Episode 8: How is Automation, AI and Analytics changing Recruiting? (Interview with Richard Collins, Co-Founder at ClickIQ)
We're living in a time of massive disruption, whether it's politics, business, technology, or HR. Perhaps no part of HR is facing bigger disruption than recruiting. The vast bulk of investment in HR technology continues to be in the talent acquisition space, but how is automation, AI and analytics changing recruiting?
That's the topic for this week's podcast where my guest is Richard Collins, co-founder of ClickIQ. You can listen below or by visiting the podcast website here.
In our podcast, Richard and I discuss:
The big trends in the recruiting space, as it relates to the increased use of automation and data
The evolution in how people find work, and companies find people
We also talk about the revolution in recruitment advertising, the tricks we can learn from marketing, where Richard spent part of his career
The role of data and analytics in recruiting
We also look into the crystal ball and ponder what the role of HR will in 2025
This episode is a must listen for anyone working in recruiting, or interested in the space. You may find the future isn't quite as dystopian for recruiters as it is sometimes painted.
David Green: Welcome to the Digital HR Leaders podcast. Today, I'm delighted to welcome Richard Collins, co-founder of ClickIQ, to the show.
Richard Collins: Thank you very much. Good to be here.
David Green: Good to see you as well. Richard, give the listeners a quick introduction to yourself, and also what you're doing at ClickIQ?
Richard Collins: Sure, absolutely. I am Richard Collins, I'm co-founder of ClickIQ. In terms of my background, I've been in this kind of internet recruitment marketing game since 1995, believe it or not. Originally from a kind of agency background, but ended up doing ... I ran a job board, ran a job site for a bit. And then ended up setting up my own digital marketing agency more in the consumer world. Then more recently, in the last three years, we set up ClickIQ. The aim being that what we wanted to do was to try and bring some of the stuff that we're seeing within the world of consumer marketing into the recruitment world.
What we did then, we built this technology platform that effectively automates the whole process of managing and optimising a company's job advertising. So we take their jobs in, and we push them out across a whole network of job boards, Indeed, Google, Facebook, all of those kinds of things. Then the system uses a whole bunch of really clever tech to optimise and manage the advertising, shifting spend basically to the jobs that need it most. That stuff's basically what we do, and the type of people we do it for typically are very large enterprise clients. The Sainsbury's of this world, Pepsi's, people like that. We do that internationally for about 200 and something clients, I think now. So, it's been a bit of a roller coaster, whirlwind. From the start until where we are now, it's just been a bit of a thing.
David Green: That's impressive in three years.
Richard Collins: Yeah. Well the actual technology, we only really had a proper working platform about 18 months ago. So in 18 months, we have brought in a huge number of clients. What's been interesting I think, is that we haven't got a sales team, so we don't really sell. What we do is we go out to the market, we tell them about some of the stuff that's going on in our world, so in terms of the media landscape, in terms of automation. And clients want to learn and understand how this affects them, and then they come towards and you know, hopefully they want to use the platform thereafter. That's really how that growth and that phenomenal kind of success I think that we've had so far has occurred really. So it was quite nice to do it that way.
David Green: That's where you mentioned the wider world and the stuff that's going on, we all seem to be living in a time of massive disruption, whether it's politics, which we're not going to talk about, business, technology, HR and it certainly applies to recruiting. What are some of the big trends that you're seeing in this space?
Richard Collins: So I mean obviously HR tech is huge at the moment. But I think from a personal point of view we talk a lot about, AI, machine learning, all this kind of stuff. But I actually think that's slightly wrong because I think the bit that is really important to our clients or the leaders within the TA world, it's actually about automation. It's about not just put in technology in there that gives you the data and the analytics, because that at its core is where you start from.
But it's then saying, well we've got all this data, what are we going to do with it? This to me is where the automation comes in because you can put people in, they can analyse and all of this kind of stuff. But in reality most of it is algorithmically driven. If this happens then I do this. And when we built the business originally that's effectively what we did. We saw there was lots of tech out there that were giving us decent analytics. But we said, "Well I've got the analytics but let's start applying automation to it, and let's start getting the computers to do the processing work so that we can focus on the more important stuff." I think it's that automation is actually driving ultimately a lot of the changes going on within the sector. Whilst people talk a lot about AI and machine learning because it gets the headlines, the value I think is in the automation.
