Written by Nathan Hewitt

AI in Talent: why every recruiter needs to care

Last week I had two conversations, one with my partner, the other with Barb Hyman, Sapia’s new CEO.

Both wanted me share my story. To tell you and anyone else who might be interested, or care, about a journey that took me from being a recruiter to working in a business at the cutting edge of a technology, science and people triumvirate.

They wanted me to share my journey of discovery that every single recruiter is going to experience sooner, rather than later.

To begin, we first need to acknowledge that we humans are odd folk. How often do we see examples of people ignoring evidence in favour of something that instead reinforces their pre-set opinions?

AI in HR and Recruitment, it’ll never catch on

I’ve been doing this job for 10 years, I don’t need a machine to tell me how to recruit

I just don’t believe it, to be honest

These are just a few of the comments / opinions I’ve received from Talent professionals when discussing Recruitment AI. (I should also acknowledge that there are many folk who are genuinely curious or are already embracing the technology).

A while ago a recruitment manager posted on LinkedIn, asking their network for advice on Sapia solutions. A contact of mine figured I could help and tagged me.

Someone else in the Rec Manager’s network provided this advice:

“use a common-sense approach to recruitment… software misses the point… Imagine if your Dr used this sort of software to see if you are ‘likely to….’”

I refrained from posting something akin to this BBC article discussing AI accurately identifying skin cancers. As for “common sense recruiting”… well, i’ll come to that in a subsequent post.

Many people have already formed an opinion on AI. They’ve decided it won’t make a difference, it’s not for them nor will it help their company.

Let me tell you why I think they’re ever so wrong.


Enabling data-driven hiring decisions

The marriage of behavioural science, data science and AI technology

The introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies into the world of HR and recruitment is not just an idea anymore, it is a reality. Neural networks, machine learning and natural language processing are all being introduced into different areas of HR.

These developments contribute to the function’s increased accessibility to data-driven insights and analytics, enabling better-informed people decisions.

In recruitment and talent acquisition, AI technologies have the potential to make a significant impact by identifying candidates who can perform well in individual business environments.

However, pre-hire assessment is a complex area, and without incorporating validated behavioural science we only end up with a 2D view – instead of the 3D view we actually wanted. This is why the marriage of data, computer and behavioural sciences is essential.

By bringing together organisational psychologists, data scientists and computer scientists we truly leverage the power of artificial intelligence – and change the way candidates are recruited. It takes the recruitment process beyond the technical excellence necessary to collect and report on data and insights.

By merging these scientific areas we get:

  • Computer science expertise providing the critical ‘how’ for collecting quality data.
  • Data science brilliance then revealing the ‘what’ of unseen connections within that data.
  • Well-constructed behavioural science explaining the ‘why’ behind those connections.

Through the combination of all three disciplines, we can access a whole extra world of meaning, enabling us to get closer to the core of what’s happening in organisations.

Behavioural science is the key to success

A recent Industrial & Organisational Psychology article pointed to the disruption taking place in the talent identification industry through new digital technologies. The authors noted that although big data is attractive, the data is often thrown together and interrogated using data science until correlations are found. This has become known as ‘dustbowl empiricism’.

My favourite for this at the moment has to be the strong correlation between the number of people who have drowned by falling in a pool, and the number of films Nicolas Cage has appeared in any given year. Who knew how dangerous Nicolas Cage could really be?

Despite the evident danger of watching Nicolas Cage films (particularly near water), I believe there is more value in explaining behaviour than in just predicting it.

For example, is there a correlation between owning a certain type of car and being a high performer?

Perhaps, but I don’t think to look for the best candidates in car parks is very useful. After all, people change cars, and so might the correlations change between particular car models and performance. To cite another famous example, as often as people change their eating preferences, so goes the link between curly fries and intelligence.

Understanding why data is linked can suggest better ways to improve performance than just updating the carpool or changing the canteen menu.

Linking a vehicle preference to well-established behavioural science may suggest that a client considers how a candidate is innovative elsewhere in their lives, such as in their adoption of other new technologies. Or they may look for other ways the candidate demonstrates a penchant for reliability (perhaps through previous work choices).

The scientific approach

This is where organisational psychologists come in.

They have an intimate knowledge of the theories that can help interpret and explain the links between personal attributes and performance, or other variables that matter. They know how to use these theories to solve real problems and they know how to design studies and measurement tools to ensure that scientific knowledge is applied correctly in an organisational setting.

