One Man’s Journey Through the HR Tech Conference


Last week I took my annual trek to the place where HR techies unite: the 2016 HR Technology Conference & Expo. This year that place was Chicago. Leaving O’Hare I was greeted by unusually warm weather as I sat in traffic inside my Uber on the way downtown. (I love Chi-town but that airport ride is killer). Heading to the midwest was however a nice change from the ‘been there done that’ Vegas venue.

Tuesday evening I headed over to the Brews with Brazen event at a brewery near McCormick and got a chance to start the week with a few beers and a suite of orange-shirt clad youngsters. They started out doing virtual career fairs but have since pivoted to focus on chat software for employers.

Walking the floor of the expo hall on Wednesday morning I quickly discovered this years new buzzword “A.I.” Apparently vendors seem to think that HR people need more artificial intelligence in their life. I demo’d tools like Olivia by and found them interesting in terms of their possibilities but lacking much practical use right now. I don’t think the average HR department would know what to do with such functionality. Some of the tools were just simple chatbots that dished out answers from a script. This is just the beginning, A.I. in HR still has ways to go to.

Perhaps we should be focused more on fixing the candidate experience and other problems still present in the hiring process. Peter Cappelli, a Professor of Management at Penn-Wharton shares my sentiment. He said on the HRE blog that “The multibillion-dollar industry offers dazzling possibilities through applications of cutting-edge techniques such as artificial intelligence. But that doesn’t mean new software will always produce results worth the cost and effort“.

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HR and technology has a sordid history together. In my time in the recruiting trenches I learned quickly that most people in HR are not technical nor do they always understand what software can do for them. When I led an ATS migration from Taleo to iCiMS in my last role even I found it challenging at times. And I speak tech! Shiny new objects like those found at HR Tech can be alluring but not always prove to be the right choice for employers. HR needs to hire more technical people on staff to manage and maintain the systems in place. And products need to get better at making their interfaces easier to use.

The other part of AI that I have doubts about is what the job seeker will think. Will they like chatting with a robot? They already feel that applying for jobs is frustrating so how does interacting with a robot change that? Candidates will always prefer to interact with a human when given the choice.

If you are building an HR tech product today, you must craft it so the tool empowers the connection between HR, employees and candidates. You need to make it more human. Never forget that.

But I digress. The Wednesday night party hosted by Cornerstone (and others) at House of Blues featured an epic cover band that played for three straight hours and kept the place rocking. I had the chance to kickback and talk shop with industry vets like Joel Cheesman (Ratedly), Josh Akers (Broadbean) and Matt Adams (NAS).

If you’ve never been, the HR Tech Conference has the best parties of any tradeshow. There is no shortage of after hour events … I counted at least 6 others on the same night including Jobvite’s rooftop bash that sadly, I missed. The networking that happens at these events is always a highlight for me. I also got the chance to chat with Bruce Ge and the team at Jobs2Careers. They demo’d their new predictive analytics tool that will start to be integrated into various applicant tracking systems. Employers will then be able to make their job buys more efficient.

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I spent Thursday re-crawling the expo hall to make sure I covered it all then headed to the Phenom People party at a ping pong bar before Ubering over to a small dinner hosted by HireClix and friends. Big shoutout to Neil Costa, Martin Burns, Doug Kerken and team for some fabulous food and laughs at Quartino. After many years I reconnected with PWC’s Stephanie Schnick and her husband Todd along with Carmen Hudson and husband William, who is an HR manager back in Seattle. He regaled us with crazy HR stories all night. Also got to meet the lovely Jess Von Bank (QueSocial) and the one and only Jason Seiden (Brand Amper).

By Friday 6pm, I was back home on my couch catching up on the latest “Halt & Catch Fire“.

Such is the life of an HR Techie. Good times.

Best Booths: Jobvite’s presidential impersonators were a big draw, Broadbean’s NOLA booth stood out as did Maestro’s black/yellow digital design wall. The pen of rescue puppies at the HighGround booth seemed to get the most buzz among attendees. You can see pics of these on Facebook.

Best Tech: Great Hires. I describe their tool as a “digital interview packet” for candidates. It is a smartly designed product that has practical use for any employer who cares about their image, their candidates and their process. It’s a simple, effective execution of a practical HR technology.


One to Watch: FirmPlay. I’m an advisor to this young startup doing good things with employee advocacy software. If you want to encourage your employees to share more content about your company check out their platform.

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