The Rise of the Robo-Interview - is it for Accountants?

Forget phones or Skype – the latest recruitment tool is an automated system you talk to over your webcam.

A robo-interview is not video conferencing in the same sense of Skype, Google Hangouts or WebEx. It takes the idea of using technology a step further; questions appear on a candidate’s screen which they answer through a webcam on their laptop. The system records the answers, and the hiring manager can review them at their convenience without any live interaction with the candidate.

This type of automated, pre-recorded interview is becoming increasingly prevalent; Mortimer Spinks, a technology recruitment firm, is actively trialling it for a number of its global clients, and its director, Robin Beattie says that the results have been promising so far.

“Obviously the big advantage of video interviewing has been time and cost savings for the employer. There is also a big ‘convenience factor’, as hiring managers can review candidates in their own time,” said Beattie.

The main benefit for employers over using programs such as Skype, is that they don’t have to be present while the candidate is being interviewed, potentially saving them time and money.

Is it relevant for accountants?

But Simon Gray, a former recruitment consultant within the financial services industry, believes that while there may be some efficiency savings there is still the need to set up the interview and review candidates at some point; meaning that companies aren’t saving as much time as they may think.

Gray, founder of Career Codex and a regular AccountingWEB columnist, believes there are other problematic areas with this style of interview. For example, speaking directly to a webcam may not suit many candidates in the accountancy and finance sector.

“I coach a lot of accountants who are moving in the job market on a one-to-one basis, and I know the profession – many of them are not experienced in a customer-facing environment and haven’t had experience speaking to the media, so it can be difficult to make that transition [speaking on camera],” said Gray.

“And if the candidate has not had experience of speaking on camera, they might not give a good representation of themselves despite being a really good candidate, meaning that the organisation could lose out,” he added.

Gray also said that despite the ‘robo-interview’ being the preliminary stage interview, it can limit candidates from finding out if the employer is for them and whether it fits in with their career aspirations.

For higher level interviews – such as at CFO level – an interview stage like this could see interviewees refusing to take part, as it shows a lack of engagement from the organisation itself. Gray also noted that entry-level candidates are perhaps better suited to being interviewed using this method, because they’re used to using many different applications – whereas senior-level directors haven’t ever been interviewed in this type of way, and are unlikely to want to approach it this way.

‘Positive reaction’

But while there are obstacles to overcome, Beattie claims that Mortimer Spinks has received a positive reaction from candidates who have used the robo-interview process so far.

“By removing some of the barriers that exist with the formal interview setting, we’ve been able to tap into a wider, more diverse candidate base,” he explained, adding that candidates also prefer the flexibility of having the interview at a time and location that suits them.

“There’s no more running out of the office to take a call or searching for a quiet room away from the boss,” he said.

While there is no doubt that video interviewing is still in its infancy, Beattie suggests that this pre-recorded style of interviewing will becoming the ‘norm’ in the years to come.

However, while it may replace the phone screening that is commonplace for some types of roles, Beattie doesn’t see it ever fully replacing face-to-face interviewing.

“This will still remain the ultimate tool to answer the question: can I work with this person?” he said.