Friday, June 22, 2007

Virtual Job Interviews?

Imagine going into a job interview, reaching into your briefcase, and handing your interviewer a beer instead of a resume. Then getting a good laugh with the interviewer about it. Sound like an interview gone well? Could very well be.

Back to that in a second. Second Life is like a genie bottle - you rub on one issue and three more come out. So let me divert my attention to a couple other Second Life issues, and then I'll come back to the interviews in a bit.

In the grand tradition of the Sims and Ultima Online, Second Life is the newest incarnation of the interactive role playing game. Come home from work at night, log on, and you've got a new life there at your fingertips. Always wanted to be a shopkeeper? Adventurer? (fill in dream job here)? Second Life is a fast growing economy and some companies are capitalizing on the monetization of the RPG community.

There's been a lot of brouhaha created by these gold farming companies and individuals, but I say more power to them. If they want to sit there and spend five hours fishing to build up a skill, or four hours breaking rocks to quarry rock to build a house (etc, you get the point), then I think they've deserved whatever monetary recompense they can get. Sure, it probably puts the rest of the players at a disadvantage since they don't have the time to put into it. But, if they're willing to pay for the fruits of that skill (buying a posh Second Life house, that kind of thing), then isn't that just the definition of capitalism? It also speaks to the question of work vs. leisure:

If someone is going to sit at their computer all day long, building up their skills and creating a salable commodity, doesn't it then become work rather than fun/leisure? If it's tied into their pay structure and they have to do it to pay their rent, then it can easily become just another job. But just like paying someone to clean your house, do your cooking and laundry, mow your lawn, if you can free up time for yourself, you have more time for other things and there is less of an opportunity cost to that activity.

There have also been cases of crime and violence online. I'm a bit torn on this issue. Rape, in any form, is just not acceptable. And I could see how somebody who was raped in real life could be very traumatized by this happening to them online, forcing them to relive their real-life experience. On the other hand, it is just a game - there are rape scenes in movies which don't have the same backlash as this on Second Life seems to have gotten. I'm sure that people identify with their online characters and feel that they are a bit an extension of themselves. But honestly, I don't feel it would be appropriate to make an online rape a criminal offense. What I feel should happen is for there to be some kind of online judicial system. Perhaps Second Lifers could become sheriffs and judges and have trials and such. If someone is found guilty of rape in the game, they get sentenced to prison time in the game. And that doesn't go by the clock (if they're sentenced to one year, they don't get out one year from that date), they're in prison for one year of the time they're online. If they don't log a year's worth of time in a five year span, they stay in prison. I think that would be a good method to prevent recidivism, because who wants to "play" an online game by sitting in a jail cell?

They could just switch to another game. But if their conviction were solid, the companies could create a kind of IAFIS for IP addresses/email addresses to try to prevent someone convicted in one game hopping to another and doing the same thing. However, this could cause problems is someone is wrongly accused, and then they're cut out of all the games.

Back to the job interviews (and lighter subjects). It's an interesting idea to vet job candidates online. It would definitely be less pressure than a face-to-face, or even a telephone, interview. There wouldn't be the awkward pauses if the interviewer asks a difficult question, and you would have a few moments to compose your answer before replying. At this stage of the game, when Second Life is still fairly new to everyone, it definitely lightens up the process when they can't quite control their avatars to their full potential (floating above the seat, beer vs. resume).

Also, if the job is for a technical position which requires computer savvy, it would definitely filter out the chaff - the avatars which were the most fluid and natural would stand out from the pack. But if this process were used for not technical jobs, I feel it could create a false sense for the interviewers - they might be impressed by how the tech savvy people come across (after all, visuals are very powerful, perhaps as much so as the words they're hearing) and the highly qualified candidates who aren't as familiar with Second Life would not make as good of an impression.

Another potential problem is one of tone (posted by Ohio State University). The actual words you say are the least communicative of all - about 55% of communication comes through non-verbal communication (making eye contact), 38% from the tone of your voice (no whispers in a job interview), and only 7% comes from your actual words. Now, a part of me thinks that it's great that they're vetting people for the actual content of their interview, rather than just their appearance and their non-verbal communication. But the realistic side of me says that no matter what it is they say, what you have to deal with primarily is their personality, their drive, their sense of self and how they interact with others. But hopefully this type of interview will cut down on the number of people who get through the first interview on charisma alone (and have no knowledge base).

Above are many criticisms or potential problems with using Second Life for job interviews. But on the whole, I think it's a great idea for these companies to be embracing this new technology like this. It shows that they're forward thinking, flexible, and they're reaching out to a younger market (and watching their bottom line). As an interviewee, I would be very impressed by a company which had Second Life interviews. Generation Y grew up with technology and has no problem with IMing, watching a movie, talking on the phone and reading all at the same time. Companies are starting to realize that GenY is a force to be reckoned with and that they should talk to us on our level rather than always bringing us to their GenX/BabyBoom trough.

If you're interested in finding out more about Second Life, check out the upcoming book Second Life: A Guide to Your Virtual World by Brian White (ISBN 0321501667), published by Que/Sams in August 2007. (For purposes of full disclosure, I work for the publisher of this particular book)

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