With Credit Sesame, He Raised His Credit Score Nearly 170 Points

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Lorenzo Frias has specific financial goals in life, including buying a better car and someday buying his own home.

But all of that came to a screeching halt when he found out his credit wasn’t good. In fact, his credit was so poor that he couldn’t even get a credit card — let alone a car loan or a mortgage, which are harder to get than a credit card. It turned out his goals were way out of reach.

What was his credit score? “It was 523, to be exact,” he says. “To be honest, it was pretty bad.”

Late payments to an American Express card had pretty much ruined his credit. Your credit score is like your financial fingerprint, and a score below 600 makes you ineligible for most loans or credit cards.

Frias puts it bluntly.

“It’s embarrassing,” he says. “I realized there were definitely some things I needed to address.”

That’s when he found Credit Sesame, a free website that helps people manage their credit better.

His goal was to raise his credit score to 700 by the time he turned 24, and he’s nearly there. More than a year after joining Credit Sesame, he’s about to turn 24, and his credit score is 691 — a huge improvement.*

How was he able to boost his score by nearly 170 points?1 By following the website’s tips and using its free tools. Now he’s about to lease a better apartment, and he’s hatching plans to buy that car and house he’s dreaming of.

How Your Credit Affects Your Life — and How You Can Raise Your Score

Your credit score isn’t just some pointless three-digit number. It influences major parts of your life, like where you live and what you drive. The higher your score, the better deal you’ll get on big things like a mortgage, a car loan, a credit card, a car rental or an apartment lease.

Like Frias, 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.2

With his shiny new credit score, Frias just signed a lease on an apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s moving there from Los Angeles with his girlfriend and their two dogs, so he can live closer to work. Like many of us, he’s been working remotely, but that likely won’t last forever.

Getting approved for the lease was no problem. “I had flying colors across the board,” Frias said. “I was really happy to see that.”

He’s been driving what he calls “a little bucket” — an old Honda Civic that he’s nursing along, even though it needs a new ignition and is likely on its last legs. Now he’s in a position to change that.

He’s been able to build up his savings and says he’s waiting to see what happens to car prices, which are fluctuating madly.

As for buying a house, the Federal Housing Administration has pre-approved him for a $760,000 mortgage. “So there’s that to look forward to — I can buy a home.”

What’s the Secret?

So how did Frias raise his credit score by 168 points?1 What’s the secret?

When you sign up with Credit Sesame, it immediately shows you what your credit score is. It shows you why you have the score you do, and it gives you personalized tips to steer you in the right direction.

If your credit is bad, it’ll show you steps you can take to help fix it. If it’s good, it’ll show you ways you could make it even better. And if it’s excellent, well, it’ll show you how to keep it that way.

It’ll even show you if there’s a mistake on your credit report that’s holding you back. (One in five reports has a mistake.)

Following Credit Sesame’s advice, Frias took the following steps:

1. Credit-Builder Loan

He took out a $1,500 credit-builder loan that was recommended to him. It’s a loan that’s specifically designed to help you build your credit. You borrow money, but the bank holds onto that money until you’ve paid off the loan.

Each month, you make small payments toward the loan. Those payments get reported to the three credit bureaus. They see that you’re making payments, and your credit starts to reflect that.

Once you’ve paid off your loan, you get all your payments back, minus a little interest. So you’ve started a little savings stash.

2. Secured Credit Card

Frias got a secured credit card that was recommended to him. This is useful for people who can’t qualify for traditional credit cards. It’s similar to a debit card. Once you put down a deposit, you can use that amount in credit. But unlike a debit card, the secured credit card lender reports your payments to credit bureaus so you can establish a credit history.

3. Other Credit Cards

Once his credit started improving, Frias applied for traditional credit cards. It actually can help your credit score to have credit that you’re not fully using.

The percentage of your overall credit limit that you’re using is one of the factors that your credit score is based on, along with your payment history, length of credit history and diversity of credit.

Frias and his partner share a number of different credit cards that they use for different purposes.

“I’m always paying off my credit card bills every month,” he said. “I don’t leave an unpaid balance.”