What the machine learning in our area will do is they will make that automation more intelligent over time. But it's the cherry on the top, it's not actually the cake itself for me.
David Green: Okay. So let's narrow the focus a little bit to the top of the recruitment funnel because I know that's really, where you're servicing ClickIQ. What are some of the trends that you're seeing here?
Richard Collins: Yeah, so I mean I think the media landscape is really interesting because traditionally, we worked in a world where you stuck your job on a job board, and you have credits and all this kind of thing. So there's been a few trends that's happened in the last really 10-12 years. First of all the shift to pay per click advertising, largely driven from Indeed. If you look at the success of Indeed within that 10-12 year period from really nowhere, to in the UK they are bigger than the rest put together. And globally, two something billion dollar. I mean huge, 9,000 people. So much more bigger than anybody else that's out there.
So there's a huge disruption in terms of the business model of how do I pay for advertising? Is it on time, or is it on success and clicks? So that's the first one. I think the second one, which in some ways is a passing thing and that is the emergence of networks. So this idea that you don't buy an advert in one place, sorry in lots of places. You buy in one place and then it distributes to lots. Again in the consumer world, the same sort of thing happened with DoubleClick network, Real Media, all these kind of guys. What happened was the client bought from one spot and then the advert was distributed into lots.
What we see is the job boards coming together and effectively selling through those types of networks, to give the advertisers much greater reach in a client, in a candidate shortage market to try and actually reach the right candidates. So we've seen the growth of these networks, that's the second one. And then the final one I think for me is the effect of Google and Facebook coming into the market, and starting to tackle the recruitment space where they haven't really done very much in that, and the ability to use those types of media to reach passive candidates particularly. So Job Boards at the end of the day are without doubt the most effective way of attracting a candidate, because someone is in the right mindset of, "I am looking for this job in this location."
Your conversion rates are always going to be great. Your metrics, your ROI, spot on. But what happens when that actually fails? What do you do next? And I think traditionally people have just gone to their recruitment agency. Whereas for me it's, "Well actually there's more stuff you should be doing. How can we start targeting those people?" And obviously Google and Facebook in their ability to programmatically target certain demographic types, allows us to reach people that perhaps we wouldn't been able to do otherwise.
David Green: Obviously Google and Facebook have got deep pockets, very deep pockets. So now that they're entering the space, what do you think could happen or will happen next?
Richard Collins: So I think we're in a really exciting time actually. I think that the reality is, Facebook have got a lot to do before they catch up. Google is throwing money at this stuff with Google Hire and all the tools that they're building. But I think what is really interesting is we were at Indeed interactive in Austin, Texas a couple of weeks ago. Chris Hyams, was talking, their CEO, was talking about how they're trying to bring the candidate and the employer closer together through technology basically. I think that's the thing that we're going to see. So this move away from job boards to hiring platforms, to creating an ecosystem in which people stay within, whether you're a candidate or you're an employer.
So therefore you have to build all the tools that those people could possibly want to service their needs, demands, etc. So I think we will see this, those giants and add LinkedIn as well to that particular list as well. Those giants offering tools to both sides of the equation and bringing those candidates and those employers closer together, and making the whole process frictionless. So whether it's automating interviews or testing people, or screening or all of that kind of stuff. There's some really, really cool tech out there that they will just plug into that, and automate the whole process. I think.
David Green: So that's really interesting obviously with all the innovation that's going on in that. How is AI and automation impacting on all this as well?
Richard Collins: Well, I think it's pretty fundamental, it's driving a lot of that innovation. But I think the reality it's not where people make it out to be yet. For me AI is marketing spin, or machine learning obviously doesn't really exist, does it? But for us it's about how can you enhance your recruiters. It's not how AI might replace them. So we always talk about the Tony Stark Model. So the Iron Man, at the end of the day Tony Stark is an Avenger, yet he has no superpowers. So he puts all this technology on and he can hold his own against them. Whereas the kind of Terminator approach where AI takes over and Cyberdyne systems, whatever it is. This to us is a two very different things, and for us we believe that the technology should enhance and improve rather than replace.
