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Executive Search Trends: How AI is Redefining Human Value in Executive Search

the team
Damian Chiam

Artificial intelligence (AI) is fast becoming one of the most helpful and disruptive technologies in the modern world. It can optimize copy for search engines, produce imagery that encapsulates brand DNA & culture, and predict a successful marketing campaign based on real-world and real-time results. However, despite its technical prowess, AI cannot replace the human element that is needed for successful talent acquisition and retention. 

Forward-thinking and innovative companies are discovering the benefits of AI in recruitment at its best when they work in tandem with people. Damian Chiam and Janou Pakter, the co-founders of BuroTalent, a global creative, product and marketing executive search agency, believe that AI can make executive search faster, but intuition, insight, and what’s unspoken and unwritten are essential to the overall evaluation process. 

A Real-World Example of AI and Executive Search

Future-focused tech like AI and machine learning has the potential to change talent acquisition processes for the better, but it can also present new challenges. Not long ago, one of BuroTalent’s clients was interested in hiring a design leader. 

One candidate wanted to make a brilliant first impression, but needed additional content to supplement their portfolio. They decided to turn to AI to help them generate creative imagery based on the hiring brand’s visual references. The process was incredibly quick, and according to Burō, it was quite impressive because it all came together very quickly. The candidate had many of the right qualities — they were eager, ambitious, and creative.

In the end, the hiring company chose a different candidate, as in an interview, the talent’s presence, how they articulated their process, their leadership and experience was equally important to their AI assisted portfolio — no matter how creative it initially came across.  Candidates have to take a balanced approach when it comes to AI-generated material. They can't depend on AI, so if they have several portfolio pieces produced with AI, they need to be able to express why they used AI, what was behind the concept, and what they would do differently in the future in order for it to resonate with a potential employer. 

The Potential of AI: Enhancing (Not Replacing) the Human Element  in the Hiring Process

There are many layers to peel away in the hiring process, especially for executives. Referring again to the design leader candidate mentioned earlier, Damian said, “When you’re trying to find the right culture and leadership match, an AI portfolio isn’t going to answer that. I think one of the other things that was lacking was a sense of originality. From the surface, it seemed, because of AI, the candidate’s work was fine, but part of the interview process is also to understand, ‘What was the inspiration? What prompts did they use? Can they replicate the success? Can they adapt in different scenarios? Who exactly is the human behind the AI-generated content?’”  

According to BuroTalent, this anecdote is evidence that AI has real potential, but people need to understand that it cannot replace human beings, and certainly not executive search firms. A candidate’s experience, personality, and point of view are just as important as their portfolio. (While AI can help conceptualize a portfolio, it cannot conceptualize humanity.) Ideally, clients want to get a feel for how a candidate will work within their team and respond to difficult questions or creative challenges. That takes human intuition. 

Janou compares the introduction of AI in talent acquisition to the infancy of LinkedIn. “When LinkedIn made its grand entrance, search firms’ initial’s reaction was: this is the end of our business, we’ve become obsolete. Linkedin is taking over. The reality was that after a few months, all those clients stayed with us because they realized that Linkedin could not replace an executive search firm. In fact, it turned out that more time was wasted, the wrong candidates were being interviewed and the entire process turned out to be counter-productive.

AI: A Tool to Expand Human-generated Concepts, Not Evaluate 

AI’s role in talent acquisition will continue to evolve and likely do so quickly, but it cannot (and likely will never) completely replace the things that make humans human. Instead, AI is a tool that helps recruiting firms, brands, and candidates alike find better matches from the start. AI can help fuel ideas, and it can help brands or creative professionals develop concepts, but it cannot really generate them on its own. The thoughts, ideas, and personality all still originate with a living, breathing human being, and this applies in every industry — including executive search firms. Essentially, AI and LinkedIn can speed the search process, but in the end, they are just that – tools. 

How Brands Can Approach AI in Talent Acquisition

According to the article, “How AI Is Changing Fashion’s Recruiting Process,” which was published by Business of Fashion in January 2024, most fashion brands have been using AI in some form or another for years, and many don’t even realize it. Much like narrowing a sales funnel, applicant tracking systems (ATS) and other technologies use AI to filter through the thousands of applications firms and recruiters receive for a single open position. It can whittle those 1,000 candidates down to as few as 20 – all without a single interview being conducted – and it can do it very, very well”. 

Damian sums it up this way. “AI can perform initial filtering and provide a shorter list of potential candidates. This gives us more time and energy to focus on getting to know candidates, creating a human connection that will make better matches.”

Can AI Correct Human Bias?

There is some belief that AI can correct human bias by presenting a list of candidates based on facts and data rather than a hiring manager’s preferences. While this may sound possible in theory, it is important to remember that AI is built by humans, and AI requires human prompting to deliver results. Just ask anyone who has tried applying for jobs using an AI-driven bot. They can potentially damage your candidacy.

Integrating AI into Recruitment & Creative Roles

AI is still in its infancy despite its widespread use, and in the future, the most successful visionaries and forward-thinking companies will be those who appropriately integrate it into their recruitment and other business processes without losing the human elements of creativity, originality, and intuition.  Being willing to understand AI’s current potential is the key to using it appropriately. “You have to know how AI works and how it responds to you. The input is just a key to get where you want to go, and a lot of people do not have that insight.” In other words, neither organizations nor candidates should expect that AI can do it all. But they should be testing the waters and using AI in smart ways.

Experience the Power of the Human Element in Executive Search

According to Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, everyone must be involved in the development of AI because AI cannot replace our understanding of one another. Humans know what other humans want, and although humanity may have better tools, including AI, people must remain focused on each other to achieve the desired results. AI alone cannot pair forward-thinking companies and exceptional creative talent in meaningful ways. The human factor will always play a critical role. 

If you want to see for yourself how focusing on the human factor of executive search can make more powerful, long-lasting matches, BuroTalent can help. Damian and Janou are committed to matching mid-management and C-level talent with innovative brands and organizations across all industries. Their six-step executive search process dives deep into the human element and focuses on brand culture, intuition, and personality. 

AI is not replacing executive search. Contact BuroTalent today to see how taking a human approach to talent acquisition leads to better results. 


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