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Recruiting in Cyberspace

by Aug 8, 2014, 12:35 am ET

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 2.38.42 PMSusan’s interview was coming to an end. Overall, she felt pretty good about it. She realized she could have done a better job of making eye contact a couple of times early on, but she had been nervous and it had taken her a while to loosen up. However, she was confident that she had nailed the high fidelity simulation component and the questions were all pretty much what she had expected.

Susan made a point of thanking the three-person interview panel (Janet, the company’s VP of engineering, and her two deputies, Bill and Huang) and making sure no one had any final questions for her.

Then she disappeared.

Janet spent some time with her two deputies in the conference space discussing Susan’s plusses and minuses. They decided some HR input would be valuable, so they requested that Chris, their internal recruiter, join them. He appeared. They all talked about it some more and decided to move forward with a reference check. After thanking everyone present, Janet took off her virtual reality headset and found herself back in her office and running late for her next meeting. Bill worked in the same building as her, but two floors up. Chris was based in another location on the other side of the country and Huang had joined them from China.

Does the above sound like something out of science fiction? Well, like so many technologies that started out as fiction (space travel, smartphones, voice recognition, Labradoodle dogs, etc.), virtual reality is on the cusp of finally becoming a widespread reality, and at a price point much closer to that phone in your pocket than to Apollo 11. And, like every truly disruptive communications platform that has preceded it (social media and text messaging being some of the more recent ones), it will be adopted by the corporate world.

I know there are skeptics out there. “Doug, virtual reality has been about to be the next big thing since 1993. What makes you think this time around is any different?” Well, I’ve had a chance to demo several different virtual reality headsets, at least one of which will probably be released in 2015, and they are impressive. Very impressive and very affordable. And in speaking with several people involved in engineering these headsets, the final products will be even more impressive. The hardware is improving at a blistering pace. And an entire ecosystem of software developers interested in writing programs for these virtual reality platforms has sprung up overnight. Gaming and other entertainment applications are set to lead the way and drive the adoption curve. But a whole host of business applications are close behind.

The most famous of these new systems is Oculus Rift. You may have heard that Mark Zuckerberg recently had Facebook buy the startup company for a cool $2 billion. Why so much for a small startup? Because Zuckerberg thinks VR will quickly become a dominant communication platform. “We’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences,” he said after announcing the deal. “Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting with a doctor face-to-face, just by putting on goggles in your home. This is really a new communication platform.”

Zuckerberg didn’t mention talent acquisition or recruiting, but I’ve recently consulted for a couple companies that have that market squarely in their sites. They’re not just going to make it easier to meet with colleagues and interview candidates from all over the world; they also want to introduce work simulations and clever “gamified” assessments into the experience. As well as host career fairs in virtual amusement parks and all kinds of other exciting, new ideas.

Only for young techies? Probably hard to use? Won’t be adopted by mainstream conservative corporate culture? Here’s a link to a video that went viral of a 90-year old grandmother trying an early version of Oculus Rift (it has already been much improved):

Facebook isn’t the only company pushing the virtual reality experience. Sony demoed a version of its “Project Morpheus” virtual reality headset at E3 this year. Samsung has much more modest virtual reality technology it is working on as a peripheral for smartphones and tablets (currently called Gear VR).  And there are other large companies that are working on commercial hardware products. Plus there is just a dizzying amount of virtual reality research going on at universities all over the world. Why is this technology finally ready for prime time? Well, several technical problems have recently been solved (the most important being the latency issues that were known to make people nauseous) and the price points for the underlying components have become affordable.

It seems like everyone is developing applications for Oculus Rift or one of its competitors, from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to a 15-year old kid I met who, along with some of his friends, is starting a company to build a virtual speed dating site for high school students around the world using the Oculus Rift development kit (the latest version of which you can currently buy for $350). Now, the scenario I started this article with is still a little ways off. For one thing the first commercial products will not have inward-facing cameras, so real-life facial expressions will not be captured, but engineers are already working on doing that. And there’s a whole lot of amazing stuff that will be done with even the first generation of commercial products.

