The definitive guide to recruiting chatbots

iCIMS Staff
March 18, 2021
AI & Machine LearningRecruiting TipsVirtual Recruiting

Chatbots (or digital assistants) are certainly nothing new, but lately, these AI-automated software robots are getting smarter and smarter. The bots are gaining increasingly better capabilities around job recruiting tasks like answering job seekers’ questions, pre-screening candidates, scheduling interviews, and more. The use of chatbots has soared, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and usage is expected to climb higher in years to come.

One of the most valuable features of chatbots is that they’re able to recruit 24/7. At any time of the day or night, the chatbot can connect a job seeker with positions that best match their skills, experience, and interests.

Let’s take a look at some of the most effective and innovative ways for your company to harness the power of recruiting chatbots.

A brief history of the chatbot, 1966 to present

The first-ever chatbot, dubbed Eliza, dates back to 1966. Yet, it took decades for the technology to develop well enough to attain widespread use. It wasn’t until 2016 that Facebook began allowing software developers to put chatbots on Messenger. Big brands then started creating their own digital assistants. Software suppliers entered the ring with specialised tech, also known as “conversational AI.”

Why the sudden boom in popularity? With the rapid advances in machine learning (ML) technology, AI now “learns” from its own experiences, becoming more “humanlike” and valuable to businesses. In a report released by Deloitte in March of 2020, near the start of the global Covid-19 pandemic, 63% of company leaders surveyed already saw AI as “very” or “critically” important to their business success, a number expected to grow to 81% within two years.

Along the way, chatbots took on the ability to use natural language processing (NLP) to “map spoken or written input to an intent,” points out Gartner, another leading analyst firm. Bots became increasingly sophisticated in their abilities to mimic human conversation. Not surprisingly, the percentage of consumers willing to engage with chatbots because they were “very helpful” doubled between 2018 and 2019, says Forbes.

In a 2019 Gartner survey, CIOs identified chatbots as the main AI-based application used in their enterprises. Gartner predicted at the time that, by 2022, 70% of white-collar workers would interact with conversational platforms daily.

In yet another pre-pandemic survey, issued by Forrester in 2019, 89% of customer service decision-makers in the US, Canada, and the UK said they believed chatbots and virtual agents are “useful technologies for personalising customer interactions.” 

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 then dramatically accelerated chatbot adoption because of unprecedented increases in customer service traffic, Gartner stated in a subsequent report. “[Data] from various conversational AI suppliers shows that this volume has increased by as much as 250% in multiple industries,” according to Gartner analysts.

“When the world returns to a degree of normality, adoption of digital channels, including conversational AI technologies, is likely to continue at a much higher rate than before the pandemic. Companies already on the way to adopting these technologies will therefore have an advantage.”

Chatbots are also making great strides in human resources. As far back as 2016, 58% of surveyed job seekers said they were “fairly to extremely comfortable” interacting with chatbots to answer questions during the application and interview process, according to SHRM.

Jump forward five years to 2021, and 88% of companies globally were already using AI in some way for HR, says another report by SHRM.

Where do chatbots live? 

If your company isn’t already using chatbots for recruiting, it’s something that you should consider doing soon to stay competitive with other brands in your industry. Integrating digital assistants into your talent acquisition strategy can save time and money for your company, bring you quality candidates, deliver insights into candidate behaviour, and enhance the hiring experience for both the job hunter and the recruiter.

Many people assume that chatbots are found only on websites. But a chatbot can text with candidates too. Aside from Facebook Messenger, chatbots also communicate in other apps, such as WhatsApp.

To make the most productive use of chatbots for recruiting purposes, you need to figure out where your candidates spend their time online and where your chatbots should live, keeping in mind the preferences of the job seekers you’re targeting. If you already have chatbots in hand, you can do some test runs of bots on the web as well as on text and other platforms and compare response rates.

Third-party tools like Google Analytics can help you determine how candidates find your career site and what they do once they get there. Do they come in through job boards or Messenger? Do they hit the “apply” button after reading the job description or go to your “contact us” section to send an email asking for more info before applying?

