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Video interviewing facial recognition: Rullion speaks with City Sail

Imagine being able to identify perfect candidates based on their facial expressions, know exactly what your employees are feeling or screen hundreds of applications within hours. That’s exactly what artificial intelligence technology company City Sail can do, and it’s here to change the face of recruitment for the better.

Introducing an innovative technique into the traditional recruitment process, City Sail’s pioneering video interview AI analyses facial expressions across feature points at a rate of 24 frames per second – producing an accurate reading of a candidate’s real characteristics. Identifying traits such as passion, sincerity, nervousness and disagreement – this amazing technology can help you understand your candidates and employees more than ever before.

In one of the first interviews given by this ground-breaking AI tech company, Rullion was lucky enough to speak with City Sail Founder and CEO, Yi Xu along with key Board Advisor to City Sail and senior HR professional, Katariina Jalas.

The incubation, growth and development of an idea

Interestingly Yi explains that the idea for City Sail actually came about when she was working as a TV presenter specialising in European Finance News for Shanghai’s state owned news channel.

“I know from experience that it’s nearly impossible for people, even professionals, to hide reactions or information in their facial expressions. No matter how well you’re trained, your face makes micro expressions, they are only a millisecond of movement but you can’t avoid showing them.”

It was Yi’s experience as a TV presenter coupled with her background as an Investment Banker that led to the start of City Sail only 12 months ago. Having worked with Katariina when she was EMEA Head of HR at Credit Suisse Investment Banking Department and Asset Management, Yi approached the HR expert during the initial stages of City Sail when she was developing the idea and needed an HR senior specialist as a sounding board.

“Katariina has been a key person on the Board at City Sail right from the beginning. From my initial idea, the research and development of our technology took a long time, particularly as we were combining psychology, technology and data. We are using algorithms with machine learning and we’re working at the core of artificial intelligence so I’ve always known that we need to be very careful about what we extract, how we analyse the information and how we apply the data itself.”

Whilst the basis of City Sail’s product is rooted in technology, Yi is clearly very focused on the human side of her business. Alongside explaining the sophisticated AI technology she also describes how important it is to help organisations truly understand candidates and make the recruitment selection process as easy as possible.

“We spend a lot of time refining our technology and systems, both from a data science and a usability point of view. We want the commercial application of our software to be extremely easy for businesses so all the little details really matter. We’ve proven that our technology dramatically reduces the amount of time spent screening candidates but we also care about how easy it is to implement into everyday recruitment processes.”

So far, businesses have been extremely quick to realise the potential of City Sail’s technology. It has already pre-sold its product to a number of large UK organisations including NHS Dorset CCG which is piloting the recruitment application. As Yi told us “We soft launched the product in November last year and the interest we’ve experienced has been amazing. We already have a pipeline of large organisations interested in deploying our product within their recruitment processes or as an internal employee engagement and management training tool."

“Our recent work with the NHS has been incredibly valuable as their forward-thinking approach has enabled us utilise so many aspects of our technology. Alongside using our video interview AI in their recruitment procedures, clients are implementing it as an employee engagement tool measuring how employees change over a period of three to six and 12 months. When you think about tracking employee behaviour, this information is so useful to build up a complete picture of a team, department or organisation.”

“The potential for our technology is diverse.” Yi explained, “It’s about inclusion and understanding behaviour. As humans we are naturally predisposed to judge people differently based on our past experiences but our product helps to remove that element by supplying readings based on spontaneous facial reactions, psychology, technology and scientific data.”

 Discovering what businesses are looking for

Speaking to almost 50 organisations including internal HR departments and recruitment specialists, Yi and her team were able to extract the most observed characteristic traits that organisations want to measure during their recruitment processes.

