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Ep 401: How AI Is Changing Talent Acquisition


As I referenced in the 400th episode, one of the standout trends for me in 2021 has been the adoption of AI in talent acquisition and its impact. As we move towards 2022, I wanted to take deeper dive into the practicalities of the revolution AI is driving in talent intelligence, recruiting process and talent management.

My guest this week is Jason Cerrato, Senior Director Product Marketing at Eightfold AI. Jason has a unique combination of experience, having been a talent acquisition practitioner and leader as well as an industry analyst before working on the vendor side. This combination of experience gives him a unique insight into the change AI is driving in talent acquisition, and he has valuable advice to share.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Why not all AI is the same

• How AI is changing Talent Intelligence

• The importance of adjacent skills

• Unlocking more diverse talent pools

• Being dynamic, real-time and agile in recruiting

• Identifying learning capabilities

• How AI is changing Talent Management

• Internal talent marketplaces

• Free Agent skills

• Advice to TA leaders on AI strategy

• What we can expect in 2022

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript: (Ad) (0s):
Support for this podcast comes from delivers the talent intelligence platform. The most effective way for companies to retain top performers, upscale and rescale the workforce, recruit top talent efficiently, and reach diversity goals. is deep learning artificial intelligence platform empowers enterprises to turn talent management into a competitive advantage.

Matt Alder (Intro) (47s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 401 of The Recruiting Future Podcast. As I referenced in the 400th episode, one of the standout trends for me in 2021 has been the adoption of AI in talent acquisition and its impact. As we move towards 2022, I wanted to take a deeper dive into the practicalities of the revolution AI is driving in talent intelligence, recruiting process, and talent management. My guest this week is Jason Cerrato, Senior Director Product Marketing at Eightfold AI. Jason has a unique combination of experience, having been a talent acquisition practitioner and leader as well as an industry analyst before working on the vendor side.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 37s):
This combination of experience gives him a unique insight into the change AI is driving in talent acquisition, and he has valuable advice to share.

Matt Alder (1m 48s):
Hi Jason and welcome to the podcast.

Jason Cerrato (1m 51s):
Hi Matt, great to be here.

Matt Alder (1m 53s):
An absolute polite to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Jason Cerrato (1m 58s):
Sure. I’m Jason Cerrato from Eightfold, part of the product marketing team, responsible for our talent intelligence platform and our app marketplace. I’ve been in and around recruiting for the last 20 years, acted as a as a practitioner, and talent acquisition executive for some time, then spent some time as an industry analyst. And now have joined the Eightfold team to help with product marketing and influence this product that has impressed me for the time that they’ve been in the market even before I joined the team.

Matt Alder (2m 37s):
Fantastic stuff. And you’ve got such an interesting background. I think it just would be great for a bit of context in terms of what we’re going to talk about. If we just delve a little bit deeper into that. And so, I mean, tell us about your time and talent acquisition, as an analyst. And what you’ve seen in terms of the development of technology in the last few years before you came to Eightfold?

Jason Cerrato (3m 1s):
Sure. My recruiting story is your typical recruiting love story of recruiter at an agency eventually going to work for one of their customers. So, landing on the other side of the fence from the agency world into the corporate talent acquisition world started at a division of a very large conglomerate. I worked for United Technologies. And at that division was able to improve processes and learn their homegrown technology to the point where in a very short time, I kind of became the resident expert, and was training other recruiters and other HR folks on the technologies that they had built themselves.

Jason Cerrato (3m 46s):
And as a result, was able to produce outcomes that were hard to duplicate in other places. So, people started benchmarking my processes, and you know, my approach. So that way, when the opportunity arose to move to the corporate office, and potentially lead the function, I was interviewed for the role and got it, but stepped into the office and it was already for the large part, using a lot of processes that I originated at a division. As a result of that had a chance to lead a lot of large-scale talent attraction and employer branding efforts, but also had a great opportunity to deal with a lot of talent infrastructure projects.

Jason Cerrato (4m 34s):
Because as I mentioned, we had a homegrown system and part of that was we needed to upgrade, and move to the cloud, and have more modern capability. So, I spent a lot of time in my corporate recruiting role, evaluating vendors, and keeping up with the market to eventually I got the opportunity to select technology and deploy technology to modernize our recruiting infrastructure. As a result, got me interested in the technology space, in addition to just the recruiting function. And after deploying applicant tracking systems and HCM suites and going around our organization, as part of a global initiative, I later moved on in my career to become an industry analyst, and cover vendors and kind of be a voice in the market for a period of time with Gartner.