Because at the end of the day, we are a people business. So that's I think where it fits in. In terms of its usage, obviously machine learning is incredible at analysing data, particularly data that's not quite the same. So if you take a job description, how would you look at ... So for us, where do we use machine learning is probably quite a good example. We take a job description in and our system looks at how easy or difficult that job is to fill. The problem is everybody uses different job titles for the same stuff. So you can use the machine learning to find similar and then look at what happened to something similar historically, to help guide where that job should be advertised next time round. Then you kind of improve the speed of learning to deliver the right outcome for that particular client in hiring and finding the right candidates.
David Green: And what does all this mean? Obviously Facebook, Google coming in, LinkedIn, Indeed you mentioned, what does this all mean for the humble job board? I mean are they in danger of going the way of the dodo?
Richard Collins: I certainly think they're at risk of that, because there's a couple of things. So if you think about all of this we have to remember is driven by candidates, and if you can supply candidates, you will have a future. Without a doubt. So what I think Indeed has done that is so clever and there have obviously been people that have copied since, but they have all the jobs. By having all the employer's jobs, a candidate only has to go to one place to find a job. Which means that unlike the olden days where I think the average candidate, job seeker, looked at between eight and 12 job boards to find a job. Because they wanted to make sure that they looked everywhere. Whereas now it's a much, much smaller number. And what happens is they go straight to Indeed to search and then if they don't find anything then they might go to Google, find a Job board and so on and so forth.
So I think that the role of job boards is really interesting because if they managed to create a community, and they are building that community, not just at the moment those people are looking at a single moment in time. So let's think about Stack Overflow and GitHub, things like that where you have a community of developers in there and they use it all the time. The commercial model happens to be job advertising, but people come to it because of the code and the peer review and all that kind of stuff. So I think if you manage to build that, you will do well. If you are a job board that just does a bunch of jobs, people don't go there except when they look for a job every two years and they've forgotten where they looked last time. I think frankly you've got a problem.
David Green: It'll be interesting to see how it plays out I guess over the coming years.
Richard Collins: Yeah, who knows. Back in 1997 it said that recruitment agencies were dead, and now there's more of them than ever. So these predictions are ...
David Green: I'm glad they didn't go in 1997 because that's when I started my career at a recruitment agency. Yeah, I was lucky there. I don't know. So all this means is there's a huge shift in the way the candidates are finding work, and also there's a shift in way that companies are finding potential candidates as well.
Richard Collins: I think what is going to change is the process. So this idea of proactively going and finding candidates, or candidates proactively going to find jobs I think will disappear. And I think the technology will basically put the two things together at the right moment in time. So the technology will find those people and the people will find those jobs in an automatic way. Then it will be down to actually going through that process, whether it's interviews or whatever it is to actually hire people or get the job. But I think ultimately by bringing those two things closer together and using automation throughout, I think this idea of I'm going to go and find a job, will disappear. I think it will be more that the job will find you at the moment in time that you're ready to find a job.
David Green: Which would be far more convenient.
Richard Collins: It would yeah. But, it's such a big shift from what we do now and the way that people live. But when you speak to your kids as they're coming through, they don't see the world the same way as we do and they ask the question, "Why would you do that?" So I think it will happen naturally. It's not going to happen overnight. Technology will mean that it happens faster than it would have done in any other sort of time. But certainly I think it is already starting to be seen.
David Green: And will we still need CVs? Because I must admit I haven't updated mine for a horrendously long time.
Richard Collins: I hear all these arguments about CVs and everyone's got video CVs, and you have to present yourself in some way. There are some very, very cool tools out there that will analyse your brain, Pymetrics and stuff like that. So that, those tools that say, are you likely to be good for a job regardless of what your CV says, and HackerRank and all these kinds of stuff that tests people and then matches the two things based on the test rather than the CV. Again, Indeed have some really cool tools along a similar line. So I think we'll definitely see more of that. But also we're a product of where we've been and a CV tells a story, doesn't it? I quite like a CV, I'll be honest.
David Green: Oh gosh, I thought I'd never have to do that again. Not that I'm thinking of doing that. So you mentioned you worked on the consumer side as well. I think it's probably fair to say that marketing is a little bit more advanced outside of the HR and recruitment space than in it. Although to be fair recruitment is a bit different. What can we learn from our colleagues in marketing?
