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Readers Speak-out On Robot Phone Interviews (#GotBitcoin?)

Readers largely critical of one-sided phone interviews; ‘This is pure corporate laziness’.  Readers Speak-out On Robot Phone Interviews (#GotBitcoin?)

Reader reaction to automated job interviews is swift and mostly negative.

Hundreds of people sounded off via email, comments and posts on social media, writing about the practice of companies screening job applicants by asking them to take a recorded phone interview with no one on the other end of the line.

“This is pure corporate laziness,” wrote Craig Picken, an executive recruiter based in Wilmington, N.C., who on LinkedIn called the process “D-U-M-B.”

“Did you hear that?” added Keith Campagna, an Allentown, Penn., regional sales manager for recruiting software company Jobvite. “That was the sound of a whole bunch of well-qualified, passive workers hanging up. Why? Because recruitment is inherently a human process.”

Companies say they have reason to rethink how they hire now. The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low of 3.7%, and there are roughly a million more job openings than there are unemployed Americans. Employers want to lock in hires as quickly as they can, and eliminating the time it takes for a candidate to complete an initial screening is one way to do it, companies say. Applicants can take the automated interviews on their own time, when a recruiter may not be in the office.

A range of companies, from the laboratory-test provider Quest Diagnostics Inc. to hospital operator HCA Healthcare Inc., now use one-sided phone interviews for some roles, as do insurers, marketing agencies, retailers and others.

“In this tight labor market, everybody’s working and nobody has time to interview during business hours,” says Suzanne Kinkel, president of HarQen LLC,  a Milwaukee company that makes the software behind automated phone interviews. 

Ms. Kinkel notes the automated phone interview is typically the first step in a hiring process; successful candidates will then proceed to a live phone conversation or in-person interview.

Yet a common theme among the reader feedback was that such interviews lacked a personal touch and made them question a company’s culture.

Steven Collinsworth, who lives near Chicago, has taken an automated phone interview for three separate mid-management roles in recent months and said he found it to be cold, impersonal and unprofessional. He compared the process to leaving messages on a voice-mail system.

Mr. Collinsworth said he had never heard of such automated interview exchanges before his recent experiences. This article helped him realize “at least I’m not the only one,” he said.

Leslie Nienaber, a 29-year-old digital marketing specialist in Cleveland, took an automated phone interview for a marketing position at a brewery last year. She received the interview questions ahead of time. While she described the lack of immediate feedback in the interview as odd, she said she could see the advantages to an automated approach.

“It was convenient for the time and the fact I got to prepare a little,” she said. “I knew they could still hear my voice, and hopefully recognize my intent and expertise based on how I spoke.”

Laura Wilson, a 53-year-old based in Kansas City, Mo., said that she felt automated interviews provided a greater sense of control. Ms. Wilson applied for a call-center manager position in Las Vegas earlier this year, a job that required a one-way video interview, which she said she had no problem taking. “I was actually very comfortable with it,” she said. “What it allowed me to do is to respond at my own pace; it allowed me to do so in the comfort of my home.”

Many readers asked how companies measured their performance in automated phone exchanges. Recruiters and hiring managers still listen to the responses, say companies that use them, but some vendors are beginning to test more sophisticated systems, too.

The Orlando startup Talentify, which offers an automated phone-interviewing tool, is in the early stages of testing technology that it says can judge an applicant’s tone of voice and confidence in answering a question. The goal is to provide recruiters with more information about a candidate, and not to make a final determination on whether someone should move along in the hiring process, said Othamar Gama Filho, Talentify’s chief executive.

Still, many readers said they remain wary of automated voice interviews, and multiple people said they would refuse to take them in the future.

Michael Pizzorno, chief executive of Salient Medical Solutions, a Toronto-based medical equipment distributor, said he had never taken such an interview, and never would. “I think hiring is a human process, so I think it sends a real questionable message in my mind of how you’re evaluating people,” he said. “It’s one of those things you can do, but I don’t know necessarily think you should do.”

