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How to nail an interview with a chatbot

Your next first interview may be with a chatbot. Here’s what you need to know to get to help you get to the second interview.

How to nail an interview with a chatbot
[Illustrations: katrink03/iStock; dinosoftlabs/iStock]

The chatbots are coming. And you may need to impress them to have a shot at your next job.

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As key functions of human resources (HR) are ripe for automation, 15% of HR leaders in the latest Harvey Nash 2017 HR Survey say that artificial intelligence and automation are currently affecting their workforce plans, while 40% expect such innovation to have an impact within five years.

“Chatbots are definitely a big deal right now in the recruiting space,” says Brian Westfall, senior content analyst with Capterra, a software information and review service. They’re being used to automate interview scheduling, answer basic questions about the position, and even pointing candidates to other jobs in the organization for which they may be a fit. But the role for which they’re increasingly being used–and which potentially has the biggest impact on candidates–is for early screening, he says.


Related: This year your first job interview might be with a robot


The reason is simple: Recruiters must sort through many resumes for any given job opening. The numbers vary depending on the company and the job, but this TalentWorks blog post says that the company has never received fewer than 90 applications for any job posted online. And the post offers an interesting breakdown of how candidates for a recent marketing job were chosen.

Proponents say chatbots allow companies to better manage this onslaught and immediately eliminate obviously unqualified candidates. Doing so allows recruiters to focus on candidates that are more likely to be a good fit.

Chatbots in action

At Irvine, California-based customer interaction platform Alorica, chatbots have been in use in their Philippines operations for nearly two years and are also embedded in job ads placed in the U.S. on platforms like CareerBuilder, Facebook, and others. Many of Alorica’s candidates are comfortable communicating via text or other methods on their smartphones, so Bong Borja, president of Alorica’s Asia region, says that they typically interact well answering the basic chatbot questions for initial screenings. They also have options for uploading voice or video responses, if they wish, he says. Although there is no explicit statement that the screening is done via chatbot, he says candidates can usually figure out that they’re not interacting with a human because of the straightforward and uniform way the questions are asked.

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Alorica’s bots screen roughly 100,000 candidates in its Asia operations, and Borja says they offer a measure of convenience that candidates appreciate. “Chatbots came into play because we wanted our our applicants be able to touch base with us at their preferred times, regardless of where they are, and still be able to go through that initial application process,” he says.

The chatbot function asks candidates about the basic skills and experience necessary for the job and can also answer basic questions about the job, salary, and other aspects. Borja estimates that roughly 35% of Alorica’s interactions with prospective candidates are coming through chatbots now. They eliminate candidates that are clearly unqualified and allow recruiters to focus on those who have been through an initial vetting stage.

As chatbots become more prevalent in early job screenings, learning how to interact with them is also important, says Yasmin Sahami, career adviser at online employment marketplace ZipRecruiter, based in Santa Monica. Here are some tips to best engage with these early screeners.


Related: This Chatbot Will Take Your Harassment Claims To HR Anonymously


Stay professional

“When candidates know there’s a bot on the other side of their conversation, they may be tempted to drop the formality they would normally use with a recruiter. They may even be short with the bot if it’s slow or easily confused. Consider how people talk to automated phone systems, for example. It’s hard to imagine them being as curt with a human being,” Sahami says. That’s a no-no.
Job seekers need to realize that their conversations with a recruitment bot are a written record that goes into their candidate file. The company’s human recruiters will be able to see how candidates conduct themselves, so keeping a professional tone is important, she says.

Think friend, not foe

The majority of job candidates never get a response. Bots help manage that, says Ankit Somani, co-founder of AllyO, an AI-based recruiter headquartered in Sunnyvale, California. “Treat it as a friend, not a nemesis. [Candidates should] ask questions upfront and make sure they understand whether this particular job is a good fit or find out of there are other jobs in the organization that would be a better fit,” he says.

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Keep it simple and to the point

Chatbot technology hasn’t been perfected and many of the bots used for early screening may be limited in their ability to process complex answers, Westfall says. Keep your responses to questions clear and concise. And be sure to mention relevant skills that are listed in the job ad.

“Chatbots are kind of in their infancy. So, if you’re interacting with a chatbot and you expect it to be like how Google is today, where you can just kind of type in the area that you’re kind of looking for and Google says, ‘Okay, I know what you’re talking about,’ and turns up the results–I don’t think a lot of chatbots are at that point yet,” he says.

Researching keywords and using any intel you can access about how the company speaks internally can be important, too, Sahami says. “Always opt for the layman word choice, and for industry-specific terminology. Research to confirm that you are, in fact, incorporating the most frequently used keywords. Never assume that the language your company uses is the way the industry talks about itself at large,” she says.


Related: Your Next Therapist Might Be A Chatbot


Proofread responses

Errors, off-topic responses, or inappropriate skill sets can all eliminate your resume at Allorica, Borja says. In written responses, watch your spelling and make sure your responses align with both your resume and the requirements stated in the job description, Westfall adds. In video or audio responses, conduct yourself as professionally as you would if you were interviewing with a person.

Follow up

Because recruiting chatbots are still imperfect, many companies offer an option to connect with a person if you’re having trouble, Westfall says. Don’t be afraid to do so or to follow up if you believe there was an issue that caused you to be incorrectly eliminated, he says.

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As chatbots become more sophisticated, they’ll be better able to manage nuance. But, for now, they’re a basic tool–not a perfect one, he adds.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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