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[Feature] AI job interviews are booming, but doubts linger

Algorithms tasked to flag the best fit for jobs, but can it really judge humans accurately and fairly?

Oct. 4, 2021 - 16:57 By Kang Jae-eun
A Korea Herald reporter prepares to do a self introduction on Midus IT's AI interview program. (Screen capture)
Interviews are a crucial part of the job search process. But what if you were to be evaluated by a machine, rather than human interviewers?

As digital transformation changes the way businesses get done, accelerated by the contactless trend of the pandemic era, artificial intelligence programs that screen or evaluate job candidates are booming in Korea, as well as elsewhere in the world.

A typical AI-operated interview usually requires candidates to sit through a set of online games and video interviews that are monitored and evaluated by an AI system, according to Midus IT, one of the first companies to offer such software in Korea.

Throughout 60 to 90 minutes, job seekers answer questions via webcam and play games, for instance, matching cards or guessing the weight of items. 

During the test-taking process, AI system monitors their biometric signals like their voice pitch, facial expressions, eye movements and measures their problem solving skills. By analyzing such data, the program assesses their skills and personalities to flag the most promising candidates for further review, developers say.

It also saves employers time and money, they say. On top of the stated merits, the pandemic has certainly helped AI-powered hiring service providers.

According to local software developer Midus IT, some 450 companies have used its “InAIR” program last year, up nearly 50 percent from a year earlier. It cuts the time needed to hire a staffer to one-fifth the usual time it takes, the company said, not to mention all the paperwork that human resources has to put into the screening process.

Aside from Midus, there are several companies that have developed AI algorithms for hiring. Local job-matching platform Saramin has its own AI interview program “IM Ground” and startup Genesis lab offers “viewinter,” which is used by big firms like LG Group companies.

Effectiveness aside, one of the key merits of AI-based hiring is the elimination of human errors and bias, according to professor Park Sung-hyuk of the KAIST Business School.

Whether or not you get a job is sometimes determined by luck, he said, because employers are only human and can make mistakes.

“(Due to this,) companies have more than one interviewer go into the interview room together in order to prevent human factors like exhaustion or bias from getting in the way of fair evaluation of the interviewee. But unlike humans, robots are never tired and make decisions based on objective data and facts,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean algorithms being used today always make fair assessments. 

It is quite the contrary. In Europe, where AI-based hiring has also gained traction in recent years, calls have grown to regulate them to ensure accuracy, transparency and accountability. 

Workers head back to their offices after a lunch break in Yeouido, western Seoul. (Yonhap)
In South Korea, too, job seekers interviewed by The Korea Herald expressed doubts.

“My former colleague was considered ‘unfit’ for the job (in an AI interview) when he first applied for my company. He applied again a year later and was hired (after the process). That got me rethinking about AI interviewer’s credibility,” said a 27-year-old woman who wished to be identified by her surname Cho.

Some interviewees also said they felt uncomfortable and awkward because of the lack of human interaction.

“I did the interview only half-heartedly. It was my first AI interview and I felt a little bit let down when I learnt that I would be interviewed by an AI,” said Lee Jung-hyuck, a job seeker in his 20s.

The new technology was not a right fit for everyone. Some South Korean companies, like the Korea Airports Corp., got rid of AI interviews only a year after introducing them as part of the regular hiring process. An official at the Korea Airports said they “were not sure exactly how and what the AI were evaluating.”

Professor Park also pointed out that AI interviewers could give bad scores to creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, since most programs are built on data of existing employees. When an AI system is faced with someone who does not fit into a certain mold, “it can lose confidence,” he said.

There are also people who raise the fundamental question: Is it right to let a machine make value judgements on human beings? Interviews are of great significance to job hunters. They can change a person’s life course forever, they say.

Saying job interviews could only be the start of AI evaluating humans, Jeon Chang-bae, chief director of the Korea Artificial Intelligence Ethics Association, said: “It will eventually damage our value and dignity.”