Some even offered tongue-and-cheek strategies to respond to companies hiring in this way.

“Beat them at their own game!” said Sarah Mancinho, a communications specialist and freelance writer in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., on LinkedIn. “Type out your answers in text-to-speak and have your computer/phone reply to the interview questions in a robot Siri/Alexa voice.”

She ended her comment with the tears-of-joy emoji.

Your Next Job Interview May Be With A Robot

In an ultra-tight labor market, more employers roll out automated, one-sided phone interviews; ‘I blanked out’ 

The questions sound familiar: “Describe a time when you went above and beyond;” “Tell me about a time when you had to deliver bad news to a customer.”

But in this telephone job interview, there is a twist: No human is on the other end of the line.

As companies compete for workers in the tightest labor market in decades, more employers are trying to streamline the hiring process to nab promising candidates before they can get away. For some, that has meant rethinking the tried-and-true phone interview, rolling out one-sided, automated exchanges in which applicants give recorded responses to a series of questions.

It is much like leaving a voice mail—only one with a job on the line.

Major companies such as laboratory-test provider Quest Diagnostics Inc., hospital operator HCA Healthcare Inc. and insurer Allstate Insurance Co. use such interviews for some hiring, as do retailers, restaurant chains and law firms. In May, job site Indeed introduced a set of text- and audio-based skills tests for employers to assess job candidates at no extra cost, including an option for a one-way phone interview, meaning that even the smallest U.S. businesses can now use them in the hiring process.

Jeremy Maffei took his first-ever automated interview in October after applying for a role as a digital marketing specialist at a small marketing agency in Florida. The interview lasted less than 10 minutes, but Mr. Maffei said it threw him off. “I blanked out,” the 42-year-old recalled. He was asked to describe his biggest success and failure, yet with no one on the line, he couldn’t tell whether his responses resonated. “It’s highly impersonal,” he said.


Here’s How To Ace Automated Phone Interviews

  • Come With Examples: Many questions are open-ended and aimed at gauging how an applicant would respond in a given situation, so think up anecdotes in advance. For example, how might you respond to an unhappy customer or other challenging situation?
  • Act Naturally: It may be off-putting not to have someone responding to you in the moment, but remember that a human will eventually listen to these answers. If you have a joke or anecdote that may fit, tell it. The more you can treat this like a traditional live interview, the better.
  • Speak Clearly, And Cut The Background Noise: It is important for candidates to have an upbeat speaking tone, and to take these interviews in a quiet place, so reduce the background noise.
  • Research The Company And Job: As with any interview, reread the job description beforehand. Even in an automated exchange, recruiters can tell if someone seems unfamiliar with the job or its requirements. And sound excited about the opportunity.

Some employers say such interviews are more efficient and candidate-friendly. Applicants can take the interviews at any time of day, even after work, and the answers can later be reviewed by a hiring manager. The goal, those companies say, is speed.

With the unemployment rate at 3.7% and job openings outnumbering unemployed Americans by more than one million, companies want to lock in hires as quickly as they can, recruiters say.

“There’s a little bit of this, ’Ready, aim, fire: We’ve just got to get bodies in the door,’” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., which helps job seekers.

The rise in phone interviewing is, in many ways, counterintuitive. More advanced hiring techniques exist, such as automated video or text interviews. Some companies, though, have shifted back to voice screenings, finding them more effective, particularly for hourly roles.

The Wisconsin job-recruiting firm Cielo, which hires 150,000 workers annually on behalf of clients, has found applicants far more likely to complete an audio interview than a video one, said Adam Godson, the company’s senior vice president of global technology solutions.

Over the phone, applicants needn’t worry about their appearance or their location, nor do they have to have access to a smartphone or a computer with a camera, Mr. Godson said.

