Cost of Living

Screened out by a computer? What job interviews are like without human beings

What is your biggest weakness? You have two minutes to answer! An increasing number of companies are screening candidates using what's called "asynchronous" or "one-way" job interviews where a computer assesses you, rather than a human being.

Experts predict "asynchronous" one-way interviews will outlast the COVID-19 pandemic

Asynchronous interviews, or AVIs, where applicants have to record themselves answering questions about potential jobs are growing in popularity. Moncton-based VidCruiter's platform is pictured here. (Submitted by Carlos DaPonte/VidCruiter)

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, job-seekers expect to attend employment interviews online. But increasingly, the employers and recruiters looking to hire are sitting those same interviews out.

Instead of asking candidates questions face-to-face, many hiring managers are now relying on asynchronous video interview (AVI) platforms that have candidates record answers to questions under a countdown timer.

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AVIs, which are also called one-way or on-demand interviews, have been around for years but their use has surged during the pandemic. 

A spokesperson for the American company HireVue, one of the larger companies operating in the market, said the company has seen a 24 per cent increase for its on-demand video interviews during the past year.

VidCruiter's platform can eliminate the need for logistics such as scheduling interviews, because candidates interview with the automated system at their home on their own timeline. (Submitted by Carlos DaPonte/VidCruiter)

In the same time period, Toronto-based Knockri quadrupled its customers, and Moncton-based VidCruiter doubled its staff.

A representative with VidCruiter told CBC Radio's The Cost of Living it used to earn 99 per cent of its revenue from clients outside Canada, but that has changed in the past three years. The company said its clients include the CBC, Canadian universities, big corporations — such as Lowe's — and the federal government. 

Candidates may find one-way interviews uncomfortable, and some experts pose questions over fairness, privacy, bias and the use of artificial intelligence. Despite these concerns, industrial-organizational psychologists predict the one-way job interview format is not going away.

Why hiring managers like the one-way interview

Using AVIs can eliminate having to navigate complicated and conflicting schedules, because candidates complete them on their own time. They can also cut travel costs if candidates are screened out before having to meet a potential employer in person.

One of the reasons why a lot of companies are turning to this technology is because of efficiency.- Edwin Torres, University of Central Florida

Timed questions also force candidates to be more succinct with their answers than they might be in traditional interviews. 

Edwin Torres, a professor in the Rosen College of Hospitality management at the University of Central Florida, has interviewed hiring managers from hospitality companies using AVIs.

"One of the reasons why a lot of companies are turning to this technology is because of efficiency," he said.

In addition, video recordings mean employers can re-watch interviews and share them with colleagues.

Job-seekers are not as keen on them

Companies claim AVIs can level the playing field by standardizing job interviews, but some candidates have expressed mixed feelings about the format.

Beatriz Gascon, a student majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan Campus, struggled during an AVI interview for an internship at genetic sequencing company Illumina, based in the United Kingdom.

Beatriz Gascon was not a fan of her asynchronous interview for an internship. (Submitted by Beatriz Gascon)

Gascon said she appreciated being able to re-record answers on the HireVue platform, but she froze during her second attempt answering a difficult question.

The platform submitted her second attempt, but she did not get the internship.

Gascon said she prefers face-to-face interviews because talking to a person calms her nerves and the format is more forgiving.

"Usually you have time to make small talk or repeat the question back to yourself," she said but was frustrated that during her timed, one-way interview there was no way to do that, and no time to waste at even going over a question a second time.

Experts find some won't complete AVIs

According to researchers at the University of Calgary, some candidates are so against one-way interviews in this format, they refuse to complete them.

"There are a number of people who feel very passionately negative," said Joshua Bourdage, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Calgary.

Companies using AVIs don't need to bring candidates together like they might have pre-pandemic, as illustrated in this stock photo. (Shutterstock / fizkes)

Bourdage and PhD candidate Eden-Raye Lukacik are researching perceptions of AVIs, including searching and scraping websites for comments about the interview format and then analyzing the emotions conveyed.

Many commenters complained that the AVI process may be more efficient for companies, but the interviews signal an unwillingness to invest time in speaking with applicants.

According to Bourdage, many job-seekers are interpreting this as a signal of what it would be like to work at a company that uses an AVI process.

How are the videos and recordings judged?

Since companies' algorithms are proprietary and not shared publicly, neither candidates nor academics can fully understand how the recorded videos are evaluated. 

Many companies use AVIs as a screening tool before scheduling face-to-face interviews with short-listed candidates, and some use artificial intelligence to rate what candidates say and how they say it.

Artificial intelligence, or AI, can scan for keywords as well as analyze body language and facial expressions.

AI's advocates claim it can reduce unconscious bias if trained to ignore things like race and gender but this isn't universally accepted.

"The problem with that technology is that it has biases built into it," said Sean Fahey, CEO of VidCruiter.

The company's own research found speech patterns varied in different regions in the U.S. and Canada. For example, an AI system programmed by someone who lived in one of those regions would automatically have a bias according to Fahey.

VidCruiter decided not to use AI in its product until the technology has been proven not to discriminate.

Researchers agree that artificial intelligence can be biased based on who programs it.

"As long as we train those systems on human ratings, on what the human raters tell us about those interviews, it's so easy to have biases in this data," said Markus Langer, a postdoctoral researcher in industrial-organizational psychology at Saarland University in Germany.

Langer, who researches AI and asynchronous interviews, said identifying biases is easier with a large and diverse dataset — something that isn't always available.

How can candidates prepare?

Though Canadians may be comfortable recording videos in a social context, many are unprepared for AVIs according to Kimberley Black, a researcher who hopes to change that.

"Preparation for asynchronous video interviews needs to be a mandatory part of the curriculum now," said Black, whose recently-defended masters thesis for Ontario Tech University focused on preparing students for asynchronous and one-way interviews.

Ontario Tech University researcher Kimberley Black wants to see asynchronous interview preparation become a mandatory subject for students. (Submitted by Kimberley Black)

Black had college students complete AVIs and critique their peers' interviews. According to her, the experience led many to realize how much they could improve.

She recommends candidates wear professional clothing, smile, record in front of a neutral background, use hand gestures, and remember to look straight into the camera lens while speaking.

If struggling with that last tip, Black suggests taping a sticky note with a smiley face by the len.

At the University of Calgary, researcher Eden-Raye Lukacik recommends practicing, either by using the interview platform itself where possible or through a practice tool offered by her lab.

Lukacik also said candidates should also present themselves honestly, and pick a time and space that works best for them as they have an edge.

"You kind of get home-court advantage because you're in your own house." 


Written and produced by Madeleine Cummings.
Click "listen" at the top of the page to hear this segment, or 
download the Cost of Living podcast.

The Cost of Living airs every week on CBC Radio One, Sundays at 12:00 p.m. (12:30 NT).

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