Sep 24, 2007

Hire My Avatar! I Mean, Me - Recruiting Employees in the Virtual World

To what length will your company go to recruit top talent? Some companies, it seems, are willing to enter a whole new world--a virtual one, that is. A recent article reveals that some organizations are using Second Life, an online "3-D virtual world," to recruit and interview applicants. Interviewers and interviewees choose avatars ("your persona in the virtual world") and arrange meetings that require them to master virtual world skills like climbing stairs, shaking hands, and even getting dressed.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I'm not ready for a virtual world to take the place of the real one. If your company is thinking about jumping on the Second Life bandwagon, consider a few important factors.

First, not everyone will want or be able to use Second Life--for example, applicants with visual or other physical disabilities, or even older applicants who may be less likely to join Second Life (the average age of a Second Life "resident" is 30). For legal and practical purposes, you'll want to make sure applicants have access to other recruiting and interviewing methods.

Second, consider how long it takes to learn to use Second Life. A successful applicant said it took him about a day and a half to learn the basics (like not walking into virtual walls)--and of course, you and every other interviewer will have to learn those skills too. Unless it's something you expect to do often, it may not be practical.

Third, are the skills the candidate needs to navigate in Second Life relevant to the position? If you're hiring for a high-tech position, perhaps. Otherwise, you may not find the best candidates this way--it's hard to see a lot of accounting professionals or equipment operators using Second Life, for example. And it's never wise to make employment decisions based on skills unrelated to the job--like keeping your avatar virtually seated.

Finally, don't undervalue a face-to-face meeting. Yes, communicating through avatars may put a candidate at ease and limits (but doesn't eliminate) your ability to distinguish between applicants based on legally-protected classes like race or age. But often, you'll want to see how a candidate reacts to stressful situations--like a job interview. For many positions, you'll want to make sure the applicant presents well and has good people skills, both almost impossible to judge online. Also, the virtual interviewee doesn't get the benefit of seeing the work environment or getting a feel for the company culture. The best practice, if you interview in the virtual world, is to follow up with an in-person meeting--between actual, carbon-based life forms--to make sure the candidate meets your needs.

If you want to learn more about the basics of hiring an employee, Attorney Fred S. Steingold's The Employer's Legal Handbook is a good place to start.

Alayna Schroeder