Buyers have every right to be confused: There are well over 100 AI-based talent acquisition products in the market today. AI now underlies at least part of the familiar names in talent acquisition (for example, iCIMS, Oracle Recruiting Cloud and Workday) as well as the many relative newcomers, such as Hello Astra, Wade & Wendy and CVViZ.
To a certain extent, AI-based recruiting offerings are more similar than different. A buyer is likely to successfully source, engage and hire job candidates with almost any of the popular systems. Of interest, however, is how quickly AI use in today's products spread from solely recruiting platforms to broader-use talent management platforms. Now they go beyond focusing on ascertaining skills in initial hiring to identify skill gaps and recommend solutions, thus facilitating employees' career development. Today's most competitive AI-based applicant tracking systems (ATSes) have crossed that barrier into post-hiring skill identification and development, a promising aid to internal mobility and succession planning.
Other AI applications are more specific and intended to augment an ATS, such as Eightfold.ai for skills or Fuel50 for workforce mobility and talent management, Staffing Engine for use by staffing firms, HiredScore, which focuses on compliance and ethics, or Textio for "augmented writing" that provides language guidance for inclusive and on-brand communication.
Using chatbots for recruiting is now mainstream
Conversational chatbots are the most common application relying on AI in talent acquisition products. Widely available for mobile devices, career sites and sometimes smart watches, bots are increasingly relied upon to get potential candidates the focused information they need and walk them through the job discovery, application and often the onboarding process. Chatbots are increasingly sophisticated (and friendly), such as Paradox's Olivia, Eightfold.ai's Amy, and StepStone's Mya. Most bots can seamlessly help navigate career sites, bringing pertinent jobs to the site visitor, and assist in the application process; they then manage interview scheduling, calendar coordination and send reminders to relevant parties.
Leading products (Arya is one example) provide a consolidated candidate communication dashboard, an essential tool for engaging and keeping track of voice, text, email and chatbot conversations. This capability is important. Too often candidate communication is lost in Post-it notes.
Using AI to funnel the most likely candidates to recruiters has become universal -- without the biases surrounding age, gender, race or ethnicity. This basic source, post, search, parse and match capability underlies all the talent acquisition products reviewed here.
How is AI used in recruiting?
AI technology can look like old-fashioned search on steroids, and indeed, AI-enabled sourcing software can locate, deliver and filter huge volumes of data -- but more rapidly and accurately than ever before possible. It is important to understand, however, how the engines work. To provide Day One value, the vendor has to have done extensive back-end work to avoid a "cold start" for the customer.
From the millions of records from which the engine learns, the vendor will create a model that will need to be repeatedly validated to ensure accuracy in results. This pre-trained model and companion language-processing software "knows" how to use customer data to build a customer-specific model tailored to its business. More importantly, the buyer needs to understand that the model will continue to learn through customer curation and use and periodic ingestion of new data (hence the machine learning aspect), to ensure relevancy, accuracy and freshness over time. Thus, a buyer has to evaluate the vendor's ongoing support capabilities for that effort as well as the product.
Vendors love to boast about the huge number of records their engine has ingested, records gleaned from many sources and of varying types. This is fodder for the engine, the substance from which it learns and from which a workable model is created. The real value of all this is in the relevancy of the output, be it recommended candidates, suggested coursework or career paths.
In some cases, though, vendors can deliver pools of talent to the buyer. This is a different matter. The first number relates to the volume of data that the engine ingested to build a reliable model for the task at hand. The second is basically a virtual data lake of potential candidates available to the buyer, filtered by the trained AI engine, which avoids the Day One problem.
The continual ingestion of new records necessitates vendor assistance in ongoing curation and algorithm checks for drifts into irrelevancy or inaccuracy.
But will it integrate?
Challenges in integrating diverse products always haunt buyers. Perhaps the closest thing to good news on this front is that the code for AI engines, while not standardized, is generally very similar from engine to engine. The products included here all claim to integrate with ATSes and many offer bidirectional integration (Eightfold.ai, for one). Some companies rely on partners to augment their systems. SAP SuccessFactors Recruiting integrates with Eightfold.ai, Paradox's Olivia, Skillate, Paradox, JobHopin and Ideal, for example. These products add AI support to the core recruiting system for areas such as intelligent matching and shortlisting, salary information, chatbots and candidate ranking.
