So much of our work lives has moved online during the pandemic: group meetings, chats with the boss — even interviewing for a new job. The pandemic has also led companies to conduct “interviews” without an interviewer. Job applicants are being asked to video record answers to set questions about their experience, skills and personal qualities, rather than speaking with a recruiter by phone or video chat.
So-called case questions that pose a business problem and would typically lead into a 30-minute conversation with a hiring manager may now require solely written responses. Online tests in the form of games aim to measure job-seekers’ cognitive and personal traits.
The new systems are used most often for high-turnover hourly jobs like fast-food worker, phone representative or warehouse employee, said Madeline Laurano, founder of Aptitude Research, a firm based in Boston that studies business hiring practices. But the systems are beginning to be used more often for professional jobs, too, especially in the financial, consulting, technology and health industries, she said.
Recruiters who use the systems no longer have to spend large parts of their days in the back and forth of scheduling interviews — the software handles that. The company can evaluate more applicants by reviewing more videos, written responses and game results, less encumbered by interviewers’ schedule restrictions.
Hiring bias, too, can be reduced using the new technology, since each applicant is asked the same questions in the same way, making performances easier to compare objectively. Nicky Hancock, a managing director for Alexander Mann Solutions, which helps financial institutions worldwide do their hiring, said that recording candidates’ answers to a set of standard questions was fairer. “The face-to-face interviews don’t really work that well because there is unconscious bias, and some people may not know how to do an interview well,” she said.
Some of the new systems can contact references, answer questions about benefits using chatbots, and send along training modules to newly hired employees. Some offer interview tips to candidates before they start the process, Ms. Laurano said.
Job seekers can complete the interview tasks when it is convenient, rather than work around the recruiter’s schedule. That’s a popular feature, said Kevin Parker, chief executive and chairman of HireVue, a firm based in Utah that makes online interview tools.
Sixty percent of the nearly five million interviews conducted so far this year using his company’s video recording software were completed after work hours, Mr. Parker said, and 40 percent of those were recorded on Sundays. Unlike the experience of an in-person meeting, applicants can try again if they don’t like the way they answered a question (by rerecording a video).
Ms. Hancock’s team uses recorded interviews and assessments for hourly and early career professional candidates and is beginning to expand their use for higher level and specialty positions. The specialty jobs may have their own online assessments, Ms. Hancock said. Codility and HackerRank are two tools, for example, that might be used to test the programming acumen of software engineers. Hourly workers might be asked to write or record answers to situational questions like, “If a customer came to you with a complaint you couldn’t resolve, what would you do?”
There are challenges. A job seeker who starts off shakily but pulls together and finishes strong may not have their whole video watched by the recruiter. Technical snafus still happen. It can also be harder for applicants to know whom to contact to check their application status.
Sofia Tobón, a college junior, has applied for 15 banking internships this year, and most required her to do a recorded interview, which was evaluated to determine if she would make it to the next round of interviews, with people. “It feels weird,” she said of the lack of feedback. With a person, Ms. Tobón said, she can receive cues on how things are going, like encouraging nods or requests for details. Still, the more recordings she did, the more comfortable she became.
Ms. Tobón said the recorded process also required an additional level of preparation. Like many job applicants, Ms. Tobón has put together a stable of stories to answer typical queries like, “Give an example of your creativity,” or, “Tell me about a challenge you faced.” Those stories vary in length, but in the case of the recorded interview, a specific time limit is set, so Ms. Tobón had to deliver her answers within that parameter. “It took more practice,” she said.
The impersonal nature added to the stress. In some cases, submitting an application garnered an automatic invitation to record an interview. “With so many qualified people applying, sometimes I ask myself, will this even get viewed?” she said, “or will I be weeded out before they see it?”
Ms. Laurano said it was important for companies to reduce applicants’ stress by clearly communicating what the candidate should expect, minimizing the time and effort required to apply, and quickly delivering an answer. The communication should be personalized, she said, and ideally even convey some of the company culture.
The pandemic has accelerated the use of this technology. In February, Ms. Laurano found that 58 percent of businesses were using or considering using digital hiring systems, including ones with the ability for applicants to schedule their own appointments online and participate in video interviews, either with a recruiter or recorded. Now 77 percent of companies she surveyed are using or considering the use of interview software. Many of the others “probably just aren’t hiring,” she said.
The growth is also global. HireVue tools are available in 40 languages and used in 180 countries, according to Mr. Parker. His new bilingual interview software is gaining popularity in the southwestern United States, he said.
There are other new ways of assessing applicants online. Pymetrics, a four-year-old company based in New York, offers a set of online games that aim to measure job-seekers’ cognitive, social and emotional aptitudes. Applicant results are usually measured against those of the company’s top performers in the job the candidate is applying for.
In one game, for example, the job seeker is asked to pump up a series of cartoon balloons. For every pump, applicants are rewarded with a small amount of play money, accumulating rewards as the balloon is pumped up. They can stop at any time and keep the money, but if the balloon bursts, they lose all of it. The exercise offers information about how candidates learn and their risk and reward appetites.
The exercises were developed in cognitive science labs, said Frida Polli, one of the founders of Pymetrics and a former academic scientist. They reduce bias in hiring because they evaluate personal qualities that applicants can possess without attending elite colleges or fitting into a preconceived image of what a “good” candidate looks like, she said.
The games can feel a bit opaque to applicants, though. In a traditional interview, flubbing a technical question or stumbling over a weak answer shows where to improve in the future, said Ms. Tobón. So while she understood there were no right or wrong answers to Pymetrics tasks she encountered, like dividing a hypothetical bonus between herself and a teammate, she still found herself wondering: “Did I do well? I just want to do well and get employed in this economy.”
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