Bureau Veritas – Separate The Wheat From Chaff – A Frank Discussion About AI & ML in Recruiting with Trent Cotton

trent cotton agile recruiting

Today, we have Trent Cotton back on the RecruitingDaily podcast from Bureau Veritas. We’re talking about AI and ML in recruiting and how to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So we’re going to separate the pretenders from the contenders if you will, and make it a little bit easier for people to kind of discern what is and isn’t out there.

I think there’s a lot of market confusion when it comes to these technologies, some of it being we’re just overwhelmed with all the new technology.

Also, if you’d like to learn more about Agile Recruiting, check out Trent’s book mentioned during the show.

Listening time: 27 minutes


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William 0:33
Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have on Trent Cotton from Bureau Veritas. And we’re actually gonna be talking about separating the wheat from the chaff, a frank discussion about AI and ML in recruiting.

So we’re going to separate the pretenders from the contenders if you will, and also make it a little bit easier for people to kind of discern what is there, what’s not there, etc. Because I think again, there’s a bunch of market confusion when it comes to these technologies. And some of it is just we’re being overwhelmed with all the new technology.

But, but Trent, do us a favor, do the audience a favor, introduce both yourself and Bureau Veritas and also mention your book. Because you just came out with a brand new book.

Trent 1:21
Yeah, thank you. Thank you. So Trent Cotton, and I have been in recruiting for 17 years now made the transition in 2004 from a business leader and lender to recruiter. And right now I am the Vice President of Talent Acquisition and Talent Strategies for Bureau Veritas.

And in that role, it is all-encompassing, from the time that we first speak to a candidate, all through their employee journey. That includes engagement and includes retention, which includes some employer branding, as well. So it’s a big boy role.

And I’m responsible for all of those initiatives in North America, and a little bit about Bureau Veritas is that if it can be tested, inspected, or certified, we do it. That includes you know, the label on the back of the can, or the label on the milk that you drank this morning, we tested, we certified that the contents are valid and that they, whatever’s listed on there is accurate. We do testing of oil we do site we do.

You know, like if you need to go and build a building we’ll actually you know, test the ground and tell you what kind of minerals are in it. And we do building inspections.

I mean, it’s we even do a horse racing horse, after like, after they win the race, we actually go in and we test to make sure that there is no performance-enhancing drug, right. And we can also test their DNA and tell you whether or not their lineage. So I mean, I’m learning something new, every single solitary day about what we do. And it’s pretty fascinating.

William 2:59
I love it. And your, your new book. Tell me, tell us tell the audience a little bit about it.

Trent 3:05
Yeah, just released, earlier this year, on Sprint recruiting. It’s available on Amazon and the full title is Sprint Recruiting: How You Can Innovate, Iterate, and Accelerate Your Recruiting Processes. And in the book, I just share the story of how at my previous firm, with my previous team at BBVA, that we took the Agile and Scrum methodologies and applied it to recruiting.

And the, you know, the four basic principles of sprint recruiting is that you recruit in a sprint, which is a two-week period. So you’re taking a lot of work and breaking it down into bite-sized pieces. The line of business, or your, your client drives priority with points. We establish a mutually accountable feedback loop. And we also create a beat to that crazy chaos song that has traditional recruiting.

So that way recruiters kind of find their Mojo. And the thing that I like about the sprint process is that no one can hide. So if the managers are not doing their job and giving us feedback or being good hiring partners, you know this, this process will highlight it. And then the same thing is true on the recruiting side. So it brings some, I’m trying to think of the word. Whenever I think of traditional recruiting all I think is chaos. Instead of, for me, it…

William 4:25
Structure and focus.

Trent 4:26
Yeah, structure and focus, and really just kind of makes life a little bit easier and makes recruiting fun again.

William 4:35
Amen. So let’s deal with AI and ML.

Trent 4:40
My favorite two topics.

William 4:41
Yeah. On one level, there’s confusion because the vendors all say that they do certain things. The practitioners might not be able to discern one from the other or both used in combination with one another. So I’d like for you to talk a little bit about the confusion that you kind of see and hear, feel. And also, you know what makes you not, not angry. But what, what kind of gets under your craw a little bit about how these technologies talk about their technology.

Trent 5:12
All right. So if I’m looking as a TA leader, and I need to find efficiencies in the process, the first thing I’m going to look at is, is AI and machine learning. What I’m finding in the, in the industry is that it’s feast or famine. You have people out there that will have 16 different products that all do the same thing. Because they just they want to test something new.

