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Ep 578: The AI Hype Cycle

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It does feel like 2024 could be the inflection point where we can push away the hype and start to see what impact AI is really going to have on talent acquisition. Continuing my end-of-year theme of trying to find the signal in all the noise around generative AI, I wanted to get the perspective of a TA technology innovation practitioner to help us understand more about what 2024 might bring.

My guest this week is Tom Chevalier, General Manager at Appcast Labs, a division of Appcast that focuses on innovation and creating the next generation of recruiting technology. Tom and his team are literally building part of the future, and unsurprisingly, he has some valuable insights and important advice to share.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Where we are in the AI Hype Cycle

• The bundling of AI into established TA technologies

• Seeing through the marketing spin

• Where are the most interesting investments being made?

• What problems does AI solve, and what new issues does it create?

• Transforming the recruiting process

• Disruption in contingent staffing

• Use cases

• Implications for the careers of TA leaders and recruiters

Download a copy of Appcast’s 2024 Recruiting Trends whitepaper

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Transcription:

Matt Alder: Support for this podcast comes from Appcast. You may have heard of Appcast. They’ve been the global leader in programmatic job advertising for the last 10 years. But now, they’re so much more. Following their acquisition of Bayard’s, they now offer a whole suite of recruitment marketing solutions, still driven by their industry leading tech, data driven approach and world class team of experts. Need to fill a funnel of qualified applicants? Head to appcast.io to learn more. That’s Appcasr dot IO.

[Recruiting Future theme]

Matt Alder: Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 578 of the Recruiting Future podcast. It does feel like 2024 could be the inflection point where we can push away the hype and start to see what impact AI is really going to have on talent acquisition. Continuing my end-of-year theme of trying to find the signal in all the noise around generative AI, I wanted to get the perspective of a TA technology innovation practitioner to help us understand more about what 2024 might bring.

My guest this week is Tom Chevalier, General Manager at Appcast Labs, a division of Appcast that focuses on innovation and creating the next generation of recruiting technology. Tom and his team are literally building part of the future, and unsurprisingly, he has some valuable insights and important advice to share.

Hi, Tom, and welcome to the podcast.

Tom Chevalier: Hi, Matt. Thanks for having me on. Glad to be here.

Matt Alder: An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Tom Chevalier: Sure thing. Hey everybody, my name is Tom Chevalier. I work at a company called Appcast. And for the last nine years, I have been part of the product organization for Appcast. So I led the product team from when Appcast just had one media offering that we now call Appcast Xcelerate, and now through to having a number of solutions to help large companies find candidates.

And this year, I’ve taken on a new role with a new initiative for Appcast that we call Appcast Labs. It’s creating space to drive internal incubation, help solve some problems for similar companies that we’ve been serving these past eight, nine years, but on solutions around the peripheral of what has historically been our core business. So thinking about some new areas that we might be able to help create, maybe a 1+1=3 opportunity.

I live about an hour west of Boston and Stowe, Massachusetts, which is not the ski town of Stowe, Vermont. The only thing we have here going on is for about two, three weeks in the fall, people come to visit us for our apple orchards.

Matt Alder: Just before we get into the detail of what we’re going to talk about, tell us a little bit more about Appcast, and particularly how the business has evolved this year.

Tom Chevalier: Yeah, happy to. There’s been a lot of change, actually, for us. So our history has been to help large companies advertise their jobs within the job board channel, so helping make their investment in job ads go further. We help large companies to do that and have been successful in now helping a couple thousand companies advertise their jobs.

This year though, we have been joined together with the Bayard ad agency, which was acquired by Appcast mid-year, 2023. And the reason for that is the candidate journey has become complex. There are many different potential touch points that are in the places where a candidate may find information about a company, information about jobs. And so that’s happening, not just in job boards, but it’s happening on social sites, it’s happening through search queries that people are doing.

And so Bayard represents an opportunity for our business to gain the knowledge and expertise in advertising across those channels. And together, the vision for this company going forward is to help an employer advertise their job vacancies, as well as their employer brand value proposition in this multichannel way, so that we can build the strongest ROI and help clients attract most qualified talent, so that they can make all the hires that they need to.

Matt Alder: So it was about this time last year that generative AI burst onto the scene, and it’s dominated the conversation ever since. Certainly, for the first six months, the hype was off the scale. We were all going to be out of a job by June. It was going to change everything very, very, very, very quickly. Obviously, all of these new innovations and technologies go through this sort of hype cycle. How fast are we moving through the AI hype cycle, and how can we expect it to develop in TA next year?

Tom Chevalier: Yeah, it’s been an interesting year for those of us in technology, for sure. And so the way I look at it, it starts this way. The adoption of ChatGPT provided by OpenAI is the fastest technology adoption of anything that the world has seen. So they had 100 million users within the first two months after introducing the latest version. Some of the people who went to ChatGPT and started to experience what it could be like to interact with this generative AI are consumers. But I believe for a large part, it’s technologists. People have been sort of dabbling. They’ve been playing a little bit. And this is now, I believe, in late 2023, we’re maybe in already some awkward teenage years.

