Fall is upon us, and as a student anxious about the workforce, this means internship application season is upon us too. I spend far too much time scouring Handshake looking for any possible position that would take me. I’m sidelining classwork to write cover letters, schedule interviews and attend career fairs. It’s stressful, but the one thing that brings me comfort during this process is the off chance that I will meet an interviewer I can actually connect with. It feels so degrading for me to reduce all of my work and life experiences to fit into a marketable document, an application that will probably never get reviewed. Being able to bond with an interviewer over our hobbies, even just for a moment, brings me back to reality. I need to be reminded that all of us, as workers, are human beings.
But my latest interview endeavor has left me feeling hollow as ever — it betrayed all of these human values. After sending my application to a company a few weeks ago and forgetting about it, I woke up to a random email from them. The first line seemed standard to my other experiences, along the lines of “(insert company) would like you to participate in a digital interview.” Great, I thought. Another opportunity. But as I scanned the email a bit more, I realized that I would not be talking to an interviewer. I was given a deadline: I had 72 hours to complete a “virtual interview” in which my skills would be measured by a computer. My heart sank. Maybe those dystopian YA novels I read as a kid are coming true.
My interview was conducted through HireVue, a third-party platform. HireVue’s website claims their goal is to “make scaling hiring easy” with “fair and transparent hiring.” As I read over their information page, I couldn’t help but notice how incredibly corporate and vague everything sounded. Their virtual interview’s key features resembled the standard Zoom interview I’ve had to do time and time again. “Interview anywhere”; “use any device”; “tell your story”; “present yourself how you want.” These statements said nothing to me. I figured I would just have to experience the interview in order to truly understand its characteristics.
The deadline date arrived, and I put on a work-appropriate shirt and some light makeup. I opened the HireVue link the company had provided me, and I started my interview. The first thing I was greeted with was a video message of a company representative — clearly reading from a prompter with zero emotion — giving a rundown of the interview process. I was to be recorded answering six questions, and then do three “game-based assessments.” I was completely oblivious to what “game” was supposed to mean in this context, but I figured rolling with it was the best method of conquering.
Each question was read to me, again by emotionless company representatives, and I would have one minute to prepare an answer. From there, I had the opportunity to record three takes. I didn’t have to go with my first answer. This, to me, was infinitely worse than a real interview; I could now micromanage everything from my script to my facial expressions. Immediately after filming my answer for the first question, I realized that I would not be able to watch these answers back and reshoot without crying. This may have set me back in the interview process, but I couldn’t care less. I already felt degraded and mechanical. I could have sat there for over an hour perfecting my answers, but is that truly an interview? It’s devoid of life, of any human authenticity. By question three, I didn’t even feel like I was saying words anymore; it was all corporate jargon mixed with the tiniest allusions to personal experiences. I didn’t have a real person on the other end to react, to even slightly converse with. I felt used, ashamed and like a rat being experimented on by scientists.
After what felt like blacking out, I regained my consciousness, and I had made it to the “games.” To my shock, they were quite literally games. Simple puzzle games, like the kind you can play on a Delta flight. What intrigued me most about these games, however, was the company’s lack of transparency. Nowhere did it state that my video and audio were to be recorded, but my laptop’s camera light was on for the entirety of my gaming experience. I was stiff as a board; at one point, I began reacting to myself upon getting puzzles wrong, but I feared the company was watching, labeling my body language as too aggressive. It was a perfect embodiment of the Panopticon effect: I was paralyzed in fear at the possibility of being observed. Once again, I left my game-based assessments feeling lifeless. My body felt gross and sweaty, my hands cold, clammy and hot all at once.
Is this the future of the workforce? How is this a fairer process than a standard interview? Where is the transparency? These questions circled my mind for days after the incident. Shortly after, I received an email containing my “insights” from HireVue. It read like a generic personality test result: “You successfully build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with others to strengthen your knowledge and effectiveness.” First of all, how was an AI able to tell this just based on a video of me? And secondly, doesn’t this essentially say nothing at all? It sounds hollow and unpersonalized. The whole thing felt like a cry for praise, an attempt for me to think, “Wow, this program is really impressive!” But instead, I left feeling grim about the future.
For any potential higher-ups reading this who may be considering using HireVue, I urge you to reconsider. This process made me feel hopeless about the workforce, hopeless about my hard work paying off. Reducing my finest moments to a prerecorded video and a matching puzzle leaves me feeling filthy. Any potential upsides of a “flexible” interview like this are hindered by this sense of hollowness, this new territory of appealing to a software rather than genuine connection. I hope my voice can amplify this struggle; I don’t want a future where this is the only way I can seek employment. I believe that we, as people, are more than that. You are more than your academic achievements and work experience, and it’s important to remind yourself of that as often as you can.
Daily Arts Contributor Katelyn Sliwinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.