Covid-19 isn’t the only reason the use of video in the business school application process has exploded. Video interviews have been increasing in popularity for years, first primarily for international applicants, then becoming commonplace at elite schools about five years ago.
Yet many hopeful MBA candidates still struggle to make a good impression on camera. Depending on an applicant’s background, natural presentation skills, and comfort speaking on video, he or she often has difficulties communicating virtually — and may not even know about them until crunch time. In Patrick Lemouche’s case, he was overwhelmed with the rapid nature of pre-recorded video interview questions in his application to Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“I froze,” Lemouche tells Poets&Quants. “It was a really weird experience and I did so badly that I thought to myself, there must be a better way to prepare for this. Most people, like me, aren’t used to being on camera.”
Lemouche’s application journey had a positive ending, as he was accepted to both Stanford GSB and MIT Sloan School of Management. Because of Covid-19, however, he deferred — and used the time to co-found a startup, Voomer, with MIT Media Lab researcher David Anderton. Voomer’s purpose: to help aspiring MBA candidates better communicate over video and achieve admission to their first-choice schools.
IMPROVING VIDEO APPLICATIONS & COMMUNICATION FOR ESL SPEAKERS
Using AI to analyze verbal, visual, and vocal communication, Voomer claims to make the application process easier and MBA candidates more successful. Lemouche and Anderton’s technology also features improvements in voice detection, helping to promote equal opportunity for those for whom English is a second language.
“We want to put the tools that are used to assess candidates in the hands of the candidates themselves,” Anderton says.
Lemouche, a former regional manager, and Anderton, a Forbes 30 under 30 video content analyst, met at Martin Trust Center at MIT. They were inspired to combine their diverse backgrounds to create new technology that helps prospective students of all backgrounds have a better chance at gaining grad school admission. By analyzing content, checking for keywords, and reviewing how the student answers questions, Voomer helps to build confidence and improve presentation skills.
“We give students the opportunity to practice different scenarios and get familiar with the video application process. We want them to feel prepared for their interviews,” says Lemouche.
Voomer recognizes the best number of pauses between sentences, the recommended time to deliver a message, and even body language that can help better communication.
“We performed academic research, worked with writers, and received advice from communications consultants to create technology that helps students learn best practices,” says Anderton.
By practicing video presentations with a timer and countdown, Voomer simulates pre-recorded application questions. Once their recording is complete, students are provided with feedback, including notes about their tone, pitch, words spoken per minute, and overall communication style.
“For example, a highlighted area may say that the student paused eight times in a 60-second video. It might also give the student positive feedback on tone of voice,” says Lemouche.
Students that are using the free suite of tools can put their recording on a queue of analysis and get the feedback notified to them via email, and students with a Voomer package can receive instant feedback after the recording. Organized as a sound wave with sections highlighted in green and red, the students are shown areas of strength alongside areas where improvement is recommended.
“We’ve noticed the people who are recording videos are staying for hours, practicing video after video. As we see their progress, we see their confidence building, which is incredible to witness and be a part of,” says Anderton.
Anderton, raised in Britain before his career led him to the US, and Lemouche, raised in Brazil before his career led him to Chile, Mexico, and India, are passionate about ensuring that AI helps increase inclusivity for people of diverse backgrounds.
“The whole issue of how AI interprets people is huge right now. Not only can accents be understood incorrectly, there are certain cultural norms that aren’t taken into account,” Lemouche says. “We’re continually tweaking the technology to ensure that we’re not building something for the generic white Western male.”
With inevitable cultural nuances that can create an unfair bias in business school admissions, the founders ensure that Voomer’s AI is optimized for those with English as their first and second language. Their hope is to improve the way in which voices are detected, and in turn prevent discrimination.
“We are aware of how we compute our scores to make sure that everything is being done in an ethical way so as not to penalize any groups of people,” he says.
THE FUTURE OF VIDEO APPLICATIONS
Anderton and Lemouche predict that AI video screening for business schools is going to mimic the job application space, especially post onset of Covid-19.
“There’s a massive uptake in video applications and AI used to screen people, in both the MBA space and job market space. Currently, many videos are being analyzed in the same way a text-based CV would be,” says Anderton.
After speaking with several admissions officers, deans, and assistant deans, Lemouche says that they’re repeatedly hearing how much schools love video for the ways in which it brings an applicant to life. “We believe that video is the future for business school admissions.”
The founders hope to eventually enter the job interview space, however they’re currently dedicated to helping increase video application readiness solely for prospective MBA candidates.
“Our long-term goal is to simply improve people’s communication on video and help increase professional confidence.”