CareerBuilder’s HR Leader on Efficiencies in Automation

Rosemary Haefner, the chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, shares her perspective on the changes automation brought to HR and how the best recruiting teams are spending the time that automation freed up.
recruiting automation
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It sometimes feels like I get story or product pitches about automation to my email inbox daily. While efficiencies from implementing automation in human resources processes can free up time to focus more on strategy, it turns out that many companies still lack an investment in automation technology.
This divide between early adopters of technology and the luddites of the HR world is what led to a compelling conversation with a longtime leader in the space, Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, a Chicago-based employment website. Edited excerpts follow.

Talent Economy: How has automation changed your job over the years?

Rosemary Haefner: Oh, my gosh. I think probably the first thing I’d say is what hasn’t changed? I think, really, when I started, it was the early ’90s, and paper was everywhere. I think the pace at which you could get information on which to make decisions was so much slower. At the time, that was normal; looking back, I think, gosh, that must have been so tedious, and how did you feel impactful and effective? So we’re really fortunate now in the HR profession to have a lot of technology and efficiencies to help make sure we free up as much of our time as possible to actually connect with employees on issues that are key to them.

TE: What are some of the other benefits and pitfalls of automation in recruiting and HR?

Haefner: I think if you look specifically at recruitment, I think automation helps you to be more strategic and think out your plans for staffing. With automation, you’re able to do an initial sort of an intake conversation with the hiring manager, coming in with data and specs already. For example, here is a profile we see in the marketplace; is that close to what you would want? Or, based on what we are seeing in the supply and demand of similar labor, here’s how long we think it would take to fill this spot. Is that OK? Or here’s the average compensation; is that within the range or not?

Rosemary Haefner

Rosemary Haefner, CHRO at CareerBuilder

You can make a lot more inroads more quickly in the area of recruitment because of automation, and you can actually feel like you’re in the driver’s seat. You’re not just reacting; you’re driving what would be the best approach in recruitment strategy.

When we look at pitfalls with automation, what you find with automation is it gives you efficiencies, but it might screen out some of the nuance. You really need to understand the makeup of the full team that the individual you would be hiring would be joining. What’s the pace? What’s the way in which the hiring manager leads a team? There’s a lot of nuance and gray that automation can’t always serve up to you from a recruitment perspective. So you want to make sure you’re balancing that automation and data and analytics, but also freeing up time to build those relationships and find that nuance that’s ultimately going to help you be most successful in hiring the talent.

TE: With the efficiencies that automation offers, what’s holding companies back from investing in this technology?

Haefner: The obvious is it’s expensive, is what people would assume. Any technology or automation, that’s going to be a spend that I may not have budget for, or it’s something I may need to convince people of. That may be the case, depending on what you’re looking to do. And I think where there’s opportunity within the HR profession is building that business case and looking at what all of those impacts and potential efficiencies — and therefore cost savings — there are downstream.

And I do think that in some organizations, the idea of technology can still be intimidating. And that is a bit of a barrier for us to adopt that automation. There are a lot of people in the HR space and HR community to network with that can tell you the stories about what worked, perhaps some bumps in the road they had that you could avoid, and to talk about what really would be the best return on any financial investment you might need to make. I think that it is more accessible than people realize, but it can be a bit daunting if you go from very little automation to a significant investment.

TE: What is it about the technology that is so scary?

Haefner: The reality is that technology can make things easier for you, but that’s where it lets off. It needs the human element to tell the rest of the story, to figure out how to best leverage it. And I think that’s the part that is probably the intimidation factor, right? Just investing in technology and implementing it doesn’t solve the equation.

TE: Why should business leaders be invested in changing their recruiting processes? What’s the business outcome of doing this?

Haefner: In this day and age, what really strikes me that’s different now is that specifically from a recruiting angle, your candidate is a consumer. They can with one click buy something on Amazon, and it’s delivered in a day or two. That’s the world in which we’re living, and that is the way that they consume, as well as being a candidate.

They may be looking at your company and learning about your company before you even knew that they were interested in you. They haven’t necessarily applied for a job. So you need to be changing your recruitment practices to play to the fact that the candidate is a consumer. They have high expectations of what that experience is going to be like.

