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How AI Is Changing Fashion’s Recruiting Process

A growing number of fashion and beauty brands are looking to AI to solve age-old recruiting challenges, from wading through piles of résumés to writing job postings — but even with all their promise, these new technologies aren’t without shortcomings.
Diverse people waiting in line for appointment, job interview or work meeting. Group of male and female candidates sitting in corridor, reading, using different devices. Low section shot of human legs
Most of these tools are in the early stages of development, meaning they’re not at the point yet where employers can turn over hiring to the machines. (Shutterstock)

Key insights

  • Artificial intelligence in recruiting is most popular for matchmaking applicants to employers but it’s also catching on for more specialised tasks, such as predicting job candidates’ future performance.
  • The technology is also seen as a potential way to reduce biases that human managers bring to the hiring process.
  • Most of these tools are in the early stages of development and can’t yet deliver on many of their promises meanwhile automated hiring could amplify long-held biases.

“You’re hired!”

These days, there’s a chance that job candidates receiving that news were handpicked — by artificial intelligence.

A growing number of fashion and beauty brands are turning to AI to help solve age-old recruiting challenges, from wading through piles of résumés to writing job postings. The technology is also seen as a potential way to reduce biases that human managers bring to the hiring process.

While many companies have used algorithms to automatically screen applicants for years, AI is starting to catch on as a solution for more specialised tasks, such as predicting a job candidate’s future performance and providing real-time feedback to applicants and employers, including which of their hiring tactics are resonating the most. Some start-ups are even taking aim at executive recruiters, a profession built on the very human (for now) idea of matching exactly the right person to a highly specialised role.

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When Skims was opening its first pop-up stores outside its home base of Los Angeles in 2022, it turned to Dweet, a London-based fashion jobs marketplace powered by AI, said Laura Buckle, senior director of global recruitment and talent at Skims.

Dweet’s AI help write postings for temporary roles in New York and London, then served up a shortlist of applicants from a pool that today includes more than 40,000 people who had created profiles in the start-up’s system. While much of the matching (between applicant and brand) is done by AI, Dweet does employ “talent managers” who manage feedback from both sides to help mitigate AI’s shortcomings, said Eli Duane, Dweet’s co-founder.

“I actually now feel that I have this pool of people who are very interested in working for Skims on a full time basis,” Buckle said. “I think AI in recruitment is amazing. It’s magical. But what it does best for me is it casts the net wider.”

Dweet is one of many start-ups applying AI to recruiting challenges. While matchmaking applicants to employers is one of the most popular uses, some companies are trying to help employers plan ahead. Eightfold Ai, for instance, says its platform can predict what roles an employee might be good for in the future.

Most of these tools are in the early stages of development, meaning they’re not at the point yet where employers can turn over hiring to the machines. There’s also the possibility that automated hiring could amplify biases. AI image generators are notorious for serving up image after image of white men when asked to depict corporate executives; an AI-powered hiring tool left to its own devices might reach the same conclusion when screening applicants for an open CEO role.

AI innovations are only as good as the data they have on hand and many are still relying on dated filters and algorithms with their own inherent biases, said Aniela Unguresan, an AI expert and founder of Edge Certified Foundation, a Switzerland-based organisation that offers Diversity, Equity and Inclusion certifications.

“One of the things about these technologies is that to implement and use them is extremely simple,” Unguresan said. “But because it’s so easy and [fast], companies don’t always think to ask themselves the critical questions like ‘why do our candidates look similar across different roles? When and how can humans come into play to correct the technology’s shortcomings?’

What AI Can Solve

Most fashion firms are already using some form of AI to whittle down the hundreds and thousands of résumés they can receive for a single job posting.

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Newer solutions build upon this process. Where a simple AI might weed out résumés that are missing essential skills or experience, improved models can identify transferable skills and future potential thereby broadening the criteria for what makes an applicant a match for the job.

Dweet offers a free-of-charge tool for job candidates who can post their résumés and view open positions; and a suite of programmes for companies that range from a free job description generator to a more dedicated candidate search tool, for which brand’s pay only after they make a hire, Duane said.

In a competitive labour market, fashion retailers are increasingly betting on AI to not only increase the speed and volume of their job postings — but to help them find the right language and visuals to make their open positions more attractive.

“On the recruiting side … one benefit is really in trying to poach talent from other companies,” said Daniel Ives, managing Director and senior equity analyst for financial services firm Wedbush Securities.

Finding the Right Candidates

AI can’t eliminate biases around age, gender, race and other qualities, especially if the companies themselves haven’t addressed the issue internally.

One approach some tools are taking is to create a “positive bias” in their résumé filtering — rather than looking to disqualify as many candidates as possible, they sort for desired skills, Unguresan said.

Dweet’s software, for instance, can flag candidates with “service experience” who might be a good fit at a high-end retailer, even if they haven’t worked in a store before. It also won’t penalise a candidate for résumé gaps or, in some cases, not reaching a certain education or degree level, Duane said.

“We believe this will help companies make better hires as sometimes the real stars are hiding away from the human eye,” he said.

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Down the line, AI tools could help retailers better identify the sales associates and other entry level employees most primed to succeed at a brand’s headquarters, experts say. At corporate, these same innovations may help fashion firms sidestep the high cost of talent attrition by placing candidates in the best roles from day one or providing insights to leaders to help them place existing employees to positions that better suit their strengths.

In the best case scenario, AI would remove low-stakes tasks like rummaging through résumés and drafting an offer letter, and free HR talent up to focus on high-quality assignments like talent development and candidate onboarding, experts say.

The biggest impediment — or boon — to the success of AI in recruiting comes down to recognizing when and how to employ human talent, said Unguresan.

“In the best cases we’ve seen, recruiters that use these AI tools are very aware of the shortcomings of the technology when it comes to amplifying bias and discrimination,” she said. “Then they bring people back into the system and into the ultimate decision making process to correct the shortcomings.”

Further Reading

The Fashion Jobs Most Vulnerable to AI

The next phase of artificial intelligence promises to change – and potentially eliminate – many jobs that were unaffected by previous waves of automation.

Can AI Predict What Shoppers Will Buy?

One of the technology’s great promises is to let retailers make far more accurate forecasts about how much to produce, down to the level of size and colour. But knowing what consumers will want months in advance isn’t so simple.

About the author
Sheena Butler-Young
Sheena Butler-Young

Sheena Butler-Young is Senior Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. She is based in New York and covers workplace, talent and issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

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