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Companies Are Increasingly Using Robots to Interview Potential Hires

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

You post a job online and are suddenly inundated with hundreds of applications, cover letters, resumes, letters of recommendation. Do you put a flesh and blood human in charge of separating the wheat from the chaff? To make the first phone calls and handle round-one interviews?

For many companies, the answer is increasingly no. Instead, they're turning to computer programs not just to sift through resumes, but to conduct actual interviews, and the "rise of the robo-interview" could have important legal implications.

And You Thought Phone Interviews Were Bad...

Recruiting-by-robot is becoming more common, according to a report by Bloomberg's Rebecca Greenfield, leading to automated job interviews that "might horrify you," but which may soon become "unavoidable."

In the simplest form, these new interviews are like one-way Skype interviews, or a series of "video essays." Candidates log in, questions pop up on the screen, and their responses, given directly to the computer, are recorded and sent off to hiring managers to review.

The benefits, from a hiring standpoint, are obvious: you can look through responses on your own time, in your own office, and cut out bad candidates right away, without having to sit through the rest of the interview. Using a video interview program, Hilton was able to drop its hiring cycle from 20 days to 4.5; Cigna cut recruiter's travel expenses by about 90 percent.

The process for candidates, Greenfield says, is "awkward at best."

Will They Be Programmed to Obey the Law?

Right now, screening these first-round "interviews" is still done by humans. But we could soon see video performance being evaluated by bots. Software programs like "applicant tracking systems" and "resume robots" are already widely used to screen applications for key words and relevant experience.

Such technology could someday be applied to automated video interviews, scanning transcripts of answers or analyzing video to see how candidates perform on demand. (Did she blink too much? Did he scratch his chin too often or wait too long to respond?) There's nothing particularly terrible about that. But, if sophisticated candidate-screening technology isn't properly programed, it may end up violating employment laws.

Take, for example, a hypothetical program that scans company records for employee characteristics associated with positive outcomes, such as raises, positive performance reviews, length of employment, and the like. It then filters candidates for similar characteristics, whether based on videos or written materials. But if the computer identifies something like race, gender, or age as such connected to better employment outcomes, the implications are obvious. If proxies are inadvertently selected, such as years of experience in place of age or raises in place of gender, companies could see themselves on the wrong end of disparate-impact suits. It's not guaranteed, but it's a possibility.

In the future, in-house counsel and employment lawyers might want to take a hard look at their robo-interviewing software.

Have an open position at your law firm? Have your robots post the job for free on Indeed, or search local candidate resumes.

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