What AI can (and can't do) in Executive Search

When looking for a high-level position in Executive Search, stakes skyrocket at a colossal speed. Obviously it’s a lot at stake when you need to find or replace, let’s say, the CEO of a company. The reality of the digital age is pushing us to delegate (if not hand over completely) some of the tasks to machines. Computers with their elaborate neural networks are already better at a lot of tasks that a regular human being with its short concentration span and flawed attention for detail may struggle with. Not to mention Artificial Intelligence, which can do even more elaborate things like predicting with an astonishing accuracy what your next word in the search bar is going to be. But how about finding a new CEO to replace the freshly resigned one?! Well, yes and no.

What AI can do

What is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) best at? Pretty much at making logical and perfectly calculated data-based decisions. That sounds perfect for mapping the job market, analyzing trends and sucession data as well as predicting potential matches in terms of skills and abilities while assessing statistics behind a pages-long CV of a potential CEO. Those practices have already been a part of Executive Search for a number of years now. And there is no denying that AI’s abilities to offer conclusions by analyzing immense amounts of data (in our age of Big Data) are beneficial for both service providers and their clients.

What AI can’t do

Though technology does take over certain areas, in the end it all comes down to interaction between people, which can’t (at least yet) be calculated by an AI. It’s still a person, a human organic Executive Search consultant, who has an exclusive ability to navigate through a fragile and thin matter of human interaction. A job interview is a perfect example. Just the thought of being interviewed by a heartless and emotionless mathematical equation embodied in a computer is quite uncomfortable. This, however, is not entirely fictional: a robot developed by a Swedish company is already interviewing people in a test mode (more here). But a situation like this leaves no chance to improvise on a difficult question or tell a witty joke to break the ice, establishing contact with an interviewer and leaving a positive impression about communication skills.

If we talk about Executive Search, a human ability to asses a potential candidate beyond her or his credentials can’t be substituted by an AI. Factors like interpersonal skills, creativity and critical “outside-the-box” thinking, cultural compatibility are hardly measurable and assessable by a machine. And we didn’t even get to things like, persuading a reluctant candidate to take an offer, finding people who aren’t actively looking, making synergies meet, making connections into entirely unrelated fields that still might have just the right people AND (almost most important of all) building long lasting networks of trust to dive into when a Search requests comes our way.

Of course it’s no use in rejecting technological progress. AI can help in a lot of ways but in the end, it can’t do the job. And, paradoxically, this impression has increased with the recent pandemic push into digitalization. This may be related to the fact that there was an increase in the need for human interaction in the digital world, the need for more relationship building and sincere interpersonal responses and stimuli (translated into digital interaction). None of this an AI can provide. But instead of falling into despair ignited by the fear of technology stealing jobs, it should be embraced and viewed as a reliable sidekick, especially when it comes to AI and its ability to analyze Big Data. Executive Search can without a doubt benefit from it by allowing a fellow AI to dig through mountains of information filtering candidates based on measurable criteria. This is exactly where the catch hides though: a new CEO cannot be reduced to numbers deduced from statistics alone. Thus, an important mission of detecting the best potential candidates with the oh-so-important four Cs of today’s success (Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration) remain on the shoulders of a good and reliable recruiter.

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