Jobseekers, Take Note — Recruiting By Robots Is On the Rise

By Rebecca Greenfield | 11:11 am, October 12, 2016

The future of job interviews might horrify you. It horrified Jake Rosen.

A recent graduate of UCLA, Rosen was applying to be a page at NBC (yes, yes, just like Kenneth) when he learned he wouldn’t be going to an office to talk to a human being about his skills. Instead, he interviewed by webcam, on a laptop.

So Skype, right? Nope, nothing as personal as that. He recorded his answers and sent them back to a hiring manager at NBC for review at the company’s convenience.

It’s the robo-interview, and it goes something like this. In the more humane experience, a hiring manager, who also isn’t all that practiced in the art of digital video, delivers taped questions. Or, if it’s truly Mr. Roboto, a question pops up on the screen. You have a limited amount of time to answer. You talk to your computer, record the responses, and send them back to the company. Sometimes there’s a practice question to get prospective employees used to talking to a camera. Sometimes there isn’t. Often, at the end, you have the chance to re-record your answers.

For shy people, it may be a dream come true. No firm handshake needed, and sure, you smell fine. And wouldn’t we all love the redo option after making up an answer and mumbling it, too?

For everyone else, it’s awkward at best. It’s a pretty slick encounter, a little like FaceTime, except you’re forced to stare at your big, nervous face as you wax on about why you want to work at the company. It feels more like performing for an invisible audience than having a conversation, because that’s essentially what it is. Not used to being on camera, Rosen felt flustered from the first question, which colored the rest of his interview, he said.

“I’m not a YouTube star, obviously,” he said. “It’s such a weird experience talking to a camera. It honestly was pretty horrible.” Jamie Black, who suffered through the video interview experience for a job at a school, said it felt “more like a game show than an interview.”

For many of us, the experience will soon be unavoidable. The human-free video job interview is on the rise. HireVue, one of a handful of companies making video interview software, works with 600 large organizations, including Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase, Under Armour, and most of the major U.S. airlines. This year, the company will do 2.5 million interviews, up from 13,000 five years ago. Nearly 90 percent of those are “on demand” interviews, with nobody live at the other end.

For a hiring manager, the draw of the video interview is mainly efficiency.

“Companies want to get to know way more people,” said Mark Newman, the founder of HireVue. A recruiter can only get through so many 30-minute conversations in a day. And that doesn’t take into account time lost to scheduling or on bad candidates.

With a video interview, human resources staff members only have to review the answers, and can do so on their own schedule, without having to travel for on-campus recruiting. Using HireVue, Hilton got its hiring cycle down to 4.5 days, almost 20 days shorter than the average interview process. All of this saves companies money. Cigna has cut travel expenses for recruiters from $1 million a year, in some cases, to under $100,000.

For the job candidate, the benefit of robo-recruiting is convenience—and that’s about it. Generally, a company will give an interviewee a day or two to complete the interview, which can happen anywhere. That might sound like another plus, but for Rosen it only added to his stress.

“You start to think about things you wouldn’t normally think about in interviews. I started thinking about my surroundings,” Rosen said. “I had to find a blank wall to sit in front of. … Should I put a bookshelf behind me? A plant?”

Recruiters say they don’t judge candidates on their performance, appearance, or locale. “Judging is an interesting word,” said Heidi Soltis-Berner, the managing director for talent at Deloitte. “I would say the on-demand interview is truly for fact sharing.” Other recruiters said they do evaluate people on their communication abilities and eye contact.

Even if hiring managers are instructed not to make decisions on how well a potential new employee can perform in front of a camera (which is a bit hard to believe), the whole setup can be trying.

“You just see yourself and a stopwatch ticking down,” said Black, who said his answers often got cut off by the timer.

If and when he has to do it again, Black said, he would practice in front of a mirror with a stopwatch before the interview. Rosen said it might help to have someone sit behind the computer, as the interview happens, so it’s like talking to a person instead of a screen. Just look at the camera so your focus isn’t off.

The best advice might be to just relax.

“It’s OK to come across as uncomfortable in front of the camera, because everyone is,” said Scott Mitchell, a recruiter for American Wedding Group, which uses video interviews to prescreen the 1,900 independent contractors it works with. “We all assume you’re going to be uncomfortable. We’re putting you in an uncomfortable position.”

The robo-interview hasn’t replaced human interaction completely. Many companies use it as a replacement for first-round screening interviews, followed by more traditional one-on-ones.

But for interviewees who would rather go back to the old way … that’s not happening. Organizations can look at more people, and a more diverse set of people, with the video interviews, and save money on top of that.

“Candidates will generally say, ‘I would have preferred an in-person interview to this,’ but that’s not the right comparison,” HireVue’s Newman said. “The alternative is no interview at all.”

This article was written by Rebecca Greenfield from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.