I learned a lot of organisational psychology models and theories during my Masters and PhD studies. We focused on these and the research behind them when I taught MBA and Master of Organisational Psychology programs – sometimes noting gaps in current models and theories – and designing studies to help extend or debunk what we knew.

While completing my MBA and later in a corporate role, I became skilled in applying that knowledge to the problems managers and executives face.

As an organisational psychologist I often find that it isn’t just knowing behavioural science that matters, it is knowing the behavioural science detail to understand what is most relevant for a role or business problem.

For example, consider sales performance.

Thanks to the popularity of some psychometric instruments, ‘extroverted’ or ‘introverted’ are understood as reliable ways to describe elements of a person’s personality, and many people are convinced that being extroverted is important in a sales role.

However, the research on sales performance says otherwise. An International Journal of Selection and Assessment article shows that across a range of studies there isn’t a strong link between ‘extraversion’ (broadly) and sales performance, despite this being such a common view.

Knowing the detail matters here.

A broad description of extraversion may not do a candidate justice, particularly when we’re focused on understanding performance in a particular role.

Instead, we might be interested in a candidate’s level of dominance, their sociability, what they would be like in a group setting, or presenting to a group to make a sale.

Perhaps we’d be interested in whether they are independent, adventurous, or ambitious, all of which (as potential elements of extroversion) may have different implications for sales performance.

We might also focus on the particular nature of the sales role – many roles are becoming more formalised and structured, with down-to-the-minute journey plans and call times. No wonder then that the Journal of Selection and Assessment article found another personality factor, conscientiousness, to be relevant for predicting sales performance.

The business focus of pre-employment assessments

It’s the acceptance of how important behavioural science is to the new world of AI that has led me to Sapia, where we believe all people decisions should be based on science, data and analytics – not just gut feeling.

Sapia focuses on the things that matter.

We use validated behavioural science to build predictive models, centred on the issues your business wishes to address and their corresponding KPIs. The predictive model is based on your workforce data so it’s unique to your organisation, maximising predictive accuracy while also prioritising the candidate experience.

We use various techniques, including training a neural network to identify what drives performance in the organisation, based on the data we collect. We build our algorithms to achieve accurate predictions from the start, and the model improves over time through machine learning.

We’re now at a point where we can use behavioural science, data science and computer technology to understand the intricate links between candidate information and performance data. With that we can help reduce bias and level the candidate playing field and give managers a 3D view of their candidates, to enable them to make the best people decisions.

Dr. Elliot Wood is a registered organisational psychologist with a bachelor’s degree, various master’s degrees and a PhD in the field. He spent 12 years in academia, teaching master’s-level organisational psychology; supervising post-graduate research; and working on research grants and consulting projects. He then moved into organisational development–focused consulting in Australia and Asia, followed by an internal talent role in a multinational brewer. He is now Chief Organisational Psychologist at Sapia.


Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Dave Winsborough, Ryne Sherman and Robert Hogan, Industrial & Organisational Psychology,New Talent Signals: Shiny New Objects or a Brave New World?’

Murray R. Barrick, Michael K. Mount, Timothy A. Judge, International Journal of Selection and Assessment, ‘Personality and Performance at the Beginning of the New Millennium: What Do We Know and Where Do We Go Next?’


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Want to know how to win the war for talent?

As economies reignite after lockdowns, a new crisis is emerging–talent is scarcer than ever. 

In Australia recently, job advertiser SEEK reported the highest no of jobs ads ever in 23 years, but significantly low numbers of applications per role. In the US, manufacturers are having trouble hiring entry-level positions that do not require expertise and many fear this could have far-reaching consequences. In the UK, Britain’s employers are struggling to hire staff as lockdown lifts amid an exodus of overseas workers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit.

There is an urgency for recruiters to prepare for this, yesterday.

There are three things you will need to do if you want to win this war on talent.

  1. There is a need for speed. You need to be able to hire fast, to win the best people.
  2. You need to put candidates first. You have to treat everyone like they are your next hire. Every interaction with a candidate matters to ensure your brand stands out among job seekers. 
  3. Finding undiscovered talent. You need the ability to look beyond the standard candidate profile and find people who might not have fit the traditional mould, but who can excel in the job.

