Feb 16, 2022 - Economy

Your next job interview could be with a robot

Illustration of robot hands holding a clipboard.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A growing number of companies are using chat bots and AI-led video interviews to assess job candidates before a human recruiter even meets them.

Why it matters: Automated interviews vastly expand the job candidate pool and are designed to ensure consistent hiring practices by rooting out ways that bias seeps into interviews, recruiters say. But job applicants complain they're dehumanizing and stressful.

  • For the candidates, these interviews make them behave more like the faceless robots they're trying to impress — and ruin their chances of getting hired.

The big picture: Recruiters have been using artificial intelligence for a while to automate candidate searches or screen resumes, for example.

  • And job interviews over Zoom have become commonplace since the pandemic, with 86% of companies surveyed by Gartner saying they've used virtual technology in the hiring process.

AI-led video interviews, however, go beyond those practices — because candidates are assessed by a computer algorithm.

  • They're evaluated not just on their answers to the interviewer's questions, but sometimes also on their facial expressions, intonation and word choice.

How it works: Caron Mitchell was recently invited to an "asynchronous video interview" for a job as a senior account manager at a tech-training startup.

  • The interview began with a brief, pre-recorded message from the company's co-founder, explaining the firm's mission.
  • There were just four questions; she had 30 seconds to read each question and two minutes to answer. While some companies allow do-overs, her prospective employer did not.

The whole process was unnerving and demoralizing, she tells Axios.

  • "You're at a tremendous disadvantage as a candidate when it's a one-way street," she said. "I'm used to reading people, and there was nothing there for me to read."
  • The interview went poorly, she said. "I was so focused on the clock, and making sure that I was answering the question, that I couldn't just relax and be myself."
  • No surprise: A week later, she got an email saying she was no longer being considered for the job.

Mitchell has no idea how she was assessed, whether anyone in HR saw her interview, or whether it was the algorithm that rejected her.

This is how automated job interviews fall short, according to new research published in the Harvard Business Review.

  • "Because many job-seekers did not understand the technology that was being used, their default was to perform in a rigid way — holding a fixed gaze, a fake smile, or unnatural posture; speaking with a monotonous voice; and holding their hands still" — in short, behaving like robots.

AI systems are also vulnerable to bias because data used to train prediction models may be limited, or because they reflect the biases of humans involved in training them.

  • In 2018, Amazon abandoned a computer program that used machine learning to score job applicants after developers realized that the tool discriminated against female candidates.

The other side: "Everything is moving to chat," Kevin Parker, ex-CEO and now an adviser at HireVue, a leading video interview company, tells Axios.

  • Someone looking for a new job might scan a QR code on a hiring poster Saturday night, kicking off a chatbot conversation about their experience and an invitation to apply with a video interview on Sunday.
  • "You can complete the entire application process before work starts Monday morning — all while your interest is high."
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