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December 5, 2018

Robots are now running job interviews. Is that convenient for applicants—or just plain weird?

Daily Briefing

    Read Advisory Board's take: 3 considerations for evaluating automated or video interviewing

    U.S. employers, including those in the health care sector, increasingly are adopting automated telephone interviews to streamline the hiring process—but some applicants say the robo-interviews are impersonal and even unsettling, Chip Cutter reports for the Wall Street Journal.

    Amid a tightening labor market, health care companies turn to robo-interviews

    According to recruiters, the U.S. job market is becoming more competitive for employers, as job vacancies in September outnumbered unemployed Americans by more than one million.

    As such, a number of employers are trying to make their hiring practices more flexible—and many, including Quest Diagnostics, HCA Healthcare, and other members of the health care industry, have begun using automated phone interviews to streamline hiring, Cutter reports.

    In an automated interview, applicants respond to a series of prompts that may include evergreen interview defaults such as "Describe a time when you went above and beyond." Their responses are recorded for later review.

    Lara Gartenberg, Quest's senior director of talent acquisition, said the company's automated interviews allow applicants to complete interviews on their own schedule, even late at night. Representatives who live abroad in countries such as the Philippines or Singapore can review the applicant's responses overnight, allowing the U.S. recruiter to decide as soon as the next day whether to schedule a live interview. 

    Health systems have been exploring similar approaches for several years. Children's Mercy in Missouri, for instance, in October 2015 launched a video-based application process that the health system said led to faster hiring and greater diversity. Children's Mercy asks candidates to record a brief video answering two questions:

    1. Tell us your background; and
    2. Tell us what you'd like to do for Children's Mercy.

    Two recruiters review the videos daily and forward the submissions to the appropriate job-specific recruiters. According to Molly Weaver, director of talent acquisition at Children's Mercy, candidates typically hear back from a recruiter within a day or two with one of two responses:

    • "Here's a job we think you're a great fit for; apply for this job today;" or
    • "Can we keep you in mind and call you when we do have something?"

    The candidates then either have a second video interview or are connected with a hiring manager to schedule an in-person interview.

    The pros and cons of automated interviews

    Employers using the automated phone interviews generally said that the tool has improved their hiring process.

    Melkeya McDuffie, VP of talent at Trash-hauler Waste Management, said using an automated on-demand phone interview has resulted in "a faster hiring process." According to Cutter, the company "has seen a 5- to 7-day improvement in the time it takes job applicants to complete a phone interview."

    But some applicants are not fans of the new process. Jeremy Maffei, who completed an automated phone interview in October, called automated phone interviews "highly impersonal."

    Bob Lichty, who completed two automated phone interviews, said, "Phone interviews are hard enough. When you throw this automated thing out there, it's like, 'Wow, I have no idea how this is going at all. I don't know if I'm killing it with my dad jokes, or if should I just leave them out'" (Cutter, Wall Street Journal, 11/28)

    Advisory Board's take

    Micha'le Simmons, Senior Consultant, HR Advancement Center

    Along with the health care companies mentioned in this article, we've seen some hospitals and health systems begin to use phone- or video-based interviewing technologies to streamline their application processes. The strategy can have several upsides: It gives candidates the flexibility to complete the interview anytime, anywhere; it allows hiring managers to screen candidates before committing to an in-person interview; and, if candidates make the cut for a second interview, provides managers more insight into the candidate than just their resume.

    “Organizations can miss a vital first opportunity to provide a personal touch to the process”

    However, as the article mentions, this trend towards automation can have serious downsides. Most notably, it can be off-putting for candidates who feel uncomfortable speaking to a robot on the line. It also means that organizations can miss a vital first opportunity to provide a personal touch to the process, which may discourage candidates from applying and limit success in filling hard-to-fill roles. These technologies also often have a substantial cost, which can require diverting funds from other priorities before their impact and effectiveness is fully known. 

    Ultimately, in evaluating these technologies, we'd suggest that organizations consider:

    1. The competitiveness of the role. For hard-to-fill roles where the talent market is more competitive, you'll likely want to make applicants' first interaction more personalized and human to the extent possible. With these roles, you'll want applicants to feel courted and like they have the opportunity to get to know the organization, ask questions, and feel "sold" on why they should choose you. This is not something that you'll be able to get across in an automated call or video interview. On the other hand, for high-volume roles, where lots of candidates apply, it may be sufficient to use this type of technology because you truly do need to narrow the pool.
    2. The tech savviness of applicants. While it's likely not difficult for most candidates to pick up the phone and record interview responses, technology can become a barrier when video interviews or other technological screenings come into play. Some people are just not technologically-savvy enough to engage with some of these hiring platforms, or don't have the requisite software to connect to them. This can turn them away from the application and limit you from getting otherwise strong candidates, especially in entry-level roles that don't require staff to use much technology in their role.
    3. How they will use the recorded responses. After a candidate completes their screening, who will be evaluating their answers? Many companies offer their own assessments of candidates as part of their package, but these may not align with your own (or may be subject to bias you can't control for). Therefore, it's important to decide if your recruiters and hiring managers will rely on recommendations from the assessment or conduct your own review of the answers. If you're venturing into only using the former, you'll want to know how effective the technology is and evaluate which vendor will align most closely with the aims of your organization.

    These questions above will hopefully get you thinking about the logistics and feasibility of this technology. But ultimately, the best strategy for approaching these options is to keep returning to a clearly defined "why." What problem are you seeking to solve with this technology? Are you seeking to speed up your application process, to more quickly assess fit, to reduce early turnover, or to meet another goal? Each different aim will require different evaluation criteria to determine what technology is right for you, and how you'll use it.

    Want to learn more about how you can create a candidate-centric recruiting experience? View our toolkit, the Recruiter's Guide to Hiring Top Talent, to download 13 user-friendly tools on how to streamline your application process, spot the right talent for your hiring managers, prepare hire managers to sell top candidates on your organization, and encourage passive talent to consider your organization as a future employer.

    Download the Guide

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