Asia Business Channel

Japanese firms shift to online recruiting and AI to hire new staff

Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. interviewers have been among those employers meeting and assessing potential new workers online.


Japan is considered one of the most modern countries in the world, yet many of its business customs, including the use of ‘hanko’ (name seals) and the recruiting systems of many companies remain locked in a corporate Japan of the 1960’s.

But the Covid-19 pandemic, is modernizing many Japanese practices, brining them into the 21st century, with one of the most dramatic shifts being how companies are recruiting new staff – and some Japanese companies are now shifting to online seminars and interviews as their method for recruiting new employees. Some companies are also going even further than online interviews as they begin to artificial intelligence (AI) to help them hire new talent.

While companies see the benefits of AI, such as standardization in the hiring process and saving recruiters’ time by automating high-volume tasks, they are still hesitant to rely on AI technology due to concerns about its accuracy.

Japanese conglomerate SoftBank is using AI and online recruiting to identify and hire potential staff, but Tomoko Sugihara, director of recruitment at SoftBank Corporation says that, “Using AI in screening tens of thousands of applicant resumes has helped us cut total labor time by 75%. From May, we have also started implementing AI in assessing videos sent by applicants.”

Sugihara added that, “Extra time that has been created thanks to AI allows recruiters more time to proactively engage with potential candidates in person, build relationships and carefully determine the candidates’ culture fit.”

Sugihara said that SoftBank, which hires more than 1,000 people a year, has developed its AI algorithm based on data from 1,500 resumes that the company has previously received.

However, even though SoftBank is a major technology company and has spent an estimated $1 million USD on its AI system, the company doesn’t have complete faith in the system.

Sugihara said that HR staff review resumes and videos that AI has “rejected,” in case promising candidates were overlooked. He said that

Other Japanese companies are also experimenting with AI systems that will allow them to streamline and automate some part of the recruiting workflow, especially repetitive and high-volume tasks at the initial stages of recruitment. One tech expert said that one of the biggest areas of development are recruiter chatbots which are used to interview applicants and subsequently grade, rank and shortlist candidates.

Other companies are introducing AI-powered video analysis software that allow them to assess a candidate’s word choices, speech patterns and facial expressions to see whether he or she is fit for the role being offered.

Kirin Holdings Co., one of Japan’s largest brewers announced that it will complete all hiring, procedures, including the final interview, online this year to curb the risk of coronavirus infections, and that it is considering AI technology in future recruiting activities.

Keita Sato, a spokesman for Kirin said, “At present, we are not using AI because it may only lead to accepting those that match a certain standard at a time when we are looking to hire diverse personnel. But we have already been introducing technology in recruiting such as keeping databases of applicants, including evaluations of their interviews, profiles and resumes. We share them among interviewers to enhance efficiency and cut labor time. We will consider introducing AI in the future on the basis of this collection of data.”

Shinji Kawakami, professor at Business Breakthrough University, said that even before the coronavirus pandemic, companies had become increasingly interested in collecting and analyzing data in the recruiting process in a bid to identify the right candidates from a large pool of applicants.

Manually reading resumes is seen by many firms as extremely time-consuming given the Japanese practice of hiring new graduates en masse in the spring of each business year, which leads to a deluge of resumes, he said.

“They began to think it’s a waste not to use human resources data collected over the years,” Kawakami said. “They also want to make more accurate decisions in hiring as the interviewers’ decisions, influenced by his or her dislikes and likes, cannot always be trusted.”

Companies can use the data to standardize the match between the candidates’ experience, knowledge and skills and the requirements of the job, which will lead to more productive employees with loyalty to the company, he said.

But using AI or machine learning in recruiting requires a careful selection of input data and regular assessments to see if the outcomes match the objectives of the users, analysts said.

“Machine learning is only a tool, it depends on how the user uses it. It can only do what humans can do and nothing more,” said Toshihiro Kamishima, senior researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

Kamishima also noted that there are cases where the outcome of machine learning contains unconscious bias even if the training dataset avoids use of sensitive features such as gender, age or race.

For example, if a particular racial group lives in a certain area, inputting data about where they reside would indirectly prompt the computer to learn a racial characteristic.

“It is important that the system is monitored all the time and the model is reviewed continuously. Keeping and sharing a document that records information such as the intended use, training data and evaluation factors is useful,” Kamishima said. “The key is always to be able to fix the problem when it occurs.”

Among unsuccessful examples, Tay, an AI chatterbot released by Microsoft Corp. in 2016, caused controversy when it began to swear and make racist remarks and inflammatory political statements in tweets, prompting the company to terminate the program. Inc. also reportedly decided to shut down its experimental AI recruiting tool after discovering it discriminated against women.





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