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Kiosk Interviews

Newsletter • volume 5 • number 1

Some big-name retailers are now using in-store computer kiosks to help attract and retain good workers. These kiosks, available to anyone who wants a job, are replacing paper applications and in-person interviews as a way of screening first-time applicants.

Here's how they work. Using a small keyboard attached to an eight-inch computer screen, applicants typically answer a few questions intended to eliminate certain candidates - those who won't take a drug test, say, or who are younger than sixteen. Next, applicants enter their work history and take a series of psychological tests to help match their skills and interests with available jobs.

Completed applications are delivered online, and store managers can expect to receive back full candidate profiles in less than ten minutes. These often come with a color-coded personality assessment: green for strong candidates; yellow for iffy cases; and red for "don't go there."

Companies that use the kiosks, including Macy's, Home Depot, Target, and Good Guys, claim the technology gives them an edge in the red-hot labor market by allowing them to screen applicants with unprecedented speed. It also helps them retain workers because many kiosks feature videos that give a clear sense of what jobs demand. Managers desperate for workers, on the other hand, may not always present a job's drawbacks. Home Depot, for one, reports that its turnover rate has dropped by more than 11 percent since using the kiosks. But the kiosks' biggest advantage is their ability to turn shoppers into job candidates in seconds.

Still, despite endorsements from employers, critics question whether the kiosks are all they're cracked up to be. They point out, for instance, that even in an initial screening, computers can't adequately judge prospective employees. We agree with this assessment. Although we like the idea of anything that will make the selection process more efficient, we don't think the technology is quite there yet.

For one thing, a computer can't ask open-ended questions. And it certainly can't probe further to find out what is behind certain answers. Although it may attract a wider pool of applicants and provide incredibly fast feedback, right now computer screening just can't match a phone screen or face-to-face interview for accuracy and depth.