Are We Ready for Automated Voice Interviewing?

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Apr 23, 2020

Is it possible to have a robot do a phone interview? I already wrote about the research on physical robots doing in-person interviews, but could a robot also do a phone screening?

A few years ago, I tested Robot Vera, and I wasn’t that impressed. The eponymous Russian startup’s solution had acceptable speech-to-text technology, with accuracy of about 80% to 90%, so it was possible to get candidates’ answers in your ATS. However, it had 0% adaptability — it was basically the same as asking questions in your application form, just over the phone.

This might work in a country like Russia, where applications are often processed by phone and not the internet (especially for high-volume jobs like truck drivers), but the solution had little use in the United States or Europe. So it’s probably no surprise that the company no longer exists.

Meanwhile, more recently, I experienced a demo by an Australian company called Curious Thing, which specializes in “AI phone interviews that go beyond the resume.” That is, it does fully automated phone screens, focusing  mainly on high-volume jobs such as in retail or in contact centers. 

This time, I was impressed.


The demo was done for a sample IT developer job (for example, if you’re looking to hire IT talent from India and anticipate getting something like 1,000 applications). The interview started by asking a candidate about his preferred programming language. The candidate then gave a very long answer about why he liked Python best. The AI software then asked a follow-up question specifically about Python.

In other words, Curious Thing’s AI was able to understand the candidate and adapt by asking relevant questions.

Data & Assessment

Curious Thing also collects and analyzes data on multiple levels. 

First, the software analyzes the actual answers. For instance, in the demo’s example, we know that the candidate likes Python programming language. The interview is also able to reveal the candidate’s likes and dislikes when it comes to a specific web framework, as well as the framework’s major up- or downsides. What’s more, as the candidate talks about all this, we are able to assess his knowledge of the framework. 

Basically, just like a traditional basic tech interview.

Likewise, you can use the software for other skills, as long as you can pre-define preferred answers, much like a recruiter would do during a structured interview.  

Second, the software also collects data on the quality of the candidate’s English, which can be especially important when hiring from abroad. This feature is used most among contact centers in the Philippines that serve mainly American clients. For high-volume hiring, an automated phone screen is sometimes a bare necessity in countries like the Philippines. I recently heard about a contact center there looking to hire 100 employees — it got 400,000 applicants.

Third, the technology analyzes the actual use of words using IBM Watson’s Personality Insights, which is built on the academic research that shows that the words a person uses can be used to assess personality traits. Using AI and social media data, IBM accelerated this research in recent years and now offers this technology through an API. The accuracy is about 80% to 85%, and although this might not seem very high, even the best-trained psychologists never reach 100% accuracy when assessing personalities. Nevermind that recruiters are not trained psychologists. 

I have extensively tested IBM’s Personality Insights myself, with many different suppliers that use their technology, and I’ve found that using a conversational interface — like a video or a phone interview or a chatbot, generates higher quality results than relying on social media analyses or written essays. (Quality heavily depends on having enough words to analyze, for which you can account by asking more questions to increase word count.)

Is This the Future?

Is this the next generation of phone interviewing? Well, software can’t answer all questions from candidates, so we’ll still need recruiters to do that and sell the job. But for high-volume roles and international hiring, this might be a very interesting initial screening tool, especially if speaking English is important.

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