How to Ace Your Chatbot Interview

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Your next interview will begin with the ping of an incoming text message.

Just last week, when Quartz At Work published a few tips for phone interviews, we (somewhat derisively) declared that recruiters hadn’t caught up to a cultural preference for texting. Now we’d like to amend that statement to say “most” recruiters.

Some large firms— including tech, healthcare, and hospitality companies—have begun outsourcing the screening stage of job interviews to chatbots, making it possible that your next job interview will begin with the ping of an incoming text message.

We shouldn’t be surprised by this development. Chatbots, enabled by artificial intelligence and able to imitate human conversation, are becoming commonplace tools. They’re old news in customer service (where their effectiveness is debatable) but they’re gaining popularity as personal coaches, therapists, and news sources. They began rolling into the HR space about two years ago, says David Bernstein, head of partnerships for AllyO, a company that makes digital assistants capable of conducting interviews, handling background checks, and even extending initial offers by text. Thus far the firm’s chatbots have interacted with millions of people, he adds, to “discuss” job openings from entry-level to senior roles.

We’ve heard a few horror stories about automated personnel systems, like the one that unilaterally fired an employee because of a glitch that humans couldn’t immediately fix. It’s also worrisome to know that some AI-based algorithms have been found to be racially biased, since they’re programmed with data that’s the product of both current and past discrimination. In time, companies may be pressed to be transparent about their bots’ mechanisms.

But Bernstein assures that bots are not a replacement for people who understand the complexities of real conversations and hiring processes. Instead, he emphasizes, they’re appropriate for the types of routine, transactional conversations that are part of every job interview, thus they’re most often used in the screening stage. (The bot can ask a candidate questions like, “Can you lift 50 pounds?” or “Do you have a green card?”) Some bots can even explain which qualifications a candidate didn’t meet so they won’t wonder why they were rejected.

At the time of publishing, chatbots did not yet have “gut feelings” and could not be impressed, per se. Still, there are a few steps you can take to enrich your chatbot-interview experience and improve your odds of moving on to a flesh and blood recruiter.

Pretend your not actually texting

Abbreviation-heavy textspeak is gr8 with GFs, BFs, or BFFs, but in the case of an interview, avoid emojis, embrace punctuation, and don’t leave sentences unfinished, Bernstein says. The medium may seduce you into feeling relaxed and casual, but stay on guard against stray LOLs or TYs.

Ask questions  

It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s wise to ask a recruiter bot questions. The software is coded to understand a range of possible queries and natural language, including, “What’s the culture like at the company?”

Not only will you most likely receive a coherent answer, but your questions will be recorded and eventually seen by a person who will then get in touch, already informed about your desires and interests. “You’ll have a much more successful secondary conversation,” says Bernstein.

The worst that can happen is that your bot won’t understand your question, in which case it will probably offer to make a note of it and forward it to the right person.

Don’t test or harass the chatbot

Be yourself with the bot, but also be polite. Although a digital assistant isn’t judging your manners, again, your interaction will be forwarded to a human, so keep your exchange courteous.

“There are folks who, when they realize it’s not a human, may want to play around with it to see how it responds,” says Bernstein. (The assistants on our phones and smart speakers are known to be put through the same, often sexist, hazing.) Throwing curveballs at the bot, as a minority of people do, says Bernstein, might instead take your application out of play.

Prep for an audio or video snippet

Although this technology is fairly new to HR, it has quickly adopted all the mod cons, including the ability to record a short video or a snippet of audio. As you would were you meeting someone in person, spend some time thinking about your appearance and message before giving the bot access to your camera or microphone.

Don’t delay if you can help it

On the one hand, the beauty of using an HR chatbot is that the conversation can be asynchronous. If candidates are at work when they get pinged, they can continue the chat later on, says Bernstein. The living beings behind the bot will understand that.

Responding in timely fashion is still recommended, however, so that you’ll move forward through the process on the recruiter’s schedule. Besides, analytics software will be tracking your timing. There’s a chance that a long lag would factor into the overall impression you create.

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