The first time I was interviewed by a robot
When human resources are replaced by artificial “intelligence” to hire people, should we rename them RR, as robots resources? Why are we still looking for human beings when everything, even the human part of hiring, can be replaced by robots?
Since I started my job search for a data scientist position in New York City a few months ago, I have been struggling a lot with interview processes and recruiters. Human resources ghosting me, recruiting agencies only counting resumes to reach their KPIs, New Yorkers afraid to meet in person. An HR rep even clearly mixed up between candidates and roles… I thought I had already seen the worst in hiring processes, when I have been asked to complete a video interview. Oh ok, a skype-facetime-googlehangout type interview, I have done that before and it’s fine. I even prefer that than a simple phone call as you can observe and interact with your interviewer.
But, wait a minute, this was not a classic skype-facetime-googlehangout type interview… I would be interviewed by a robot. There would be video recorded questions and I would record my answers that will then be watched by whoever, whenever they want. Or perhaps it would be directly analyzed by an AI algorithm. Even though an actual human being had been filmed, had it been a virtual person, it would have been the same thing.
For a moment I wonder: should I play that game? As I was really interested in the job opportunity, and I may confess, curious about this new process, I decided to go through this video interview.
The video interview was handled by wepow.com. I had never heard of them and was not familiar with such interviews, so before clicking on the link to start the process per se, I read a tutorial explaining how this unique and innovative interview will unfold, so that I knew what to expect. After going through this tutorial and the help/FAQ pages, I eventually decided I was ready to take the interview. And rest assured, I would be able to practice and rehearse by recording responses that will not be saved nor used (so they say…) before the actual questions from the recruiter.
It first starts with a video about the company I was applying for, a kind of brand promotion clip. Next, an overview of the process explained the different steps and tried to convince me that this new way of handling interviews was great for both parties. Followed a few multiple-choice questions, basic practical ones about my employment situation. Then, I watched a video of a real person who would be my host for the rest of the experience. She seemed very friendly, explained that this kind of video interviews might be a new yet exciting experience for me, and introduced what to expect from those video recorded questions. On the next screen, I was able to practice by recording responses to “fake” questions, yay! This was not supposed to be uploaded, this was meant to be your rehearsal. I felt like I was being casted for a broadway or TV show!
After those initial steps, I got to the heart of the matter: the video interview itself. And wow, this was tough. There were nine video taped questions and a written one. Each question can be watched one additional time only, then I had around 20 to 30 seconds to think about what the hell I was going to answer, and finally I was granted around 2 to 3 minutes (depending on the question) to record my answers. Be careful, there is only one attempt! And less than 3 minutes to respond to a question is short, even though they are classic ones: Why did I apply? How do I handle difficult feedback? How do I manage a technical project? And so forth. What was awkward and difficult was to record your responses in front of a frozen darkened image of my interviewer. At least, a written version of the question remained on the screen. Once I had completed my 9 video recordings, with sweat and struggle, I eventually had unlimited time to write my answer to the last question which was an open one and to catch my breath.
Once completed, I really had mixed feelings. However, taking a step back I eventually realized how shocked I was and how much I hated it. From a technical standpoint, wepow.com does a good job, it delivers a decent user experience and demonstrates good functionalities. But from an interview perspective, I found it completely absurd. How many people will watch my video recorded answers? Will they be automatically analyzed by some machine learning algorithms? How can human interactions and interpersonal skills can be evaluated from a video? I can understand sending a video if you are casted for an acting role, but joining an organization is a lot about working and interacting with your team and colleagues on a daily basis. Should I remind anyone that in HR, the H used to stand for Human. Yet are we still recruiting people? Are we still considered as humans? Is this the reason why we only say HR and not Human Ressources anymore? I believe it reflects the way people are considered in companies: disposable and replaceable resources, on the same level as a software, a tool or whatever programming language. We don’t hire and invest in human beings anymore, but in one specific skill, one type of coder, one tool or software user at a particular time t.
The irony of this experience is that my occupation as a data scientist is related to AI and automatic decision making. The models that I have built in the banking industry to predict and anticipate default and loss on a loan can now be developed in the HR world to predict the future performance of an employee. Fifteen years ago, when I started my career, human resources were using a lot of fancy tools as graphology, psychological and IQ tests, group interviews etc. Obviously, none worked. Now we are using AI algorithms thinking it will solve the complexity of hiring and make us more efficient. Why have we been struggling so much to hire people? Is it really that we don’t find the right people or is it that companies are not able to develop their human resources and simply tend to destroy individual performances once people are hired?
Being an ENFP with the extrovert dimension quite extreme, and looking back at my experiences as an individual contributor and as a people manager, I believe that we hire human beings first and foremost. Even in tech jobs, it’s not only a matter of technology and hard skills (you can Google any questions today), it’s also a lot a matter of people and soft skills. Developing an analytical mindset, spreading data knowledge and the use of facts to make decisions, growing communication and leadership skills, this is what will make companies more efficient. Now, I ask the question: can we select human beings using AI? I think progress is great and a necessity to simplify boring and bothersome tasks; machines, robots or automated algorithms are useful and definitely enhance our lives. However, should it be used to make a decision related to human relationships as in Black Mirror?
I love proverbs and I will conclude with that one: a bad worker always blames his tools… Stop hiring keywords and tools, start hiring human beings.