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I think technology and all the data and analytics tools out there ultimately at the core, the ones that are going to be the most successful fit for you, are ones that help you adapt your strategies to treat your candidate like a consumer.

TE: How did the narrative of a candidate as a consumer come to be? Is that a recent perception or has that always been the case?

Haefner: One could argue that candidates always wanted to be treated well, always wanted information. But it’s been a bit out of balance decades back. Now I think from a macro level what’s happening is technology is everywhere; it’s at our fingertips. You used to have to mail your résumé in. Now you can click a button. You can do it from a smartphone. Everything about our lives is different.

When it comes to looking for a job or being an employee after they’re hired, that is the approach; the mindset that most people use is that of a consumer. Expectations have shifted in terms of the level of information they want, how they want that to be served up. They want to be able to get to their answers on demand whenever it strikes them. It could be 10 at night and they’re used to googling an answer about who won the gold medal in the Olympics last time around. They’re used to that.

Everything about what’s happening in their personal lives matches what that demand is now professionally as a candidate, or again, once they’re employed. It’s definitely sped up in the last couple of years. But that trajectory, do I see it topping off? No. I think those expectations are there. They’re deeply rooted and from all types of industries to all generations of workers, they’re all catching up to that now.

TE: What are some outcomes you’ve seen from recruiters spending more time on relationships? Is it just keeping up with those shifting expectations or is it something more?

Haefner: If you’re looking specifically from a recruiting perspective, I’m freeing up time so therefore where I am getting the best use of returning that time? One place is to be more thorough with the hiring manager to do a deeper dive on that intake, and they get better-quality candidates earlier on in the process.

I think when you’re freeing up time through automation, people are also spending that once candidates are hired. So, it used to be I had to quickly pass the baton. I found the candidate, extended the offer, great. They’re going to be onboarded. The rest of the HR team is going to take care of that.

But many of the more polished, put-together, successful recruitment teams are spending time once that new hire is started to really do check-ins, looking at if the employment brand truly matches what it is once the hire settles in. They’re very mindful to use the freed up time from automation to ensure higher-quality process.

The last place that I see them using that freed up time is to do what we call remarket to candidates. With automation, you can go back to what your pipeline of candidates was even six months out from when they applied to say, ‘We have another opportunity coming up.’ Or maybe you don’t have a specific opening, but you just want to engage with them in this social space.

TE: This involves some training and getting up to speed for the hiring managers and recruiters, so how are companies training talent acquisition roles to best use both technology and their human connections?

Haefner: When you look at studies of implementation of different business technology, what typically comes up in the top three — if it’s not No. 1 — is that the individuals or roles that have the hardest time adopting technology tend to be recruiters. They have a process, they’re very loyal to their process, they want to talk to candidates. So that training element needs to be ongoing, it needs to be constant.

Then you add in the fact that technology is at our fingertips with everything we do, so that means it’s not just one bit of technology or a tool that’s rolled out. There are new releases, there are updates, there are upgrades, so it’s a moving target. So you’re constantly having to work with your team, not just to implement the technology, but to talk about effective ways to use it, to get peer groups talking about their ins and outs, what shortcuts worked for them, to make it comfortable for that recruiter to adopt the technology.

TE: What are talent-minded companies doing to invest in automation? Are they just throwing money at it and hiring someone who can lead people through the process or is it more? Do you have any best practices on doing this?

Haefner: I think that companies would be mindful that the glossiest of the brochures on the technology doesn’t mean that’s the best fit, so you want to be sure that you’re investing with a solid group to sort of screen through what would be that best tool you’re investing in. Your project plan definitely has to include training and other elements about what reports will be standard, what metrics do we want to see, how will this fit within our organization?

Those organizations I personally have found that are ticking all of the boxes and getting the best return are those that are also investing in resources that I would categorize as operations. So individuals who are more comfortable looking at the analytics, who can share back ideas of how we could use the technology a little bit differently.

So although I firmly believe we need to invest so that our recruiters and sourcers are comfortable with the technology at their fingertips, I think we need to be realistic that this is sort of a full-time team sport. Individuals that maybe like to geek out a bit more on the technology can help consult to that broader recruitment team on how the technology can work more efficiently.

Lauren Dixon is senior editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email