Recruiting in Cyberspace

Aug 8, 2014

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.