Jason Cerrato (5m 31s):
So, my career has kind of taken some turns always been around the recruiting industry and the recruiting function. But it’s given me a lot of visibility to the various aspects of the function as I’ve been a practitioner. You know, I’ve stood in front of the tablecloth, table at recruiting events. I’ve done large scale recruitment technology overhauls. I’ve done branding initiatives and campaigns. I’ve also been sold to for most of my career as a talent leader, and then now have had a stint on the other side of the table as an industry analyst.

Jason Cerrato (6m 13s):
And then now joining a vendor and being part of a marketing team. So, it’s kind of come full circle.

Matt Alder (6m 18s):
Just such an interesting background, because I don’t know many people who’ve been a practitioner and analyst and a vendor. So, I think it gives you a really interesting perspective on the market, which is why I was really excited to have this conversation. What I want to dig into is AI. Now, we’ve been talking about, it seems like we’ve been talking about AI for a very long time. And certainly, in previous years, you know, I’ve always felt with that there’s been a lot of hype around AI, but actually not much going on. Now, in the last 18 months, I think it’s very, very clear that that has changed and been interviewing some fascinating people on the podcast for a number of months now, around the various ways that they’re using AI to improve their talent strategies, and some of those sort of quite remarkable results that are coming out of it.

Matt Alder (7m 16s):
So, I really want people to appreciate just how much AI is changing things. And perhaps we don’t always notice when our kind of our heads down, and not really kind of looking around us. So, in that context, I just want to talk about a few key areas. And the first one is talent intelligence. Now, tell us about your kind of experience in talent intelligence in a world before AI, and perhaps then give us the view of how AI is changing talent intelligence?

Jason Cerrato (7m 48s):
It’s a great question, Matt. And I think, you know, part of the challenge with tackling the topic of AI, and especially AI and talent acquisition is not all AI is the same. And in that, I mean, it’s built and put in place for different outcomes, or serving different purposes. I think talent intelligence is something that stood out to me, because in HR, you know, we’ve had data challenges for quite some time. A lot of HR infrastructure is built, either in pockets or by division, or based off of pilot programs with limited budget.

Jason Cerrato (8m 29s):
And for a lot of my career, I think part of what made a good HR person stand out was their ability to gather the data, and collect the data, and be a “kind of spreadsheet hero”. I think we went from a period where we were doing that to gather as much insight and information as we could. And then now we have processes where we’re breaking down barriers, we’re removing silos, we’re getting more unified systems. But now also, they’re incorporating AI for various purposes. And in the context of talent intelligence, we’ve moved from a process where people were using HR data for descriptive purposes to where they’re using HR data for more predictive purposes, and even now, more prescriptive purposes where the data isn’t just predicting what’s going to happen and starting to tell us what to do and how to get there.

Jason Cerrato (9m 28s):
So, for me, I think, you know, that is why talent intelligence stands out to me and was of high interest to me as something that was helping to innovate HR and talent acquisition and this function I’ve loved so dearly for the last 20 years. Quick story. You know, I think one of the things that AI does in the context of Eightfold with our town intelligence platform, is it allows people to look at talent through context, and learn ability and capability, and also look at what’s on a resume, and how skills can relate to other skills, or how one role can relate to another role?

Jason Cerrato (10m 8s):
And we call that adjacent skills. You know, I lived a period of time where we would go recruiting, and we were subject to what was on the job description, and what kind of degree was needed. And people would come to us. And if they had that degree, we would talk to them, if they didn’t have that degree. It’s almost as if we didn’t know what to do with them. And we tried to interest them in our company, but maybe send them along on their way. And I had a scenario that I lived firsthand where we were looking for mechanical engineers. And we were at a large university, and we had people coming up to our table. And if they didn’t have a mechanical engineering degree, we were kind of, you know, having a nice quick conversation, but sending them on their way.

Jason Cerrato (10m 49s):
What we didn’t know at the time was, if we were open to some related degrees from that university, the audience of students pursuing that degree was two or three times more diverse. And the curriculum was only different by about two or three courses. And we couldn’t know that in the moment on paper, using, you know, the way this data was collected in the way our systems used to work. I think with adjacent skills and talent intelligence and being more dynamic, and real time, and agile, were able to gather some of that insight, kind of in the moment on the fly, and as a result, create broader audiences.

Jason Cerrato (11m 31s):
And also, as another outcome, potentially increased diversity.

Matt Alder (11m 34s):
I think that’s really interesting. And I’m interested to get your view on whether it’s solves a particular issue that I think we’ve seen in recruiting as long as recruiting has existed, which is very, very narrow job descriptions. People wanting to apply for that job, feeling that they are just the right fit, but they don’t, they’re missing one of the requirements, or they have, you know, as you say, adjacent skills and other experiences that would bring a lot to that role. If only they could have a conversation with someone to talk about that, then the company could see the potential there.