Forget traditional hiring practices like screening hundreds of CVs (timely and ineffective) and doing face-to-face interviews or video interviews (limited in their insights and proven to be biased) as they do little to uncover new talent or understand the potential of someone to perform in a job. 

There is only one solution that makes these things possible that is to use the right technology. One you can implement and benefit from today. One that is driven by Ai.

The right Ai is the only way you can be competitive in the current market.

  1. Ai that helps you conduct thousands of interviews in an hour.
  2. Ai that puts candidates first with a simple and inclusive interview, and gets back to everyone with personalised feedback.
  3. Ai that looks at job fit to help you accurately identify undiscovered talent, without any regard to their past experience, education, age, gender, socio-economic standing, ethnicity or any other factor we might have used to exclude great candidates.

It’s a simple decision really. Imagine instead of entrusting one recruiter or even a team of recruiters to find potential in your candidate pool, you had access to the brain’s trust of an army of thousands of experienced recruiters with the touch of a button. 

This brain’s trust has more interview experience than anyone on your team would ever get. 800k interviews and counting. 

It can do interviews every 2 minutes, in 34 countries around the globe. This amount of experience means they have the ability to quickly see potential where the rest of the team can’t.  

No single recruiter, or for that matter, a reasonable team of recruiters will ever get that experience in a lifetime.

But Ai can, within hours. 

With Sapia the technology you implement today is your competitive advantage today.


Ever wondered if technology can give everyone a fair go when it comes to hiring? Get our latest report: Hiring for Equality.

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Jeff Uden, Head of Talent, Iceland Foods & Sapia

On 26th August, our CEO Barb Hyman facilitated a webinar on “Hiring with Heart” in collaboration with The Recruitment Events Network.

To our surprise, Jeff Uden who is the Head of Talent and L&D for Iceland Foods also joined the webinar.

During the session, Jeff offered some wonderful comments. We took a transcript of Jeff’s input and have jotted it here. It offers insights on dealing with enormous volumes of candidates, offering positive candidate experience and communicating culture from a candidate’s first experience with a brand.

Thanks for your insights, Jeff. Incredibly valuable.

 In conversation with Jeff Uden Head of Talent, Iceland Group & Sapia

At Iceland Foods, we have started working with Sapia. That was as a result of a couple of things. One was the element of the mass recruitment that we were doing. Just to put it in perspective, in the first four months of this year, we received over five hundred thousand applications.

We wanted to find a way that delivered a level of fairness, a level of consistency around how we sift those applications that then enabled store managers to reduce that amount of time that they are spending on doing the recruitment.

The other thing that we wanted to do was significantly enhance our candidate experience. One of the challenges that I had around the experiences that we had within the business is that it felt like it was really standard. It felt like it was cold; it felt like it came from a computer. We wanted to change how we did that and more importantly give something back to the candidates.

Often nowadays people apply for jobs, and there’s the standard ‘bulk’ response that says if you haven’t heard anything from us in two weeks take it that you haven’t been successful.

As big companies or companies of any size we have a duty to help those individuals to understand why they haven’t been successful and to help them to be successful in the next role for which they apply.

The fact that they won’t be hired into your business is probably the right decision because they wouldn’t have been the right fit given the testing that they have gone through. However, that doesn’t mean they are a bad individual. What we need to do is to help them to understand where their strengths are and where their development needs are, and certainly, that was a massive appeal of working with Sapia.

Going through and reading some of the feedback that we’ve had from the candidates, it’s having a huge effect on the candidate experience.

I just had a very quick look at our figures with Sapia, we’ve got a 100% positive experience from our candidates. Bearing in mind 49,000 candidates have gone through Sapia. To have that figure is a superb figure.

We had a swift implementation planned. But probably one of the lengthiest parts of it was about actually getting the questions right and getting the language right. We really did spend a decent period doing that.

I just had a quick look at one of the pieces of feedback here, and this is completely unedited:

“I enjoyed the interview. It makes me believe Iceland as a company are people carers and their staff are more than just employees”.

That’s what’s coming over from the way in which we put the language across within the questions.

We are genuinely really chuffed about how they are engaging far more with us as a brand and how they are feeling like they are getting something back. They genuinely don’t feel like this is a computer process in any way whatsoever; they genuinely feel like they are talking to people. 

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If there was ever a time for our profession to show humanity for the thousands that are looking for work, that time is now.

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