Richard Collins: Yeah. So if we look historically of how the consumer side has changed and then we map that against recruitment, there's obviously a lot of similarities in terms of the shift to pay per click advertising, increase in automation, look at tools like HubSpot, Infusion Soft, Marketo, and how those type of automation CRM tools, how we're talking to people, how we're producing content, how we're delivering personal experiences for individuals as they go through a buying process for the consumer side or the recruitment process. Those tools are all being applied to our world in a very rapid way. If we think about the idea of CV databases and how we talent pool, and how we build content that's relevant for those people, how we deliver that content. A lot of it is around the plumbing, but I think once you get the plumbing in place, if we look at what is currently going on with the consumer marketing world, it's moved beyond plumbing.
So, for example, media buying. The olden days where you produced a spreadsheet and have a list of places you want to advertise on. Now the computer does that. Programmatically the system decides based on the job, based on what's worked before. I'm going to advertise, I'm going to monitor it, change it, all that kind of stuff. But that's just plumbing and that idea of the spreadsheet will disappear. As you look at each element of the recruitment process, we have the plumbing in. The bit that actually adds value is not the plumbing. It becomes that creative bit. So it's about the messaging, it's about what content you're going to deliver to those people, employer branding, that kind of stuff. How do you communicate what you are about to those individuals? This idea that, oh, we have a talent pool, so every three months we send them a copy of our company newsletter. I mean, really? Is that all you got?
Whereas in a consumer world you would be talking to those people about what is it of interest for them in career, all this kind of stuff. Not, here's my CEO yet again telling me what brilliant results we've had. So, and I think we'll see a lot more of that particularly change. So everything where the plumbing goes in that will be the first change, and then the rest will be about the creative, the content and how you actually communicate that stuff to the people that you want to bring into your organisation.
David Green: So I can expect less messages on LinkedIn saying, "David, how would you like to come and work as a project manager at X company?" Even though I've not actually been a project manager before. So it'd be slightly more targeting and slightly more subtle?
Richard Collins: Yeah, we've seen it in terms of what we've done in our market. I mean it's slightly different, but that B2B approach of let's try and educate and tell the world about what's going on. And if people are engaged with that, then they will come to you. It's the same in recruitment. If you talk about the stuff that you're doing for sure and the things that are relevant within your industry, people will build communities that will engage them, and they'll want to work for you. The whole employer brand thing is probably a whole hour to be talked about. But for me I'd say it's about, the recruitment world I think will follow the consumer world in terms of that plumbing and then I think it will be about the messaging and the content within that next steps.
David Green: Yeah, I think it's more the employer brand stuff from an, actually out there kind of have a brand. I think that's fairly well formed. It's more the subtleties around, "Okay, these are candidates that potentially we want to reach. How can we use that brand and actually personalise the messaging to them." I think that's probably the stuff that's less developed.
Richard Collins: Yeah, absolutely. Because you know, if you have a company of 10,000 people, the aggregate of those people are the same as every other 10,000 company. So it's about the culture and I think it's about that authenticity. I always talk about, my co founder comes from a traditional brand marketing perspective. So used to be Marketing Director at Expedia and all these places. And we always talk about it because I think a lot of it is about putting lipstick on a pig. You have this organisation and then you try and paint it pretty to present to the world and then people come along and that authenticity isn't there. The experience is very different.
For me, employer brand starts at the top of those organisations and the culture that they then promote. it's then something else about how do you then communicate that to your audiences in a way that's relevant for them? Because the marketing department is not the same culture as the IT department, it's separate, and so on and so forth. So it's about, you know, marketing should be what's at the core and then how that proposition, and then how does it present itself to each of your target audiences. I think we're still very early days on that.
David Green: And of course it has to be authentic because in these days if it isn't ...
Richard Collins: Your ratings on Glassdoor and Indeed are going to be, not great.
David Green: They're going to be pretty low.
Richard Collins: What's really interesting actually about that is we see lot of data of the relationship between your Glassdoor rating and things as simple as your conversion rate from someone seeing an ad and applying. So the actual return on your advertising dollars is significantly affected by that. So it is actually pretty important. First of all, you have to get it right, and then you have to be able to communicate it and live it. If you can do all those things and people are positive about it, then then it will always help.
David Green: And of course there's some excellent analysis, I can't remember which, I think it was the New York Times, or Wall Street Journal last year about companies trying to game their Glassdoor scores around the time of their engagement surveys or their annual results and stuff like that. So it would be interested in to see the correlation between those that are gaming it...