4. Disputing Negative Items

Once you review your credit report, you can dispute certain negative marks that are dragging you down. You send dispute letters to the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Transunion.

Frias had a company named Lexington Law doing this for him, but he quickly decided that was too expensive and started doing it himself.

“Until then, I didn’t know I could message the credit bureaus myself,” he said. “Once you realize the power’s in your hands, you can go ahead and do the same things they’re doing.”

‘We’re Doing So Much Better’

Now that Frias has a better credit score, he and his girlfriend are packing to move to the Bay Area.

“We’ve got a U-Haul ordered for the end of the month,” he said. “I recommended Credit Sesame to my girlfriend, and it benefited her as well. Financially, we’re doing so much better.”

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s a Credit Sesame member and finally got his credit score above 700, woo hoo!1

1 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.

2Credit Sesame does not guarantee any of these results, and some may even see a decrease in their credit score. Any score improvement is the result of many factors, including paying bills on time, keeping credit balances low, avoiding unnecessary inquiries, appropriate financial planning and developing better credit habits.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

What to Expect if You’re Doing a Mortgage Refinance After Forbearance

When the COVID-19 homeowner mortgage forbearance program was first announced last year, I insisted we enroll. As a food and travel writer, I knew I’d lose income. In a worst-case scenario, where we were relying solely on my wife’s income to pay the bills, we would need to cut expenses.

The mortgage forbearance program would slash our biggest bill ASAP. With mortgage forbearance plans, a lender puts a pause on payments for a specific amount of time and reason. In our case, it was six months and a global pandemic. The monthly payments aren’t forgiven, just delayed.

As it turned out, I kept around one-third of my income and attracted new clients throughout 2020, taking less of a financial hit than I originally anticipated. We actually saved money due to lower spending and CARES Act benefits.

By the time the six-month forbearance period was up for renewal, we knew we didn’t need the protection. Meanwhile, we were interested in refinancing our mortgage to take advantage of interest rates that hit record lows.

But refinancing a mortgage comes with a host of rules, documentation and requirements, including making at least three consecutive on-time payments first.

In fact, forbearance and refinancing are both complex processes. Doing one on the heels of the other: even more complicated. But it can be done.

Here’s what to expect when refinancing mortgages in forbearance.

Ending a Mortgage in Forbearance

To end the mortgage forbearance, our lender gave us two choices. We could pay the missed payments in full or defer them until the end of the mortgage.

We chose the latter option, kicking off a series of errors that eroded our trust in our lender and convinced us we needed to refinance to get away from them.

Our mortgage lender didn’t process our deferral application for two months. Meanwhile, we’d resumed making monthly mortgage payments on their instruction.

But the mortgage payments went to the deferred amount, not the balance. Our monthly statements indicated that our payments were both late and unapplied.

We called the mortgage lender weekly, spending hours on hold or being transferred to different departments. A sympathetic call center agent would promise to get to the bottom of things and call us back the following day.

This wasn’t the first time our lender misapplied payments.

Before we sent in a check for an escrow shortage, I called to get instructions to make sure the payment would be correctly applied. I followed their instructions to the letter, but they applied that check to my principal, not the escrow shortage. Here they were again, messing up our payments – and potentially delaying the whole process by making it look like we hadn’t made timely payments. After forbearance, you are required to make three months of on-time payments before you can apply to refinance.

At the end of our ropes, we filed a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That got their attention. Top brass resolved the issue, but we planned our escape.

Want to Refinance After Forbearance? It Pays to Shop Around

When our 3-month period was up, we chose four mortgage lenders using a comparison service, then compared interest rates and loan terms.

Three lenders had online home loan applications for mortgage loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. We entered our income, debts, and assets – everything including retirement and bank account balances, my wife’s student loans and our car note – then clicked send. Within the hour, we were getting calls from these lenders.

Here are the mortgage rates we were offered for a 30-year mortgage backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac:

  1. M&T Bank: interest rate of 2.875%, APR of 2.998%
  2. Chase Bank: interest rate of 3.375%, APR of 3.602%
  3. Citizens Bank: interest rate of 2.625%, APR of 2.785%
  4. Local bank: interest rate of 3.125 on a 30-year mortgage or 3% on a 20-year mortgage (These quotes were given over the phone with no document review.)

In every scenario, we would need to pay closing costs, which lenders estimated in the $5,000 to $6,000 range. Some required us to pay for a credit report or an appraisal.

Since the rate on our 30-year mortgage was 4 percent, a refinance wasn’t going to be a huge money saver every month. But lower monthly payments were no longer our primary reason to refinance our mortgage.

We were tired of poor service from our current lender. We needed to have a mortgage lender we could trust, even though it would take around two years for us to recoup what we spent in closing costs and start saving money.

In the end, we chose Citizens Bank because their new loan terms were better and we’d both been customers for 10 years. Within a week of receiving quotes for mortgage loans, we committed to Citizens Bank to lock in our rate.

Forbearance to Refinance Time Frame

It was October of 2020 when we came out of our forbearance period and January 2021 when we comparison shopped for refis. We locked in our new rate at the end of January.

Our new loan officer said we’d close around April due to increased demand for both refinances and new home purchases. We would hear nothing for a long time, then there’d be a flurry of information requests, then we’d have our closing. In the meantime, all we had to do was make mortgage payments on time and avoid new debt or credit score changes. Oh, and clear up our current lender’s typo that made it seem as if we owed $80,000 more than we did on our home loan, something flagged by our credit report.

On March 23, we received a message: Our loan was moving to underwriting for initial approval. Due to high volume, they expected the closing to take place 120-150 days from our initial application.

April turned into May. Meanwhile, my wife got a new job offer. If she changed employers before we refinanced, we’d need to wait an additional 30 days due to their employment verification requirement.

The job offer lit a fire under our lender: Hours after she notified the lender of the new job offer, our loan was conditionally approved.

The bank needed us to confirm the new loan terms, including escrow for homeowners insurance and town tax payments. We also needed to confirm our town taxes were currently paid in full, provide updated pay stubs and explain our side hustle income.

My wife had to get on the phone with a credit reporting agency and our current lender to verify that we hadn’t made any late mortgage payments.

It ended up taking several more phone calls, letters and confirmations but by May 17, we’d officially refinanced.

Putting Mortgage Forbearance Behind Us

It took longer than I expected to move from COVID-19 forbearance through the refinancing process. There were days when we had to drop everything and gather paperwork for our new lender, or put everything on hold to attempt, for the 27th time, to clear up our mishandled account.

At the end of the day, our mortgage payment is $100 less, but over the lifetime of the loan, we’ll save $50,000 thanks to that lower interest rate. Getting away from a terrible lender I didn’t trust to do anything right? That was priceless.

The Penny Hoarder contributor Lindsey Danis is a Hudson Valley, New York, writer who specializes in food, freelancing advice, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, NextAdvisor, Greatist, and more. 

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

5 Smart Uses for Your Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments

Parents, we know what a game changer this is: Suddenly, you’re getting these child tax credit payments every month from the federal government.

The payments started landing in bank accounts in mid July — $300 a month for each child under six, and $250 for older children. Even better, these payments will keep coming each month through December!

If you’ve got a family, that money really adds up. Good thing, too — kids are expensive. The remaining five payments are coming via direct deposit on Aug. 13, Sept. 15, Oct. 15, Nov. 15 and Dec. 15. (If the IRS doesn’t have your direct deposit info, you’ll get a check.) And you’ll get more money back when you file your taxes next year.

So, here’s what we think you should do with this money:

1. Stock Up on Groceries — and Get Paid

Every parent knows that some of the realest spending decisions you make are at the grocery store: Should I buy this or that for dinner? What’s on sale? Can we afford that?

The federal government’s child tax credit payments will certainly help you feed your family — and maybe buy some nicer cuts of meat, or that pricey ice cream you were looking at. And you may as well earn a little money back while your groceries are being bagged up.

