Need a job? Learn to impress the robots

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Image caption Standing out is about pleasing pre-programmed machines designed to whittle out undesirable or under-skilled candidates

It is a sunny day as the young man sits on a park bench; a bird flies by and a leaf falls from a tree.

But things are about to get busy: he will be accosted by one friend offering a holiday deal, another offering a job opportunity in a coffee shop, and then by a series of people demanding help with their mobile phones.

How he responds in these scenarios will determine if he remains in the running for a job or whether he will end up back on the bench watching the birds.

However, even though the leaves are dropping he won't feel any autumn cold, as he (or indeed, she, if you so choose) is an avatar; a cartoon character created to vet would-be employees.

The Chemistry Group, which describes itself as a talent consultancy, has designed this online game so communications firm O2 can analyse potential candidates.

Human touch

It is just one of a new breed of software that reflects the growing impact of the digital age on the recruitment sector.

Another programme, created by talent management firm SHL, features online 3D simulations, which drop graduate applicants into scenarios where a boss with a piercing stare asks for solutions to various dilemmas.

Other software is positively Spartan in the opportunity it gives applicants to shine.

EnRecruit, a video-based interview product, offers potential staff just three questions via an online webcam, which a recruiter can use to make quick decisions about whom to actually meet.

Human contact, it seems, will be one of the first casualties of a new digital recruitment age.

"Face-to-face interviews, because they are time-consuming and costly for both parties, will increasingly be reserved for the very final stages of hiring," says Gordon Whyte, a recruitment consultant at BIE Group.

But he doesn't think actually meeting a prospective employer will disappear entirely from the process.

"Can you imagine hiring someone to lead an organisation or for a customer-facing role if you've never met them?" he asks.

Image caption Face-to-face communication is becoming a luxury in the modern recruitment world

What this means for those falling into the cracks between these two groups is uncertain.

Key words

What it does mean is would-be recruits will have to look much more carefully at job adverts.

Firms are already using applicant tracking systems, which analyse CVs using key-word recognition.

"Nobody reads through 500 CVs anymore - it's all automated," says Whyte.

"Job seekers can do a lot to improve their chances of selection if they first understand the tools companies use to filter applications."

He cites a job advert for a software engineer that states the applicant 'Must have basic knowledge of Linux operating systems'.

The software would then search for that specific title as well as look for the keywords 'Linux', 'Basic' and 'Experience' situated closely together on the CV.

Lies and statistics

But this opens the system up to abuse, with software firm NorthgateArinso People Checking reporting 71% of employers already encounter lies on CVs.

As flexible working and virtual teams become more prevalent, so does the opportunity to pull the wool over an electronic recruiter's eyes.

Mike Ryan, a Digital Futurist and founder of Fusion Futures, says an array of rules combining Artificial Intelligence and psychology will determine how confident a candidate is, and whether they have plagiarised material or told lies.

"Recruitment companies will use sensitive technology around truth and aptitude which will be similar to those used in the current US elections," he says.

He is referring to the newly-developed Super PAC mobile phone app, which listens to presidential adverts and then tells the viewer who paid for the advert based on campaign donations.

It then analyses the claims made in the advert and offers a fact check based on multiple sources and opinions; it's a bit like Shazam with a lie detector attached.

Diving in

Human contact may be falling out of the recruitment process but many employers hope moving further into the digital space will, somewhat paradoxically, allow them to build richer relationships with potential staff.

It seems only a matter of time before the juggernaut of social media plays a leading role in recruitment through the creation of digital talent pools.

Mark Lee, managing director at recruitment outsourcing firm Futurestep, says this concept goes far beyond a list of candidates sourced from recruitment agencies.

"It is a community of people that opt into a relationship with an employer brand that is then able to share target content, resources and interactions with talent," he says.

Image caption Recruitment technology will soon be able to detect lies and plagiarism, says futurist Mike Ryan

This can create a brand attachment without forcing the issue of potential future employment, Lee adds.

Recruiters are getting better at targeting social networks as they jump into these digital pools.

"Social recruiting across LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other media allows companies to improve exponentially their potential talent pool of candidates by encouraging employees to share job opportunities with their relevant contacts, and pass it on," says Dan Finnigan, CEO of 'social recruiting solutions' firm Jobvite.

"This social referral process is faster, less expensive and often results in hiring better cultural fits."

But Finnigan warns firms there is a real challenge maintaining a consistent brand image and voice across all these social networks.

Companies also have to make sure they have a system in place to handle the increased applicant pool they'll get thanks to expanded promotion.

Big numbers

Using social media is one way firms could see a global - and highly mobile - talent pool suddenly open up before them.

Some basic calculations reveal that the potential reach could be staggering.

If Company X has 100 employees - and the average person has 150 social media contacts - then at the first degree that is a potential pool of 15,000 people to target.

If each of these people have 150 contacts then the reach at the second degree in 2.25million.

At the third degree that number expands to an eye-watering 337.5m people.

If recruiters do go down this route then social networks could look very different in the future.

Job seekers will have to be diligent in ensuring they have an online image judged 'work safe'.

Out will go pictures of stupidity, inebriation and hen or stag-do tomfoolery; in will come acts of diligence, compassion and fortitude.

The need to recruit globally will be exacerbated by an increasingly mobile workforce and education systems in some countries failing to keep up with the changing demands of the jobs market.

Recruitment professionals will no doubt wonder what their role will be in this brave new world of simulations and social networks.

Gordon Whyte is confident he's not out of a job just yet.

"Where a job calls for harder-to-assess qualities - the so-called soft skills - technology will continue to have a limited role for the foreseeable future," he says.

"Non-verbal and physical communication, influencing skills and so on still require real people, adept at spotting them, if they are to be identified and evaluated.

"So don't expect consultants like us to disappear any time soon."