cannot be replaced. As societies become more technologically advanced, there is also more demand for soft skills like oral communication, negotiation, social skills, leadership qualities, and emotional intelligence. While AI can certainly assist in sourcing candidates with the technical attributes necessary to excel at a particular position, a soft skills gap is emerging that requires a human touch that AI cannot perceive.

This is one of the reasons why more sophisticated human processes employed by recruitment and executive search firms cannot simply be replaced by AI and/or automation in situations requiring a trusted consultant with demonstrated emotional intelligence.

While AI may assist in identifying and sourcing potential candidates, it cannot develop relationships or understand the finer details of what makes a particular candidate unique – nor is AI better suited than human consultants to understand the nuances of a company’s culture.

Additionally, many equal opportunity advocates have raised the alarm about how AI algorithms can be subject to hiring biases, given that algorithms are written by humans and thus, reflect the biases that may (or may not) exist within the software developer. There have also been studies where gender and skin-type biases have been found in commercial AI systems. As such, any AI usage must also comply with U.S. federal employment laws with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to ensure that these technologies do not perpetuate bias and create high-tech discrimination.

This isn’t to say that AI can’t greatly enhance the capabilities of human consultants. On the contrary, much like a droid is a tremendous ally to a Jedi (please humour the Star Wars reference), AI will be an invaluable tool to the recruiter. As data scientist Ji-A-Min argues: AI won’t necessarily replace human recruiters, but it will make them better. Just as AI can reflect some of the less evolved characteristics of human beings, it can also help optimise our better angles as a tool to overcome bias with the guidance from the humans who design its systems. By infusing AI with a human-centric perspective that embraces cultural diversity, artistic creativity and the idiosyncrasies that make us unique as human beings, Human-Centered AI can enhance the fields of talent management and executive search to optimise technical recruitment processes, champion diversity, and act as a supplement (instead of a replacement) to vital human perceptions, insights, and soft-skills that cannot be performed by machines.

Armstrong Craven’s approach to talent mapping, pipelining and executive search is grounded in research. We are continuously inspired by our clients’ innovation, compassion, and growth, many of whom we support to optimise critical programs, including DE&I, succession planning, and competitor insights. Our People Intelligence approach enables us to gather critical insights into niche talent populations, empowering our clients to attract and retain top talent in an ever-changing world.

Contact me using the form below to learn more about how our bespoke solutions can solve your most difficult talent challenges.

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