“I spoke with many businesses to identify exactly what they’re looking for in their candidates. Many of them would give me a list of requirements such as being ‘driven’ or ‘people oriented’ but these principles didn’t easily translate into characteristics that we could measure. We discovered that by delving one level further into exact traits such as passion, confidence, sincerity, curiosity, disagreement, nervousness and judgement we could successfully match and analyse the micro expressions of people on our video profiles.”

By tailoring these traits to each business, role and stage of the recruitment process City Sail has been able to provide some remarkable insight into candidate behaviour and help clients identify the right people for a specific vacancy.

Yi is also very keen to point out that video profiling is only powerful when used as part of an overall recruitment process. “For a determined and confident candidate, our video interviews are simply another platform to showcase their skills and experience. But when it comes to making a decision about who to appoint in a role, the decision should always be made by the hiring manager. Our video interviews are an extremely insightful part of the screening process but they should never replace a human interaction. Our technology analyses 24 frames per second but it won’t tell you how a candidate will work within your team or whether they are the right fit for a certain position.”

Driven by the human element of the City Sail business, Yi also places a big emphasis on supporting clients through the implementation of their technology. “We help our clients to place the video interview within their overall recruitment strategy. We advise on how much emphasis the video results should have when weighted against the other recruitment stages such as interviews, psychological testing or assessment centres.”

Reactions from businesses

Pioneering technology such as video interview AI will inevitably generate excitement and debate within the business and recruitment marketplace. However, Yi and Katariina are yet to come across any considerable resistance to the City Sail technology. Remarking on the last few months, Yi explained “I think people realise that it’s a powerful tool promoting diversity and inclusion whilst removing human bias.”

HR professional Katariina believes that the benefits of the AI technology will outweigh any initial uncertainty from HR professionals or candidates.

“There will always be the first movers using new technology and the people who are more sceptical and hesitant to employ it within their business procedures. In the instance of video CVs, once candidates experience this process for themselves then it will start becoming the norm. In Finland their recruitment procedures are very technology orientated so video CVs are commonplace. I believe we will see the same adoption of video technology in the UK as people get more familiar with the process.”

Katariina also believes that video interview AI can transform the attitudes and decisions of recruiting managers and HR professionals “We have already found instances where candidates reached the interview stage based on their characteristic qualities when they would otherwise have been declined based on their CV. It’s these stories that show the true value and power of this technology.”

As Yi added “The goal here is not to put any candidates or employees on the spot; they need to understand what the video is and how it will be used. Explaining that a 100 question survey can be swapped for five question video can help people realise the benefit and how much time they can save. It’s about working with our clients to help them to overcome any uncertainty, and educating people on the benefits of this type of product.”

City Sail into the future and changing perceptions

As Yi and Katariina look into the future of City Sail they are both very positive about the business’ position in the market and upcoming plans for growth.

Katariina reiterates how important this technology might be within the HR and recruitment marketplace “From a personal point of view it has been amazing for me to follow the journey of Yi and City Sail within the last 12 months. I have been working in HR for close to 20 years now and whilst there have been many changes in recruitment but I don’t believe there has been anything fundamental to alter the entire process. When you consider the potential of video CVs and AI technology to the candidate and employer experience then I believe you can see the power of City Sail’s product. It really does make the process easier and more human in the steps leading up to interview which is incredibly valuable.”

Yi welcomes competition as she believes that it’s a bigger mission to change perceptions about this type of technology. “It’s more the merrier as far as I’m concerned! I know we need to change people’s mentality to AI as part of the recruitment process and when more businesses are offering this service then it will become commonplace. Countries such as the US and China are already more accepting of video profiling but I do think that the UK is well positioned to become a world leader.”

Adding a final comment, Yi stated;

“Technology already helps us in so many different ways that I am fascinated by how artificial intelligence and technology could help us in business. What I want to understand is: ‘who are we?’ - if City Sail can help people understand more about human behaviour then I want to enable that. If we can use AI technology to read people better then we can lean more about ourselves in business and beyond.”

You can find out more about City Sail on their website.