A job interview can be a lot of work. For interviewees, it’s an intense affair. For companies looking for talent, time consuming. A Chinese startup is attempting to fix the process. 

Shanghai-based LeapIn makes AI-powered video interviewing software. The company claims it can determine what qualities a company is looking for in a prospective hire, and then screen applicants based on what it finds. 

Using the platform, I interviewed for a human resources (HR) position, a job for which I have no training or experience. After checking a few boxes to provide background on my job-specific skills, I forayed into open questions. 

A picture of a smiling lady appeared on screen. Beneath her face, a question appeared. I was given 30 seconds to prepare for each question and three minutes to chat through my responses. Once the interview was finished my answers were automatically analyzed by LeapIn’s algorithm.

The backstory: LeapIn makes AI video interviewing software that helps companies manage talent and hiring.

  • The company provides standardized software for general hiring, such as those in the retail sector. For more complex scenarios, the company can also create customized models by sampling a company’s current employees to create a hiring profile. 
  • Sara Zhu, LeapIn’s CEO and founder, left a marketing position at Volkswagen in Germany and set up LeapIn in November 2018.

Unique selling point: LeapIn claims that it was the first company in China to employ AI behavioral analysis in video interviewing software. 

  • According to Zhu, the majority of AI software providers in talent management focus on keyword matching between the job description and an applicant’s resume and recruitment process management. 
  • LeapIn is different. The company’s edge comes from using AI-driven behavioral analysis and scenario-based questions.
  • LeapIn’s standard hiring model can determine which employee qualities are most sought after by a client company, and if the new hire is compatible with its corporate culture. 
  • LeapIn can generate a full interview report within an hour after an interview finishes.

“A well-qualified applicant may be turned down in the very first round of selection just because they don’t have a related major … Our analysis [of scenario-based interviews] is less biased. We can give them a fair chance.”

—Sara Zhu, founder and CEO of LeapIn, in an interview with TechNode

During my interview with the company’s AI, I thought I did well, but LeapIn’s algorithm didn’t seem to agree. I ranked last of out of all applicants applying for the job, scoring 32 out of 100 on suitability for the position.

The system not only scrutinized my answers, but my facial expressions. LeapIn’s algorithm looks for emotional responses, such as the hints of annoyance I was trying to hide when recalling having to do work outside my job description. 

Most of the interview questions are scenario-based, asking what you would do in particular workplace circumstances, such as when you are assigned work outside your job description. In my case, some were specifically related to HR responsibilities.

The results of the interview are shared with LeapIn’s corporate clients for initial screening or as a substitute for phone interviews. In-person interviews with qualified applicants can be arranged, with the system weeding out people it believes are unfit for the job.

In the end, Leapin’s system decided that my ability to cope under pressure lagged far behind top HR employees. 

The investors: Zhu started LeapIn with RMB 1 million (around $154,000) of her savings. In October 2019, the company raised several millions of yuan in angel investment from Hong Kong’s MPM Capital.

  • LeapIn is in the middle of due diligence for its Series A.

The landscape: The global human resources market is estimated to reach $38.2 billion by 2027, growing nearly 12% annually, according to market research firm Million Insights. The assessment services market is expected to reach $10.7 billion by 2026, according to a report from Reports and Data.

  • The niche market is relatively new in China. Companies in AI-powered video interviewing, such as competitors SeedLink and HRTPS, are all small-sized. 

Prospects: LeapIn will likely maintain growth given that it has patented its algorithm and the market is growing. The firm is less vulnerable to global competitors such as HireVue as its technology is based on Chinese language analysis.

  • The coronavirus pandemic is set to give online hiring a big push, and the booming rental economy may benefit from additional assistance in hiring using AI.

“The gig economy is posing new challenges [to HR personnel.] The sector looks for a different set of qualifications and needs faster responses. That’s where AI could help.”

—Sara Zhu

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified one of LeapIn’s global competitors as HighVue, not HireVue.

Jane Ho

Jane Ho is a Shanghai-based reporter, covering business dynamics in the Greater China area. Connect with her at janeyanho [at] gmail.com.