What’s been happening is technologists thinking about the problems that their clients are having are thinking through how they could adapt their historical value model and their software, and have it be able to introduce this new form of generative AI. Some of it’s like a little awkward. It’s just not right yet. It’s not situated maybe in the best way. But that’s going to work itself out. My belief is that we’re going to see it really work itself out in 2024. And the way that I think it will take form and what we can look out for is the bundling of this generative AI together with standard business software. So what I mean by that is, for example, I carry around an iPhone, and bundled into my iPhone are many other things beyond just the ability to speak on the phone, so I can turn on a flashlight, I can now take lots of pictures. And so as that bundling has happened, I tend to use those tools more often than I would have previously.

If we look just now towards software, it is still rare, and it’s not part of most people’s daily habit to go to a place like ChatGPT and interact with generative AI. But what is happening is the bundling in places that we do spend our time. So I spend probably 10, 20 minutes a day doing Google searches. I’m looking for new information, I’m looking for answers to questions. And in the past has been, I would find ten blue links. I would click on a couple of those and that would be the way that I interact with Google. Well, now, when I do a search, you may have seen, many of you if you’re doing these searches, there’s a new salmon-colored text area at the top, and that is powered by AI. And so now I’m getting my answers not in 10 blue links, but in paragraph form. And all of a sudden, I’m using AI, and I am using it every day. And this, I believe is the type of trajectory that companies now serving TA practitioners that we’ll see happening in 2024 as well. It’ll be meaningful because it’ll be built into our daily habits.

Matt Alder: I think that’s really interesting. I’ve always felt that all the way through this year that the real change is yet to come when this technology is absorbed into the things that everyone’s using in their everyday workflow. I think if you speak to any vendor in this space, they’ll tell you that they’re currently integrating AI into their product, or they’ve already got it in their product. So there is a lot of marketing spin around all of this as well. Where do you think the most significant investments are being made, and what are the most interesting plays that are evolving?

Tom Chevalier: Yeah, it’s a good question. And some of those announcements, the introduction of artificial intelligence has been a little superficial, I would say, so we’re still in this awkward point. But looking forward, there’s a few things that I’ve seen that are interesting. One being in the ATS space, Workday announced as part of their Q3 earnings announcement back in October, November that they were going to create more space to innovate and invest in artificial intelligence. And on that day, their stock price took a hit to the tune of about 7%, 8%, which is a couple of billion dollars in market cap decline.
They knew that they needed to take that hit in order to be able to prepare themselves for a future that they see coming. And so they’re making a multibillion-dollar investment in artificial intelligence.

And along, just on basically the same week at Workday rising, they introduced their AI marketplace, which is an approach where they will partner with other companies who may be innovating within artificial intelligence. So they’re not just saying, “We’re going to invest internally.” They’re also looking to a partnership model. That just signals how important that this large leader in the ATS space believes artificial intelligence will be. And that’s an example.

Now, on the other hand, and it’s similar, but I think it’s manifesting or coming to market slightly differently. In the CRM arena, you’ve got companies maybe like Gem, you have Eightfold. You can’t listen to a demonstration from them without learning all about artificial intelligence. They’re showing how it is already incorporated into their workflow and the idea of a copilot, tools within these software, that are helping the users. In that case, it’s the recruiters to do their jobs more effectively to do them more quickly. They’re doing that to set themselves apart from the legacy versions of CRM, for sure. But they’re also moving our industry forward by taking the leading edge and pushing as hard as they can. So it’s interesting. Those software players, they’re technologists, it stands to reason that they would show first, and it’s certainly happening in those categories without a doubt.

Matt Alder: Picking up on that theme of taking the industry forward, I think one of the other interesting things about the AI hype fest this year is lots of speculation about what it might do, what the use cases might be, but very little detail about what problems it might solve for us, certainly in the short-term. Where do you think it solves problems for TA? And the flip side of that is, what new problems might it cause as it becomes a bigger part of what everyone does?

Tom Chevalier: The copilots, I think, are a good place to start thinking about what problems can be solved or are being solved. There is so much that happens day to day, hour by hour in a recruiter’s life that is mundane. There are things they’re trying to craft response messages, trying to think about how to proactively source and who to proactively source for the next role that’s put on their desk. There’s a lot of things that aren’t about them talking with candidates and learning about how those candidates could be a fit within their organization. And so you can already see that side of the equation being automated. And the artificial intelligence tools provided by the CRMs like Gem and Eightfold, they are just in an instant, you can have a well-crafted message to suit the topic at hand. And that’s going to help these people hopefully do more of what they want to be doing rather than the things that they have to be doing.

Also, on the job seeker side, I believe there’s an opportunity to introduce more equality for– Just as an example, there’s a lot of people living here in the United States that aren’t– English isn’t their first language. For those people, it can be hard to write a resume or introductory messages to an organization. And with artificial intelligence, the playing field can be leveled. Those people will have beautifully crafted messages to introduce themselves and their capabilities. And so there are going to be good things that come from this wave in 2024.

