This Firm Uses Virtual Reality to Recruit. Should Others Follow?

Deutsche Bahn has begun using the nascent technology to show candidates what it’s like to work at the Berlin-based mobility and logistics firm. What are the pros and cons of the practice?
VR recruiting

Virtual reality appears to be the next big consumer technology. Some companies are even beginning to use it as a talent acquisition tool. But how effective is that strategy?

Deutsche Bahn, a mobility and logistics provider based in Berlin, has a small library of virtual reality videos that show the viewer the perspective of working at various jobs at the company, according to Kerstin Wagner, the company’s head of talent acquisition. These include train conductor, electrician and construction roles, which she said are critical, difficult-to-fill roles at the firm.

Strategic workforce planning at Deutsche Bahn first indicated in 2010 a need for the firm to get ahead on recruiting because much of its workforce would soon be retiring. This sparked Wagner’s talent acquisition team to examine technology trends in the market to help with the effort. The need to acquire 10,000 people per year in Germany alone meant the company needed to get creative, so the recruiting team began bringing virtual reality, or VR, headsets with it to career fairs in late 2015.

At events, people interested in working for Deutsche Bahn wear the headsets to experience various roles at the company. Wearers, for instance, can follow a train electrician through their daily routine. The company says the experience allows prospective hires a chance to see what it would be like to work in that role.

“Whenever we use the VR glasses, you get immediately this very focused interest,” Wagner said. Prior to its use of VR technology, Wagner said about 10 people per job fair would express interest in a role. Now, with VR technology on hand, lines of prospects to try on the headsets typically produce anywhere from 50 to 100 interested applicants at a job fair. Furthermore, Wagner said her team gains higher-quality applications and more interested people who know what to expect from a job with the company. “It definitely is a good business case,” Wagner said.

RELATED: 13 Skills Needed on a Virtual Reality Team

This ability to experience a job is important to a candidate’s decision-making process, said Joseph Murphy, executive vice president at Shaker, a recruiting technology company based in Cleveland. “That’s one of the things that virtual reality has the potential to deliver extremely well, to step into a simulated work environment and see people performing,” he said.

Some candidates will opt out of applying after they experience a role, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Others experience the role, see the challenges of the job up front and then take the job. They won’t be as likely to quit once those hurdles arise while they’re on the clock. Experiencing a role increases career commitment, Murphy said.

But is an investment in VR necessary for job candidates experiencing a role? Shaker offers a virtual job tryout technology, which uses animated images, photos, voice-overs and some video to convey the nature and culture of jobs to their clients’ candidates. “You don’t need virtual reality to convey some of that messaging,” Murphy said.

Also, by using VR, the pool of applicants may become skewed, Murphy said. Those who have VR headsets make up a small percentage of the population right now; they’re also likely to be young and tech-centric. “When you have a technology that’s not ubiquitously available, you’ve created a barrier to candidate flow,” Murphy said.

Another limitation of VR in talent acquisition is that it’s likely not well-suited for skills testing, according to Bill Macomber, CEO and chief technology officer of Fancy Film and Fancy VR, a boutique post-production facility based in Los Angeles, California, specializing in independent film and VR. Tryouts would require building a world in a game engine to conduct the test, which Macomber said is difficult to scale.

Everything you need to know about making real profit from real talent, Subscribe Today!

However, Macomber said that a simpler video could be made for troubleshooting issues. This could then be part of applicant testing. For example, if there’s something dangerous or out of place on the deck of an oil rig or manufacturing floor, a job candidate could be asked to identify that issue as part of their test.

Where VR is best used for recruiting is for tours. Companies with impressive campuses could create a VR video to show remote candidates the amenities offered. Also, for firms hoping to attract applicants to distant locations, they can experience the sights and sounds through the platform. “It signals to the applicant that the company is really serious about the position and making an investment in the person,” Macomber said. “If you are in a competitive hiring market, it gives you yet another differentiation over the teams that are competing for the same recruits.”

Ultimately, adoption of technology is important in all industries, including recruiting. “VR is definitely a thing which gives me the possibility to show the job reality, and therefore, I think it’s a mandatory piece in talent acquisition,” Deutsche Bahn’s Wagner said. If companies are interested in adoption of VR, there are three things that Wagner said to keep in mind:

  1. Business leaders need to create a culture of innovation to see potential for technology and to allow for this level of tech adoption. “We won’t have any VR right now if we don’t have this open culture,” she said.
  2. It’s also important to be fast in adoption. The ability to prototype quickly allows for a quick go-to-market time. Deutsche Bahn only took two months to take their VR videos to market.
  3. Finally, understand your target group. Their expectations transform quickly, so it’s beneficial to keep ahead.

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy.