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Employers use algorithms to rate job interviewees. A new Illinois law gives candidates rights

Employers in industries are turning to video interviews to cut through the piles of applications they receive. In some cases, AI software is used to analyze the candidate’s facial expression, tone and language, although many of the algorithms behind the technology remain mysterious.

Jobseeker Anita Erickson sits with Mike Munger, of Career Transitions Center, as she prepares for possible video interviews.
Jobseeker Anita Erickson sits with Mike Munger, of Career Transitions Center, as she prepares for possible video interviews.Read moreAbel Uribe / Chicago Tribune

Illinois residents who made finding a new job one of their 2020 resolutions will have a better understanding of how employers use artificial intelligence to assess video interviews, under a new state law that is the first of its kind.

The Illinois Artificial Intelligence Video Interview Act, which took effect Jan. 1, requires companies to notify applicants when AI will be used to screen them. Video interviews typically involve candidates recording responses at a computer and algorithms are used to analyze the answers.

Under the new law, companies must explain how the technology works and how the tools evaluate a candidate. Employers must obtain consent from applicants before using AI to assess their videos. The legislation also prohibits businesses from sharing submitted videos except with “persons whose expertise or technology” are required to screen applicants. Job applicants can ask to have submitted videos destroyed, and companies, including any individual with copies, must comply within 30 days.

Some career counseling groups say it’s unclear whether the law will protect job applicants because its provisions are vague.

“Candidates can decline to have the video interview, but the law doesn’t require that employers provide an alternative. A lot of the responsibility is being put on the candidate,” said Anita Jenke, executive director of Career Transitions Center of Chicago, a nonprofit career coaching organization.

Jenke said job applicants might feel obligated to do the video interview so they don’t lose out on an employment opportunity.

Employers in a variety of industries increasingly are turning to video interviews as a way to cut through the piles of applications they receive. In some cases, AI software is used to analyze the candidate’s facial expression, tone, and language, although many of the algorithms behind the technology remain concealed by the companies that design them. Critics of the practice say it results in biased evaluations of applicants.

State Rep. Jaime Andrade Jr., a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the legislation is meant to bring transparency to how applicant videos are evaluated.

“The technology hasn’t been vetted fully yet. There are some concerns regarding bias. [The software] is only as good as the data it is given,” Andrade said.

Andrade said he is working on another bill that will explain provisions of the law and protect job applicants who don’t consent to the interviews from automatic disqualification.

“This is the first law of its kind in the nation. It’s a work in progress,” Andrade said.

Video interviews are just one of the tools that employers are turning to as they incorporate technology into the hiring process. Resumé filters scan for keywords and phrases on resumés, chatbots schedule interviews, and algorithms help predict a job candidate’s success.

With video interviews in particular, job seekers need to be more conscious about how they present themselves because it’s uncertain what the algorithms are looking for, said Jenke, who has worked at Career Transitions Center for 10 years.

“I think what they need to do is think about how do you compellingly and concisely tell your story? What makes you stand out? Applicants have to use keywords and learn to be concise because we don’t know what they [employers] are measuring,” Jenke said.

The new technologies make it harder for applicants to make a personal connection with hiring managers, said Jeffrey Blumenfeld, director of career services for JVS Career and Employment, a career counseling program of Jewish Child & Family Services in Chicago.

“Quite frankly the two reasons people secure employment is that they have the qualifications needed to perform the job they are applying for and they fit within the company culture,” Blumenfeld said.

The JVS program helps job seekers by conducting practice video interviews. “We work with our clients to prevent them from sounding mechanical and help them become more conversational in their recorded interviews,” Blumenfeld said.

One company that offers an AI-enhanced video interview platform supports the Illinois law.

“We are in favor of it. There should be transparency with the candidate,” said Kevin Parker, CEO and chairman of HireVue.

The South Jordan, Utah-based company employs a team of data scientists and industrial and organizational psychologists who build the algorithms that screen candidates. The team also designs interview questions alongside employers. HireVue creates a different AI-driven assessment for each position. Parker said HireVue’s technology evaluates job applicants’ answers, tone of voice, and the choice of words individuals use.

For example, if a company is hiring a sales representative, the algorithm is trained to look for certain things a candidate says about being empathetic or compassionate. Parker said the technology takes into account each response when evaluating job applicants, and there is no way to cheat the system by repeating keywords.

“Are they talking in first or third person, using the past or present tense. … We are looking for those sorts of things,” Parker said.

HireVue counts Unilever and Hilton Hotels & Resorts as clients. Parker said the technology can give more options to employers, and reduce human biases that can occur in traditional in-person interviews, such as recruiters liking candidates based on similar alma maters.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit privacy rights group, filed a complaint Nov. 6 with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to investigate HireVue’s technology. The organization alleges HireVue committed unfair and deceptive practices by denying it uses facial recognition technology to asses job applicants “employability.”

Parker said the allegations from the complaint are without merit.

Jeremy Gillula, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for consumer privacy rights, said AI’s use in the interview process is flawed and could perpetuate discriminatory assessments of candidates.

Gillula said the law has good intentions, but doesn’t go far enough to protect job applicants.

Businesses that ask applicants to submit video interviews but don’t use AI to evaluate them are not affected by the new law.

Still, some job seekers find it hard to interview through videos because they aren’t able to make first impressions like in typical in-person interviews. Anita Erickson, 57, who is seeking career coaching advice from the Career Transitions Center, said she has interviewed with eight companies through different web-based and video platforms.

Erickson said she has to focus more on how she is presenting herself rather than what she is saying.

“It’s not about the content of the interview anymore because you are worried about things like finding the right lighting and dealing with technological glitches,” Erickson said.

The law’s provision that allows applicants to request to have video submissions deleted is an important one for Erickson, who values her privacy.

“How long does that information live? Are companies sharing videos to third parties? I think it’s important that we have a right to ask to have these videos erased,” Erickson said.