A more straightforward approach? Ask the candidates. Use your bot to tell job seekers that you’d like to stay in touch. Ask whether communications by text, email, Messenger, or WhatsApp are most convenient for them. If you don’t have chatbot tech underway yet, but you’re planning on implementing it, pose a question along these lines in your job application.

Industry statistics can help here, too. A total of 75% of millennials prefer texting over talking if provided with a choice of only one format, according to Human Resource Executive. However, Indeed’s research shows that most millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers all conduct much of their job search activity from mobile devices. Research from Gallup shows that, overall, Gen Zers spend more time texting than older folks.

Seven ways to get the most out of your chatbot

Three of the most widely discussed ways to use your chatbot in recruitment are answering frequently asked questions, pre-screen candidates, and schedule interviews. But there are other ways you can leverage them that are less obvious. Here’s a quick lowdown on eight reasons why your HR organisation needs a chatbot.

  1. Answering FAQs

Just 38% of consumers want to talk with a human when engaging a brand, and 69% of them prefer to use chatbots because they can deliver quick answers to simple questions, according to statistics gathered by Much as in customer service, job hunters favor chatbots because they can obtain basic information quickly.

What are candidates’ most frequently asked questions? Generally speaking, the most common questions asked of iCIMS’ chatbot are about applying for a job, specifics about a position, salary, and their application status says Joe Essenfeld, iCIMS’ vice president of strategy.

But since the pandemic began, new questions cropped up on topics like Covid preparedness, remote and work from home policies, and medical and personal leave paid benefits.

Here are some of the specific questions you might consider when training your friendly software robot. For example:

    • Who is a good fit?
    • What are my prospects for career advancement?
    • How many breaks do I get per shift?
    • Where are your offices located? What are the amenities?
    • What should I bring to the interview?
    • Can you describe the company culture?
  1. Automating pre-screening and other processes

Your AI-enabled digital assistants can rapidly pre-screen candidates based on job applications, resumes, and other written materials, as well as on pre-recorded video interviews submitted by job seekers.

Your recruiting staff will then be free to focus on functions that require a human touch, including following up with the most qualified applicants with live interviews conducted either virtually through two-way video or in person.

Pre-screening is just one of the routine recruitment processes that chatbots can handle for you. Think automation of processes like background checks, skills assessments, and routing requisitions for approval.

  1. Scheduling interviews

You can add interview scheduling to that process automation list, as well. Companies need to make the most of their HR staff, giving recruiters more time to work on sourcing and building relationships with in-demand talent.

Looking at our community of more than two million users worldwide, we saw a 9.5x growth in virtual interview scheduling with recruiting chatbots in the first quarter of 2020, compared with a year prior.

  1. Representing your brand

Be sure NOT to overlook the golden opportunity your chatbot presents for placing a shimmering halo around your brand. Brand reputation matters to job seekers. A total of 39% of women rank company brand as “very important” factor when deciding to apply for a job, while 33% of men say the same, according to Glassdoor.

What’s more, your chatbot can help you boost your company’s bottom line. Data from LinkedIn demonstrates that strong employer branding results in an average 43% drop in recruitment costs.

  1. Engaging with job seekers from the beginning to beyond

Potential candidates can get turned off when companies don’t get back to them ASAP. In one study from 2020, 52% of job hunters named “a lack of response from employers” as their biggest frustration.

In fact, according to iCIMS data, 76% of people say not hearing back from an employer after applying for a job is even more frustrating than not hearing from someone after a first date!

