Where Talent Acquisition and Recruiting Automation Meet With Sova’s Alan Bourne

Big things have happened since the last episode of Science 4-Hire. Rocket-Hire has joined forces with Sova, an awesome global talent assessment provider based in the U.K. working with organizations all over the world. It was an organic union that transpired through a mutual respect for innovative ideas that are grounded in solid science. 

As part of Rocket-Hire’s talent assessment market review project, we studied over 300 vendors. Through this process it was clear that Sova’s highly flexible approach to assessment technology stuck out from the crowd; so much so that we began discussing partnering for Rocket-Hire’s client opportunities. One thing led to another and here we are! Rocket-Hire is now Sova US and we are thrilled to be able to offer a smart alternative to the norm here in our home market. 

My guest today is a great source of inspiration and wisdom to me — Dr. Alan Bourne, Sova’s founder and CEO.  I am confident you will enjoy our conversation about why companies should definitely NOT stop hiring, despite what Elon Musk has to say about it.  

Advances in automation are transforming, at an incredible rate, not only how we think about recruiting but also how we actually do it — and that can be pretty scary. But, despite the naysayers, change isn’t all bad, and automation has the potential to enhance our talent acquisition processes and revolutionize our businesses.

If you’re like me and can’t wait to see what’s next for talent acquisition and recruiting automation, check out my conversation with Alan Bourne.

Listen to “Where Talent Acquisition and Recruiting Automation Meet” on Spreaker.

Should We Stop Hiring? Don’t Be Ridiculous. 

In times of chaos, it’s natural to want to pause and wait for a clear path forward before you start again. But what about hiring while your company is in a moment of change? Certain folks across the world are saying things like, “Hey, we should just stop hiring. Why even bother with hiring right now? Things are too unstable.” But I disagree, and so does Alan. Alan’s words of wisdom are spot on when he says- “You can’t really stop hiring unless you want to stop changing… whether you are changing your amount of hiring or you are redeploying people internally, that I just can’t see that stopping.”

Automation Isn’t Taking Jobs, It’s Just Changing Them

Before we talk about recruiting automation specifically, we need to address the elephant in the room. People are terrified of automation changing work to the point that tons of jobs become obsolete. That’s a natural feeling but isn’t necessarily true. After all, people said the same thing during the Industrial Revolution, and what happened there? People changed jobs because technology created new ones.

Change is always tough, and it isn’t slowing down. But that’s not a reason to put hiring on hold, As Bourne says, the future of your business may depend on maintaining a dynamic workforce. “Every organization’s got to keep changing — and probably changing even faster than it had done before,” he says. “You can’t really stop hiring unless you want to stop changing.”

Of course, there’s no black-and-white answer. “There’s an ebb-and-flow aspect, for sure,” Bourne continues. “But nevertheless — whether you are changing your amount of hiring or you are redeploying people internally — I just can’t see that stopping.”

Online and Digital Are Not the Same

One of the biggest places where talent acquisition and recruiting automation intersect is in the evolution of recruiting tech from isolated point solutions to full-service hiring platforms. It’s a pattern we’ve observed before. Cloud-based customer relationship management systems today, for example, have massive functionality — worlds away from what they were just a few years ago. Cloud CRM systems, “if you go back 10, 15 years, were either enormous systems or they were pretty disjointed point solutions,” Bourne says.

That’s a taste of things to come in recruiting, and that expansion will change our recruiting processes for the better. “A digital platform should be covering the whole end-to-end process,” Bourne says. And in our case, that encompasses the experience for recruiters, hiring managers and HR on the back end and throughout the entire candidate journey. 

“The complete picture has a lot more value than some of the bits individually working well,” Bourne says. How we generate and segment data can have a huge impact on the hiring experience and outcomes. Digital platform solutions are moving us in that direction.

Putting Tech at the Service of People

Another fear people have when it comes to automation is losing that vital sense of human connection. Chatbots and other tools try to mimic human behaviors, but there are better ways to use technology for preserving the human touch. 

A complete platform solution, for example, has the potential to bring the candidate experience to life. “I would say a great candidate’s experience is one of the objectives of automating … as opposed to just the process,” Bourne says. Platform solutions expose just how connected all of those things are.

Performing a candidate assessment means “you are communicating with them at the same time,” Bourne says. “You should be treating it as a two-way thing.” Assessments pull vital data on each candidate into your applicant-tracking system, but they also say something about you, your business and the role the candidate is testing for. 

We need multipurpose solutions to address multifaceted problems, and talent acquisition and recruiting automation can help us get there.

