Nathan Tia, a creative lead for Centric, a new-media agency, has never met his boss face to face. And it's not because he's an underperformer who hasn't been singled out for a pat on the back. It's because Tia, who works from home, was hired through a "virtual interview," conducted on the Internet-based virtual world Second Life.
For the uninitiated, Second Life is a 3-D virtual online world where more than half a million users create their own avatars who interact, build homes and businesses, participate in an economy - and now, get hired. As virtual worlds are being hailed as the next evolution of social media - a kind of MySpace 3.0 - they're being tapped by everyone from eBay to big staffing agencies as both a recruiting tool and a vehicle for "face to face" interviews.
"We saw it as a very cool and interactive way of allowing job seekers to interact with recruiters," says Louis Vong of the recruiting firm TMP Worldwide, which held at pair of Second Life job fairs last summer, attracting Fortune 500 employers such as eBay, Microsoft and Verizon, as well as more than 800 job seekers.
Interest in Second Life hiring has been building ever since, says Vong, whose firm plans a third fair in the coming months. He sees it as an ideal way to connect with young recruits.
"Gen Y's are already so immersed in technology, and Second Life is like a social network on steroids, so it really speaks to how they want to be reached," he says.
The global recruiting agency Manpower Inc. held its first Second Life job fair in November and will "definitely do another," says senior VP Tammy Johns, who hails the site as a new recruitment avenue.
"Virtual worlds remove a lot of the typical recruitment barriers and bring more people into the workforce," she says.
Second Life interviews are conducted in a real-time instant message format, with candidates typing answers as their avatar "interacts" with the interviewer. Ray Giordano, who recently landed a job as a resource chef with the food-management-services company Sodexho after attending a Second Life job fair, says he enjoyed the change of pace from a face-to-face interview.
"You don't have an interviewer staring down at you when you're answering the questions," he says. "And it was less stressful because you only had to focus on answering the questions, not whether you the interviewer thought your outfit was appropriate."
On the hiring end, a Second Life interview serves as a kind of filter for companies seeking tech-savvy candidates, says Jason Stoddard, the managing partner for Centric, who has made many hires for his agency through Second Life, including Tia.
"Anyone who is spending time on the site, which has a fairly cumbersome interface, must be technically savvy, so it's a great talent pool," he says.
And the method of interacting (think instant messaging on steroids) is more dynamic than a phone interview, says Arie Ball, vice president of talent acquisition for Sodexho.
"It's a better way to foster a connection than a phone interview," says Ball. "It's a real two-way interaction."
It also offers job seekers the opportunity to hobnob with power players they'd rarely meet in the real world, says Stoddard.