Chatbots can do much more than initiate engagement by welcoming newcomers to your career site, asking how they can help, and answering FAQs. When you capture job seekers’ contact info and other data, you can keep your candidates engaged by:

    • Thanking them for applying
    • Reminding them of interviews
    • Keeping them updated on their application status
    • Informing them of future vacancies when those arise
  1. Sourcing candidates

About 70% of the global workforce comprises passive talent who aren’t actively job searching, while the remaining 30% are active job seekers. But 87% of active and passive job seekers are open to new job opportunities, according to LinkedIn. Recruiting chatbots reach out to both, working one-on-one with job seekers. Passive job seekers may be more willing to engage with a chatbot than a recruiter because it’s a lesser commitment. This also saves your team from wasting time on job seekers who are less likely to convert.

In the pandemic/post-pandemic era, job fairs have gotten tough (if not impossible) to pull off. Chatbots can help communicate and facilitate online virtual job fairs, though recruiters can choose to manage conversations themselves if they wish.

  1. Opening the doors to diverse candidates

As far back as 2015, McKinsey reported that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.

Companies today strive for diversity across regional and national borders, race, gender, and age.

In 2020, 77% of talent professionals agreed that diversity will be a crucial factor in the future of recruiting, also according to LinkedIn. Researchers also predicted that the increased remote work options due to the pandemic will help to raise geographic diversity.

Many chatbots, including iCIMS’ digital assistant, are multilingual. Chatbots can also be used to help prevent unconscious bias during candidate pre-screening.

Automated conversation basics

We realise most of us aren’t experts in AI and how it works. It can feel overwhelming. That’s why we designed our AI to be transparent and easy to setup. Here are a few things to know before you get started:

  • Some chatbots let candidates ask questions from a list and receive pre-programmed answers. AI-powered chatbots allow job seekers to communicate fluidly, in much the same way they would talk to a person. The chatbots interpret the text and then come back with a logical response, whether an answer to a question or a link to a helpful resource.
  • Website chatbots can work on either an opt-in basis or not. iCIMS’ chatbot can proactively engage candidates that visit your career site by initiating the conversation. Alternatively, the chatbot can wait to engage candidates until the candidate clicks on your branded chatbot widget (usually located in the lower right-hand corner of the screen) and initiates the conversation.
  • AI is used to analyse job seekers’ motivations and frustrations. Our recruiting chatbot can even be programmed to urge the candidate to apply for the job they’ve just looked at, allowing you to assess your job descriptions’ effectiveness and adjust your recruitment strategies.
  • You may also choose to engage candidates with your chatbot using text or another messaging application. Candidates text advertised keywords to a shortcode. This launches your chatbot, letting you collect pertinent applicant info via text.

Setting up your recruiting chatbot

iCIMS’ digital assistant can recognise and reply to almost 100 candidate questions. The questions and answers come pre-scripted. This is an actual example:

Question: What is your turnover rate?

Answer: We have a low employee turnover compared to our industry peers. We like to think it’s 100% our culture, but it probably has something to do with our competitive compensation and benefits package as well.

All questions and answers are entirely customisable using simple logic. If you want to make an update, open the script and make the changes. If you wish, you can write your own Q&As.

The personality of your bot is customisable as well. You can even change its name. Grocery store chain Dierbergs Markets calls its chatbot Ellie. RPM Pizza, the largest Domino’s franchise in the U.S., named theirs Dottie, a play on their logo.

A real-world success story

RPM, which operates more than 180 stores in five states, is one excellent illustration of an employer that’s customised their chatbot to act as an extension of their brand. Dottie is cheerful, courteous, and highly competent.

Dottie is also a true expert on pizza trivia. Dottie’s applicant tracker was built to mirror Domino’s pizza tracker, displaying your order’s status in real-time.

But Dottie has a serious side, too. She’s patiently cooperated with the addition of custom screening questions about age and driving status. In her first year on the job only, the multifaceted chatbot managed to send out more than a quarter of a million texts. That’s because she knows many of RPM’s target candidates are millennials and GenZers who are rarely without their smartphones.

With Dottie’s help, RPM Pizza has increased applicants by 66%. She’s also reduced application time by 50% and time to hire by 80%.

Meet your recruiting chatbot

To explore iCIMS’ digital assistant, check out our AI & machine learning capabilities.


Back to top