Pandemic restrictions can make it difficult to hire employees who have never had the opportunity to visit the physical location where they will work. Particularly in a competitive hiring environment, employers want to do everything they can to provide potential employees with a good feel for what it would be like to work for the company.
Fortunately, as with many challenges facing employers during the pandemic, technology can help. Virtual reality (VR) technology allows candidates to experience what it would be like to work in certain jobs or at specific organizations. Once the employees are hired, the employer can use VR to provide training in near-real-life situations.
Technology and the Recruiting Experience
Social distancing during the pandemic required most organizations to quickly pivot to online interactions with job applicants and employees. Video conferencing platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom became important tools to provide a semblance of normalcy for these interactions.
"Via video conferencing, employers can still gauge a candidate's body language, tone, facial expressions and ultimately replicate the human aspects of the candidate evaluation process," said Carlos Ledo, assistant general counsel and HR consultant with Engage PEO. Some companies are taking technology a step further, he said.
"Recruiters can now use virtual reality goggles as a means of testing a candidate's skill set in a virtual environment," Ledo said. "This evaluation in the metaverse allows employers to get a better assessment of a candidate's ability to perform critical job functions." The metaverse, according to The New York Times "is the convergence of …virtual reality and a digital second life."
Jeff Mains, the CEO of Champion Leadership Group, said he can see many potential HR uses for VR as the technology is further developed.
"The application of augmented and virtual reality in human resources procedures is still in its early stages, but it has significant promise in areas like recruitment, onboarding, training and virtual workplaces," Mains said.
The Potential of VR for the Candidate Experience
Marilyn Gaskell is the founder and business leader of TruePeopleSearch, a data provider based in Phoenix. She pointed to BMW and Johnson & Johnson as two companies that have used virtual reality to "create realistic online simulations in which candidates can explore their work and interact with staff. This is especially helpful for organizations hiring remotely that want to let their potential employees feel like a part of the team before even meeting them in person," she said.
The use of virtual reality in the hiring process is not exactly new, but the pandemic may serve to expedite its use, Mains said.
"Virtual reality has long been considered one of those fascinating technologies that are just around the horizon," Mains said. "Things may be different this time around, given the pervasive availability of low-cost VR technology, enhanced content production methods and the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus."
He suggested that a company "could simulate behavior and grade abilities using a virtual reality instrument. It will most likely be many years before these sorts of simulations are sophisticated enough to be used in significant assessments, but now would be a good moment to start working on them."
Some companies are testing those situations, but VR is currently being used primarily to provide realistic job previews or, as Gaskell noted, virtual tours in instances where social distancing is still prevalent. Others are using VR for onboarding and training activities.
Virtual Reality in Practice
Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families launched the Artificial Intelligence Designed for Employment (AIDE) VR program during the pandemic, which puts veterans, military spouses and service members transitioning to the civilian workforce through mock interview scenarios.
The university partnered with Accenture to develop and build a VR application. The tool takes advantage of IBM's Watson AI technology to identify key areas for improvement, providing users with feedback on their performance.
Using Oculus Rift, users participate in VR mock interviews and interact with virtual interviewers for a real-world experience. The tool also provides greetings recorded by real military-connected individuals who share their insights and experiences via video. The experience was rolled out to 18 military institutions in fall 2021
Signs indicate that virtual interactions will continue to be prevalent even after pandemic-related fears subside—and for good reason. The ability to provide employees with a realistic sense of what working at a company might be like even before an interview takes place can help weed out candidates that might not be a good fit.
In addition, VR can help HR professionals and recruiters assess candidates' skills for certain types of positions. Rather than making decisions based on what candidates say they can do, VR can help companies see and evaluate what tasks they really can accomplish. It's an area that will likely see continued expansion and experimentation in 2022.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.