Want a job? Employers say: Talk to the computer
A day after her interview for a part-time job at Target last year, Dana Anthony got an email informing her she didn’t make the cut.
Anthony didn’t know why — a situation common to most job seekers at one point or another. But she also had no sense at all of how the interview had gone, because her interviewer was a computer.
More job-seekers, including some professionals, may soon have to accept impersonal online interviews where they never talk to another human being, or know if behind-the-scenes artificial-intelligence systems are influencing hiring decisions. Demand for online hiring services, which interview job applicants remotely via laptop or phone, mushroomed during the COVID-19 pandemic and remains high amid a perceived worker shortage as the economy opens back up.
These systems claim to save employers money, sidestep hidden biases that can influence human recruiters and expand the range of potential candidates. Many now also use AI to assess candidate skills by analyzing what they say.
Anthony likes to look an interviewer in the eyes, but all she could see was her own face reflected in the screen. “I interview better in person because I’m able to develop a connection with the person,” she said.
But experts question whether machines can accurately and fairly judge a person’s character traits and emotional signals. Algorithms tasked to learn who’s the best fit for a job can entrench bias if they’re taking cues from industries where racial and gender disparities are already prevalent.
And when a computer screens out some candidates and elevates others without explanation, it’s harder to know if it’s making fair assessments. Anthony, for instance, couldn’t help wondering if her identity as a Black woman affected the decision.
"If you apply for a job and are rejected because of a biased algorithm, you certainly won’t know," said Oxford University researcher Aislinn Kelly-Lyth. In a face-to-face interview, by contrast, a job seeker might pick up discriminatory cues from the interviewer, she said.
New rules proposed by the European Union would subject such AI hiring systems to tighter regulation. Advocates have pushed for similar measures in the U.S.