Richard Collins: It never goes well does it? It really doesn't.
David Green: Marketing datafied really over the last 15 to 20 years. Probably we're less data savvy in the HR space. What is the role of data and analytics would you say, in recruiting?
Richard Collins: For me it's fundamental. But I think that the problem is it's not used enough and you know just simple things. How many people are applying on a job level? It should be a pretty simple answer. Where do those candidates come from, and how do you link your advertising on one end with your actual hiring on the other and connect the dots? and the ATS is, that's not what an ATS is. It's not great, is it? We try and do as much as we can with the data and we have, I mean literally millions and millions of data points every day. So what we ideally want to do is move that down the funnel, because the more down the funnel, the better we can optimise. Because if you're optimising on who sees an ad and clicks, that gives you one thing. But if you're optimising on how many people then are interviewed, it gives you another. Versus, how many people are hired is another still.
In an ideal world, the two things are connected. I say that, but actually hires are not brilliant metrics. Because the problem with a hire with your advertising is the delay between the two and the statistical relevance. Interview is probably a slightly better metric. But for me, I think in answer to the question, it's fundamental. But then it's about using that data to actually do something with it. Data for data's sake, not great. So let's use our data, let's optimise, let's use a machine to automate all of that kind of stuff so that we actually improve. We know for a fact when you apply the automation technology to something that doesn't, we see between 50 and 70% performance improvement overnight. That is a lot, particularly because it means either you're getting twice as much for your money or the same amount for half the money. And when you're spending tens of thousands a month then that is a significant amount of money. So I think if we can use that automation on that data to get that performance improvement, that can only really be a good thing.
David Green: And you said also about measuring the right things. I mean I worked in the field for a while and it used to frustrate me that everyone used to obsess about things like time to hire and apply that across all job roles. Cost per hire, across all job roles. And I used to think, how relevant is this to actually the success of people once we've got them into the organisation?
Richard Collins: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Time to hire is an important metric for the organisation to be. Sure. But hiring a customer service person versus a finance director is a different thing entirely.
David Green: So bringing this all together, how does ClickIQ help its customers confront some of the challenges that we've described?
Richard Collins: Yeah, I think we did two things really. One, we make what you've got perform better, so we make it more efficient. So this idea of making sure that the most difficult job to fill gets the money, effectively. So shifting that budget spend around. As part of that efficiency, I get in terms of time saving of doing this stuff manually. So that's the kind of efficiency side. And then I think there's an effectiveness piece, whereby in terms of how you reach those candidates. So making sure that your advertising is going in the right places. That you don't have to immediately run to recruitment agencies to to fill roles. Just because someone doesn't exist on a job board. If we go to all the job boards, we increase the likelihood, and if we can't still get one from a job board, let's look at Google and Facebook targeting to actually reach those candidates.
So a good example, we do an awful lot of healthcare. If you're recruiting nurses, they're not really on job boards very much. A bit. But not that much. So using Facebook, you can actually target nurses. The problem with that is that the nurse is looking at their phone at three o'clock in the morning after a shift, they don't have a CV, how do you convert that person? So we also have a chatbot that takes them through the process. So it's all about making the whole thing as easy as possible, as efficient as possible in terms of those resources and as effective as possible. Being able to reach the people that you actually want to hire. So I think that's probably some of the cool ways that we do it.
David Green: Okay, that's great. Obviously what you're effectively doing is tapping into the right sources, depending on the role or maybe the location or how difficult to fill it is.
Richard Collins: Yup.
David Green: For example.
Richard Collins: Absolutely. Every job is slightly different and we have this, this triangle that we talk about a lot, and the triangle effectively, as you move up the triangle the jobs get increasingly difficult to fill. But also you spend more money in which to fill them. So if you think about a triangle, it has a broad base, so you want to fill most of these more easy to fill roles for very little money and you move up and you have to do more stuff to attract the right candidates to it. At the very top of the triangle you've got sourcing. Whether that is searching CV databases, there's a whole bunch of new sourcing tech coming out right now, which looks very, very cool. Or whether it's manually going through lists or whatever it is and finding people and the usual kind of ninja sourcing stuff that you hear about all the time.
