Fredrik Niemelä (Lead Tech Advisor at JobAgent) has a solid track record in development and technology in HR. He was one of the few who built Spotify from scratch and was employed as Product Development Director after being a doctoral student at KTH.
He has also been the architect behind Assessio's platform Ascend and even managed to develop a Chinese equivalent of the dating app Tinder. For a number of years now, he has lived in Texas in the USA and helps JobAgent with architecture and strategic technical decisions. In early October, he visited the world's largest conference in HR, namely HR-Tech in Las Vegas. Below is an account of everything from chatbots, AI, block-chain, candidate experience and whether JobAgent's sharing service is truly unique or not.
HR-Tech in Las Vegas is the world's largest conference in technology in HR. With over 500 exhibitors, it is known as “the industry's annual meeting” with everything from large global companies to small fast start-ups.
Fredrik, tell us about how HR-Tech has changed in recent years?
- I would say that I experience a very positive development at HR-Tech. Let us take the test companies as examples. A few years ago, there were actually a lot of suppliers with, to say the least, dubious tests. Imagine personality type tests, with colors and other nonsense. They were there at the same time as good test companies with real science were also there and competed for the same audience. Last year, there were fewer junk test companies and this year I did not see a test company that did not seem to have good data and research behind it. It is a very gratifying development!
The market demands more science and research, can you sum it up like that?
- Yes, it is apparently possible to sell science and research does not seem to be perceived as dusty but rather a requirement. It is also noticeable that the exhibitors are much more knowledgeable this year and it should be an effect that this is what customers also demand. But unfortunately, it has taken quite a long time for skilled test providers to get to a situation where they can offer their tests online and "as a service". I mean, the ones who first took the stage were all those Facebook tests, such as "What Harry Potter character are you?". Really good test suppliers have been around for a long time, but they were slow on the ball in their marketing. This may have led to rather negative consequences that have persisted.
How do you mean? What are the negative consequences?
- Yes, but the biggest criticism of tests actually comes from candidates. But that is because they have not explained what they measure and what they do not measure. If what the candidates first saw on the market were Harry-Potter tests and then comes the psychology industry with their tests which they also call "personality tests", then it is clear that there is a skepticism against them. It took an awfully long time for companies with good research to break through the noise, because the junk test managed to "own" the term "personality test" first.
Okay, so more science seems to be a trend. What does it look like with other trends?
- Speed and candidate experience, these are definitely trends that are here. Speed and candidate friendliness so that people do not drop out of the recruitment processes is a recurring theme among most exhibitors. Very many companies stress how long it takes to do a process, or perhaps rather how fast it goes and that it is easy. What struck me was that at HR-Tech, many people seem to think that chatbots are the solution to speed up processes and make them more user-friendly.
So chatbots are the black news when it comes to the candidate experience?
- I really do not think it is the answer to the whole question of candidate experience, however, it is clear that it speeds up the process. At any time, around the clock, you can ask your chatbot about practical things and get answers at once. It gives you as a candidate a faster process because you do not have to wait and do not have to email or call.
That it would be more fun, I'm a little doubtful, but that may be my personal opinion in and of itself. But the very essence of user-friendliness is often about someone caring about you, that I should be seen as a candidate and not just be one in the crowd, or it should be the biggest contributing factor to candidate friendliness and it does not solve a problem.
But other buzz-words then like AI, is it over?
- No absolutely not! Last year at HR-tech, there was a lot about AI and also this year. Here I also see at least the beginning of the same scientific trend as with the test companies. Earlier, when I asked companies at HR-Tech about their AI, I often received answers such as "You put data in here and on the other side, some form of decision support comes out". When I then asked "yes but how ?!" then the answer became something cryptic about a black box filled with data or "we can not tell because it is trade secrets".
Of course, there are companies that say the same thing this year as well, but the majority gave very good and detailed answers on how their AI works. But AI is difficult to navigate because it can actually be difficult to explain even if it works. As a rule of thumb, you can say that if you can not explain how your AI works, there is a fairly high risk that it does not actually work.
Okay the last buzz word; block-chain, what do you say about that?
- A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about using block-chain in various HR processes. But almost all those discussions fell silent and today you hear it very rarely. If you hear blockchain in HR, it's probably just a marketing pitch.
I do not agree, why is block-chain difficult in HR?
- In HR, for example, people have been waiting and hoping for quite some time for a verified version of LinkedIn. Imagine a copy of LinkedIn but where you can guarantee that the information is true and correct. Then you might think that block-chain solves that question because the information is verified and can not be changed. But is it really verified? How do we verify it? "Who watches the watchmen?" That part seems to be skipped / missed in the HR applications of block-chain that I have seen so far. Another issue is also the GDPR. A user who suddenly wants to delete their data cannot do so because it is in a block chain. I have a hard time imagining that EU legislation agrees that "yes, because you agreed to have your data in a block-chain, you can not delete it", but we will see what happens. In any case, I would definitely not want to be the first with a blockchain for HR in a GDPR country.
JobAgent then, we are building a sharing service in recruitment, is there anything similar out there on the big global stage in HR-tech?
- Actually, JobAgent's platform solves two problems "How do I find the right candidates to hire?" and "How do we best help the candidate?". The first question "How do I find the right candidates to hire?" this is nothing new. Lots of companies say that they have the best candidates, or large databases with a lot of people in and so on. But the second question; "How do we best help the candidate?" - it's unique. There are very few companies that actually focus as much on the bachelor experience as JobAgent does, and which also do it in a different way. Often when you talk about a bachelor's experience in HR, you still do it from a recruiter perspective.
It is emphasized that this process is so quick to respond to and this is how we reduce the risk of candidates dropping out of the process and so on. But what is the fastest way to do a process? Well, you've already done it. What is the fastest way to answer a test? Well, you already have your results saved. Because JobAgent turns the process around and lets candidates decide for themselves who will have access to their data based on their criteria, this is something new. So the pitch holds up very well, but it is important to point out that this is built with the candidate as a starting point. The candidate is the one who decides and can share his data on his terms. Based on my observations on HR-Tech, there is no one who does this in that way, neither this year nor earlier.
Okay, thanks Fredrik! So if I were to summarize all of this, one could say that: Science and research are much more on the agenda today than before. Chat bots are coming in as a response to the candidate experience, but really it is probably about solving practical issues quickly than that candidates would really appreciate the format more. It can also be said that the scientific trend has partly entered the AI area where more and more suppliers can actually answer how their AI works. So in summary more transparency and higher demands that things work for real.
- Yes, you can sum it up. I am also passionate about science and good data, so if this is really a trend that continues, then it is good for everyone.