Introduction to AI recruiting tools
There are many ways to evaluate products and the vendors that create them: breadth or depth of functionality provided, technology used, price, global availability, sophistication of the solution, the degrees of support and training provided, the reputation for integrity or eco-consciousness of the vendor, and no doubt others. Here products that rose to the top are considered: some are total ATSes and some are talent augmenting systems.
The products reviewed in this section tend to address the needs of at least three distinct user groups: candidates, recruiters, hiring managers and often already-hired current employees. The ATSes in general all support sourcing, job posting, data parsing, candidate short-listing or ranking, multi-channel communications, career site and mobile device chatbots, and intuitive user interfaces targeting the needs of the candidate, hiring manager and recruiter. All deliver analytics relevant to their product scope. They also provide bot-supported scheduling of interviews and follow-up conversations, a great boon to both candidates and recruiters. As mentioned above, several have expanded capabilities to current employees, to meet the growing demand for clear direction in career growth and mobility.
Serious buyers of new AI-powered recruiting software should not neglect products from long-standing companies such as Oracle, iCIMS and Workday. These companies are deeply vested in recruiting and talent management expertise and have the support teams, cloud infrastructure, secure platforms and deep pockets the younger startups generally lack. While startups are still in the early stages of their product releases, these companies have developed and refined their AI software and their support for customer initiatives. They also offer more complete products, reflecting their time in the market. Many of the products reviewed here in fact augment rather than replace these established firms. A further consideration in the purchase of AI-powered recruiting tools is the likelihood of company longevity: Will your selected vendor be acquired by another right in the middle of your implementation?
The goal here is not to cover every product feature or function -- all have product briefs on their sites that support that. Again, because the requirements of the recruitment process are clearly defined, the products are more similar than differentiated. Therefore, points of uniqueness or specific strengths form the basis of including the vendors here, in alphabetic order by solution type, not ranked.
Arya by Leoforce
The vendor claims "Arya goes beyond conventional AI with artificial intuition, a deeper, multidimensional understanding of people, jobs and what makes them compatible," but doesn't say how the product does this.
Arya uses AI to source from internal databases, job boards and social networks, and provides one-click job ad placement, as do most similar products. Recruiters can engage with potential applicants via phone, text, email and bots from one integrated candidate communication dashboard. This desirable feature supports automation of personalized messages and streamlines communication throughout the entire process to facilitate contact with candidates. ATS integration is supported.
Arya includes candidate relationship marketing in its support for drip campaigns, a series of automated emails sent to candidates who take certain actions on a website. It can track the number of emails sent, opened, unopened and clicked, and supports one-to-one or one-to-many communication via email, text and direct dial -- features some ATSes don't have.
There are four versions. With Arya Quantum, Leoforce notably adds neurodiversity to its bias mitigation list. This should be a call-out capability in all talent acquisition products.
The Arya Pulse service provides agency-quality candidates without high staffing agency fees or long-term contracts. The cost can be as low as $599 per job to get a list of interview-ready candidates.
Another service, which signals that Leoforce is more than a software vendor, is Arya Concierge, in which the customer works with one dedicated recruiter expertly trained in using Arya to find highly compatible job candidates. Leoforce then engages with and qualifies the most compatible candidates, adding more of a traditional headhunter service to the offerings. The customer also receives all of the qualified profiles Arya sourced, for future recruiting.
During the pandemic, Leoforce offered complimentary access to Arya for companies identified as essential businesses by government authorities and redirected its team and technology to support organizations that were directly involved in combating the pandemic and performing a public service simply by staying open.
Arya does not do product demonstrations for market researchers, so there is no information here on the completeness or responsiveness of the interface or the software in general.
ICIMS Talent Cloud
ICIMS Talent Cloud deploys its AI engine to search for, opportunity match and recommend potential job candidates. Its conversational AI bot enables candidates to receive answers to FAQs, learn from employee-generated videos and schedule interviews in over 20 languages. In an attempt to make recruiter-relevant use of what may be sparse data, the digital assistant can parse an applicant's resume, creating a dynamic talent profile augmented with publicly available third-party information; external systems such as LinkedIn, if the customer has a partnership with the source; or core HR systems. It then infers related adjacent skills the applicant may not have noted explicitly. The digital assistant integrates with communication platforms such as SMS (text messaging), web chat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Microsoft Teams.
