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The Year of Artificial Intelligence: A Paradigm Shift in Executive Recruitment

By Jennifer Silvester

In 2023, the consistent topic on every industry meeting or conference all over the world has been AI. The dialogue has oscillated between apprehension over AI replacing human roles and enthusiasm for the unprecedented efficiencies it brings.

As we end the year, our team has developed an informed perspective and a go forward strategy as it relates to using AI in our firm. We also have a general sense of awe when thinking about the transformational impact AI will continue to have on our world.

At Silvester & Company, ChatGPT hit our radar in early January. We had little idea about specifically how it might be useful to our process, but we instinctively understood that this emerging technology was something we needed to understand and become familiar with. We agreed as a team to start experimenting with ChatGPT. Each member of the team was challenged to consider daily how they might ask ChatGPT for support, supplement their research, or drive process efficiency. We made it a topic on each weekly team meeting to share how we had used the tool and what we discovered.

With only a couple of weeks of experimentation, ChatGPT moved from novel to an integral team member. So influential to our daily process, we named it “Bob”. His contributions, akin to the indispensable convenience of a microwave, have become central to our operations. “Did you ask Bob?” is now a common refrain in our problem-solving discussions.

Below are some of the examples where Bob has specifically helped us become more efficient and effective.

How AI Improved Our Recruiting

1. Enhanced Research: AI powered research has been transformative. In an industry where it is critical for our team to be deeply informed about key industry players and adjacent markets, locations, and even highly technical product information – Bob swiftly analyzes vast amounts of data, delivering comprehensive insights and information that traditionally required extensive manual labor.

For example, a global search we performed this year for a highly technical and experienced metallurgy leader required that we find not only every candidate, but every mine in the world with a highly specialized metallurgical process. Bob helped us take several days of research down to several hours.

Our experience mirrors a trend across the sector, where executive search firms are reaping similar benefits. AI’s ability to automate high-volume tasks and research is a transformative impact that is echoed by the global AI market’s projected growth to $641.3B by 2028. We are seeing current partners and many new entrants utilize ChatGPT for specific applications just like this.

2. Processing Interview Notes and Candidate Summaries: AI’s contribution to synthesizing interview notes into coherent summaries has introduced a new level of consistency and objectivity, a challenge when done manually. We have placed strict rules around the information we share with Bob to ensure we are compliant with data privacy rules. Asking Bob for help with summarizing interview notes has been a massive efficiency improvement for our Practice Leaders and Recruiters.

3. Marketing & Social Media: Not unlike many in our field, in 2022, our team sought out the support of a professional marketing team to help us build content for our website and social media pages. We spent a lot of time helping these partners get to know our firm, our clients, and our voice. Even with that investment of both our time and money, the results were not great – in fact some were just downright awful. We quickly realized as a small boutique firm with nearly 30 years of experience, our voice and perspective is difficult to replicate through a third party who really does not have that experience – no matter how many prompts, articles, and data we provided.

With this experience, we were pretty skeptical about ChatGPT/Bob being capable of doing better. Boy were we wrong. Over the year, we have taught Bob our voice and aligned it to the customers and industries we serve. The results have been nothing short of incredible. Have we outsourced all our marketing efforts to Bob? Not by a longshot. What we have done is used Bob to help us with idea generation, refining our own writing, and using it as an editor and feedback generator to ensure our blogs are achieving the intended message and purpose. For example, this article was improved by Bob after an initial draft that included high-level points about our experience this year with AI, the specific applications, and dangers we discovered. We asked Bob to supplement our blog with some industry data and best practices. With that help, we revised and asked Bob to do a final edit. Brilliant!

What We Discovered AI Cannot Do:

1. The Human Element in Executive Search: While AI significantly aids certain tasks, it doesn’t supplant the crucial human element in executive search – the part of the process that we love! The intuitive and nuanced aspects of recruitment, such as assessing cultural fit or understanding subtle nuances in communication remain firmly in the realm of human discernment. AI lacks the emotional intelligence required for these complex evaluations. AI is not going to replace the role of the executive recruiter, but it will make us faster and better at our jobs.
Our experience resonates with the industry consensus: AI augments, not replaces, the recruiter’s role. AI’s role in augmented intelligence, expected to grow by $45.65 billion by 2026, promotes a human-centered partnership model, enhancing cognitive performance in decision-making and learning. This evolution allows our recruiters more time to engage in crucial aspects of our job, like building relationships and understanding unique client and candidate needs​​​​.

2. Discover the Unique or Atypical: While AI has been incredibly useful in speeding up our process, it is definitely not perfectly accurate. This is particularly true when the answer is more nuanced or atypical. Whether doing industry research or looking for candidates, AI is not great at reasoning when nuanced information or judgment is required. So while it can help speed up your process, relying entirely on AI for research would be a huge mistake.

3. Identifying False or Inaccurate Information: Much has been debated and discussed about AI’s tendency to hallucinate or make up answers based loosely on factual information or using information that is inaccurate. A machine learning tool is only as good as what it is fed/taught.
Added to this, candidates are now using AI/ChatGPT as well to write resumes, respond to interview questions, and more. AI does not have the capacity to fact check information candidate’s provide or validate credentials. Again, ChatGPT’s capability to reason, find discrepancies, or identify behavioral patterns is not at the level of an experienced executive recruiting human.

As we move towards 2024, we remain committed to exploring AI’s evolving role in recruitment. While optimistic about its potential to further enhance our processes, we recognize the need to balance technological efficiency with the irreplaceable value of human judgment and interaction. The future of executive search lies in a synergistic relationship where AI and human expertise coexist, each playing to their strengths.