This Is What Happens When Your Job Interview Is With a Robot

A woman has an interview on a laptop with a robot to represent artificial intelligence.
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For the first weeks of quarantine, it was nice to work in sweatpants and spend extra time in bed because my commute involved just walking downstairs. It also gave my pores a break from my daily makeup routine.

But it’s been more than a year of being cooped up inside, and I would do anything to get back to an early alarm, nice outfit and a fully made-up face. Even a video job interview sounds like fun.

Besides the sporadic social-distanced night out with a small group, the only occasions I have to put myself completely together are for video job interviews, mostly on the Zoom video conferencing platform. And even then, I only needed to look presentable from the shoulders up and sharpen my eye contact. Still, I have found that I feel more confident and professional when I do the whole enchilada, shoes included.

However, another wrench has been thrown in my routine. Artificial intelligence video job interviews where the interviewee is the only human involved are becoming more common. This has added a whole new element to the meaning of putting your best face forward, because that’s part of what AI is assessing. And your voice tone. And your word choice. And more. Our video interview tips can make the process smoother and perhaps help you land your dream job.

The two most common AI hiring platforms are HireVue and Pymetrics. The programs work by recording the candidate’s answers to preset questions, while also analyzing facial movements, word choice, and speaking voice before ranking them against other applicants. The program then lets the employer know which applicants ranked at the top based on the company’s requirements for the job and then indicates who should move forward in the hiring process.

Preparing for an AI Interview

Getting ready for an AI video job interview is slightly different than for the run-of-the-mill Zoom conversation in which you’re talking to a person. Make sure that you have a reliable internet connection and that your background is appropriate for a video job interview. A trial run with a friend or family member might help.

Jim Weinstein, a life and career counselor in Washington, D.C., says that succeeding in an AI job interview requires even more preparation than usual.

“The criteria that your potential employers are using and weighing are secret for reasons that are not hard to understand: it helps prevent an interviewee from gaming the system,” he explains.

Even though the intricacies of the algorithms utilized by programs like HireVue and Pymetrics aren’t public, not all is lost. There are still ways of finding what your potential employer considers valuable and desirable assets.

“Clues will come from the job description, the organization’s website, and conversations with current or former insiders who have knowledge of the position’s requirements and pitfalls,” says Weinstein. “I encourage anyone I coach to utilize these inputs. Because AI-based interviewing systems tend to be used more commonly for highly sought positions where competition is fierce, it’s extra important to do this forensic work.”

Make special note of the words used in the job posting. If “team player” is mentioned, try to work that into an answer about your skills. Consider the experience the post asks for, if it’s five years say that you have five years (or more) of experience. Be ready to answer questions tailored to the posting.

AI Controversies

HireVu’s mysterious algorithms are not without controversy. The company has been accused of systemically discriminating against people in video interviews based on their appearance, particularly facial structure. In 2019, human rights group Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate HireVue for “unfair and deceptive” practices.

EPIC officials wrote that the platform’s “biased, unprovable and not replicable” result constituted a major threat to American workers’ privacy and livelihoods. In January, it was announced that HireVue would no longer use AI for facial recognition analysis of job candidates, but will continue to gather evidence like word choice, intonation, behavior, and other biometric data.

Anticipating AI Questions

When I did my first HireVue interview, I was most concerned with the list of questions they would be using rather than how I would answer them. When you are face to face with a real person, obviously the question-and-answer format is more fluid and conversational. With these types of programs, the experience is similar to taking a test. The interview questions can come in a few formats.

Written Questions

The questions will appear in written form, and the candidate will have 30 to 60 seconds to read them and prepare before recording the answer. There are no do-overs. The recording is permanent.

Video Questions

The questions will be given to you in a short video, usually asked by someone from the company, possibly hiring managers. You will then have a short time to prepare your response.

Coding Challenges

If you are interviewing for a data analyst or software developer job, you will most likely be asked to fix a coding issue or even complete a logic puzzle. The question should specify which language (C#, Java, and JavaScript, etc.) you will be working with. Assume that you will be asked to explain in detail why you chose the response that you did. This is a way of weeding out “cheaters.”

Drawing/Design/Writing Interviews

If you are applying for a job that’s writing intensive or in an artistic field, you will likely need to demonstrate your abilities in realtime. Expect a supplement to some of the standard format questions with at least one prompt. If you need to do external research, use a different tab and do not leave the interview. If you will be writing, have a document open so you can write and edit your draft without the risk of submitting it before you are ready.

Adapting to Video Job Interviews

After going through the AI interview process, I know that I prefer speaking to another person, although I do see how a screening process can help an employer when the applicant pool climbs into the high triple digits. The bigger the company, the higher the chance you have of encountering an AI interview that considers your body language and eye contact as much as your education.

On the positive side, if you are someone who is deeply uncomfortable during job interviews (aren’t we all, to an extent?), it may be nice to not have to interact with another person during the experience. In any case, AI job interviews aren’t going anywhere soon — and just like HireVue had to do after their FTC complaint, we all must adapt.

Olivia Smith is a writer based in Washington, D.C., who has experience in public and political advocacy work. She is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.