Its intelligent search for career sites can deliver positions for applicants to consider that otherwise might not appear due to inconsistencies in spelling, acronyms or job titles. When applicants upload their resumes, Talent Cloud's AI recommends roles that align with their skills and experience.
ICIMS Talent Cloud offers the full set of recruiting and hiring analytics in an intuitive dashboard, updated regularly.
For users of Oracle Cloud HCM for core HR, this closely integrated recruiting product makes sense. Thanks to its long time in the market, Oracle provides sophisticated breadth and depth to address candidate relationship management (CRM) and hiring management. It also applies a wealth of experience in user interface creation, outshining some newer market entrants. Like all the products reviewed here, this is a SaaS product with AI-powered self-learning digital assistants to answer questions and guide the candidate through application tasks. It uses the same AI model to support automatic speech recognition to convert speech to text.
Oracle Recruiting's AI-based platform uses predictive modeling to provide recruiting teams with an accurate estimation of exactly how long it takes to hire for a specific position and identifies where bottlenecks may occur.
Other features include text-based interview scheduling, offer invitations, acceptances, and regular updates and communications that are supported as part of a candidate personalization focus.
The software automatically drives internal mobility by considering all employees for open positions. Models for anomaly detection can flag critical incidents in the AI, resulting in faster time to detection and resolution.
Oracle says it commits to the following three things:
- No personally identifiable information is ingested or displayed.
- Through its access control feature, the platform never publishes data out of the customer's HR system.
- The role of AI is to make talent recommendations, not decisions.
Phenom Intelligent Talent Experience
This modularized AI recruiting platform includes the Phenom career site, chatbot, content management system, CRM, AI scheduling, video assessments, campaigns, university recruiting, talent marketplace, career pathing, gigs, mentoring and referrals. It shifts early transactional interactions into personalized AI-led processes that quickly qualify job seekers by interest, location and basic qualifications, which should ease the application and hiring process for candidates and recruiters. The company also provides a high-volume hiring system addressing the needs of healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, retail and transportation, as some examples, and support for seasonal surge hiring.
Candidates can connect with a company via the career site, chatbot or text messaging and are then automatically progressed to self-scheduled interviews and video Q&A with the same choices. Hiring flows can be differentiated by job role and required skills -- such as specialized licenses or certifications for teachers, nurses, airline pilots and commercial truck drivers -- customized for any industry that requires hiring at scale. Interviews can be conducted in Phenom through embedded video interactions that are supported directly in chat.
Phenom offers solid support across the talent acquisition and development spectrum, addressing candidates and, as is becoming more common, the workforce once it is hired, with tools for employee career pathing and internal mobility. The tools and workflows for recruiters and hiring managers are incorporated into a product that is attractive and intuitive. Buyers will do well to consider it.
Sense, a provider of AI-driven talent engagement software for recruiting, announced its acquisition of Skillate on September 8, 2022. Skillate is an AI recruitment platform incubated in the SAP Startup Studio.
Skillate starts with writing the job description itself, offering assistance by suggesting better keywords and skills. It provides the resume-to-req matching and resume parsing that is the basis of all the products reviewed here. The product collects resumes from potential sources such as its internal database, third-party ATSes, Google Drive, mailboxes, referrals, external agencies and career pages, and runs incoming resumes against its machine learning model, ranking and scoring them for their fit with the job at hand. Skillate reports its AI algorithms have been trained with a data set of 20 million profiles.
The concept of first-round screening is AI-enabled here: The chatbot automatically screens the candidates for information beyond resumes, such as notice periods, intent to relocate and salary expectations.
Skillate integrates with SAP SuccessFactors Recruiting, Workday, SmartRecruiters, and Oracle Taleo.