Now, on the other hand, and I’ll stay on the job seeker side for a moment. I believe that we are going to see more of what I’m calling half-truths as recruiters and TA teams who are looking at the applicants that are coming into our organizations. And the half truth is, because job seekers will get help writing their resume. They’ll get help writing cover letters, they’ll get help writing the introductory messages. And that’s based on the probability of words that should be placed next to one another. That’s what this kind of generative AI does. It establishes patterns of what goes into different types of messages. And that doesn’t mean that artificial intelligence knows me. It doesn’t know my capabilities, nor whether I am able to do the things that a product manager, in my case, should be able to do.

So you’re going to see more half-truths. Things that are written down that seem to be the case, but may not be the case and need to be maybe more deeply vetted. And so that leads back to the employer side. As an employer, how do you react to something like that? Do you have systems that can maybe help with screening, with follow-ups that could assess the understanding and the level of competency that the individual has with the role that should be done? And so it’ll be like a give and take or an ebb and flow. There will be the need to have technology on each side that can react to this adaptive playing field, and that is going to be a challenge. If you don’t have the tools to do that, it may be a frustrating process to look through the increasing volume of applications because it will be easier to apply as well.

Matt Alder: No. Absolutely. I did a webinar with some TA people yesterday, and that was already being cited as a problem in terms of the increase of applications that are coming in. Difficult enough to say what’s going to happen next year, but probably impossible to say what’s going to happen in three to five years, the medium to long-term. What are your thoughts on that though? What do you think might happen? What do you hope might happen? Do you have any thoughts on what the next stage after this one is likely to be?

Tom Chevalier: Uff, this is a big question. [chuckles] And even in a lab, I can’t say that the crystal ball is all revealing. But something that I’m interested in, something that I could look forward to seeing is I believe we’re going to find a totally new way of doing contingent staffing for the hiring of historically difficult to find people. You haven’t been able to find them with job advertising, but that sort of white-collar worker where organizations may be going to a staffing provider for right now, that is going to get disrupted. Because if we think about what is happening, it’s a communication value proposition. Messages to see if people are thinking about a new role, messages to try to introduce them to the pros of that role once you find them. And then on the employer side, learning what the employer is really looking for, what types of things set a candidate apart, that can now all be done. Most of it can be done with artificial intelligence. And if it can’t today, it’s where we’re going.

And so I would certainly expect to see some disruption, a new either category or a new business model that is very different from the 15% placement fee that we see today. There’s going to be something better there. But that’s just building upon what we see already happening in the CRM with copilot. It’s helping at a small scale. But if you look at it as a disruptive opportunity, something is going to happen there that’ll be interesting.

Matt Alder: Final question. What’s the effect going to be on TA teams, TA leaders, recruiters? It’s clear that lots of change and transformation is coming, what would you say to the people listening in terms of the future of their careers?

Tom Chevalier: So I think I would start with just recognizing that it can feel kind of scary. None of us like change all that much. We like to do the things that we know how to do. But I would just say that to embrace this wave of change and take the opportunity, if vendors are providing you with pilots or beta opportunities to try some of this new technology, especially in the area that I’ll call the copilot, getting some help with your day-to-day job to make you do less of the mundane and more of the things that you find really exciting or fulfilling about your job. And I’m saying that because if you don’t or if we don’t, there’s going to be some other organization that does embrace it. And it’s an efficiency. It certainly creates the ability to get more done in a day. And with that, what I think, if a lot of our TA teams are able to do more in their day or recruiters can do more in their day, it’s going to be a question for the managers and the strategic leaders what to do with that efficiency.

On one hand, there’s the fear that it will lead to layoffs of people within the TA profession, but maybe that’s a cost cutting measure and maybe that’s the direction that some companies will go. The alternative is to think that the candidate experience can be elevated by people who are no longer spending their day doing the mundane and they’re doing those things about building the relationship, talking about the reasons why as an employer, you’re a great place to work and really helping to establish a fit with the candidate. So you could see, I think, there’ll be companies that will separate themselves and distinguish themselves to candidates by not looking at this as a cost cutting opportunity, but as a value adding opportunity. And with that in mind, I think we all would like to do that for our clients, for the organizations that we work for.

And so just look for opportunities where you can be the voice that can bring that opportunity to your organization and to talk about it and how you want to react, that’s something that I would spend some time doing. I certainly do that in my own job. What are the things that I could be doing more efficiently, so that I can do more of the high value product management tasks, talking with prospective clients, that’s something that I sometimes don’t find as much time as I need to do. And so if I can clear off a little from my desk, I have that chance, and that’ll help me make a better product for our customers.

Matt Alder: Tom, thank you very much for talking to me.

Tom Chevalier: Well, thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

Matt Alder: My thanks to Tom. 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 @recruitingfuture. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time, and I hope you’ll join me.

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