Few experiences are more stressful than looking for a job. Job-seekers are in the process of convincing others it is worthwhile to employ them, a kind of selling their skills, which is naturally a bit degrading. Accepting probable rejection, they are nonetheless offering much of their lives and selves. In this context, every rejection is personal, whether the potential employer intends it or not.
So much of life depends on successfully finding a job. In such a setting fear of failure, being judged, rejection and the unknown are all normal and reasonable.
Perhaps the most stressful part of the job search is the interview. Each job candidate is on the employer’s home court, entirely at the mercy of an interviewer who knows little about the candidate. That interviewer has an image of the sort of person best able to fulfill the requirements of that job. The candidate is trying color a picture with only a hazy knowledge of the picture itself.
Trial by Machine
Into this complex situation comes the automated job interview. According to the Wall Street Journal1, the latest trend in human resources departments is to take out more of the human element. There are now interviews…with nobody.
The applicant’s telephone rings and the prospective employee is met by a mechanized voice asking questions. The answers are being recorded. Every aspect of that conversation can then be analyzed and re-analyzed by the prospective employer. How long did it take to begin answering the question? Is the language used by the applicant appropriate to this workplace? Was the question answered directly, or was there digression? Did the tone of voice indicate vigor or fatigue? That ten-minute conversation can be analyzed by a dozen reviewers, each looking for something different.
Many applicants are put off by the inherent inhumanity of such a process. Even if there is a live person at the other end of the line, telephone interviews limit the applicant’s ability to know if the conversation is going well or badly. The applicant can only gauge the interviews voice; physical reactions are shrouded in mystery.
The automated interview takes away from the applicant this last remaining interaction and indicator of the progress of the interview, which is the interviewer’s tone of voice.
The Benefits of Inhumanity
The prospective employer may find some benefits in this process. The conversation can be listened to at leisure. Parts of it can be replayed. If the first answer disqualifies a candidate, there is no reason to go through the motions of listening to the rest. A permanent record of the conversation can be preserved, and used to evaluate the new employee’s ability to fulfill the promises made at the interview. In this litigious world, a record of the interview may prove to be important evidence.
In a normal interview, the prospective employer has all the advantages. The automated process only enhances that power.
Traveling this Road for a Long Time
People have been talking to machines for a long time. It is part and parcel of the increasing dehumanization of modern life.
When the first electronic message machines came out, many callers were unwilling to have a conversation with a machine. The machines introduced a new uncertainty to life that took out the human element. Calls could now be “screened.” Callers had no way to know if their messages were heard, ignored, or lost through mechanical malfunction.
Most people now accept and use message machines. They really have no choice since everyone has jumped on the bandwagon as a means to save time and money.
Local businesses have also automated responses by presenting exasperating menus of options. The local pharmacy might answer an inquiry with a cheery synthetic voice that says “Welcome to your friendly, neighborhood pharmacy. Press number one for English, oprime numero dos para Español…” The caller presses one, a click is heard. “Press 1 for the pharmacy, press 2 for cosmetics,…” The process would continue until the prescription number is dialed in. Most callers have little choice but to submit to the impersonal, mechanical tyranny.
Interestingly, some companies realized that they could gain customer loyalty if they had an actual person answer the telephone, and advertised the fact. A practice that would have been normal only a few years ago has come to be seen as attractive.
The mechanical job interview will likely become common if employers find them useful, job seekers will simply have to accept them as part of the price of admission.
Meanwhile, life will have become a little less human. Maybe one day job seekers will be able to buy a device to answer the questions. Then the machines can just hire other machines.
1. “A Job Interview, With Nobody” Thursday, November 29, 2018, page B6.