People in This Episode

Catch Alan Bourne on LinkedIn, at Sova and in the Sova Community

Read the Transcript


Welcome to Science 4-Hire with your host, Dr. Charles Handler. Hiring is hard. Pre-hire talent assessments can help you ease the pain. Whether you don’t know where to start, or you just want to stay on top of the trends, Science 4-Hire provides 30 minutes of enlightenment on best practices and news from the front lines of the employment testing universe. So get ready to learn as Dr. Charles Handler and his all-star guests blend old-school knowledge with new-wave technology to educate and inform you about all things talent assessment.

Dr. Charles Handler:

Hello everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of Science 4-Hire. I am your host, Dr. Charles Handler, and I want to make sure everybody out there in our audience knows that this podcast has not gone away. In fact, it’s going to come back even better than ever. We’ve been on a little bit of a hiatus because we’ve had some really awesome and interesting changes going on after 21 years of functioning independently as a voice for the truth and assessment and all good things about how to hire properly. We have made a little bit of a change in our company structure and have merged with an awesome provider of talent assessment out of the U.K., Sova. My guest today is Dr. Alan Bourne, who is the founder of Sova, the new home for Rocket-Hire, and we are going to talk about topics related to hiring and assessment.

So we have a little bit of a transitional episode today. We’ll be coming back with a little bit of a new look really soon. We have some great episodes in the can already, but I got really, I don’t know, a little bit sad that we hadn’t recorded in a couple months as we’ve been going through a period of intense transition with my company. And we had to get everything properly aligned and sorted, and now we’re coming out of that. I didn’t want to leave you all out there with nothing to listen to about talent assessment, so we’re going to do a great episode today that just speaks a little bit to our transition, but mostly speaks about talent assessment, where we are right now, hiring, and all that good stuff. So my guest today, Dr. Alan Bourne, founder of Sova, new home for Rocket-Hire. Alan, why don’t you introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about your background and we’ll get into some really cool topics about what’s going on out there now in the world of hiring.

Alan Bourne:

Yes. So just to introduce myself, I’m Alan Bourne, founder and CEO at Sova. I founded the business about six years ago. I’m a psychologist by background. Did my national service at SHL many years ago and was a co-founder at Talent Q prior to that. And I guess as we’ll sort of unpack this as we get into it — in Sova, we’ve been very focused on bringing together great quality of science with digital technology and trying to bring the two together to deliver something different for clients, so that’s what we’re all about.

Dr. Charles Handler:

Yeah. And boy, that’s what it is all about these days if you want to serve clients well, and we want to help all of the folks that we work with to do a better job. Hiring is really hard. I say that all the time. Hiring is hard. It’s not even close to a perfect science, but there’s a lot we can do to make it better, and this is a really exciting time in the world of hiring.

But I’d like to kind of kick our conversation off Alan, with a question for you. Look, the world is a crazy place right now. I mean, it seems like it’s getting crazier every day. And you know, people say crazy things. I think people want attention sometimes, but certain folks that are looking to own the channels of communication across the world are saying things like, “hey, we should just stop hiring. Why even bother with hiring right now? Things are too unstable. Things are crazy.” And it’s hard for people that are in the business of hiring to really process that. I think it’s probably a little bit of hyperbole. But what do you think, Alan, should we stop hiring? Why not? Why shouldn’t we stop hiring? Because I know what you’re going to say.

Alan Bourne:

Well, yeah. I mean, yeah. Elon Musk probably has a particular view on the question, which has definitely attracted everybody’s attention in one tweet. So I see where he’s going with that. When I saw that, I thought about one thing actually, which was, and I think it applies to Tesla probably just as much as anyone else. As you’ll probably remember a little while before the pandemic, there was a stat along the lines of half of the jobs that are going to exist in 10 years’ time, we don’t even know what they are yet. Or something like that.

So when you kind of have a statement like “let’s stop hiring,” I get the kind of short-term panic concerned bit, whatever. But when you kind of think about that for a moment, you say that every organization’s got to keep changing and probably changing even faster than it had done before. And people have to change and jobs have to change and all that stuff. So when you look at that, you kind of go, well, you can’t really stop hiring unless you want to stop changing. There’s an ebb-and-flow aspect, for sure. But nevertheless, whether you are changing your amount of hiring or you are redeploying people internally, that I just can’t see that stopping.