TurboHire bills itself as a recruitment automation platform, adding AI to the tasks all recruiters face: job marketing and screening, interview scheduling, feedback collection automation and candidate engagement and inquiry. The product accommodates global and high-volume hiring through bulk email campaigns and WhatsApp and text integration. Like in other products reviewed here, customizing is possible without touching code, so recruiters can best adapt it for their preferred practices. The product has an integrated agency management portal that allows partners to contribute candidates, track their status and manage compliance, which is key to recruiting in much of Asia.
The company has AI-enabled many of the standard workflows of recruiting and hiring, delivered in a series of modules. Like most such products, the focus is on productivity and efficiency. However, Amanda, the bot, is at this point rather limited, at least on the TurboHire website.
AI in talent sourcing
Locating potential employees, especially passive candidates, is its own challenge. Products that use AI in sourcing have the advantage of searching huge and widespread sources of talent almost instantly. While this kind of AI is part of most ATSes, some products that augment ATSes are worth calling out. As the first product offerings from their respective vendors, these may grow into full-fledged ATSes over time, be acquired and added to an ATS player's product or remain as a separate tool for at least the short term.
If there were a reward for clever product names, Fetcher might win because it does just that: fetches potential applicants. Fetcher is a candidate sourcing and scheduling tool with the recruiting analytics buyers expect. Used by small businesses with English-only needs, it provides candidates based on AI-powered keyword matches. Over time, it learns a company's candidate preferences and then identifies potential talent accordingly.
The platform automates the standard requirements for email outreach campaigns, provides a duplication option to reuse previous search criteria and has a notes feature for recruiter feedback. The information provided is piped directly to the vendor's internal teams, to further tailor the search, enhance the algorithms and help Fetcher find and deliver the candidates sought. The calendar scheduling plugin allows for rapid company-branded scheduling of telephone screens and interviews.
While the sourcing functions of the product are not unique, it is an intuitive tool for recruiters in small businesses. It integrates out of the box with Ashby, Fountain, Greenhouse, Lever, JazzHR, Oracle Taleo, SAP SuccessFactors Recruiting, Recruitee, Teamtailor and SmartRecruiter.
SeekOut provides an AI-powered talent search engine to help recruiters quickly find and hire the most qualified passive candidates. (It appears to be very Boolean-based, a potentially limiting approach that can be hard to use.) The company says it provides access to hundreds of millions of candidates from potentially untapped talent pools, including public profiles, GitHub, the papers and patents of experts, employee referrals, company alumni, candidates already in the company's ATS, and more. There are more than 100 searchable fields that include skill sets, background, experience, education and diversity, and fields such as security clearance, which is useful for federal positions. A healthcare talent pool, for example, includes 5.5 million healthcare professionals.
SeekOut supports the concept of a total talent pool as well as individuals. Recruiters can see total amalgamated talent by location as well as specific people with that talent in that location. This is a potentially valuable feature many other platforms lack.
SeekOut's ability to locate and screen tech talent should be a draw for organizations that need technologists. From GitHub, the app can provide and review actual code to better evaluate a potential applicant's technical prowess. It appears to be easy and intuitive to use, albeit with a slightly underwhelming user interface for people accustomed to today's glitzier applications. This product is definitely worth a tech recruiter's consideration.
XOR AI Recruiter
XOR says it provides a digital recruiting assistant that enables its platform to deliver blue-collar workers for only $500 a hire in less than five days.
Kudos that this small woman-owned company focuses on hourly workers. So much of the recruiting industry focuses on white collar or professional hiring and often glosses over this very large employee segment or addresses large-volume hiring as an afterthought.
XOR AI Recruiter provides a conversational recruiter chatbot and a consolidated communication platform with tools for text messaging, WhatsApp, live chat, phone calls and video to drive engagement. It uses AI-powered chatbots to automate repetitive tasks like screening, scheduling, reengagement, onboarding and rehiring. Availability in more than 100 languages enhances its use for multinational corporations (for example, Ikea is a customer).
It offers bidirectional integration with several prominent ATS systems. It sources candidates from job boards, text conversations, career sites, the ATS itself, and with added extensions, other websites.
XOR AI Recruiter is more of an automated service than a purchasable product. In addition to targeted AI digital marketing for advertising campaigns and XOR virtual career fairs, the vendor uses nonconventional sourcing channels, such as multi-level referral programs, and relies on influencers in local communities to spread the word about hot job openings and motivate candidates to apply. The XOR system then connects and interacts with the candidate directly rather than through job boards.
