scorecardConsumer goods giant Unilever has been hiring employees using brain games and artificial intelligence - and it's a huge success
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Consumer goods giant Unilever has been hiring employees using brain games and artificial intelligence - and it's a huge success

Consumer goods giant Unilever has been hiring employees using brain games and artificial intelligence - and it's a huge success
Retail6 min read

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Unilever wants to be a global leader when it comes to using artificial intelligence for hiring.

• Unilever has used artificial intelligence to screen all entry-level employees for the past year.

• Candidates play neuroscience-based games to measure inherent traits, and have recorded interviews analyzed by AI.

• The company considers the experiment a big success and will continue it indefinitely.

For the past year, Dutch-British consumer goods giant Unilever has been using artificial intelligence to hire entry-level employees, and the company says that it has dramatically increased diversity and cost efficiency.

"We were going to campus the same way I was recruited over 20 years ago," Mike Clementi, VP of human resources for North America, told Business Insider. "Inherently something didn't feel right."

Unilever is one of the world's leading consumer goods conglomerates, with billion-dollar brands like Axe, Dove, and Lipton, and has 170,000 employees worldwide. Clementi said the company needed to find a way to rejuvenate itself, and transforming new talent recruitment was one way to do so.

Instead of sending representatives to elite universities, collecting résumés, and arranging follow-up phone interviews for the students that stuck out, Unilever has partnered with digital HR service providers Pymetrics and HireVue to completely digitize the first steps of the process. If candidates pass the AI screening, they then go through an in-person screening that determines if they get the job.

Candidates learn of the jobs online through outlets like Facebook or LinkedIn and submit their LinkedIn profiles - no résumé required. They then spend around 20 minutes playing 12 neuroscience-based games on the Pymetrics platform. If their results match the required profiles of certain position, they move on to an interview via HireVue, where they record responses to preset interview questions. The technology analyzes things like key words, intonation, and body language and makes notes on them for the hiring manager. All of this portion can be completed on a smartphone or tablet.

If the candidate makes it through these two steps, then they are invited to a Unilever office where they will go through a day-in-the-life scenario. By the end of the day, a manager will decide whether or not they are a right fit for the job.

The hiring overhaul took effect in 68 countries and was conducted in 15 languages, and involved a total of 250,000 applicants. Unilever shared its North American results, from July 2016 to June 2017.

• Applications to jobs doubled within the first 90 days of their posting YOY, from 15,000 to 30,000 applicants.

• Unilever "hired their most diverse class to date." There was a 10% increase in hires of non-white applicants and an increase from 840 to 2,600 universities represented. There was an undisclosed balancing of socioeconomic class represented, and hires were balanced across gender, the latter virtually unchanged YOY.

• The average time for a candidate to be hired went from four months to four weeks, with a cumulative saving of 50,000 hours of candidates' time. Recruiter's time spent on applications was decreased by 75%.

• The rate of offers to candidates who made it to the final round increased from 63% to 80%, and the acceptance rate of these offers increased from 64% to 82%.

• The completion rate of the 12 Pymetrics games was 98%. The average score of the overall process was rated 4.1 out of 5.0, based on the 25,000 applicants who took a survey.

What the process looks like

Step 1: Submit LinkedIn

Candidates can find job listings on Unilever's website, but in lieu of campus visits, college seniors are also targeted with job postings on Facebook, LinkedIn, The Muse, and WayUp. They then submit the link to their LinkedIn profile.

Step 2: Play neuroscience games

Pymetrics CEO Frida Polli, who cofounded the company with Julie Yoo in 2013, said that the 12 games are "essentially the gold standard of cognitive neuroscience," in that they're based on tests that those in the field have long employed.

Games test traits like ability to focus, memory, relationship to risk, and ability to read emotional versus contextual cues. For example, the game that tests risk gives users three minutes to collect as much "money" as possible using the following system: clicking "pump" inflates a balloon by $0.05; at any point the user can click "collect money; if the balloon pops from over-inflation, the user receives no money. The user is presented with balloons until the timer runs out.

pymetrics game


The "balloon game" measures a candidate's relationship to risk.

A cautious user who takes a small amount of money from each balloon to avoid losing anything is not better or worse than an adventurous user who tries to take each balloon to its limit. "There is no right or wrong in the spectrum, and we're not just making that up to make you feel good," Polli said. "Traits at either end of the spectrum could be really well-suited to different careers."

Unilever had exceptional employees in different roles play the games and used their results as a benchmark for new candidates to be measured against.

Users are told immediately after each game how their performance was analyzed, and recruiters are able to see those results compared to benchmarks. Polli said that while a candidate's performance on each of the games could vary depending on context the same way their performance on an SAT would change if they were tired versus alert, for example, but unlike with the SAT, she said, practice would not significantly alter one's performance on the Pymetrics games.

Unilever candidates who did not make it to the next round were able to submit their results to other companies that partner with Pymetrics.

Step 3: Interview with HireVue

Candidates who have the traits required of the position they're applying to then take a HireVue interview, which can be done with a computer camera or with a smartphone. They spend a few minutes on each of the questions required for their role, speaking to the camera. The interviews are not live.



Candidates can do their HireVue interview on their smartphone.

HireVue's AI then analyzes each of the answers, noting aspects of the video like key words, body language, and tone. Hiring managers then see a detailed list of candidates the program deemed performed best.

Step 4: Spend a day in the life

After the algorithms help managers pick the most promising candidates, it's time to let human judgment take over.

Candidates who have made it this far are invited to a Unilever office to experience what the job would entail, and if the recruiter working with them deems them a fit, they will receive an offer shortly after their visit.

Going from 0 to 100

Pymetrics CEO Frida Polli said that of all her company's clients, Unilever was "by far the one that went from 0 to 100." Unilever learned about Pymetrics in mid-2015 and decided to use it the following February.

Rather than undergoing a small beta phase, Unilever used the process described above with all intern applications as proof of concept, and then rolled it out to all entry-level positions.

Unilever's North American head of HR, Mike Clementi, said that his team is still finding ways to further refine the process, to ensure that candidates have an enjoyable experience that is unique to Unilever, and one that is not overly mechanized. But he is overjoyed with the first year's results, and is already testing ways the process can be used as a supplement to mid-career hires or lateral internal changes.

"Unilever, like most big companies, we're trying to reinvent ourselves," Clementi said. "And we are really trying to digitize everything." In 2015, he believed that embracing Pymetrics and HireVue, rather than gradually trying small experiments, gave Unilever "an opportunity to be a leader in this sector."

"Amazingly, our leadership team was also all in, and we decided to do it."