Companies are increasingly using automated video interviews to assess candidates. How do you get through this potentially uncomfortable experience?

It may not feel remotely natural to sit in front of a computer screen and talk about yourself to an artificial prompt – but that’s exactly what many people could find themselves doing at their next job interview. 

Since Covid-19 struck, hiring managers have had to think creatively about how to streamline their interview processes. With traditional face-to-face meetings on hold, the solution for some has come in the form of asynchronous video interviews, or AVIs, in which applicants film themselves answering a predetermined set of questions, with no human interviewer present. 

In some cases, these recordings are then evaluated by a hiring manager, in others artificial intelligence and facial analysis software are used to assess candidates. Companies report that this type of interviewing can make the hiring process more efficient, but for applicants this job screening method − which may feel like a one-way Zoom conversation – can be uncomfortable. 

As the pandemic continues to prevent in-person meetings, job seekers in manufacturing, retail and other industries are more likely to find themselves chatting with a bot at their next interview. Adapting to this format and understanding how to maximise the chance of a positive interview could be key to a successful job hunt. 

Saving time 

Even before the pandemic, AVIs were being used as the first stage of recruitment in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, tech, business and finance sectors, according to Carlos Flores, a career management specialist at Rutgers University in the US state of New Jersey. While exact statistics are hard to come by (AVIs have been adopted relatively recently by major companies and market reports don’t distinguish between them and face-to-face video interviews), experts say that for larger organisations with a national workforce of lower-skilled positions, AVIs have become a convenient way to skim through hundreds or thousands of applicants at a faster rate. 

HireVue, one of the leading interview technology companies, says it is used today by more than 700 businesses, including a third of Fortune 500 companies, who collectively have conducted over 10 million interviews through its platform. Modern Hire, another interview technology platform, supported over 20 million assessments and interviews, and saw a 40% increase in users in 2019.

Proponents of the technology say it has allowed retail giants like Walmart to speed up its recruiting process

Proponents of the technology say it has allowed retail giants like Walmart to speed up its recruiting process

Yet it wasn’t long ago that the idea was unpopular. Around 2012, only about 10% of top-positioned businesses had adopted any form of video interviewing; the majority preferred an initial telephone assessment and an in-person interview to follow, says Janine Woodworth, director of strategic service at recruitment software provider Jobvite. But as technology matured and smartphone usage expanded – making it easier for candidates to use the software no matter their location − many companies are taking a second look at video interviewing as a whole, including the use of AVIs for initial screenings, Woodworth says. “They’re able to get the assessments out more quickly to a wider range of candidates like that.” 

A leading grocer in the southern United States, for instance, streamlined its hiring process during the pandemic by conducting as many as 15,000 AVIs per day, according to HireVue CEO Kevin Parker. The grocer realised that its previous method of setting up in-person interviews was wasting too much time; arranging appointments, exchanging emails and rescheduling could take weeks. Allowing candidates to apply on their own time, and skip the hassle of meeting a hiring manager in person, has made it possible for regional chains and even giants like Walmart to fill new roles in a matter of days.

One-way interviews 

Hiring managers using this software may see multiple benefits, but for applicants using an AVI for the first time, the transition may feel strange.

One major difference is the timing of the interview itself. Rather than scheduling an appointment, the applicant can sit in front of their computer or phone to record their answers whenever they are free. If their day is filled with work, childcare or other duties, they can schedule the interview during a suitable break.

When they begin, they are prompted with a series of questions, often displayed in plain text on the screen, such as: “Introduce yourself, and tell us a bit about your background and experience” or “Describe your most recent holiday, and what made it special”. Depending on the platform and the position they’re applying for, they might also be asked to perform small exercises or play a game – activities that can test their ability to multitask or brainstorm on the fly.

Companies have traditionally favoured telephone screening followed by an in-person interview

Companies have traditionally favoured telephone screening followed by an in-person interview

When candidates submit their interviews, their recordings are processed in one of two ways. The hiring manager can opt to receive the videos directly and evaluate them without the use of any further technology, or they can be run through a complex AI system which assesses facial and linguistic information to determine how well candidates compare to previous successful hires.

There are challenges; AVIs can vary in the amount of time allotted for each answer, and not every programme will give candidates unlimited preparation time or allow them to re-record a section if they are unhappy with their first attempt. Applicants also won’t be able to ask any questions about the company they’re applying to, unlike a standard interview, and poor internet connections or blurry webcams can cause trouble for applicants wanting to make a good impression. Then there’s the fact that candidates don’t know exactly how their interviews will be evaluated. “I think it makes them lose confidence as a result of the experience because . . . there’s too much unknown,” says Kyra Sutton, professor of human resource management at Rutgers.

Recording a video monologue can be particularly hard for some candidates who are not speaking in their native language. Sutton’s international students have told her that, when preparing for an AVI, they worry they could be penalised for mispronouncing a word or bungling their grammar. And when it comes to how the interview is assessed, there is the issue of AI algorithms tainted with the same pre-existing hiring biases as their human counterparts.

Showing your best self

Yet if this kind of recruitment method becomes more widespread, understanding how to speak well into the void could become a key element of a successful job hunt.

You have to be more prepared and comfortable before you start - Cristoph Hohenberger

Experts say that before pressing the record button, it’s important to plan for questions that could come your way. There’s no room for improvisation or pleasantries during an AVI, and answers need to be efficient and to the point.

“You have to be more prepared and comfortable before you start,” says Cristoph Hohenberger, co-founder of AI-driven recruitment platform Retorio. Just like in a standard interview, being confused by a question or not having much to say can reflect poorly on a candidate. And because of the highly structured nature of AVIs, candidates won’t be able to ask for clarifications.

Speaking at a slow and even pace into a camera can be difficult, Hohenberger says. The best way to sound natural is to imagine someone sitting across from you; smile often and make steady eye contact. Proper aesthetics matter in AVI assessments, and anything distracting in the background may catch the eye of a human evaluator. “I would try to be in front of a neutral background,” he says. “And I would wear something that’s appropriate for the job.”

Perhaps most importantly, Hohenberger says, candidates should be themselves. Trying to squeeze in too many references to your qualifications or keywords that applicants think might win favour with an AI can appear insincere and harm your overall performance. Applicants should assume their recordings will be judged by a fellow human, he says, and apply the same courtesy as in a normal conversation.

By staying calm in front of the camera and embracing the one-sided nature of the format, job seekers give themselves the best chance of success. “It’s a monologue rather than a dialogue,” says Hohenberger.