David Green: Oh we do like that. We do like our ninjas and purple squirrels in the recruiting space. Actually purple squirrels leads on to the next question. Is the future of recruitment as dystopian as we're sometimes led to believe?
Richard Collins: I don't think so. I genuinely believe, as I said earlier about this idea of that the Tony Stark Iron man versus Terminator kind of thing. It's about giving people the technology to do a better job and to focus on the stuff that they add value to, not just processing stuff. We as recruiters want to add value, and I think that at the end of the day it's a people business. And we have to sit opposite these people and all of this kind of stuff. And I think the technology should enhance, not replace.
David Green: So essentially, I get asked the question a lot, certainly I used to get asked the question a lot when I was working in the space, is all this going to automate recruiters? And my answer always was, "Well, if you're a good recruiter, you don't need to worry. If you're a bad recruiter, you might want to look for something else."
Richard Collins: Yep. Absolutely. I think that's probably fair, a fair idea.
David Green: So less recruiters, but probably highly skilled ones that are actually taking some of the repetitive tasks away so they can actually be more effective.
Richard Collins: Yup. Very much so, very much so.
David Green: So we'll stay with the future, forward looking with our last question. This is a question we ask every guest on the show, and you can nuance it towards recruiting if you want. What do you see the role of HR being in 2025?
Richard Collins: Yeah, I mean obviously we live in talent acquisition, and that top of the funnel. But I think, I was at an RL100 event last year. So that's a round table discussion and just very senior people within the industry. And we're talking about automation and all this kind of stuff. The question was around, what will happen to recruiters? And the discussion very quickly started, we started talking about the funnel. We started saying, "Right, okay. Let's take each piece of the funnel. What should the recruiter be doing? And it became very obvious that pretty much from the top of the funnel all the way down through to interview and sometimes below, most of that stuff could be automated. So, in answer to the question, it's that last mile that counts. That is where as human beings we add value. Because if I have a relationship with you, you will be more likely to want to come and work for me than some computer sending you a message, or a chatbot, so I could persuade you to take the job.
It's about those human interactions, anthropologically as we are built to be part of a social construct, all this kind of stuff. So I think that in 2025, the role will be that of those brand ambassadors. Getting people to take the last mile, come into those organisations and the rest of that funnel will be driven through the technology, the automation, interview setting, testing, all of that stuff. But as I say it ultimately comes down to people at the end.
David Green: And of course I think recruiting, if you look at all the stuff that the analysts come up with, most of the money that's going into HR technology is predominately in the recruitment space. It would almost be like recruiting is going to lead the way for the rest of HR.
Richard Collins: Yeah. I think probably so. There is some pretty cool onboarding tech. But when you look at those things, they are the natural piece that, either they add the most value or it's been left behind the rest of the world. There's a lot of money in L&D though, isn't there?
David Green: Yeah, a lot of money in L&D, and I think that obviously the big challenge is around skills for the future now. Obviously it's not just about recruiting them in, it's about analysing your current workforce and understanding who's got those skills, who can acquire those skills quite quickly.
Richard Collins: I think that's key for the whole AI automation piece. Because even though I don't believe, you know, we're about enhancing, people's jobs will change and I think we have to reskill to make sure that our recruiters are equipped to deal with that stuff. Because you know we've had situations where we've put our tech into organisations, and the tech is actually really simple to do and then it automates. But for some people they just are not in the right place to then be able to leverage that and move onto the next stuff. And protective of what they've always done, and that type of recruiter I think, it's about then the re-skilling.
David Green: Yeah, I think sometimes a lot of people think the answer is just technology, but I think mindset and process are just as important, and people. Just as important as that.
Richard Collins: Yeah, yeah. Because it sometimes doesn't work. We've also seen this as well, you have an organisation that is desperately keen to use the technology. But if their processes are so manually focused, you put it on the wrong process, it will do the wrong stuff even better, i.e. worse. So I think the organisation has to take a greater view than just throwing technology at these problems.
David Green: Richard, thank you very much for being on the show. How can people stay in touch with you and ClickIQ?
Richard Collins: Our website is www.clickiq.co.uk. I'm always on LinkedIn. So people can drop me a line and we write a lot of content on LinkedIn. We also have ClickIQ Academy, which is our own learning zone for people working in TA. But thank you very much for having me.
David Green: Well, thank you for being on the show. Thank you very much Richard.