This robot interviewer is helping Sweden recruit without bias

Tengai doesn’t care about your family background or how old you are, what you’re wearing or how you sound – just whether you can do the job.

Tengai is a Swedish robot designed to conduct unbiased job interviews and she’s helping the municipality of Upplands-Bro achieve its ambition of recruitment free of discrimination.

“All we want to know is what skills the candidate has,” says Havva Ilhan, Upplands-Bro deputy head of staff. “We are not interested in hobbies, family relationships, age or anything else that is immaterial and can create a preconceived image of the person.”

Ilhan told the TT news agency it was the natural next step for the Upplands-Bro council, which has been working on CV-free recruiting and anonymized application processes.

Image: Statista

A collaboration between Stockholm start-up Furhat Robotics and recruitment company TNG, Tengai quizzes potential candidates in the early stages of the interview process.

She ignores factors like age, looks, gender or ethnicity, and won’t judge people by the tone of their voice or dialect.

Questions are always asked in the same way, in the same order, making the interview fair for each candidate. And Tengai gives human feedback, such as nodding or smiling, to encourage candidates to elaborate on their answers.

Recruiters and managers are then given a transcript of the interview and decide whether to put the candidate forward to the next round of interviews, based on the answers alone.

Because Tengai doesn’t engage in small talk before or after the interview, no assumptions are made based on any information gleaned.

As Elin Öberg Mårtenzon, chief innovation officer at TNG, explains: “If I ask you a question at the beginning of the process like, ‘Do you play golf?’, and you say, ‘Yes I do, I love playing golf’, and I do too, then in some way I will put that in a positive box.”

The importance of diversity

In 2018, Upplands-Bro municipality had a foreign-born population of just over 27%, putting it significantly above the Swedish national average.

But the unemployment rate among foreign-born individuals is three times that of the Swedish-born population, suggesting foreigners experience more difficultly finding work.

Companies around the world are looking to make their hiring processes bias-free.

Research shows diversity brings many advantages to a business, including increased profitability and creativity, new perspectives, ideas and experiences, and better problem-solving abilities. This can help create more effective and resilient organizations.

For now, Tengai is set to be used by Upplands-Bro in its search for a new digital coordinator.

Although there are no plans to use her to help fill future vacancies as yet, she could represent a step towards a bias-free hiring process within the organization, and perhaps around the world.

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