Dr. Charles Handler:

Come on. Anybody who thinks that change is going to stop, I mean, that’s the most basic truism that we have. As humans, God knows where we really are in the whole space-time continuum or if we’re not just some kind of a simulation. Other people bring up all those crazy ideas. Simulation or not, we still have things to do. We have to get on. We can’t stop. And one of the things that’s interesting, you said, people kind of counter that idea that half the jobs don’t exist today, you also hear, well, automation is going to remove half the jobs or more of the jobs, and we’re going to end up with all these people who have no jobs. So I’m going to tell you right now, I don’t believe that for one second. I think if you look at the Industrial Revolution, there were a lot of people who were like, oh no, this is going to take away all the jobs.

Well, it didn’t. People changed jobs. Technology created new jobs. So automation, though. Automation is a big thing right now across the world. We know that there’s ingredients to automation such as AI and all those fun things. But automation’s important, and automation is something that is really becoming a focal point in hiring, for better or for worse. So let’s talk about that a little bit. I mean, where do we truly stand with the effectiveness of automation? What are the pros and cons, almost, I would ask you, and what could we do to harness automation in a positive way?

Alan Bourne:

Yeah. I mean, if you think about the general point we were just touching on there, the areas that probably aren’t going to get automated and people are really good at are anything involving empathy, creativity, complex problem-solving, connecting, all that kind of stuff. And I think that’s probably true on a macro level, I guess, right across the economy. But if you look at, then drop into talent assessment, I think the same thing applies. You hear people saying let’s put the recruiter back into recruiting and that kind of stuff, and I think there’s an opportunity for talent assessment, for automation to take out lots of these legwork bits of basically administrative activity and calculation and analytic activity that, frankly machines, are pretty good at — and, assuming they’re coded well, better than humans are doing. And then there’s a whole bunch of stuff that humans are really good at doing that the machine doesn’t do.

So it does create a lot of opportunity for us to reshape what that looks like from both sides, I think. What does it look like for a candidate? Is it more personalized for them, but equally for managers and recruiters, what does it look like, as well? So how do you strip out the low-value time and let them spend time on the good stuff, right? That’s what automation should be doing. I appreciate there’s a sort of Luddite aspect of it, perhaps threatening people in certain situations, as well, but that’s what we should be doing with it, I would say.

Dr. Charles Handler:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So I’m going to tell a story. I like to tell stories. My first job as an IO psychologist, I spent a lot of my time, it was an internship, my job was to take score sheets off a fax machine, overlay a plastic bubble thing on those score sheets, score the assessment, type these results into an Excel file. And, I thought, ”this is incredible. I’m emailing that file to someone.” I like to think my talents are, even early in my career, could be served better other ways. And so soon after, a couple moves later, I moved to now our — I guess, our common DNA in the assessment world and probably 99% of people in the assessment world’s common DNA — of ePredix, which ended up becoming SHL through a series of things. So we share that background, but when I moved there, it was revolutionary.

Oh, all of a sudden, now we’re able to take tests, break them up into chunks, send them out automatically, get the results automatically. Wow, that changed everything. And it’s part of a bigger change of people can now apply for jobs anywhere all the time. To me, that’s been kind of the state we’ve been in for the last 20 years, but things are starting to evolve, and we’re really starting to look at things from a platform perspective. I think automation, it’s a key component or benefit of a platform-type view. So tell us a little bit about — and I know you’ve spent a lot of time with your head in that game — tell us a little bit about what platforms should do and how platforms have an advantage, I think, over kind of point or point solutions.

Alan Bourne:

What you were sort of just describing, in a sense, that evolution from the acetate and the answer sheet to scaling it. The point-solution space is, how do we do something we’re already doing at massive scale? Fine, but you’re generally automating one process or a couple of steps of process or whatever. And I think the first generation of assessment going online probably is like that, but I think that’s probably similar to loads of other things that went online in a similar way. And the evolution that we’ve seen this in — other areas like CRM would be a good example. You’ve got cloud CRM systems these days, which are pretty good and have a whole bunch of functionality if you’re in that space, which if you go back 10, 15 years, were either enormous systems, or they were pretty disjointed point solutions or whatever.

I think that’s a space we are in now, where we’ve gone from being online is very different to being digital. And so a digital platform should be covering the whole end-to-end process that you’re trying to cover. So in our space, that’s the whole candidate journey. So picking up from application through to offer et cetera. And there are steps through that which are about assessment, which is perhaps the bit I’ve been really close to as psychologists. But there’s also very simple practical steps like, can I just schedule my interview please? And there are […] to where they’re just as excited for great or good reason about solving that problem as they are about doing brilliant assessment. And so if you can make the whole thing join up, the complete picture has a lot more value than some of the bits individually working well.

