HR tech: new digital tools in recruitment and beyond

New tech tools are changing how HR runs - here's a selection.  

Like apparently every other sector and industry right now, there are lots of new companies bringing new technological solutions to HR problems. And large companies are starting to use them. One of the speakers at a recent conference talked us through 8 different companies and there must be many more out there.


The questions HR people I know are asking is – where to start?  Do these companies have products I can use that make my job easier or cheaper? I’ll outline the businesses I have encountered:  what they do, how they work, and who’s using them. You can decide how useful they are for your business.


Some of these companies are gaining traction.  Q1 2018 sales of services from HR tech start-ups have reached $1bn according to the speaker, already ahead of the total 2017 sales.  While I have no way of verifying these figures – the speaker didn’t share the slides afterwards – it seems to be in line with the anecdotal evidence.


Scout exchange  is “A new, data-driven way to connect employers and search firms to fill jobs with great talent”. The problems it appears to be solving is that the best candidates come through specialist recruitment agencies, and employers don’t necessarily have the time or connections to find them, or know if they are any good.  Scout exchange claims to speed up the hiring process and make it cheaper thanks to their data mining and matching.  They’ve also got a nice ticker showing fees earned on the site so far:

[NB:  this is a classic persuasion technique called social proof social proof.  It makes the normally invisible money being earned by their clients visible]

Changing language in job postings

Textio uses augmented writing to boost the effectiveness of your job advert, or indeed any piece of business communication using words.  This is a neat tool, and I’ve heard it recommended by Ruben Kostucki of Makers’ Academy– a coding school that who places its graduates in roles with partner companies.   They have around 50% women graduates and Ruben credits the tool with playing a large part in this.   Textio uses large data sets to see which words have most impact and which words  put people off applying. (see this article from Forbes summarising research on the subject).

For example, the word ‘Ninja’ frequently appears in job postings for tech roles.  It’s a word with masculine associations and the research showed less women apply to the roles that feature this kind of language.    Textio would suggest alternative language that would alienate less people and broaden the range of  applicants for the role.

Gamifying the recruitment process.

Artic Shores uses games to assess people for roles.  They use games to create psychometric profiles instead of the usual questionnaire based options.  They claim the assessments are ‘grounded in validated models of intelligence, personality and cognitive neuroscience and use real behaviours to create a psychometric profile’.  While it’s always right to bring some positive scepticism to these claims, the company has some serious psychological clout and expertise from UC London on the advisory and exec boards, one of the leading schools in the world in psychology.  So I would expect their claims to be credible.  They also have an impressive client list.

Pymetrics ‘applies proven neuroscience games and cutting edge AI to reinvent the way companies attract, select, and retain talent’.  They get existing employees to play a series of games, and build a profile for that role based on where they do well – aligning traits to a role. 

Games are then designed for that role and candidates scored on how well they do.  They also screen for bias using large reference sets, downweighting inputs if they indicate bias.   (‘We believe any algorithm over-indexing on a certain demographic population is picking up on noise, not signal’, in their words:


Unilever have reduced attrition in sales roles by 1/3 using this tool according to Pymetrics’ website, and the software has also uncovered interesting trends,  showing linguists can be great at coding for example.


Video and facial recognition

Last tech recruitment tool is HireVue. This is a tool that allows you to apply for job roles using video.  The video is then examined using facial recognition and voice recognition software.  Candidates are asked questions live on camera (phone, tablet, laptop) and have 30 seconds to respond.  They can do retakes as many times as they like.

Candidates are then scored versus an ideal response set. Like the Pymetrics games, this ideal response is developed using current employees’ responses.  Unlike Pymetrics who actively design in features to remove bias, this needs to be customised by the hiring managers.  As a Business insider article puts it, ‘the AI is automating how hiring managers already recruit, and if they want to correct for past mistakes, they need to be cognizant of them in the first place’.

So this means you’re replicating the traits and style of your existing successful employees.  In the short term this seems very efficient.  In the long term, there’s a risk that everybody is going to look and act the same, leading to group think and uniform approaches.  In the current business environment, that could lead to blindspots in thinking, and looks risky.

Coach matching:  democratising coaching?

Better Up is one of my favourites of the current bunch.  I first came across this company in Thomas Friedman’s excellent book Thank you for being late, in the section on lifelong learning done differently in the digital age.

They provide coaching at scale to employees in companies like LinkedIn and Facebook.  You select coaches using a swipe-based system to review profiles (yes, it’s everywhere, not just Tinder).  Coaches come from all backgrounds – therapy and exec coaching for instance – and the sessions are done remotely with text follow ups and prompts.  They focus on developing core leadership skills  to ‘transform your managers into inspiring leaders’, as their website says.

Culture/ Learning and Development

I want to add 2 more HR tech start-ups worth a look, GroHappy and Culture Amp.

Culture Amp want to ‘make it easy for organisations to collect, understand and act on employee feedback through their innovative platform for on-demand, 360 degree feedback’, according to Melissa Paris, their ‘Senior People Scientist’. They extract insights from employee feedback that companies can use to drive culture change.  Again, they have a lot of large companies using their platform, and have a strong sense of purpose around improving work culture for the better. They run great events titled People Geek up which really sums up their approach – geeky on the data, focused on helping people at work.

GroHappy is a digital career development platform developed by two ex EY consultants who wanted to provide more career support for people at work.   It uses prompts, modern learning approaches and machine learning to serve people with timely activities, content and support to help them reflect and take action on their careers. The platform is getting traction with forward thinking companies who find it useful for diagnosing the problem behind retention issues.  Getting employees to consider these questions has led to reduction in employee attrition in pilot groups.  [Full disclosure on the last company – I work with GroHappy].

So that’s a whistle-stop tour of some of the interesting HR tech companies that I’m aware of.  It’s incomplete and I’d welcome ideas on other ones to watch.

I’m struck that as with many sectors, technology will change how we do HR over time.  The core skills of how we manage people won’t though.  Whether we coach people via Skype or review customer feedback data on a weekly basis, people will stay with companies and managers who listen to them are care about, and leave those who don’t.  Trust is always essential and that comes through human contact.

Thanks to Simon Darling for his talk that prompted this piece and to Culture Amp & GroHappy for their events which also informed it.

If you’re interested in talking about how to apply modern learning approaches including Agile and behavioural psychology to your organisation, perhaps we should talk.  Let me know through the ‘contact us’ section of the website.