Some job seekers, though, say they’re still acclimating to them. Bob Lichty, a 49-year-old in South Bend, Ind., has taken two automated phone interviews for separate sales director roles at arts organizations in recent months. One lasted 45 minutes. “Phone interviews are hard enough,” Mr. Lichty said. “When you throw this automated thing out there, it’s like, ’Wow, I have no idea how this is going at all. I don’t know if I’m killing it with my dad jokes, or if should I just leave them out.’ ”

Quest, a Cielo client, uses automated phone interviews to hire phlebotomists, specimen processors and other employees. Lara Gartenberg, Quest’s senior director of talent acquisition, said an applicant can take an interview at night, and the person’s answers are reviewed by a Cielo representative in the Philippines or Singapore. A U.S. recruiter will find notes the next morning on whether the applicant is a fit and will schedule another interview, if the applicant makes the cut, she said.

HarQen LLC, a 25-person Milwaukee company that makes software behind those automated interviews, has more than 150 clients, from law offices to hospitals and staffing firms, says Suzanne Kinkel, HarQen’s president.

Allstate and HCA use automated voice interview software made by interviewing-technology firm Montage, said Montage Chief Executive Kurt Heikkinen. Allstate said it has used the technology for several years, while HCA said it uses it on a “limited basis.”

Trash-hauler Waste Management Inc. began using on-demand voice interviews a few months ago for most front-line roles, including drivers and technicians. The company has seen a 5- to 7-day improvement in the time it takes candidates to complete a phone interview, which “contributes to a faster hiring process,” said Melkeya McDuffie, vice president of talent.

Darlene Racinelli, a Temecula, Calif., financial controller with 30 years of experience, recently had her second automated phone interview. She had applied for a financial controller role at a Texas manufacturer and found automated interviews frustrating because she couldn’t ask questions to better understand the company.

When the system asked her to describe her most-difficult challenge—a stock job-interview question—she decided she had enough. “At that point,” she said, “I hit 9 and just ended it.”


 Updated: 12-16-2019

Make Your Job Application Robot-Proof

It takes planning to make sure AI gatekeepers don’t bounce your résumé—sometimes for arbitrary reasons—before a human can make a call.

Job seekers often spend hours online researching employers and polishing their applications and résumés. Then they hit send.

And They Hear Nothing. Ever.

Looking for a job is hard enough without being rejected by a robot. But applicant-screening and tracking systems are increasingly powerful job-market gatekeepers. After scanning résumés, they hurl most applicants into a digital black hole.

These machine-learning systems save time and money for employers swamped by online applicants, and they could potentially reduce bias in hiring. But the tools also risk magnifying employers’ existing prejudices and rejecting worthy applicants. Most vulnerable are the most active job seekers, such as recent college grads looking for entry-level positions or older workers idled by layoffs.

“It’s a hot-button issue with college students,” prompting eye-rolls and cynicism, says Mary O. Scott, a West Hartford, Conn., campus researcher and consultant who just completed a series of in-depth student interviews at 14 universities. One senior spoke of using her “trigger finger” to respond to hundreds of online postings, but she expects few if any replies, Ms. Scott says.

Savvy job seekers can improve their odds of getting past these gatekeepers by understanding how they work. Among valuable tactics: Spice up your résumé with specific on-the-job results, use meaningful job titles and tailor your choice of words to match companies’ requirements.

These systems scan résumés and applications for keywords showing hard skills, such as financial analysis or cybersecurity, and sometimes for softer skills, like team leadership. They may ask knockout questions for must-have attributes, such as whether you can work at a particular location. Some use text tools or chatbots to administer skills tests. Most disqualify applicants who don’t meet basic requirements, then list others in a ranked order, based on how well they fit the employer’s specs.

Some tools serve as job-market matchmakers. ZipRecruiter matches candidates and employers by scanning applicants’ qualifications and employers’ postings, tracking users’ behavior on the site and employing algorithms similar to those used by Amazon for suggesting products, CEO Ian Siegel says.

