Are you good with people? It’s a question that a new computer program can start to automatically answer–and that employers are starting to use to screen out candidates for especially social jobs like customer service or sales.
The program analyzes a sample of your voice, looking for cues like how loudly you’re talking, how the tone of your voice varies, and how many times you pause or how quickly you speak. Then it tells you how your voice is likely to make other people react.
“There are some voices that make people feel at ease, engaged, and want to talk more,” says Luis Salazar, CEO of Jobaline, the recruiting company that created the tool. “Imagine a care line for cancer patients at a hospital, or a 911 dispatch center–it’s important to have a calming voice.”
It’s obviously not the only tool employers would use to screen candidates. “This is only one of tens or even hundreds of signals that are taken into account for deciding whether or not somebody’s a good fit for a job,” Salazar says. “This is not a magic bullet.”
It’s also not a judge of personality. But it’s a way to quickly know whether someone can turn on the charm when needed. “Maybe you’re having a tough day at home, or your commute was bad, but when you’re at work and welcome a customer, you still have to be able to convey energy,” Salazar says. “Which is what you do when you’re at an interview. So we know that a person can control that.”
The program, unlike some hiring managers, doesn’t discriminate. “Happily, age, gender, accent, ethnicity, doesn’t seem to impact it,” says Salazar. “We give everybody a fair chance.” The program also only gives positive reviews. If your voice has a positive effect, it tells employers. But it won’t label your voice annoying, because the science on negative effects is less conclusive.
While Jobaline’s focus is helping hourly workers get jobs, the same technology could also be used in other ways–for example, to train actors or even politicians to be more likable.
When Salazar launched the service last fall, a few days before mid-term elections, someone in the audience asked if the program could be used to predict the winners of certain races. “I said, if a person doesn’t trust the politician or doesn’t like the message, the voice is not going to change that,” Salazar says. “But let’s do it for the fun of it—you pick the races.” In each of three races that polls said were a virtual tie, one candidate stood out with an engaging voice. Jobaline predicted they would win, and they did.
For people with medical conditions who rely on robots to speak, like Stephen Hawking, the technology could also eventually be used to make more human-sounding artificial voices. “We want to partner with a big neuroscience department and give them all of our data for free,” says Salazar. “So this isn’t only about jobs. We’re very excited to do this for the greater good. We don’t know where this journey is going to take us. We’re just starting.”