BY MEGAN CERULLO
JUNE 16, 2023 / 5:00 AM / MONEYWATCH
CBS News reporter Megan Cerullo submitted to a AI job interview without a human on the other end of the videoconference. INTERVIEW.AI
Looking for a job? You may find yourself "face to face" with an artificial intelligence bot, rather than a person.
Corporate recruiters have long used AI to quickly scan job applications and whittle down the number of applicants. Now, companies are increasingly using the technology to conduct the job interview itself. This presents job candidates with a range of new challenges in what can often be a stressful situation, not the least of which is this emerging consideration: How exactly do you impress a bot?
"Employers understand that using AI can save them time, so we expect to see more of them using it in some way in the pre-screening interview process," Keith Spencer, a career expert at FlexJobs, told CBS MoneyWatch. "From the candidate's perspective it can be intimidating. You're not interacting with a human — you're interacting with AI, which can feel kind of strange."
A recent survey from Resume Builder projected that by 2024, roughly four in 10 companies will use AI for job interviews. Of that number, 15% of employers said they will rely on AI to make hiring decisions without any human input.
What is an AI job interview?
Although virtual job interviews were used before the COVID-19 pandemic, the public health crisis made the process a necessity. Now that they are more commonplace, businesses are increasingly using AI to screen candidates.
"For years human resources departments have been using AI to automatically screen for resumes and applications. Now that virtual interviews have taken center stage, it's being used as a first screening, especially in non-complex jobs where you have clear parameters," Zahira Jaser, associate professor at the University of Sussex Business School, who focuses on how humans experience technology, told CBS MoneyWatch.
There are different types of AI interviews. In an AI-assisted interview, a job candidate is presented with questions on screen in text form that they answer and submit via either text or video. A recruiter or other company staffer involved in hiring then evaluates the submission to assess if the applicant is a good fit.
"Some have just an element of artificial intelligence so the candidate is recorded and someone watches their video," Jaser said.
In that scenario, AI might help cull an applicant pool and recommend standout candidates. Notably, the technology could also inadvertently nix highly qualified job applicants, experts noted.
"The truth is it is still eliminating some candidates before a human makes the final decision," said Stacie Haller, career adviser at Resume Builder.
Then there are those interviews that are AI-led and "completely automated," according to Jaser. The experience is a little bit like videoconferencing with yourself. In CBS MoneyWatch's test of AI interview software, the platform presented text-based questions on a screen above a live video box into which the candidate spoke. Their answers were recorded and submitted for review by AI.
In practice, an algorithm reviews and judges the candidate's video submission based on verbal data, including the words they use, and vocal data, including a person's manner of speech and delivery. In most instances, by contrast, privacy laws prohibit companies from collecting facial data.
"The candidate is in front of a screen that has questions that appear and the candidate has limited time to answer these questions," Jaser explained, adding that the experience can be jarring. "People who have sat in these interviews find it difficult because they almost all fall into an existential dread when, at a very important time in your life, you're not facing a human and you're not seeing cues coming to you."
How to impress a bot
Unlike a personal interaction with a human hiring manager either in the flesh or on a computer screen, conversational bots don't give interviewees on-the-spot feedback or other cues on how they're doing.
"The beauty of having an in-person interview, which is already a stressful experience, is that there is a human encounter. You meet a human, then you have an exchange, and if you sense a good emotion in the other person it's a way to measure ourselves," Jaser said. "We're always looking for positive cues, and in this case you're not getting any. So you have to be confident you're saying the right thing without any cues."
That said, experts offer some tips on how to ace an AI job interview.
1. Pretend you're talking to a human. Spencer of FlexJobs recommends that candidates pretend they are interacting with a human, while acknowledging that can be difficult while responding to digital prompts.
"It's like having a videoconferencing conversation with someone, but there's no one there. You don't see another face," he said of the AI interview experience. As a result, candidates sometimes inadvertently end up mimicking the software and can become robotic in their responses, which is something to avoid.
"They get more rigid, their facial expressions become more stoic and they aren't conscious of their non-verbals as much as their verbals. And AI programs are assessing non-verbals," Spencer said.
Instead, pretend you're interviewing with a person. "Maintain eye contact [with the camera], dress professionally, smile, and project confidence and friendliness," he added.
2. Mine the job description for key words — and use them. Companies instruct AI to assess job applicants based on predefined criteria related to their overall goals or a particular role they're trying to fill. So as with any job interview, it's wise to research the company and read the job description closely beforehand.
In an AI interview, though, it's even more important to use words and phrases that correspond to the duties and qualifications of the job.
"There is a good chance the AI-interview tool will be ranking you based on your use of keywords and phrases from the job description," Spencer explained. "If you're gregarious, don't rely completely on your charm. You want to have your facts straight and also have a clear understanding of the industry position, and be able to provide solid, tangible examples of your work."
3. Practice, practice, practice. The best way to become more at ease interviewing while speaking to a screen is to practice. Jaser recommends a three-step approach. Start by practicing by videoconferencing with another person. Have them ask you generic as well as tailored interview questions.
It can also be useful to use a tool like Prepper from job search site Adzuna, billed as an "AI interview coach," that generates questions related to whatever job description you feed it.
"It's incredibly helpful to have someone — or some thing — chuck you a bunch of questions to get you thinking," said James Neave, head of data science at Adzuna and one of the developers behind Prepper. "You'll know if you're prepared if you can answer those questions in a confident and accurate manner."
Next, have your interviewer turn their camera off to simulate interviewing while addressing a blank screen. Then eliminate the human factor altogether and record yourself using a videoconferencing tool. Watch and review the recording. Keep a script in mind that includes key words you want to use.
"If you learn keywords, you'll have quicker mental shortcuts to get to the info you want when the screen asks you the information," Jaser said.