AI in Executive Search: Facts, Benefits and Challenges

3rd November 2021

Until recently, AI in the Executive Search industry was once seen as a threat to the professionals working in it and there were even some rumours that the technology could signal the end of the profession as we knew it.  

Despite the fears, AI has rapidly moved to the forefront of Executive Search methodologies changing the way Executive Search professionals work. We have identified AI as one of the key trends in Executive Search in 2021 and the one that will be shaping the industry in the long term.  

AI has already been around for some years in the recruitment and search industries. AI can be used for everything – from scanning CVs to examining candidates’ skills, but as the role complexity and seniority increase, the use of the technology becomes more complicated.  

In this article, we aim to answer the most frequent questions surrounding AI: What do we mean by AI? How can it benefit Executive Search and Recruitment? And finally: could it replace the role of the Consultant? 


What is AI – the Background 

Simply put, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that involves intelligent machines behaving and reacting as humans do. It allows computers to perform cognitive functions such as speech recognition, planning, learning and problem-solving.  

As AI has become a hot topic nowadays it has a number of definitions but we particularly like the one suggested by Microsoft, the pioneers in the AI area, who described it as ’software capable of analysing large quantities of data, learning from the results of such assessments and using this knowledge to refine future processes and systems’.  

But what does it mean for the Executive Search industry?  


Benefits of AI in Executive Search  

  • AI can help with data analysis at a previously unimaginable scale by linking multiple data points from various sources. For instance, instead of spending weeks building long, three-dimensional lists of candidates, Executive Search Consultants can now feed AI with a ‘perfect profile.’ It will go through the database to identify candidates with suitable skills, backgrounds, and job titles 
  • AI can increase productivity and efficiency by undertaking routine and administrative tasks currently performed by Executive Search professionals. Its use can decrease project length from months to weeks speeding up the search process 
  • AI can help eliminate human bias. For example, using pre-employment assessment and blind hiring, Executive Search firms are now able to conduct the whole research phase without knowing the candidates’ names, ethnicities, or genders. This helps to reduce unconscious bias and embed diversity into the search process 
  • AI can save time spent on salary negotiations by providing insights on the salary trends within the particular market and thus indicating how much the position is worth 
  • Finally, AI can enhance the candidate experience by providing regular communication and automated feedback  


Why AI will not Replace Consultants  

It might sound like AI is an ultimate solution for the industry but there are some key areas in which the technology simply cannot replace the role of the Executive Search Consultant:  

  • AI can’t build relationships with clients and candidates, which remains a fundamental part of Executive Search. Networks will continue to be an important asset for both executives and search firms 
  • AI can’t see the candidate’s potential beyond credentials – it can’t assess the candidate’s interpersonal skills or judge cultural fit, which makes it harder to discover ‘hidden talent’  
  • AI can’t act as a brand ambassador for the company and sell the role to candidates who aren’t actively for new opportunities. It also can’t convince a candidate to accept the employment offer  
  • AI doesn’t have emotional intelligence, can’t think critically and struggles with conflicting concerns. Algorithms and machine learning simply can’t be a substitute for years of experience in the hunt for top talent 
  • AI itself can’t enhance candidate experience throughout the process. Candidate experience is an especially important brand differentiator in the candidate-driven market that we have now, where multiple companies are fighting for the same talent 


AI in Executive Search and Recruitment – a Conclusion  

As you can see, while the use of AI in Executive Search offers lots of benefits for the professionals working in the industry, the technology has its limitations.  

Automating administrative and support activities can reduce the time to shortlist and thus reduce the time to hire. However, a successful search requires a human connection and that is why, in our view, AI will have only a complementary role in the Executive Search. Streamlining the search process, AI will enable Executive Search professionals to focus on building relationships, identifying top talent, and adding value to clients and candidates.  

An Executive Search professional acts as a coach, career advisor and advocate for the candidate. At the same time, they are market experts, deal negotiators and strategy consultants to a client. Their job is to not only find the right candidate but to consult with them on why the role is right for them.  

Would you like to further discuss the Executive Search landscape and find out more about our current opportunities? Get in touch for a confidential conversation with one of our experienced consultants.