Ask the Headhunter: Are you ready for robo-interviews?

Instead of interviewing a candidate, HR departments have begun asking job applicants to interview with a robot, writes Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Image Source via Getty Images

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Remember all those pesky online application forms you used to have to fill out? A few years ago we asked, "Is applying for jobs online not an effective way to find work?" It's gotten worse. A lot worse.

Are you ready for robo-interviews? Welcome to the machine.

You have desirable skills, but maybe what makes you desirable is how hard you work for your employers. Whatever it is, you're applying for a job, and you want to show the employer what you can do for the company.

You sit in front of your own video camera to answer a series of questions from an online robot… What you don't know is that no human will ever take the time to watch you answer all those questions.

You fill out several pages of those online forms. You attach a resume that you spent hours customizing to impress an employer by addressing a specific job. You provide names of references, sign off on a waiver and agree to the terms required.

Software and some algorithms scan your data record for keywords. If they match those in the employer's database, your application is flagged for the next step.

Then you get an email. It asks you to click on another agreement so you can download interview software. You sit in front of your own video camera to answer a series of questions from an online robot. You carefully organize your responses and do your best to be calm and collected as you address the camera.

No one from the employer has spoken with you. No manager has taken time to answer your questions. No one at the employer company knows you exist.

When you're done, you click your video interview up to a database at a company called HireVue. What you don't know is that no human will ever take the time to watch you answer all those questions. No one hears you speak.

Another robot "views" your video and algorithms scan the sounds and movements you make in the video.

The employer has invested its money in HireVue, not in you, to conduct this assessment — which we can't even call an interview because although HR may be viewing it, there is no interaction with anyone. It's just your bit stream, a recording and some software and hardware, saving the employer the cost of deploying a human to judge you.

"They're trying to attract people like me and the best they can do is a video camera?"

If your data don't match the template that selects job candidates, the recruiting process ends. A quick look at the employer's website reveals that, "People are our most important asset!"

Sucks for you, doesn't it?

Question: When I applied for a job, they wanted me to sign into something called HireVue so a robot could interview me. Are they kidding? They're trying to attract people like me and the best they can do is a video camera? (Not to sound arrogant, but the work I do is specialized, and it's not easy to find people with my skills.) Long story short, I told them to take a hike. I'm a software developer. Would you like to join forces and create a robo-interviewer that job candidates can send to employers? I'd like to see their faces when the talent they're dying to hire wants them to pose for the camera before I decide they're worth my face time. Are you seeing a lot of this, or is this just one clueless company (that I won't name though I should)?

Nick Corcodilos: In the midst of a talent shortage, HR tells the talent to sit for an interview with a robot, but can't figure out why it can't attract the talent.

Is there a connection? Or is the modern HR executive daft?

"In the midst of a talent shortage, HR tells the talent to sit for an interview with a robot, but can't figure out why it can't attract the talent."

The Wall Street Journal recently published a favorable piece on HireVue, titled "Video Job Interviews: Hiring for the Selfie Age."

I'd like to ask our readers: Do you as a job seeker buy this stuff? How about the many hiring managers and HR folks who read this column? Let's take a critical look at the company through The Wall Street Journal write-up.

Claim #1

"…companies say it is an efficient, fair and inexpensive way to process hundreds of applicants…"

The key word here is "process." Here's what Gilman Louie, partner at Silicon Valley venture firm Alsop Louie, told me about how modern HR technology destroys an employer's competitive edge:

HR processes 2,000 candidates! They don't look through 2,000 candidates! And at the end of the process, what they get is the same candidate that everybody else running PeopleSoft gets! So where's your competitive advantage if everybody turns up with the same candidates?

Claim #2

Video interviews have significantly reduced travel costs for Cigna recruiters. Frank Abate, a senior recruiter there, said one of his colleagues racked up more than $1 million annually just traveling to meet candidates. Since adopting video interviews four years ago, that colleague's expenses are now under $100,000.

Gee. Imagine spending money to go find the talent. Cigna is saving money by not meeting candidates.

By not meeting candidates.

You can't make this stuff up. Imagine if Cigna told its sales team to stop spending money to call on customers to close deals.

I love the idea for a robo-interviewer app for job seekers. Imagine how much you — the talent — could save by telling employers to talk to the video camera before you bother talking to them in person.

Claim #3

Recruiters at IBM and Cigna said they evaluate candidates based on how well the person communicates his/her thought process, whether the person answers all parts of the question — and whether he/she makes eye contact.

Eye contact? Uh, contact with what eye?

Claim #4

HireVue, InterviewStream, WePow and other vendors that make video-interviewing software say their programs make hiring more fair because all applicants must answer the same questions, placing substance over schmoozing and small talk.

The robo-interview vendors now save HR jockeys from the ignominy of having to talk with the talent that HR claims is so hard to find, so hard to attract, so hard to hire. As for that pejorative reference to "small talk," employers say they want to judge applicants for cultural fit. What kind of company-culture small talk does a camera make?

While the HR profession's very existence is hotly debated in the C-suite, HR outsources its most important job — hiring. Wowed by technology it doesn't even understand, HR deploys it at enormous cost to insult the talent it needs to attract during a talent shortage.

Claim #5

Taking robo-recruiting one step further, some HireVue customers have an algorithm review the video interviews for them. Using data about the skills and attributes companies are seeking for a given role, a program called HireVue Insights scans videos for verbal and facial cues that match those skills then ranks the top 100 applicants.

Now we get to what's really going on. No humans are needed at all. HR managers don't just avoid recruiting and interviewing you. They let HireVue's robots "watch" your interview videos, too! Don't those HR people realize they're next? (See "WTF? Inflatable interview dolls?")

Has HireVue published any research white papers about how software can "scan videos for verbal and facial skills" that "match" the skills an employer is looking for?

Let's go back to Gilman Louie, whose investments in the digital world are his livelihood. What does he say about picking people?

"When you're selecting people… it's personal. And personal is not digital."

Claim #6

Speeding up the hiring process allows recruiters to look at more applicants than before, giving companies wider reach, said Obed Louissaint, the human-resources lead for IBM's Watson division.

HR complains its job postings yield such a flood of applications that HR can't possibly look through them all. So how can personnel managers have time to look through all those videos?

If HR is gullible enough to spend its money insulating itself from — and insulting — the talent HR says is so hard to attract in today's hiring market, can you really blame companies like HireVue, InterviewStream and WePow?

These HR technology vendors are vampires sucking the recruiting budgets out of comatose HR departments.

Can you? I can. These HR technology vendors are vampires sucking the recruiting budgets out of comatose HR departments while pitching stories about how people are interchangeable parts — to be sorted by algorithms and selected by robots.

To quote one dismayed job seeker, it's "creepy, impersonal, presumptuous, Orwellian, exploitative, unprofessional."

So, what can you do when an employer confronts you with a robotic interviewer — before any human even talks with you?

A long-time Ask The Headhunter subscriber demonstrates a sound course of action for job applicants and, in the process, suggests an answer to an important question in "What does HireVue tell us about employers?"

Dear Readers: I'm going to take a guess: Dehumanizing the talent doesn't play well with the talent. Would you sit for a robo-interview? There's one mind-boggling issue with video interviews I haven't even touched on — care to take a stab?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you," "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps," "How Can I Change Careers?" and "Fearless Job Hunting."

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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