So that platform piece for me is joining up the whole process in these different flows. And then the second bit, which is really underexploited, I think, in our field, is really making some really cracking use of the data that we are collecting. We’ve only really got to the stage where we’re starting to collect all the assessment data. The world’s sort of our oyster a bit, I think, in terms of how we start to maybe have data across our whole organization, how we can segment that, what we can really generate from that. So a genuine platform approach, in my view, it’s going down that road. And the first generation of assessment’s been just process automation. Here, we’re talking about data-driven approaches, which is a different ballgame entirely.

Dr. Charles Handler:

So I think, too, when you think about, because it’s all about tradeoffs in what we do. And so I think there’s this tension between automation and humanization. So, for instance, you talk about scheduling. Well, think about things that maybe a chatbot does. I’ve always felt like, is it really that great of an experience talking to an artificial thing that’s kind of dumb really, versus a more human approach, right? We know that you can’t let every candidate talk to a recruiter directly, but the humanization part of it is so important. I think that’s where you really find the pure AI-driven stuff, the stuff that’s, “hey, we’ll help you hire people 90% faster, and we’re going to be able to match people at 90% accuracy on the front end.” All that doesn’t have any kind of human aspect.

It’s really — who knows what it is? I got to say, I’m inherently distrustful of some of those things, just in terms of what they’re really actually doing. And I’m sure there is good stuff out there, but when you think about it from the point of view of a psychologist, and you think about the human aspect of it — because we’re not hiring robots, we’re hiring people and we need to appeal to those people on a lot of levels — how can we inject the technology with that human aspect in a way that doesn’t really cost us efficiency, it doesn’t cost us the benefits we get out of automation? But it brings into the picture, “Hey, it’s good to be human. We recognize that you’re human and you need a job and we want you to work for us if you’re the right human.”

Alan Bourne:

Yeah. And I think there’s probably at least a couple of angles for that. But one of the ones that, I guess, is really clear in some of the things I’ve seen anyway is the need to use the technology to create that tailored experience, if that makes sense. So if you have a candidate-centric solution, it should be built around bringing to life for the candidate what it is that they’re getting into. So whenever you’re assessing somebody, you’re obviously, like it or not, you are communicating with them at the same time, so you should be treating it as a two-way thing, And you want to attract them and all of that stuff. And Charles, you’ve talked about this quite a bit, that merging of experience in assessment coming together.

I think this is a really good example where thinking about it through the eyes of the candidate, assessing the information you need to get as an organization, but also bring the job to life, branding, all of that stuff — that should be what you are using the technology for. And there’s no reason why that is that isn’t juxtaposed with making it efficient. If anything,  that will make it work better, because you know a good candidate is selected and you create a better workflow, you get the more engaged, all the rest of it. So I think that’s simply about defining what your objective is. And I would say a great candidate’s experience is one of the objectives of automating, if that makes sense, as opposed to just the process.

Dr. Charles Handler:

I often say people don’t really like taking tests, but people do really like understanding that an employer cares about them and understanding what a job’s about. So in this climate, as well, where people are saying we don’t want to use any assessments because it’s going to scare off our candidates, we don’t have enough candidates, they’re not going to take it. All that jazz. What would you say to someone — and I’m sure you’ve said this many times, as I have — we don’t think assessments really a good thing because our candidates are actually going to hate it and it’s not a human principle, it’s barbaric?

Alan Bourne:

Well, I think if you go back in time, you’ll recall when the plural for an assessment was a battery. So I think that’s quite a well-chosen description back in time. But when you look at it now, I think the answer’s in the data. So if you collect candidate NPS score-type data, the two things for me that you should want to see in there. One of them is, “did I feel that it was engaging?” There’s no reason if you have a really good process you can’t be hitting 90%-plus on that kind of thing. And the second one is, “did I think it was relevant?” And the relevant one for me is, that really speaks to, the experience needs to be relevant and sort of at the right pitch. It doesn’t need to be enormously serious, but there is a seriousness to it.

If I’m applying for a job, I want to be present myself and all that stuff. So where it comes in is, if you get rejected, and lots of candidates do, if it’s felt relevant what you’d see is, if you’ve done a good job, you’ll still get good data on from people saying this experience was very engaging and relevant, even though I didn’t get the job. And that’s a good outcome, because then they won’t hold it against your brand. Equally, if it feels frivolous — and you only need to go and Glassdoor to figure this out, when people have those kind of experiences — candidates can go pretty nuts about it, basically. And I think fundamentally that’s about respect, as well. So can you make sure the candidate has experience that feels relevant, that you are respecting them? Can you give them some feedback that’s useful to them? All those kind of things. And that’s the route to getting a really good candidate experience which you can measure. So I think that’s for me where the answer lies, really.