Matt Alder (12m 14s):
And, you know, more often than not particularly, you know, in the years of online recruiting and people being screened out, and things moving faster, that’s not been the case. Do you think that AI here can solve that problem and really genuinely open up talent pools to the benefit of the employer, but also to improve the candidate experience?

Jason Cerrato (12m 38s):
I think the way AI and talent intelligence helps address the question you’ve asked Matt is, I’ll give you an example. One of the offerings in our platform is our personalized career site. And one of the ways that tool works is it allows an applicant to either create a profile or upload a profile, and the job search then completely transposes and acclimates to them. It’s a great example of candidate centered design or talent centered design. And what it does is it presents them a listing of the organization’s openings, where they themselves don’t have to do a keyword search, or decipher how their experience maps to the organization’s functions, or try to figure out how, you know, what they call something translates to what the organization calls something.

Jason Cerrato (13m 29s):
It automatically presents them with a list of opportunities that they’re either a strong match for, or a good match for, while still allowing them to see everything if they so choose. But also, it’s a transparent tool, where in addition to showing them what they’re a match for, it explains why they’re a match. What skills they have translate to that role? As well as what skills they have translate to other people that have applied for that job? And there’s a couple things that are happening there. We know through some research, not everyone fills out a robust profile and includes all of their skills.

Jason Cerrato (14m 11s):
There are groups that underreport their skills when they’re creating profiles or creating resumes. Some of the AI allows for building in some of that context underneath and kind of filling in some of the missing pieces. So, it allows the ability to connect people as matches for something that if you were just doing a keyword search, wouldn’t come up. And then also potentially fills out people’s profiles giving them credit for maybe something they should have listed that they didn’t, but also maybe something that they’re capable of learning based off of the skills that they have listed. As a result, we find this process generates more diverse applicant flow.

Jason Cerrato (14m 56s):
And, you know, more transparency in the process for helping people feel confident in something that they could be considered for and explaining why there are match.

Matt Alder (15m 9s):
As we talk about skills, the obviously the yeah, big talking point of this year has been internal mobility. And companies understanding the skills they have in their business, but also understanding where they can rescale people to meet the demand they have for new skills or changing skills. And again, this has been an area that has often been very problematic for companies, particularly in the last 20 years or so in terms of understanding who is in their business, and what skills that you know, and the skill sets that they have, or the other potential that they have. Talk us through the role in the AI is playing in fixing that particular problem.

Matt Alder (15m 51s):
I suppose, in the context of you being a practitioner, and then now understanding, you know, seeing some of the technology actually in action?

Jason Cerrato (15m 59s):
It’s great question. And I’ve had to see this through from a couple sides. As a practitioner being involved in talent acquisition and Talent Management, especially as an industry analyst, as tools like internal talent marketplaces, were coming into favor over the last three or four years. And then now, working for a vendor that plays in this space. I think there’s a couple things that have happened. You know, internal talent marketplaces, and skills inventories, and being more agile around your talent strategies were things that were already underway. You know, they were part of digital transformation activities that were occurring in the later part of the last decade.

Jason Cerrato (16m 40s):
I think what happened is, with the pandemic, this expedited a lot of those digital transformation activities that were already underway, you know, companies were exploring, and piloting and moving methodically, testing out the waters. And with the pandemic, and the shift to remote work, and also, various business models being disrupted and interrupted, you know, almost overnight, people have to jump in with both feet. So, I think when I was an analyst, I would take a lot of calls around this internal mobility and internal talent, marketplace conversation. And it was coming from a variety of places. Initially, it was survival. You know, we have new problems and new delivery methods, and we have to reconfigure how we deliver to customers overnight.

Jason Cerrato (17m 25s):
And we can’t necessarily recruit our way out of that problem, because we can’t do it fast enough. How do we know who we have internally to identify those skills and be able to read deploy, or maybe upskill people toward these new challenges? After that, it became more sustainable to say, “You know, we’re on a hiring freeze during this pandemic. How do we make sure we can build a process to still allow for career growth and career progression for our employees to be able to track how they can develop or maybe grow some skills during this time where we may not be allowed to hire or promote? And then after that, as things started to settle down and settle in.

