Face to Face with a Robot


In the process of applying for a job, the interview has always been a deciding factor. It answers critical questions. What proficiencies does this candidate bring to the table? Does this candidate seem to be a good fit within the community? Interviews are used to assess the decision making, technical and people skills of individuals, judging whether their abilities and traits match the culture of their company. However, this procedure may soon change.

The current labor market is becoming increasingly competitive. Despite the overall benefits of decreasing unemployment rates, lower unemployment rates lead to less qualified candidates on the hunt for jobs and thus more selective job applications. Additionally, the development of AI and other innovations has made spots in industries such as human resources, finance and labor-intensive roles harder to find. On top of technology, a recent trend in job exploration—where employees aspire to explore their personal interests and shift jobs throughout their career—results in lower company retainment and a more competitive job application process.

The competitive job market combined with the lower cost of technology has catalyzed the emergence of a market for job interview robots. One of the most prominent robots in the industry at the moment is a Swedish robot named Tengai. A long anticipated project by Furhat Robotics, Tengai finally launched last October in a collaboration with renowned recruitment firm TNG. In an interview with BBC, TNG’s chief innovation officer Elin Öberg Mårtenzon explained that the firm’s motives for the dramatic shift in interview methodology arose from a desire to “challenge” the effects of human judgement in the hiring process. Likewise, in recruiting firms throughout Silicon Valley, robots are being utilized to score applicants in an interview with a preprogrammed algorithm. However, technology isn’t perfect, and these robots bring about a multitude of conflicting opinions.

On the one hand, supporters of robot interviews believe that the consistency of the machine allows for a fair judgement of individual candidates. In his book Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, economist Daniel Hamermesh argues that society favors the attractive; they tend to have higher employment rates and better pay. Interview robots could even the playing field. They are designed to judge the personal qualities without factoring in the bias of physical qualities. Not only do the robots ignore attractiveness, but they also uproot the common homogeny that occurs within companies by taking away the innate human tendency for interviewers to connect with and hire people who are similar to them. Interview robots do this by using algorithms that uncover the authentic traits that make a candidate qualified for a job, analyzing everything from speech tendencies to smile frequency. The robots are designed to be rid of human opinions, creating a more diverse job applicant pool that searches beyond the surface level traits that human employers may be more biased towards, such as the prestige of a candidate’s university education or his/her familial background.

On the other hand, these algorithms sometimes incorrectly account for certain traits. In 2017, Amazon shut down a job recruiting engine project as it discriminated against women. The system was given past resumes to observe patterns within the company for future recruitment, but that faulty system only exacerbated the discrimination against individuals differing from the mainstream worker, namely women. Eventually, the project was shut down, and Amazon distanced itself from the project, claiming that they never relied completely on those computer generated rankings when making the final hiring process.

Further criticism of robots in the job hiring process stems from complaints that the interview is becoming dehumanized and methodical. There is now an exact right or wrong formula judging every word coming out of a candidate’s mouth, with no social cues of feedback from the interviewer on whether the conversation is going well. The interview becomes very one-sided, as the robots also can’t answer personal questions for the candidate to formulate a better understanding of the company. This is crucial because while interviews are mainly conducted to assess candidates’ qualifications for the job, they also give the candidates information to decide if they see themselves as a good fit for the job. Talking to your own reflection in a webcam or a robot’s camera eyes just doesn’t rub off the same way. The current robots in the market are not refined enough to have humanistic behaviors or be programmed specifically for individual companies.

As of now, technology does not seem advanced enough for interview robots to replace traditional human recruiters. While AI can be useful in terms of efficiency and simply getting candidates through the door, the algorithm is not precise enough to make the final decision. A balance of interview robots, for filtering out qualified candidates, and human recruiters, for deciding company fit, seems to be the most popular mix of automated recruiting; a majority of Fortune 500 have shifted to using technology in at least one step of their hiring process. However, with constantly evolving technology, in a few decades, the job hiring process could be shifted entirely to put applicants face to face with robots.