Similar to the functionality of other products discussed here, once recruiters select the essential requirements for candidates, XOR AI Recruiter will screen them, assign scores and automatically schedule them and remind them about the upcoming interview. Interview management, a critical time-saver for a recruiter, is geared to internal employees as well as new external candidates.
Skills-based talent decisions for today and tomorrow
Few areas are getting more attention from business executives than skills and the lack thereof. The Ground Zero of talent management, fears about the skills gap are deep-seated, and the pandemic didn't help as many companies failed to use the time to upskill employees. The supposed Great Resignation, Boomers retiring, high school and college grads perceived as lacking necessary skills, and the advent of new technologies that require new, different and often sophisticated skills all contribute to a skill malaise. Reskilling has been a hot topic, but little evidence of widespread results has been forthcoming.
The issue is longstanding. Traditional HR systems of record have disparate data about each candidate and employee that is often fragmented across multiple systems and self-reported based on each person's recollection of what they accomplished. It never encapsulates the depth and breadth of what each person has done; and most certainly does not yield insight into their potential. And to be clear, businesses know frightfully little about the skills their employees really have, and often even the exact skills the business needs.
Here are two noteworthy products, among many in the market, that use AI in ascertaining and bettering skills.
Eightfold.ai Talent Intelligence Suite
Eightfold calls its product a talent intelligence platform that enables "holistic" talent strategies; it could be among the first of an emerging product category. Eightfold has a proprietary global data set of more than 1.5 billion talent profiles from which its AI generates recommendations to inform employers on decisions about how and when to build, buy or borrow talent. It employs a skills-based framework that matches people to opportunities (full time, part time, projects and gigs). Eightfold uses that data set to understand the availability, maturity, relevance, learnability and evolution of skills in specific organizations and throughout the global market.
Eightfold's Job Intelligence Engine powers skills-based talent decisions about the job requirements needed for every role in an organization. This skills-based approach drives decision-making around upskilling, reskilling, hiring, staffing of contractors and attaining diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals. Additionally, the Eightfold Job Intelligence Engine examines skill adjacency and context to determine future capability and needs as organizations grow. The AI-powered platform enables self-learning, data-driven updates that help to ensure consistent, unbiased evaluations of individual capabilities and ability to learn against globally standardized job descriptions and requirements.
One of the products in the Eightfold platform, Eightfold Talent Management, is available in more than 24 languages. Employees can use it to find reskilling and upskilling opportunities across courses, mentors and projects based on current skills and career aspirations. The goal of people developing their own skills and assuming responsibility for their career growth is addressed through curated opportunities for continuous learning. By using Eightfold, organizations can better understand the potential of their workforce on a global scale and guide individual employees to further learning, skill development and career opportunities.
Eightfold integrates with Workday, SAP SuccessFactors Recruiting, Oracle Taleo, Oracle Recruiting Cloud, Greenhouse and others. It was recognized by Human Resource Executive as a Top HR Product at the Fall 2022 HRTech conference in Las Vegas.
Most of the products that play a part in recruiting begin with the job or role. Fuel50 turns that premise on its head, looking first at the skills across the organization and how to better position them. This requires reviewing every job description and updating it with the talents and skills needed for each role, rather than the degrees, years of experience and certifications required. Fuel50 helps people identify their talents and skills and supports their growth with career development actions, feedback and learning.
Another woman-owned company, founded by Anne Fulton, Fuel50 provides an AI-driven talent marketplace that fuels internal talent mobility, workforce agility, employee engagement and employee retention with global coverage. Its tool helps organizations understand their bench strength, build talent pipelines, predict skills shortages and conduct workforce mapping.
Fuel50's AI architecture uses validated career frameworks to fast track the rebuilding of an organization's career framework to eliminate the manual process of creating and maintaining job profiles, oft-changing in growing companies.
Many stellar AI products for talent acquisition and longer-term talent management are not total ATS solutions yet definitely merit consideration. There are dozens and dozens of examples. Here's a sample of those that have risen to the top.