Dr. Charles Handler:

You mentioned something about feedback, and I think that’s a really interesting difference as we come together and work together to see how assessment programs are rolled out globally. In Europe, and I think pretty much everywhere else in the world, it’s becoming more and more standard to give candidates something back from their application experience. And I’ve been advocating for that here in the U.S. for a really long time, and it’s a lot harder here. It’s something that I’m not giving up on, that mission. I think I’m inspired actually by seeing that it can work and it does happen all around the world besides the U.S. So we’re always on the lookout for people who aren’t afraid to take that step, and I think when you do take that step, boy, that is a really good transaction with a candidate — to give them some kind of insight, whether they want it or not, whether they are going to use it or not, it’s important.

Alan Bourne:

And Charles, on that, I mean it’s an interesting one to think about what it will take in the U.S. market, because obviously the legal context, all the fears around that are driving some hesitancy. But it’s an interesting one to think about what it would take to move the dial a bit. Because we’re certainly seeing, as you said, in other countries, you’re seeing giving candidates feedback by default generally goes down pretty well — assuming it’s done well. So it’s an interesting one, a good problem to want to solve and therefore make it better for candidates at the end of the day.

Dr. Charles Handler:

Yeah. I think there’s something, to me there’s an interesting tie even with more of a consumer-grade experience that candidates get. This is a good place where, I think, that kind of the platform and the humanization come together is in, just make hiring and assessment like banking or like booking an airline ticket, something like that. It’s the whole experience, the way it flows, the ease of use, the feedback, the data that you get personally. To me, that’s what people expect, and I feel like hiring is kind of outside of that realm now. It’s one of the few things you do that I feel is still not a consumer-grade experience always. So we strive to do that. In my mind, if I can make this consumer-grade experience, technology and with the care and handling and the feedback, the value — that’s what we’re after, in my mind.

Alan Bourne:

Yeah. I mean, look, if Experian will give you sort of your personal credit information, which they didn’t used to — they probably had the same conversation 10 years ago — why can’t we do the same? I mean, that’s pretty sensitive, so why can’t hiring do the same? I appreciate there’s sort of process of change to go through, but I think the evidence probably shows generally that candidates really like getting feedback they can do something about.

Dr. Charles Handler:

Yeah, exactly. So we’re on a mission, I think, to make that happen. Well, thanks a lot. Any concluding remarks or anything? I really appreciate the opportunity to get a little of your time and to share your wisdom with the folks that have been such good listeners to this show.

Alan Bourne:

Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s interesting while unpacking these different topics, and we’ve talked about some of these together previously, that it’s probably worth noting the last couple of years with COVID and all of the changes that happened, I can remember talking about the future of work in those kind of topics, let’s say, three or four years ago. And honestly, I think everybody wanted to talk about future work, but it wasn’t really happening. I think we are right in the middle of it now. COVID actually kind of massively accelerated virtualizing things and all of this, so we are way into the middle of that journey. And I’m certainly seeing that from an enterprise client perspective. Lots of organizations that, it’s no longer a “should we digitize? it’s like “we need to,” but the question is how are we going to do it? So, I mean, hopefully what we’ve been talking about is really relevant to that, to just help inform the conversation about: What’s your goals? What are you focusing on here? What do you want to achieve? So, hopefully, that’s a useful place to go.

Dr. Charles Handler:

Yeah. And the workforce itself has changed its mindset. It’s changed its attitude. It’s demanding a lot more, and work is changing, and the way it all happens is changing. I would never want, if I had a choice, COVID to happen, of course, but we had no control over it —or to some extent anyway — but what’s coming out of it is actually very positive, I feel like. It really has accelerated us 10 years, 20 years, I don’t know, in terms of attitudes and how we look at things. So that’s really great, and glad to be part of it during this exciting time. So, thanks again for your time. Let us know how people can follow you if they want to keep up with what you’re doing and saying.

Alan Bourne:

Yeah. Absolutely. And the Sova LinkedIn page is where most of the action is happening.

Dr. Charles Handler:

And the Sova Assessment community, which I definitely encourage folks to join that community. There’s a lot of great exchange of information in there, whether you’re a Sova client or not, doesn’t matter.

Alan Bourne:

Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Charles Handler:

Thanks Al, appreciate it.

Alan Bourne:

Pleasure. Thank you.