by Zahira Jaser and Dimitra Petrakaki
Human resources departments are increasingly turning to automated video interviews, and some even rely on AI to make decisions about who moves on to the next round. As a job seeker, how can you prepare for these interviews — particularly when your interviewer is just a screen? Evidence-based suggestions include understanding which type of automated video interview you’ll be encountering; going in with the knowledge that the technology is far from perfect or unbiased; and practicing being as human as possible — even when it feels awkward.
During the isolation of the pandemic, many human resource management processes moved online. And even as life goes back to being more in person, many of these processes are here to stay. One is virtual, or pre-recorded job interviews, which are increasingly guided by artificial intelligence (AI). These interviews typically shorten the hiring process, making it cheaper for companies to find the right candidates.
This shift has forever changed the experience of jobseekers, and not always for the better. Today, younger job seekers looking for their first role, placement, or internship are likely to face a bot at their first interview, not a human. And in the most extreme type of automated video interviews (AVIs), a bot asks a few predefined questions, giving the candidate a short window of time to answer them, and makes a decision about the person right then and there. We define these as AI-led interviews.
While some things about AVIs and traditional in-person or phone interviews remain the same (job candidates must still make a good first impression), there’s much that remains mysterious to job seekers about AI-led interviews. What is different in making a good impression online versus in person? And how do you impress an algorithm?
This short guide provides some advice on navigating these questions. First, we give a brief overview of what AVIs consist of and what data is likely to be collected during the interview. Second, we outline how you can prepare psychologically to face the algorithm. Finally, we provide some guidance about the practical steps you can take to make a good first impression.
What Are Automated Video Interviews?
The first step to preparing is becoming aware of what kind of interview you are about to take. There are different types, depending on how technology is used in the selection process, and AI can be involved to varying degrees.
It is also important to note that not all video interviews use AI technology. For example, some interviews are just a recording of a video, which will then be watched by hiring managers. Others will involve AI processing different types of data collected during the video. Here are few key types of interviews.
To be sure your upcoming interview indeed includes AI, keep an eye out for the following terms in the emails you receive about the interview, or in the fine print: machine learning, predictive analytics, decision algorithms, recommendation engines, or data driven-decision.
If you do identify these terms, you can expect that three types of data might be collected: visual (facial expression, eye movement, hand movement), verbal (vocabulary, key words), and vocal (voice tone, pronunciation). AI-led interviews use the data collected to automatically generate a prediction on whether the candidate is the person they are looking for. For example, AI designed to predict whether you are a good candidate or not might use big data from past hires and their subsequent performance at work, predicting candidate characteristics that might correlate to higher work performance.
AI-Led Interviews Are Not Superior Selection Tools (Yet)
Interviews using AI have something in common: You will find yourself in front of a screen, sometimes with your own image reflected back at you, answering automated questions with little time to think. Gone are the human interactions and real-time cues we get from our interviewer, which give us an immediate sense of how we are doing. Also gone are the transition times to the office or other physical building; there is no more journey to prospective work locations, no shift of an environment that prepares you to mentally switch to interview-mode.
In our research, we found that this experience is often confusing and unsettling. Job seekers are pulled in two directions: On one hand, the novelty of the technology and the “superior” quality that is sometimes attributed to AI makes them feel this is a futuristic experience bound to overcome human bias. On the other, the lack of human connection during the interview and the tension of the moment is a daunting mix that heightens anxiety. We warn that the glorification of the technology is often based on an idealization and a poor understanding of what AI can (and can’t) do.
We found that candidates’ tendency to glorify the technology made them trust it would make better decisions than human ones. This resulted in them feeling “judged” by a sort of superior entity. We instead encourage candidates to understand that the technology isn’t perfect by a long shot. Instead, these types of interviews may suffer from poor validity; for example, they are not very good at predicting personality traits from verbal and non-verbal behaviors extracted from videos. That means that the technology is often not good enough to measure what it is supposed to measure or, in other words, that the AI is not as advanced as advertised. Unsurprisingly, some analysts have deemed the use of facial recognition and other technology as pseudoscience, and some courts have outlawed it.