Jason Cerrato (18m 7s):
I think it became more strategic. And people were looking for, how can we help develop and track individuals? How can we promote cross training? How can we understand maybe what someone’s “free agent skills” are, that may not be attached to their job or may not be stored in our legacy HR system. But what do they have as part of their whole self, that we can then leverage maybe for a new challenge or for a new role, and maybe give them something that creates an additional fulfillment for them as an employee. So, I think it’s taken a lot of different phases, but the phases have been expedited and accelerated. But definitely, where AI comes into play is the gathering of those skills.

Jason Cerrato (18m 54s):
The kind of capability and learning of what those skills relate to, and again, like those adjacent skills we talked about, but then also helping create additional awareness for managers and for employees to those opportunities. Kind of a continuous, kind of system that provides nudges, and kind of bringing that external AI enabled candidate experience internally for an AI enabled employee experience.

Matt Alder (19m 20s):
There will be lots of talent acquisition, talent leaders, HR leaders listening who are, you know, currently working on their medium to long term strategies. And looking very carefully at how AI and technology can really enable those and help them achieve the objectives that they need? What would your advice be to leaders who are looking at AI and thinking about how it can help them and how best to go about incorporating into their strategy?

Jason Cerrato (19m 48s):
So, I’ve seen a lot out there in the market. I’ve seen some white papers and things that refer to kind of HR 3.0, and kind of the next phase of the future of HR. I think we’re moving toward this process where it’s more based on a future reality that we’re moving towards, and focusing on things like potential, beyond simple performance. This is a process that is kind of rooted around skills and capability, and learnability moving towards this future reality. And it’s trying to answer questions like what, and when. And to that effect, I think, if I’m a talent acquisition, or a talent management leader, and I’m planning for the next few years, you know, one of the things we’ve seen is the shelf life of skills is getting shorter and shorter.

Jason Cerrato (20m 36s):
And the need to kind of stay up to date with what those skills are, and what you’re going to need to acquire for your organization is imperative. You know, during my time at Gartner, we did a lot of research in this space. And one of the things that we saw was that the inclusion of skills on job descriptions was increasing by 10%, year over year over the last few years. But when you looked at the skills that were actually being listed, many of the skills being listed in 2021, were the same skills that were being listed in 2017. And more than half of those skills would not be as essential going forward. So, I think one of the ways that AI helps, and then one of the ways that we do this with Eightfold is we have a functionality called the job intelligence engine is where it helps actually look at rising skills in the market, declining skills in the market, and helps you adjust kind of what you are looking for, and what your future targets are.

Jason Cerrato (21m 32s):
So, you’re actually working on a strategy that aligns to the business needs for the future, versus using historical data.

Matt Alder (21m 39s):
As a final question for you, this is one of the last episodes of 2021. And everyone is obviously looking forward to 2022. It would be wise not to make any direct predictions, because we really obviously don’t know what’s gonna happen. The pandemic rumbles on. And it’s very much a case of expecting the unexpected at the moment. But what would you like to see happen in 2022? If we were having this conversation again, in 12 months’ time, how would you have liked the year to panned out? How would you have liked talent acquisition, and talent management to move forward?

Jason Cerrato (22m 17s):
I think one of the things that AI offers and some of these advanced technologies offers the ability with kind of human machine collaboration to generate efficiencies, and to start the race at a different point than the starting line. So, you know, we’ve been working with systems for the last 10-20 years, where people ended up kind of hiding behind systems or getting burdened by very manual transactional processes. I think going forward with AI, and with some of the efficiencies that we’ve gained, we’re able to do a little bit of what I call, going high tech to be able to go high touch.

Jason Cerrato (23m 2s):
And it’s a situation where, with remote work, and very competitive talent markets, and candidates that have gained more power in this relationship, but also have more choices, you know, recruiters are going to have to be more dynamic in their employer value propositions. They’re going to have to be competing in a market that’s not tied to location anymore. So, it’s a situation where you can leverage AI tools for intelligence and for automation and for experience, but with some of those efficiency gains, and those hours that the recruiter is gaining back, it’s almost like you know, it’s now time to go high touch, and really, you know, engage in recruiting more than staffing.

Jason Cerrato (23m 45s):
And, you know, recruiting is something that’s motivational and inspirational, and informational. And you really have to know the business and know what the person is looking for. And again, align those conversations together. I think it’s something where, with some of these gains in technology, it allows us to go back to focusing on some of that human connection and relationship building, because now we’re not stuck hiding behind systems anymore.

Matt Alder (24m 8s):
Jason, thank you very much for talking to me.

Jason Cerrato (24m 11s):
It’s been great Matt. Have a wonderful end to the year and Happy New Year.

Matt Alder (24m 18s):
My thanks to Jason. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening.

Matt Alder (25m 4s):
I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me

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