HireVue is not an ATS. Instead, the vendor calls it a "talent experience platform" designed to automate workflows and scale hiring. Long noted for its video-interview capabilities, HireVue has made them less bias-prone by using natural language translation to provide a transcript for hiring managers and recruiters. The process creates a blind interview and eliminates potential discrimination by race, gender, color, appearance, dialect, name, age, etc.
HireVue's AI recruiting assistant bot is text-only at this point and provides chat-based job matching, and supports mobile and smart watches, via text messaging and WhatsApp.
However, what merits attention here is the vendor's website documentation to users and customers, prominently placed below the fold. Hirevue has done something I have nagged vendors about for half a decade: explaining how its AI engine works in a way to mitigate adverse impact. It has articulated a very clear, detailed and understandable "Explainability Statement" providing the transparency that is essential when using AI-based products for hiring and assessment.
Every purveyor of AI in talent acquisition should make sure buyers have such an understanding. In addition, a second statement "Bias, AI ethics and the HireVue approach" documents HireVue's approach to ethical AI in online hiring.
My favorite part of Paradox, I confess, is Olivia, a multilingual recruiting assistant chatbot named after the founder's spouse. I am putting Olivia in the best bot category. According to the company, "she" can answer tens of thousands of candidate or employee questions accurately, consistently and at any time of the day or week. As with all the talent acquisition bots included here, Olivia was developed as an assistant to offload repetitive chores and question answering from busy recruiters. This she does. Olivia solves the logistical challenge of interview scheduling and can review hundreds of hiring managers' calendars to handle complex interview scheduling in seconds. The bot's automated text reminders help to reduce interview cancellations and no-shows, potentially saving time for recruiters. Olivia can schedule large events, onboarding sessions, seasonal hirings and orientations, and manage registration and reminders.
While Olivia offloads work for recruiters, the Experience Assistant focuses on the potential applicant. Apparently now part of a bot team with Experience Assistant, Olivia becomes a dynamic content-discovery engine that makes any career site experience feel like it was built specifically for that candidate, allowing personalized interaction on mobile and desktop devices. When people start a conversation with Olivia, she uses candidate responses, geolocation, resume data and more to create an immersive, hyper-personalized experience that serves only the most relevant jobs and content to each person. The experience works with any career site provider and provides the UI that candidates have come to expect on consumer apps like Instagram and Snapchat.
In a slightly different vein, after acquiring Traitify, a personality data company that was building the personality data genome for the employment marketplace, Paradox debuted Animated Assessment. Starring a character named Ash, the two-minute mobile phone app measures a person's openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism through "me" and "not me" responses. Recruiters can then use the results in ascertaining the fit with their current openings.
An AI caveat for buyers
If you are in the market for a new talent acquisition system or are augmenting an existing system with new features, you will likely be looking at a product that has AI. AI capabilities can greatly assist recruiters and hiring managers because of the speed and accuracy with which open reqs can be addressed. But as mentioned, buying a product with the machine learning you need means it is not plug and play. Most buyers need training and assistance with the ongoing learning that the AI will have to do to ensure that the requirements of the specific organization are addressed, DEI goals are met and the system doesn't "go rogue" or lose relevancy over time.
This means carefully evaluating the vendor in addition to the product by asking the following questions:
- How large is the support team that works with each customer on their organizationally specific machine learning?
- How often is the system refreshed with new learning?
- What roadmap is the AI development team working on?
- Will AI-savvy support teams be spread too thin to accommodate a growing customer base?
- What customer education is provided about precisely how the system works?
- How does the vendor support the AI transparency so essential to explainability?
- What is the model for anomaly detection?
- How often do the vendor's data scientists monitor the system for drift away from intended outcomes?
The quest for superior talent is never ending. Through smart technology choices that include AI, machine learning and natural language processing, recruiters will be able to accomplish this faster and more easily. As important, through wise purchasing decisions, they can also ensure their ability to ethically hire a diverse employee base.
AI in talent acquisition can provide a hands-free approach to time-intensive tasks such as interview scheduling and initial qualification screening, much like robots in factory-floor automation. Currently, however, the technology is applied more as helping hands, adding speed and efficiency to the same work recruiters have always done. While this may mean a need for fewer recruiters in an organization, it also can support scenarios where greater human contact is needed.