So, we advise taking a pragmatic view of whatever judgement is made by the technology as imprecise and potentially flawed and biased. In other words, do not let AI judgment knock down your self-confidence prior to, or during, an interview!
Making a Good Impression Means Staying Human
Despite the flaws of AVIs, particularly those that utilize AI, it’s likely you’ll still encounter them. So how can you best approach these interviews? Many AI interview platforms suggest that you just “be yourself.” And yet in our previous research, we noticed that this is precisely what job candidates find difficult. Faced with an AVI, they tended to behave in unnatural ways. People told us of how they adjusted themselves in ways they thought would make them look better, keeping a rigid posture, a fixed gaze, and using their hands as little as possible. In trying to make a good impression on the algorithm, many of our interviewees told us they felt like they were becoming robots themselves.
Understanding not just what technology is involved, but also the pressure you might be under in the presence of the technology, is key to making a good first impression. The trick is to stay as natural as possible — despite how unnatural this may feel. So, to counter the knee-jerk reaction of robot-like rigidity, we suggest that interviewees should practice, first in the presence of other humans online, and then solo.
First, get used to speaking to a screen. Ask a friend to use Zoom or WhatsApp Video and have them ask you prearranged questions. Increasingly, interview questions can be found in question banks offered by different university sites that prepare their students to face these interviews.
We suggest a three-step approach to this roleplay. Initially, practice by having your cameras on, so that your friends ask questions while you see them on screen. Initially, the presence of another human will be reassuring and help you find the confidence to answer, as you would in a normal interview. Record yourself, play it back, and analyze what you did well. Remember, positive psychology tells us that focusing on strengths, rather than on development points, can result in a faster improvement of desired behaviors.
Second, repeat the same exercise, with your friend asking questions, but with the camera off. It will be more awkward to speak to a black screen, but you will be getting closer to what it will be like to use AVI. Again, record yourself, analyze the recording, identify what you did well, and note whether there were any differences this round.
In the third step, prepare a few questions in a document and go solo. Speak to your computer screen and record yourself. What did you do well? And what did you do differently than when you were facing a human? By proceeding through all three steps analytically, you can become aware of how you perform under different types of conditions, and with practice, you’ll be able to match your spontaneity to a human-to-human conversation, even during an AVI.
Finally, while the psychological preparation is part of getting ready for an AVI, the practical part is important, too. We found that the successful candidates in our research spent time making sure their environment was somewhat “work-like.” They had a neutral background, ensured that the lighting and sound was good so they could be captured well on camera, and double-checked that their technology was working properly. They also did their rehearsals in these same settings before the interview, and blocked out enough time to do the interview comfortably. Essentially, they behaved as if they had to go to an in-person interview by preparing both psychologically and physically.
AVIs, as a novel form of recruitment, can have steep learning curve for job candidates. We ask you to be reflexive of the process and of your performance without judging yourself. We are humans, and having to face a new technology at such an important moment — a job interview — can create discomfort and anxiety. But like everything else, the more experienced you get with automated interviews, the better you’ll perform.
And remember: The technology is new. A lot of research tells us that it is not as clever as you might think and is limited in understanding exactly who you are. So don’t let it rattle your self-confidence.
Zahira Jaser, PhD, is aassociate professor at the University of Sussex Business School, the Director of the Sussex MBA, and associate fellow of Digital Futures at Work Research Centre. Her work focuses on how managers bridge multilevel relationships in organizations and make hierarchies more fluid. She is the sole editor of The Connecting Leader: Serving Concurrently as a Leader and a Follower (IAP) and a board member of the journal Leadership. For updates, follow Zahira on LinkedIn, Twitter, or here.
Dimitra Petrakaki is professor of Technology and Organization at the University of Sussex Business School and co-Investigator of the ESRC-funded Digital Futures at Work Research Centre. Her work focuses on the implications of the introduction of digital technology for the organization of work. She is the associated editor of the Information Systems Journal and editorial board member of the journals Work, Employment & Society and New Technology, Work & Employment.