I, for one, look forward to my first virtual interview experience.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Nancy Johnson

    Doug, it was really great to come across this article by you. You may not remember me because I was only an intern at the time but I had the privilege of working with you several years ago. You made quite the impression on me with how you could do so many things so well and you’re still the only person I’ve met who taught classes in recruiting, derivative trading, and software engineering. About this article. I have been hearing a lot about oculus rift from my friends who are gamers and I know it is a very hot topic right now. But this is the first I’ve read about it being used by HR. But it makes perfect sense to me and I see how useful it could be. How long after it is released do you think it will take to be adopted by recruiters? Do you see it having a role in other areas of business? How do you recommend companies prepare for VR?

  • http://www.EngineeringReferral.com Douglas Friedman

    Of course I remember you. You were very talented and, if I remember correctly, I learned a bunch of really cool statistical tricks and shortcuts from you. Regarding your questions, I definitely think Oculus Rift and/or other VR platforms are going to have a huge impact on the business world across many different disciplines. By no means will it be limited to HR. But I do think talent acquisition departments will have the opportunity to play a leadership role and carve out a name for themselves as innovators within their organizations. Predicting the timing of the VR adoption curve is probably a fool’s errand at this point. Among other things, Oculus/Facebook has yet to announce an official release date. And most of the initial commercial applications will be entertainment oriented. But, based on what I’ve seen over the past few weeks, I have no doubt that VR will play an important role in the business world at some point in the not very distant future. The main thing forward thinking leaders should be doing now is keeping an eye on this technology and thinking hard about how it could end up changing the rules in their particular business domain. And it couldn’t hurt to start networking with some of the thought leaders in this space. I’m going to try to pull together some of the better articles out there relevant to VR in business and recruiting and I’ll post links to them here when I do. We’ve also been asked to put together a “VR impact report” that I think our client plans to make public and I’ll post it somewhere on ERE when it’s finished.

    Doug Friedman
    EngineeringReferral.com
    My LinkedIn Profile

  • http://HRTechAdvisor.com Ward Christman

    Douglas – it’s a fascinating time we live in and I too am interested in how the future will affect talent acquisition with some of the newer technologies gaining adoption. I believe virtual reality systems will help give candidates the opportunity to “visit” their offices and start to get a sense of their culture and of course the work environment.

    If Glassdoor isn’t already working on this they should be! Perhaps someone like Maury at Match-Click.com might push the envelope for the industry?

  • http://www.EngineeringReferral.com Douglas Friedman

    Hi Ward. A fascinating time indeed for talent acquisition. The pace of change is accelerating and the challenge for many organizations is deciding which technologies and systems are worth adopting. I do think that talent acquisition departments that aren’t actively evaluating new technologies run the risk of being left behind. It’s all about identifying and recruiting the best candidates at the most favorable price points in the shortest time frame. In terms of next generation VR platforms like Oculus Rift, my feeling is that the best recruiting applications will come out of companies that have strong track records designing and developing 3D-graphic driven user experiences. They’ll need to partner with forward thinking talent acquisition experts but that’s where the right technical acumen currently resides. I already see this happening.

    Doug Friedman
    EngineeringReferral.com
    My LinkedIn Profile

  • http://www.EngineeringReferral.com Douglas Friedman

    Here’s the link to a good article about several innovative uses of Oculus Rift already being developed: http://www.techradar.com/us/news/gaming/5-incredible-ways-oculus-rift-will-go-beyond-gaming-1220211/1#articleContent

    And here’s the link to an article about some interesting university recruiting applications for Oculus Rift: http://www.sfgate.com/technology/article/Oculus-Rift-lets-students-take-virtual-tours-of-5-5650168.php

    Thanks to everyone who has contacted me directly with comments and ideas. VR is an exciting and new area with lots of room for us all to learn from each other.

    Doug Friedman
    EngineeringReferral.com
    My LinkedIn Profile