Job seekers get help from Bell’s virtual reality job interview training program

You have a job interview scheduled. You are stressed. You don’t know what questions to ask the interviewer or how to phrase your answers correctly.

Fortunately, Molly Porter, a virtual recruiting manager, is available to help.

Molly is the fictional star of a computer-based virtual reality job interview training program invented by Morris Bell, PhD, professor emeritus and senior fellow in psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. Bell has spent more than a decade working with fellow researchers and the Maryland-based company SIMmersion to develop and market the simulator to help people hone their interview skills while seeking employment.

New article published in Psychiatric Services and co-authored by Bell reveals virtual reality interview program offers strong support for job seekers, in this case those with serious mental illness who receive individual placement and support services (IPS).

The study found that 52% of people who did not find a job during the nine months of IPS and then used the virtual reality interview program found a job, compared to 19% for people who had not used the program. Bell said the results show the program can be a useful tool for people who need help preparing for job interviews.

“People who take this training are more likely to interview for jobs and are more likely to get jobs faster,” he said. “It’s way more than you could ever get from playing a live role with someone.”

Bell envisioned the vocational training program more than ten years ago. It took a few tries, but he received a grant to fund his work. He helped write the computer script and worked with SIMmersion to develop the software, which uses an actress to portray Molly to simulate an interview.

People can practice interviewing Molly to build their confidence for real interviews. Molly asks the questions and, depending on the person’s answers, will request follow-ups which will vary depending on the rapport established. Better answers get friendlier questions; wrong answers get harder questions. Feedback is provided.

“It’s fun and completely interactive online,” Bell said. “The feedback is very specific. You can go back and review the dialogue.

The simulator also provides instructions on how to share factors that may apply to a person’s life, such as a person’s experience with mental illness, their need for accommodations, past military experience, or his involvement with the justice system.

Bell said some people get anxious when they start the program, but then become comfortable enough to try to outsmart Molly with their responses. “It’s just a sign that they’re getting more comfortable with it,” he said.

Based on a person’s answers, Molly can tell if the interviewee is confident, fit for the task, and dependable. “People improve in areas where they had a weakness,” Bell said. “You really see skills training in action through feedback.”

Bell’s vision was for the simulator to be widely used by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, where he is a senior research scientist, and by vocational training centers.

“Role-playing is not easy to do. It’s hard to give good feedback and professional coaches usually don’t have time to rehearse training,” he said. “Being able to have a system that is truly capable of delivering quality job interview training with feedback and rehearsal is a real asset to re-entry into the workforce.

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