Could virtual reality transform the way we recruit?

Inside the radical technology Accenture believes could spearhead a revolution in hiring

Could virtual reality transform the way we recruit?

You’ve entered a strange room. It’s dark, but there’s a flaming torch in sight. You reach for it and find yourself waving the fiery end from side-to side, to dissolve the darkness and identify your eerie surroundings. Then, and only then, after you’ve shuffled about minding debris in your path, does it hit you. You’re in a tiny Egyptian tomb, complete with foreboding sarcophagus. Flanking it stands the tall stone figure of Anubis – the god of the afterlife – guarding his king and looking impassively on.

Except you’re not really the next Indiana Jones, and you’re certainly not in Egypt. You’re actually on the 6th floor of Accenture’s London headquarters. wearing a piece of technology it believes is already transforming its graduate recruitment strategy – a virtual reality (VR) headset that transports you (extremely realistically) to unusual environments. And it’s all in the name of getting authentic responses that reveal who people really are.

“Graduates these days are extremely assessment centre-savvy,” says Adrian Love, recruitment director at Accenture UK and Ireland, which since last September has been using groundbreaking VR software from global strengths-based assessment provider CAPP to assess this year’s intake (some 600-700 people) very differently. “People nowadays are schooled in how to get through competency-based interviews, so what we wanted was a way of seeing how people would be their true self – and ironically, it’s through putting them in very unnatural surroundings that does this best, because they have to resort to using their own innate skills.”

Although VR is not new, it is for recruitment, and data suggests it could become the next big trend. In 2016, the total value of the market was £46.4 million, but VR is predicted to grow by 390 per cent (to £354.3 million) by 2020. Lloyds Bank started using it for assessment in 2017, while online retailer Jet now gives potential employees a walk around its office (virtually), to see if it’s the sort of place they want to work.

Accenture’s VR is an amazing out-of-body experience, but also forces you to forget you’re in a test environment and do what you have to do to get on. In the Egyptian crypt is a set of hieroglyphs candidates must try and reorder into the correct sequence in as few moves as possible. All you have to go on are some lights that change on Anubis – yellow if a hieroglyph is correct but in the wrong place, green if correct and in the right place. While you’re busy absorbed in your ‘room’, Love and others are watching on, seeing how you perform. “It’s easy for someone to bluff a competency question on, say, whether they have tenacity, but this test really challenges them to prove they do,” says Love.

The VR tests now replace traditional assessment day group tests, where Love says it’s easy for one or two people to dominate the others. According to Dustin Peteves, VR product lead at CAPP, these immersive tests also eliminate gender bias and allow people to exhibit their strengths individually.

“In one of the other ‘rooms’,” he says, “there are ten plinths, each with a problem that needs solving – like moving rocks into size order or making a castle with virtual playing cards.” He adds: “What’s clever about this test is that there are too many tasks for the time; and unbeknown to the graduates, what we’re really looking at is how they decide which ones are worth doing, to get the most done, or how quickly they realise particular tasks take too much time… two of the tests are actually impossible, so we look to see how fast they realise this – it’s all about measuring their project management and decision making about prioritising what to do.”

Anyone who’s never been in a VR world before isn’t disadvantaged, and once grads arrive in each room (they are accessed by walking into, and then out of, a virtual, single person lift), the environment facing them takes over.

Graduates either work through the crypt or the plinths room, but in a third room they also see an office, where they have to pick up virtual iPads and analyse the status of a live project, before ‘dialling’ into a conference call phone on the desk, and recording a summary of the status of the project.

“We didn’t go into this thinking VR was the solution, but in our quest to find the best people it soon came out as the solution of choice,” says Love. “While they are just one part of a broader assessment process, someone who does very well in the VR world could see their overall scores tipped in favour of being hired.”


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