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Why Digital Transformation in Recruitment Fails: “Doing” Is Not “Being” Digital

Although Covid accelerated the process, the transformation risks stopping halfway through. 

The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of the recruitment function across industries. Within the volume hiring space, some companies embraced digitization to save costs – instead of increasing their HR headcount, they adopted technology to help their teams work more efficiently.

Others, faced with a growing demand for entry-level workers, did it to fill their seats faster – BPOs, contact centers, and grocery stores, for example. However, for many organizations who had to digitize at speed, the transformation risks getting stuck halfway through. 

“The biggest barrier to digital transformation in volume hiring is not the lack of resources, but the uncertainty lying ahead.”

Matthijs Metzemaekers

“Doing” digital is only the first step   

Although the “why” behind digital transformation in volume hiring varies from one company to another, one thing is clear: after experiencing the benefits of working from home and solving virtually all their problems and requests online, neither consumers nor employees are willing to go back to the old ways of interacting with companies. And this applies to recruitment as well. 

Digitizing processes and moving operations online is therefore imperative, and now that the world is going back to normal, it’s time for companies to look at what they digitized and how, and finish what they started.

At Harver, we support organizations who hire for low-complexity, high-volume roles in moving from “doing” to “being” digital. Across industries, from retail and hospitality to contact centers and logistics companies, digitally transforming the recruitment function has a tremendous impact on improving business KPIs.

However, we see that everyone’s understanding and approach to digital transformation is different. Some companies have started using resume-parsing software and pre-employment tests for volume recruitment, and called it “digital transformation”. Others moved their interviewing online and allowed their HR staff to work from home, and said they “went digital”. 

While it’s natural for the transformation roadmap and implementation steps to vary based on a company’s digital maturity level and recruitment bottlenecks, thinking that using digital tools or hiring remotely is the same as transforming your recruitment function is a dangerous mistake. And it’s the biggest blocker to truly becoming a digitally-driven company. 

Gap between intent and execution 

Executives and TA leaders have been saying that digital transformation is on their list of priorities for quite some time now. In a Gartner survey from 2018, more than two-thirds of business leaders were expressing concern that if their company doesn’t become significantly digitized by 2020, it would no longer be competitive. 

Then one year later, 43% of HR leaders were saying that their organization doesn’t have a clear and consistent strategy for digital transformation, and 35% of CHROs were stating that they have the inadequate talent to drive the change. 

This was all before the pandemic started; when Covid-19 hit, organizations hurried to move online and digitize their functions, including recruitment. Within the department, one of the least advanced when it comes to digital transformation, leaders were mentioning changing the HR organization design, adopting a new mindset, and increasing the efficiency of their processes through automation as the biggest changes that needed to happen

And indeed, numerous organizations managed to adapt by upgrading their recruitment tech stacks and implementing new ways of working. But despite the rapid adoption of technology and the progress made in this direction, the gap between wanting to digitally transform and knowing how to do it or when they’re done “transforming” remains a problem for TA leaders. And that’s because digital transformation, in itself, is a broad and vague concept that gives no clear direction. 

On top of that, the legacy processes, fear of failure caused by the rapid rate of change, along with the lack of a long-term digital vision, are the most likely explanation for the lack of confidence in HR’s ability to embrace change and maximize its impact, even within the function itself

So how can recruiters go from “doing” digital to “becoming” digital? 

Taking the leap toward becoming fully digital

This past year we’ve seen a clear shift in priorities on our clients’ side: instead of searching for point solutions, the biggest players in the volume hiring space are now looking to fully reshape their volume hiring processes, which were severely impacted by the pandemic. And time and again, their biggest struggle is not the lack of resources, but the uncertainty lying ahead. 

The digital transformation process is complex and comes with inherent risks: disrupted ways of working which can lead to temporary chaos, reluctance to change which can end up alienating the workforce, and hard to quantify effects on customer experience. It’s therefore understandable that organizations feel insecure, especially when they’re not digitally mature. 

Without a clear direction and vision of the future, many talent acquisition departments rush into defining solutions, but they lack the understanding of the holistic approach required for a successful recruitment transformation, as well as the experience that comes from completing such initiatives at global scale, multiple times. 

Our take on this is that the only way for recruiters to become fully digital and gain confidence in their implementation is to take the leap. This should start with defining the ideal picture of the future, and then breaking down the process into tangible steps, based on the urgency of the changes and the organization’s level of digital maturity. For example, we have clients that are less mature and we advise them to take a more cautious approach and start with local implementations, to establish a strong digital foundation before rolling out global solutions. 

“The only way for recruiters to become fully digital and gain confidence in their implementation is to take the leap.”

Matthijs Metzemaekers

What we see is that Covid-19 has impacted companies in different ways which shaped different paths towards a complete digital transformation in high volume recruitment. Some organizations had to cut costs, and they achieved this not by laying people off, but by digitizing, centralizing, and streamlining their processes to improve their efficiency. Others had to scale fast and hire more people to meet customer demand, and they solved this challenge not by increasing their HR headcount, but by shifting from manual processes to a fully digitized candidate selection and routing process. 

And then there were companies who had to deal with both these challenges: they had to work more cost-efficiently, while scaling up their teams; grocery stores are the perfect example here. In their case, the need to digitally transform their recruitment was stronger than the fear to do so, because there was no going back to the old ways of operating. They had to rethink the way their processes were designed and the only solution to bridge the gaps was technology.

A full transformation won’t happen overnight – and that’s ok 

For most recruiters in the volume hiring space, the path towards becoming fully digital is not straightforward. Because digital transformation requires a reconfiguration of organisational structures and ways of working, becoming fully digital won’t happen overnight, and that’s perfectly fine. 

What matters is to have the big picture clear, the strategic priorities aligned, and the resources allocated effectively. Starting from the vision and imagining the future state of the recruitment process while disregarding the current constraints is the first step in fully transforming the recruitment function. Once the vision is clear, articulating long-term goals such as eliminating manual tasks or hiring bias, enabling self-service options in the candidate journey, or finding ways to reroute applicants between locations to balance labor shortages, becomes much easier. 


The pandemic caused talent acquisition leaders in the volume hiring space to rethink the way they operate, and reconsider their digital transformation plans, prioritizing the investments in technology in order to fix their recruitment bottlenecks. Yet, in many organizations, the digitization of the hiring processes risks getting stuck halfway through. 

To avoid this, and go from “doing” digital to “being” a truly digital department that’s ready to tackle not only the current challenges, but also the uncertainties of the future, organizations need to revisit their recruitment strategies and let technology reshape their hiring practices, from end to end. 

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