But then on the very flip side of that, you have people that just dig in their heels going, AI is going to replace me, you know, if I Institute something like that, it’s going to make my job irrelevant. And neither one of those are true. AI, when implemented correctly, is an augmentation to the process. It is to help the recruiter focus on quite frankly, the stuff that we love. Which is, you know, engaging talent. You know, setting a career path really digging into what’s going to motivate them. And not only is a good, excuse me, not only is it good for the recruiter, but it’s also good for companies.

As we look at retention, especially in the new hire space, how do we go and we leverage data to be able to make more strategic and key hires that are going to stay. And that way, we’re not recreating this insane loop of, you know, the position man open every 180 days. So, you know, whenever you’re looking at a strategy for how AI and ML are going to impact you are the recruiting team. The biggest thing is, is think of it as hiring 16 or 20 new recruiters, but you don’t have to add on an F to E, to me, it’s just kind of a no-brainer.

So that that’s kind of my frustration. And whenever you’re talking to vendors, all of them, we do this, we do that, it is you know, it’s kind of like going from you know, running a horse to someone trying to sell your Mazarati, or you know, I drive a basic car, a Toyota Camry. Love it. I’d love to have a Tesla. One, I can’t afford it. But, you know, if if all I know if I just upgraded my car for the first time in 10 years. Going to a Toyota Camry where it’ll talk back to me, might be a little, little unnerving until I get used to it. But going from something that, you know, 10 years ago to a Tesla, that might be a significant, significant jump for you.

What I think vendors are not doing is they’re, they’re, they’re not really kind of explaining how all of this works together and pulling back the curtain because they think that a lot of times I think that recruiters are stupid, you know. For me, whenever I’m evaluating a vendor, I want to get into it, you know, how does it go out and find those people? How does it evaluate? What risk are out there? How do we mitigate those risks?

I think one of the biggest pitfalls of your early adopters is that they plug in some of this technology. And they just forget about it. You know, they don’t go in and evaluate the process. With AI and ML is just like an employee or any other kind of process. You’ve got to inspect what you expect.

William 8:07
So real quick. The disconnect between vendors and practitioners. I’m curious about that. Is that a, is, is again, is it? Is it as simple as they don’t know the job?

Trent 8:21
No, I think it’s a little bit deeper than that. Everyone is just really trying to kind of dig in and get their piece of the wallet. And either they’re not. I’m trying to think about because I work with a lot of these vendors so I don’t wanna.

William 8:37
Yeah, yeah yeah no.

Trent 8:39
But a lot of them you know, they’ll reach out to me and I’ll jump on a demo. You know, because I want to know what is out there that’s really really good. You know, I want to be on the cutting edge of stuff. But they come across almost like insurance salesmen. You know, like life insurance. Hey, you’re alive, you might die, here some life insurance and it’s cheap. It’s going to meet the thing and your family will be rich whenever you’re in the ground. Well, that’s not really a value prop for me, you know, I mean, I can, that’s a commodity.

And so they’re they’re almost selling it like a commodity versus what is your business need, William, as a TA leader? What do you need? What are the gaps? What are what are some of the things that keep you up at night? All right, now that I have that, now I can tell you how this product may or may not meet those needs. Or may or may not keep you up even longer at night.

They’re not approaching it from that, it’s “look at this shiny new thing and why don’t you come buy it?” And unfortunately, just with the compression in the market, I think a lot of TA leaders are just going hey, this is the shiniest and this is the cheapest, right? Been there. Right?

William 9:42
Do, do you suggest to practitioners get into the weeds about how the technology works. I’m meaning NLP, you know, bots, blockchain. You can use all of it but we’re talking just about machine learning and AI. I’m not sure if I lined up 100 recruiters and asked them to define, or define the differences between one and the other, I’m not sure they could do that. I’m asking the question, I guess, should they ask more probative questions about how the technologies work?

Trent 10:17
Not on the first meeting, so you know, you’re doing the demo, you just kind of want to see, is this someone that I feel like dating, right? There’s always a point where you bring someone that you’re interested in to meet your friends or your family. And that’s where I really found it helpful to bring in someone from your engineering or your IT to sit down on that next step. Because they’re gonna know the questions to ask, and how to ask it in a programming way that the other person will understand. So it’s almost like, you know, whenever I’m on, IT is like, they’re speaking their own little language. But something may come up that is within my subject area that I go, well, like you said, What? backup? What does that mean?

You know, because I don’t know what I don’t know. But if I’m listening to two professionals kind of talk through it, one, it may bring something up that I didn’t know to ask, but my IT person knew to ask. But then two, at the end of the call, I can debrief with my IT person and go, hey, how do you, you know, do you think this will work with our technology? This is kind of what I want to accomplish? Do you think this is going to bode well for for what my strategic objectives are?

And then for me, you know, I’m always kind of playing politics, if they fall in love with the product, and they’re able to kind of geek out with the person and fall in love with the product. That helps me on the procurement process and the evaluation process, right? Because the IT person’s like, Oh, yeah, I saw that a long time ago. They’re good to go and your stamp of approval and you, you move on. So I guess my advice would be, you know, that first couple of days, just look at the demo.

But make sure that at some point you engage someone if you’re not very technically savvy or strong, make sure that you bring someone in who is, that can get into what the methodology is.

William 11:57
What about references like, so say you use Eightfold? We’ll just use some real names so that you, use Eightfold you fall in love with it. Can’t imagine a life without it. Do you think that other practitioners should reach out to you if they’re thinking about Eightfold? And and how you’ve applied it?

Again, not just the technology, but how you’ve applied it and how you’ve kind of made it a part of your workflow and gotten people trained, etc, etc? How, how powerful or not? Because we can also talk about candidate reference? How powerful is a, is a reference about a technology? Or how have you used them in the past as well.

Trent 12:44
It really depends on who it is there are. And I’m probably gonna sound very, very arrogant, but there are very few people that trust what they say about a product or service. More that is because of me, how I implement things is a lot different than your your cookie-cutter approach.

So, you know, if I’m looking at Eightfold, they go, Hey, we deal with Pepsi and I reach out to, you know, my counterpart at Pepsi, their targets and what they’re trying to accomplish may be completely different than what I’m trying to do. So yeah, I mean, the product is great for their needs, and for their strategic objectives. They may not be from home.

So if you do that, make sure that the objectives align out. And I guess the other part is, I think it’s just the candidate reference thing. You know, I’ve just been so burned by references.

William 13:40
Oh, yeah. 100%.

Trent 13:43
Yeah. But a lot of times, what I will do is I’ll ask for white papers, you know, or case studies. If it piques my interest, and I’ll reach out and you know, on LinkedIn or or some other channel and talk about the white paper, not what is your general experience, but in this case study, you said this, which kind of lines up with some of the problems that I’m facing, but mine is a little bit more nuanced? Do you think in your opinion, that Eightfold would be able to meet this need?

William 14:10
Right, right. I like that, it tracks within candidate referrals as well. Again, Billy might have been great at his last job, what was the context?

Trent 14:20

William 14:21
What was the context for that success or failure? You know, what was the context? Again, I think in any technology, you can be successful, given the right, you know, setup and context, right. It’s, it’s, it’s, you know, I used to tell people all the time, you can get a poorly, you know, let’s just say software that isn’t great or poorly made. But if it’s superiorly implemented, and people know how to bend it and make it make it work. It’ll actually work. Like, there’s still people using Access databases. So, you know,

Trent 14:58
Back in the day,

William 14:58
Yeah, Excel and Word are actually technically the largest, you know, HR technology company or Microsoft, you know, Office is the largest HR technology company in the world. And no one wants to talk about it. So with AI and ML, in particular, in a way that we want to separate the kind of wheat from the chaff.

Again, helping, helping your peer group look at technologies and also not be afraid of them. Like you mentioned at the very beginning, don’t, don’t fear this. Think of it in a different way. What are other? What are the other pieces of advice that you give your peer group in terms of how they look at both, you know, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Trent 15:41
So we already covered the “Don’t be afraid.” And this is where my Agile mindset is going to come into play. And I think, honestly, William, this is probably how most recruiters are wired. It’s like, you know, there’s 150% and 0%. There is nothing in between for most. Right? It’s like, hey, AI and ML, this is the new sexy term out there. So let’s just automate the hell out of everything. That’s not the right approach. All right. So let’s kind of take this into bite-sized pieces using Agile.

What I would do is I would look at my entire process, and I’m currently doing that right now. One, just to kind of learn how Bureau Veritas does everything from, you know, the ATS, the onboarding and all of that. And the question that I have is, why are we doing that? Where does the work belong? And can we automate it. And if we can automate it, that’s whenever I start looking at what vendor can take this piece.

