Indulge me as I tell you about something embarrassing that happened to me recently.

As I am sure that you’ve already guessed from the title of the piece: it happened in an interview.

Interview is a very loose term though. In fact it was one of those New Age “pre-recorded” interviews where your computer asks you questions, and you are forced to relay your answers, solely whilst watching yourself relaying said answers on screen.

It’s the professional equivalent of that bathroom mirror chat you give yourself halfway through a house party, at the night-defining point at which your evening could end in equal measure huge success or dismal failure. I’m probably not my best self in those moments, just as I definitely wasn’t my best self in this interview. On this occasion, dismal failure was the sure result.

Ultimately my reviewer, who was able to watch the clips of me at their leisure, and most likely in their pyjamas with a glass of pinot, received a video of me trailing off midway through a sentence, stopping entirely, commenting to myself, and, I suppose, my computer that this was “a really bad answer”, and then eyeing myself up nervously and silently for the remaining time, having offered no comprehensible answer to the very simple first question.

Truly galling.

Besides the extreme disappointment (this was a job I really wanted) though, I afterwards felt short-changed. After making it through the initial obstacle of submitting a CV and covering letter which I assume had narrowed the field significantly, was the pre-recorded interview really the most appropriate next step?

The supposed benefits of the pre-recorded interview format are that it allows companies to review, where there are very many, applicants without going to the huge inconvenience of actually meeting them.

Which is fine, except I wonder whether this peculiar interviewing method serves anybody, whether applicant or employer, very well. An interview should be an opportunity to see how the applicant interacts with others—what their manner is, how they respond to either criticism or acclaim, how much they really know, and whether they are likely to fit into a team. I don’t believe that the pre-recorded interview is particularly revealing on any of these fronts.

What it might reveal, is how competent somebody might be on a quiz show, on which participants are pressured into giving an answer to the ticking of a big yellow clock. Or something like that anyway.

I understand that it's convenient for people to be able to screen candidates at their leisure and without having to travel long distances. But the event of an interview is revealing too. Requiring someone to appear at a certain time in a certain place, in adequate attire, can tell you a lot about how much a person might care about the job. These points may seem at the same time obvious, over-fastidious, and old-fashioned, but they do matter.

A young woman dressed in formal attire engaging in a handshake with the interviewer during a job interview
Without sitting face-to-face, shaking hands, and making small talk, we miss the most telling aspect of a job interview; namely, how it feels to work there.

Businesses won’t be told, and I know that I’m fighting a losing battle. Though the practice comes across to applicants as lazy, the rationale and evidence is solid: using pre-recorded interviews results in fewer, and higher quality, applicants making it to face-to-face interviews.

So we continue to strive forward, leaning increasingly on our technological walking stick, into a world of perfect efficiency.

On a wider point, though, it is confusing. In the past decade, the HR profession has grown four times faster than the UK workforce. HR professionals now make up a higher proportion of the workforce than they used to, but the development of increasingly sophisticated online application portals seems to mean they are doing less of what has traditionally been expected of them.

Which begs the obvious question: what do these people do?

I know where my hunch points me. After years of engaging with the leadership of a top UK university, I get the sense that HR departments are busy developing their company’s all-important EDI (Equality and Diversity initiative) and chasing other PR-stunt initiatives which everyone knows are pointless. Far too busy to worry about the development and mentoring of the humans that they resource, and yet managing all the while to enforce a type of bureaucratic groupthink. And it isn’t just me that thinks so - last year The Telegraph reported that Human Resource departments were taking over the workplace and wielding “growing, destructive and unaccountable power.”

For those of us who’d like to see our professional lives enriched by good guidance and sensible mentorship—which begins from interview—these developments are worrying.

The future is bleak then. Imagine it now: your first appearance in your new job finds you sitting down for a talk with “Chatbot AI” whose task it is to interview you; your last comes a few months later with no less than eight HR professionals, who are there to reprimand and promptly sack you.

Linden Grigg
Linden Grigg

Recent University of St Andrews English Lit graduate working in Westminster, with a fascination for politics, pub chats (get in touch), and ruffling feathers.

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