New tool helps vets fighting PTSD with interview skills

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Mastering a job interview without ever meeting the interviewer. Sounds impossible, and it’s opening doors for veterans who thought it would be impossible to re-enter the workforce. An avatar is helping them tackle one aspect of PTSD.

“I’m Molly Porter from human resources. I’ll be conducting your interview today.”

She looks and sounds like a real person, but Molly Porter is an avatar whose job is to help others hone their interview skills.

Dr Matthew J. Smith, Northwestern Medicine mental health researcher: “At the easy level the interviewer, Molly Porter, she is very friendly and forgiving when you don’t say exactly the right thing in the interview. But then when you transition to the medium level, Molly is a little more stern and business like, she’s not as forgiving.”

The technology was developed for FBI agents to help them perfect the art of interviewing suspects. But researchers at Northwestern Medicine had another use in mind.

Dr Smith: “There’s a very high unemployment rate for veterans with PTSD, and what we wanted to do was help enhance the opportunity they have to find employment.”

For a small study, mental health researcher Matthew Smith recruited veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Dr Smith: “The veterans that are suffering from PTSD have a greater likelihood of experiencing anxiety in the job interview setting, and to some degree this allows them to practice and reduce that level of anxiety.”

And they have difficulty describing valuable job skills they learned in the military – translating combat experience to how it may help them serve in a community-based job.

Dr Smith: “What the training helps the veterans learn is how to talk about that, that they are a dependable employee or that they have strong leadership skills or that they are really good at following directions.”

After Molly poses a question, trainees choose from a list of possible answers.

Dr Smith: “What we found is that the trainees were 10 times more likely to find a job or receive a job offer after completing the training compared to the control group.”

The key to success? Repetition. Study participants completed three to four interviews per day for two weeks. As their skills improved, Molly’s questions increased in difficulty.

Dr Smith: “They completed 15 to 20 trials, interviews, and in an everyday mental health service setting folks are practicing maybe one to two interviews before they go on a live interview. So here they are getting up to 20 trials of practice versus just one to two trials of practice.”

Army veteran Adam Navarro Lowery heard about the study through the VA. Struggling after he returned home from serving as a military policeman in Kosovo, he realized he needed the extra help.

Adam Navarro Lowery, US Army veteran: “Relationships with my family, with my friends, certain things that would trigger anxiety, anger, kind of feeling out of nowhere and really interfered with relationships and functioning on a daily basis. I was actually homeless at the time so I was struggling other ways too, and it actually helped me go through that process, finding a home.”

Now employed and back on his feet, Adam wants others to know about the program.

Adam Navarro Lowery: “Getting reaccustomed to being interviewed, being asked questions. I want to see my fellow veterans participate in programs and studies like this to help us get out of the slump we face when we come home.”

Individuals and organizations can start training with Molly right away at www.jobinterviewtraining.net or training.simmersion.com. Users can take a free "test drive" of the simulation to experience it firsthand before purchasing a license for themselves or as a gift for others. The system is playable online or on DVD.

The base price is $89.95 for one individual to interview with all of Molly's different personalities on all three difficulty levels.  Simmersion offers group pricing for organizations and occasional promotions (including, potentially,  for veterans) so they encourage anyone interested in the system to Contact them at either site above for the latest.

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