interviews

Interviews? The computer says No!

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Those traditionalists among you who doubt the use of aptitude and other psychometric tests adding value to a notoriously unreliable interview-based recruitment process now have another problem.

Robots. Yes robots or rather AI is being used by Vodaphone to help recruit callcentre and shop floor staff according to a report in The Times.

So now candidates submit videos of themselves answering a standard questionnaire and that is then assessed by a computer algorithm which assesses their suitability for a role.

The AI examines subtle face cues and voice intonation. Only once they have been given the go-ahead by the robot do they get an interview with a human being. (So still back to the good old unreliable interview).

Vodaphone has processed about 50,000 such applications so far and is so pleased with the results that it plans to extend the system to help it hire senior managers and executives. I’m sure candidates at that level will be looking forward to being rejected at the shortlisting stage by a robot.

Catalina Shveninger, head of resourcing, said “It takes a tremendous amount of time out of the hiring process: it halves the time and allows us to fish in a much bigger pool

We are the first multi-national implementing a programme like this one on a global scale. This is the future of resourcing”.

Wow, not only are robots taking our jobs they’ll be choosing which of us can have any jobs left over!

This is all possible because  of huge leaps in the computing power and storage available. The algorithms “learn” as they process more and more data (just like Amazon’s  learning what you like to shop for to target you).

Of course they need to be programmed by human beings to start with. If Facebook can infer users’ mood swings using its algorithms what other aspects of human communication will such algorithms identify. Posh accents? And are they colour blind? Presumably they will not suffer from implicit bias but how good are they at detecting lies (or sociopaths at senior levels)?

The company that developed it has sold it to more than 50 businesses including airlines (that might explain RyanAir’s robotic approach to passengers) and banks in America.

Some techies are unhappy about these developments. Critics say AI systems like these are the “biggest existential threat to humanity“. Terminator stuff indeed.

Now you might argue Vodaphone needs all the help it can get given its standing with customers (EE and Vodafone generated the most complaints throughout 2015 – both at a volume above the sector average and considerably higher than rivals O2 and Three. For EE, the amount of complaints decreased in the second half of the year, whereas Vodafone’s went up)

Perhaps it’s a bigger threat to HR departments and recruiters. Instead of sending in your CV you upload a video shot on your smartphone and the computer says Yes or No. Might be scope for fancy filters on your camera and off-screen coaching by former recruiters re-purposing themselves . As young people are addicted to selfies they will probably love the idea. And the narcissists among the senior management candidate pool.

And I wonder if the robot/AI has a name? Being a big fan of Arthur C Clarke and the infamous HAL (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer) I think it should have a name. Perhaps TERRY (The End of Real Recruitment)?

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So exactly what criteria should we actually use for recruitment now?

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Employers are realising that students with better grades or degrees aren’t necessarily the best performers (and for that I blame the devaluing of degrees and A levels in attempts to attract more students or get more brownie points. You can no longer trust a degree classification).

And in the march to more social diversity it seems you can forget about spells working abroad, being in a sports team, or having a good internship. Now I can see how the latter would disadvantage people from lower socio-economic groups but where do you draw the line?

Do you want token ethnic minority or working class or female employees just to look good? Do you want to be a social engineer or just employ the best people?

I read about a consultancy firm recently that had changed its recruitment process by excluding from CVs the following information:

  • Academic achievements
  • Work experience

They claim such blind CVs led to almost 20% more candidates in its graduate and school leaver intake who would previously have been ineligible. So what are they actually using as criteria?

And this approach has been tried decades ago leaving off the name of the school, the marital status, age etc to try and level the playing field. But then you still have to get through interviews.

We all know interviews are notoriously unreliable partly because of the way candidates present themselves and how attractive they are. But they could be better if interviewers, and candidates for that matter, were trained properly.

Recent research from the US suggests that highly qualified candidates are three times more likely to get a job if they are honest about their shortcomings as they come across as more authentic. Of course whether it works for less qualified or less competent candidates is a different matter.  Candidates often lie about their skills or experience (between 2/3 and 9/10 if research is to be believed).

Psychometrics including aptitude and situational tests are more reliable than interviews – but you need specialist expertise to use them.

Assessment centres are more reliable predictors with multiple tasks for candidates and multiple trained raters. But again you need the expertise to do it and they are expensive to set up when most companies want a quick and easy solution.

Companies are trying a range of things to attract more diverse applicants but diversity isn’t necessarily a good thing for the business in every situation as research shows.