How prepared are students for asynchronous video interviews?

Feb 14, 2022 | Selection & assessment

New research shows how ill prepared students are for asynchronous video interviews, says Becci Newton, director of public policy and research at the Institute for Employment Studies.

A TikTok video went viral recently – it captured a young woman’s experience of providing an asynchronous video interview (AVI) as part of a recruitment process.

Unfortunately for Chaylene Martinez, in her ‘one shot only’ chance to set out her stall, she managed to unwittingly hit the record button and instead captured her informal and playful preparatory phone conversation with a friend discussing what she felt was a very ‘cheesy’ interview question about the culture of the company she had applied to.

Once she realised what was happening, she was clearly mortified but there was no way out, the video was uploaded to the company. She reported that she didn’t get the job.

Use of online technology in recruitment

While information is somewhat sparse, the use of online technologies in the recruitment process has grown.

A Gartner survey of 334 HR Leaders in 2020 showed that 86% had used virtual technology to interview candidates to overcome recruitment challenges in the Covid-19 pandemic. Similarly, the Job Description Library recorded a 67% increase in the use of video interviews between 2020 and 2021.

This is hardly surprising given the rapid move to remote working we witnessed. But a question remains about whether we fully understand the technologies, their capabilities as well as their potential pitfalls.

The online formats used in recruitment range from synchronous video interviews – which simply use an online technology (such as Zoom or Teams) to facilitate a discussion between people, at the same time but in different places, to AVIs with embedded artificial intelligence (AI).

In this latter format, people do not meet at all, and AI plays a role in facilitating the interview and in assessing and providing recommendations to the company on the outcomes.

Chaylene’s experience centred on an AVI. For large companies, receiving high volumes of applications, having technology assist in the sift is likely to be attractive.

The 2019 Mercer’s Global Talent Trends recorded that 41% of US companies use AI in their recruitment process and that 40% use chatbots to screen and assess candidates.

Information on use in the UK is hard to source but a recent research collaboration between myself and the Zahira Jaser at the University of Sussex indicated that students in the UK are experiencing AVI technologies in their job searches, and that they are often ill-prepared for the process.

Student experiences of online technology

Our findings, based on small-scale qualitative research, showed that students did not understand what these technologies did and measured. This meant they could not fully prepare.

The idea of not understanding was very similar to some comments on student preparation for assessment centres at a recent debate organised by the Graduate Recruitment Network.

We discussed how students might not understand that in a group session, companies are looking for evidence of team working and so attempts to dominate discussions rather than behave collaboratively are counterproductive.

For young people to get in and get on in the world of work, they need to be prepared for current recruitment practices, from traditional interviews to assessment centres and especially AVIs.

Our small-scale qualitative research indicated that the AVIs were causing unnatural behaviours, and ways of speaking with those from non-traditional or disadvantaged backgrounds often feeling most constrained by the technology.

The technologies can struggle with accents – as seen in news items about Alexa – so foreign nationals and students with regional accents can feel particularly disadvantaged.

The students’ experiences led to feeling dehumanised because of a perceived need to perform in a controlled, robotic way; they believed in the superiority of the technology so saw this changed behaviour as inevitable. In turn, this led to emotional and cognitive exhaustion.

Underpinning all this was a lack of understanding of the metrics used by the AI. The technologies can analyse content (via transcription and use of key words) to tone using audio, data to behaviours such as those demonstrating positivity and engagement based on video data. Trying to consider all dimensions in an AVI led to the exhaustion students felt.

Impact on D&I

In disseminating the research through a toolkit that aims to equip employers, careers advisers and young people to understand the technology better and ask questions to enable preparation, the effects on diversity and inclusion have proved most compelling.

I heard anecdotally that one FTSE-100 company had benchmarked the attributes and behaviours of its top talent and fed those into the AI to assess during AVIs. This type of approach comes with risks of narrowing rather than increasing diversity, with potential negative impacts on productivity and creativity in organisations.

We need to encourage employers to scrutinise the technologies rather than push ahead with adoption to ensure their needs are being met in the best way.

Further research on this theme is undoubtedly needed. It would be useful to understand the scale and nature of use of AVIs in the UK as well as the predictive validity of the technologies on the measures they promise. Awareness of the risks to diversity in the talent pool need close consideration.

Read more data and advice on virtual recruitment

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