Or what program that we already have can automate this piece to enhance the manager of the candidate and the recruiter experience. If you look at the full spectrum of the recruiting process, most of the heavy lifting admin stuff that all of us hate and takes the most of our time happens on the front end, and the back end.

So everything leading up to getting that candidate on the phone is heavy admin, labor-intensive, probably on a value-added scale, maybe 25%. Right? On the backend, that’s even worse, because we got to chase them down for paperwork. We got to answer benefit questions, you know, all the average run of the mill to be able to seal the deal and get them in the door. And at most companies only to watch them leave in only 180 days. So if I’m looking at where my gaps are, you know, where, where do I think is going to be the most immediate success that I can test automation or an AI.

And I mean, essentially, machine learning and AI, they, most of the time, they just kind of work together. Because all machine learning is, is making that AI smarter. For me, a lot of times I’m wanting to kind of how do I get more candidates at the top of the funnel, so I’m always gonna start looking toward the front, right?

First part of the process, I sit down with recruiters and go, what takes up most of your time, identify those different things, it’s, it’s screening, it’s booking appointments, it’s, you know, trying to figure out how do I do a Boolean search off of this? Well, there are eight guys out there like Wade and Wendy. Ideal. I mean, there, there are ones out there.

And the beautiful thing about some of those is that a lot of us are so intent on diversity now, because we finally thank God as an industry have realized, Hey, this is a real big problem. Most of these AIs, their diversity penetration is better than any recruiter could ever do from a sourcing. It just is, right? So you’re hitting two initiatives with one. As a leader, I go, Hey, this is a maximum value. This is what I want to test.

So then I go out and I start looking at the vendors and I evaluate them against my value prop and what I’m trying to do from an EVP standpoint. And then, you know, I find let’s just say I fall in love with Wade and Wendy, okay. I love their product. It’s, it’s adequately priced, and it meets the needs. I don’t even go all out and say Wade, Wendy, you have the whole organization, go for it. No, I’m going to look at what’s, what’s my highest volume. Or what’s my most niche group that I have to spend so much time sourcing and test it.

Bring that that Wade and Wendy in and let’s see how they do with that one organization. So you’re, you’re, you’re breaking it into one faction in your organization. That way, if it fails, you fail fast, but not big. That’s always my rule. Fail fast, but don’t go big.

William 19:23
Right. You on one level, I want to ask the question, do you do pilot? Or do you suggest to your practitioner friends do you suggest like I can’t, Wade Wendy, a great example. Hey, listen, you know before you before you bite off the whole thing, why don’t you test it with one group or with one division or you know, whatever the bit may be, do you do you suggest pilots? And if so, what does that look like for you?

Trent 19:49
Always. So I put them on, I put them on a sprint process. So we implement Wade and Wendy for ABC group. But I set up my weekly meetings with me, the recruiter, the hiring partners, and Wade and Wendy. And we evaluate what happened over the last two weeks.

Did we get more candidates? Did we get more screenings done? Recruiter, how do you feel about your quality of work? Hiring manager, how do you feel about the quality of candidates? Wade and Wendy, what did we not do that prevented you from helping us to be successful.

William 20:18

Trent 20:18
Chart it out, and then two weeks later do the same thing. And if you’re not seeing iterative, growth, and whether, whatever your metric is. So in this example, it’s number of qualified candidates. If I’m not seeing that iterative growth, that’s where I need to have a conversation with the vendor. And say we need to right side this. Something’s off.

William 20:36
The beauty is, again, for practitioners and vendors that are listening to this, it might, it might be just a subtle tweak. It doesn’t mean that the technology is wrong, it might be the application, or that we have some internal barriers that are not making us fully realize, and use the technology in a way that we, that it should be used.

So like, I don’t believe in a good technology, bad technology. It’s just whether or not we’ve actually gotten it to realize its goals. And what do we need to do to kind of eliminate some barriers? And I love the every two weeks. That’s, that’s better for the vendor. I would, I would tell you, just working with vendors as much as I do, that’s good for them. Because they know where they stand.

Instead of like, okay, in 90 days, we’re going to check in. It’s like, whoa, 90 days, like anything can happen in 90 days. Like, I’d much rather know, in the first two weeks, or during a two week sprint that, hey, this, this, this last sprint did not go well. I can change some stuff. I can fix that. But if I don’t know, then I wake up 90 days later, it’s like nah we decided that it didn’t work. Like. Hmm.