Rock Brouwer has hired many candidates ZipRecruiter has brought to his attention. “When I get one of those, it just makes my day,” says Mr. Brouwer, hiring manager for Pacific Service Center, a Portland, Ore., trucking-fleet repair company.

About 60% of employers admit such tools cause them to miss some qualified candidates, however, according to a 2016 survey of 1,200 job seekers and managers by CareerArc, a human-resources technology company, and Future Workplace, a research firm. Critics say the systems give too much weight to small differences between candidates.

They amount to a black box. “Often a job candidate doesn’t even know a system is in use,” and employers aren’t required to disclose it, says Sarah Myers West, a researcher at the AI Now Institute, a New York University research group. A new Illinois law will go into effect next month requiring employers to disclose and get consent for use of AI video-interviewing tools with job applicants.

Most vendors refuse to tell employers how their algorithms work. And most employers lack deep, accurate performance data.

The systems risk magnifying managers’ prejudices if those biases are reflected in the makeup of the employer’s current workforce, according to a 2018 study by Upturn, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit promoting fairness in the use of digital technology.

High performers may share traits that have nothing to do with job performance, skewing outcomes, says Mark Girouard, a Minneapolis attorney who advises employers on pre-employment screening. One vendor built a résumé-screening tool that tagged being named Jared and playing high school lacrosse as factors predicting success. “The system didn’t have a very deep set of learning data,” he says. The employer didn’t put it to use.

Even if employers and vendors aren’t trying to reject female or minority applicants, they still risk doing so if they train algorithms on data gleaned from a current workforce that lacks diversity. An employer with mostly male employees, for example, might inadvertently train a screening tool to downgrade applicants who participated in sports played mostly by women, such as field hockey.

One employer intent on reducing employee turnover found that people who lived closer to its offices tended to stay with the company longer. But screening applicants based on distance from the worksite turned out to be a proxy for race, resulting in a lack of diversity.

The systems can easily stack the deck against older workers, says William A. Rivera, senior vice president of litigation for the AARP Foundation. An employer who wants to hire applicants with three to five years’ experience can award candidates three points for three to five years’ experience, two points for five to seven years and one point for more than seven years, Mr. Rivera says. The result: The most experienced workers, who are also typically older than others, would likely receive a lower score and a lower ranking on a candidate list.

It’s sometimes possible to tell whether an employer is using an AI-driven tool by looking for a vendor’s logo on the employer’s career site. In other cases, hovering your cursor over the “submit” button will reveal the URL where your application is being sent.

Otherwise it’s best to assume a robot will be your first-round judge. To pass the test, use clear, functional job titles that reflect progress in your career, and prove your value by quantifying results in dollars earned or numbers of customers gained, says Robert Meier, chief executive of Restore Hope Resources, a Tampa, Fla., job-coaching firm.

Some applicants try to game the systems by choosing answers to knockout questions that are obviously desirable rather than accurate, says Jim D’Amico, president of the Association of Talent Acquisition Professionals. Others fudge their ZIP Code to make it look as though they live in the employer’s target area.

These ploys risk annoying hiring managers, Mr. D’Amico says. Candidates weigh the risks against potential rewards. “Some candidates think, ‘To know me is to love me. If I can just get in front of you, you’re going to love me,’ ” he says. “And sometimes that’s true.”

To Get Past The Robots…

* Network To Build Contacts Inside The Company Who Will Put In A Good Word For You.

* Use A Text-Based App Like Word For Your Online Application, Rather Than A Pdf Or Other Format.

* Include In Your Résumé Keywords And Phrases From The Employer’s Job Posting.

* Quantify Past Results, Citing Dollars Earned Or Other Stats.

* Camouflage Brief Gaps In Work History By Listing Years Only, Rather Than Years And Months.

* List Job Titles In A Way That Shows Increasing Responsibility And Status.


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