Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality: The Next Frontier

It’s early, but virtual reality is showing some promise as a recruiting tool. Employers ranging from the British Army to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia are using it to give candidates a preview of their facilities and the experience of working there.

Further along in using virtual reality are colleges engaged in recruiting athletes. Football programs such as Michigan and Arkansas are using it to allow athletes to experience in-game situations. Prospective recruits can feel as if they’re actually part of the program on game days, including running the sidelines during the game and celebrating with the team postgame.

While creative, recruiting athletes is not what most recruiters do. For most employers, virtual-reality technology, while rich in potential, is something of a gimmick. Offering a tour of the facilities and offices through virtual reality sounds cool, but most offices are pretty boring places and can be downright dull and drab. Only a minority of office buildings are located in beautiful surroundings, and as anyone who has worked for more than a year knows, it’s unlikely you’ll get to spend much time enjoying the views, even if you can see them in the first place. Presenting a virtual-reality experience of cube city may have the opposite effect of the one intended.

The Potential for VR

The potential is still largely untapped, but some creative uses are emerging. Assessments involving simulations are one avenue to advance virtual reality in recruiting. Perhaps most advanced in using it are manufacturing companies like Lincoln Electric that are using the technology to attract and screen millennials. The company offers candidates the opportunity to experience realistic welding situations like working in a race car pit or on a high-rise building, where they complete a variety of welds. Virtual reality allows Lincoln Electric to assess the candidates the candidates at the same time as they experience what it means to work as a welder.

GE uses virtual reality to allow candidates to experience riding aboard a locomotive and explore subsea oil-and-gas recovery machines.

As the technology becomes more affordable and ubiquitous, virtual reality could deliver a much better interview experience. While video interviews are commonplace today, the experience leaves much to be desired. The quality can be heavily compromised because of the camera angle and lighting. Virtual reality can allow a recruiter to have the experience of being in the same room as the candidate – build rapport, and ready body language. But this may take a while, since it requires equipment that can capture virtual reality to become readily available.

Augmented Reality

Virtual reality is a cool technology but it comes with some inherent limitations. Creating a virtual experience is complicated and expensive, but the biggest limitation is that to experience virtual reality requires putting something over your eyes to block out the world around you and immerse yourself in a simulation. That may be fine if the goal is to offer a candidate the experience of a particular environment, but it has to be limited. There’s not much value in providing a candidate with an experience of the corporate HQ if they won’t be working there.

Augmented reality superimposes digital elements onto the real world. You get a taste of this  experience if you play Pokemon Go. Google made a foray into augmented with Google Glass, but the technology has evolved a great deal. A Google-funded startup — Magic Leap — has demonstrated the potential for augmented by projecting work artifacts — like Gmail notifications — on to the real world. It still requires a headset, but it’s much less disruptive than virtual reality. A recruiter using an augmented-reality headset could experience a candidate sitting across from them in their office.

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It’s also more social. Microsoft’s HoloLens allows multiple users to interact with the same digital objects. That could be channeled into simulations to evaluate candidates on how they interact with others and work in teams.

The Shape of Things to Come

The coolness of virtual reality and augmented will wear off quickly as these technologies become more mainstream, and people don’t stop and stare at someone walking around wearing a headset. We barely have any grasp of the their potential but they can deliver a lot of value to recruiting. Pokemon Go allows players to participate in teams using just a smartphone. A recruiter could invite a group of candidates at a career fair to participate in a fun activity or complete a task to see how they work together. It’s a great time to be a recruiter. 

Raghav Singh

Raghav Singh, director of analytics at Korn Ferry Futurestep, has developed and launched multiple software products and held leadership positions at several major recruiting technology vendors. His career has included work as a consultant on enterprise HR systems and as a recruiting and HRIT leader at several Fortune 500 companies. Opinions expressed here are his own.