Trent 21:47
Yeah, well, you know, everyone loves that old adage that Rome was not built in a day. You know, Rome wasn’t built in a day and I always say, but it burned down in a day.

William 21:57
Yeah, it did.

Trent 21:58
I mean, things can go wrong really, really quick. But but also to think about it, you know, as a TA leader, I am obsessed with the recruiter, manager, and candidate experience, right? Yep. Yeah, Jeff, let me just add another layer to it that as you were kind of talking through, you know, I’m not actually served by some of the some of the candidates that maybe applied and interacted with this new AI tool.

William 22:21

Trent 22:23
So I’m sitting down two weeks, I’ve got a 365, 300, whatever it is, a 360 view, the whole experience. And when my manager’s on the phone, they are partners. It is not something that HR is forcing down their throat and they’re having you know, I’m taking you from a 1978 Hugo and I’m putting you in a Tesla and just drive the thing. I want you to tell me.

Okay, do you not like the big screen, let’s change the big screen, you know, let’s do this, let’s build this Tesla to where. You’re getting a Tesla, but I can modify it to where it’s based on your particular needs. And the recruiter is there. So they’re not under fire. And the vendor is there. Because as a vendor, I want, I want to have that kind of information. That’s that’s user Intel.

Because if William likes it this way, you know what, I wonder if John Smith over at another company might see that as a as a value add, and then I’ve got an extra revenue stream.

William 23:16
So two questions as we go out. One is you identified or you talked a little bit about kind of low value tasks that we’ve just, you know, for the last 20 to 30 years, we just got used to I mean, there are still in some companies, inner interview coordinators, right? When people that, that’s what they do for as a full time job, right? Like we’ve, we’ve, we understand this, alright, so we’re not gonna make fun of it too much. But Alright, so that’s there. So,

Trent 23:42
I have one, too, it’s called youcanbook.me.

William 23:45
Calendly. Done. So, but still low-value task, but also sucking the life, soul and time out of sourcers, recruiters and hiring managers. Do you think that’s a universal list of things? Or is it kind of company in a company? Is it unique to different industries? Or do you think that no, there’s a, there’s a list of 10 things that just technology should just do? Period.

Trent 24:12
I don’t think it is going to be unique, because part of it is going to be the scale of the company, you know, a larger company,

William 24:18
Good point,

Trent 24:19
May have more assets and access to automation than a 50 member company, right?

William 24:26
That makes sense.

Trent 24:27
And I can tell you as a, very recently going from one organization saying oh my god, these things made me want to like pull my hair out. And then coming to a new organization. I was like, Okay, well, those weren’t as bad as this. Or, you know, this isn’t bad as over there. So it is kind of industry and company driven.

William 24:44
It could be roles. You know, like a buddy of mines doing you know the higher end software development roles at Amazon. His life is completely different than, than other recruiters that I know, that are hiring you know for retail. And doing high volume. So, so okay, I can see that. So you’re still in even, even in those kind of two polarities where one guy is trying to make, you know, four hires a quarter.

And the other gals trying to fix their thousand hires a month, okay? They live in different worlds, okay, I get that. But they’re still in, maybe their low value, high waste of time tasks are different. They’re still low value, you know. They’re still low value things that technology should automate.

Trent 25:35
There is but I mean, if you, if using your example of one of the high volume entry level role. Their pain points might be the fact that you know, they’re paying 10 bucks an hour in California for this, I don’t know, you know, clerk or data entry. Somebody can go work at In and Out Burger for $17 to $20 an hour. Right?

William 25:58

Trent 25:58
It’s completely different.

William 26:00
Right? Right. I can see that all right, we got to get out. Last thing is the name of your book and where people where they can get it

Trent 26:09
Well they can, if they want to kind of ease into it, definitely check out sprintrecruiting.com. And if you want to read the book, you can go to Amazon and type in Sprint Recruiting and my name, Trent Cotton, and it should come up. And if it doesn’t, please let me know. Y’all have a design that has some AI and ML that I’m…really, really quickly.

William 26:30
Back to being optimized. We’ve, we’ve failed on that thing. But Alright. So Trent, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for breaking these things down for us. And again, thanks for the, for the audience for listening to the to the RecruitingDaily podcast.

Trent 26:46
Sounds great. Thanks, William.

William 26:47
Alight brother. Thank you.


The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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