Anna Ott: “We need to have more HR people being knowledgeable about tech”

Anna Ott is the host of Talent Acquisition Live on April 18th in Amsterdam. When she isn’t hosting events like ours she works for an investor that invests in early stage HR Tech start-ups in Europe and South East Asia. She also consults with several of these start-ups on their strategy, be it on their product or the go-to-market strategy. Next to that she advises HR practitioners on HR tech trends, tools and how they can reshape their HR functions to better fit with the changing world. So she has a unique insight in the world of HR, and mainly talent acquisition start-ups and their potential. We had a chance to ask her about what’s happening in this world.

You do a lot of work with start-ups. Where do you currently see the biggest advancements in recruitment tech start-ups?

“Talent Acquisition and Recruiting related companies are still the majority of the overall HR Tech start-up cohort, so there is a broad spectrum of solutions. I love the ones most who look at fundamental shifts in HR rather than fixing smaller problems like interview scheduling or sending an application as a video. After all, there are so many established beliefs in HR that demand for systematic changes. For example: why do we even force candidates to submit a CV? Or why recruiters sift through endless candidate profiles manually to find a suitable match? Having said that, I like the use of technology where it augments the job of an HR person to an extent that humans wouldn’t be able to do things. Take for example the whole matching of talent to employers or jobs. The re-engagement with a growing audience of talent. The unbiased detection of skills. Stuff like that excites me!”

You have seen technology change in sourcing, ATS’s, assessments and all parts of the recruitment industry. What specific part of recruitment tech have you seen change the most in the past 5 years? And what specific type of technology have you seen most easily adapted by corporations?

“Tough question! In reverse, I can say that I see job boards, for example, haven’t changed a bit in the past years and I wonder when that will finally happen on a broader scale! The adoption of tools and thereby the adaption of new processes in HR is a slow but steady movement and some companies, maybe ahead of the curve, play around more optimistically with new ways of discovering talent, having more confidence in letting algorithms automatically select and engage with talent and all that. Some less tech-confident companies will maybe start exploring automation first before they dip into augmentation or amplification through tech. Which is reasonable and already for some organizations a quantum leap! For example having smart ATS systems, low-threshold application processes, using professional tools for talent discovery or employee referrals and onboarding as a set of “essential” things an HR department should be using. The more advanced organizations consider even chatbots a “standard” for candidate engagement and I love that this gets more traction, as the appreciation by candidates is unquestioned.”

What are you see still missing in the current recruitment tech world? 

“I see more and more companies trying to solve skill detection through various mechanisms, whether it is self-directed assessments, gamified diagnostics or even automated data-mining where people leave traces, like e-mail, internal chat or documents produced. I appreciate all of those approaches, but haven’t found a convincing one yet that also factors in that we are less optimistic in the EU about data mining. As detecting skills will also always detect skill gaps and this is a great example of where technology can enhance our careers within an organization (or even outside), but also be less beneficial for a great chunk of the workforce when a machine might decide they must be let go. This is why we need to have more HR people being knowledgeable about tech in order to come up with opinions, values and also maybe even a codex on what we want AI to do in our organizations – or where we set boundaries.”

You see a lot of countries and their recruitment tech adoption. What is your opinion on which countries are leading the race and who’s lagging behind?

“Historically in Europe, I feel the UK is a couple of years ahead of for example the German speaking region of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. BeNeLux is somewhere in-between. France is catching up due to their great ecosystem for tech startups. We also tend to look at the Nordics more often than we should at for example Eastern Europe where more and more hubs for startup entrepreneurs are evolving to an extent that might even surpass some of the non-London hubs in the UK. And then there are some outliers, like Lisbon or Barcelona, but I’m still not seeing stuff coming out of Italy for example.”

You said you hadn’t broken enough things at your employer (at that  time Deutche Telekom) yet, because they hadn’t fired you yet. A lot of people in the room were shocked when you said it. Do you think HR/Recruiters are too conservative?

“Well, I myself like questioning, breaking rules and things to create innovation and experiment with tech – but this is not everyone’s choice. I do believe though that the root cause for some HR departments being left behind in digitization of their function, is a combination of two things. One, most of the HR practitioners I meet in especially small and medium sized companies are not tech-savvy or confident in exploring new tech tools. But also, their management isn’t either so even if everyone expects them to “digitally transform”, they wouldn’t know where to start. Everyone feels the pain but putting this into practice, is where they struggle and sometimes are left alone. There are surely also the few who are not at all open for change or fear technology even. But the majority are those willing to change but lacking a plan on how to start.”