A free app called Fetch Rewards will reward you with gift cards just for buying any of hundreds of different items at the grocery store.

Here’s how it works: After you’ve downloaded the app, just take a picture of your receipt showing you purchased an item from one of the brands listed in Fetch. For your efforts, you’ll earn gift cards to places like Amazon or Walmart.

You can download the free Fetch Rewards app here to start getting free gift cards.

Over a million people already have, so they must be onto something.

2. Invest the Money for Your Kids

Another way to financially take care of your family is to invest. Investing is how you build generational wealth.

If you feel like you don’t have enough money to start investing, this sudden extra money could help with that. Also, you really don’t need that much — and you can even get free stocks (worth up to $200!) if you know where to look.

Whether you’ve got $5, $100 or $800 to spare, you can start investing with Robinhood.

Yeah, you’ve probably heard of Robinhood. Both investing beginners and pros love it because it doesn’t charge commission fees, and you can buy and sell stocks for free — no limits. Plus, it’s super easy to use.

What’s best? When you download the app and fund your account (it takes no more than a few minutes), Robinhood drops a share of free stock into your account. It’s random, though, so that stock could be worth anywhere from $2.50 to $200 — a nice boost to help you build your investments.

3. Build Up an Emergency Fund

As a parent, the responsible thing is to have an emergency fund. But as a parent, your money is always so stretched, that’s hard to do.

An emergency fund is a stash of easily accessible money that equals three to six months’ worth of living expenses, in case you unexpectedly lose your job. And millions of us unexpectedly lost our jobs in 2020.

You can save your federal child tax credit payments in an Aspiration account, an online account where you can earn up to 20 times the average interest on your savings balance. (The FDIC reports that the average account earns just .05%.)

You can also earn up to 5% cash back on your debit card purchases.

It takes five minutes to sign up.

4. Stop Paying Your Credit Card Company

Have you got credit card debt? Use your child tax credit payments to pay off a low-interest loan that replaces your credit card debt.

Credit card debt is the most expensive kind of debt, and your credit card company is just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates. But a website called AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 2.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

5. Look Out for Your Kids Over the Long Term

These child tax credit payments could help you afford something you haven’t bothered with until now: Life insurance.

There was a surge of interest in life insurance during the pandemic, as more Americans realized they probably needed it.

Also, more people are seeking out no-exam life insurance because they don’t want to go to a doctor’s office for an in-person exam. Companies like Bestow use algorithms instead of medical exams to evaluate applicants.

Rates start at just $16 a month. You could leave your family up to $1 million. The peace of mind knowing your family is taken care of is priceless.

If you’re under the age of 54 and want to get a fast life insurance quote without leaving your home, get a free quote from Bestow.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. As the parent of 11-year-old twins, he’s wondering: Where have these monthly child tax credit payments from the federal government been all these years?

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Catering Side Gigs May Be the Best Hustle of 2021

The 2021 wedding season is projected to be among the busiest in a decade with an estimated 2.77 million weddings, which is over half a million more than usual.

This is great news for catering companies, whose income evaporated during 2020, and it can be great news for your wallet if you explore this lucrative yet under-appreciated side hustle.

I first discovered catering in graduate school, when a friend who worked for a catering staffing company offered me a job. I had an hour-long training from the staffing company. On my first shift, a wedding at a historic estate with ocean views, I dropped a tray of champagne flutes.

Despite my non-illustrious start, I stuck with catering. The money is consistent and the perks, if you work for the right caterer, add up. As I write this, I’ve been eating catering leftovers all week.

Find out how to get started in catering, how much money you can make catering, plus what skills caterers need right now.

How to Find Local Catering Jobs

Event caterers are everywhere: big cities, college towns, and rural areas cashing in on the rustic wedding trend. Wherever you go, you’ll find a local catering company. If you find yourself in between jobs, catering income can give you a buffer until you land something else.

Plus, the jobs are often on Friday nights or weekends anytime, a bonus for a Monday-through-Friday worker looking to bring in more money.

Given the part-time, seasonal nature of the industry, workers tend to come and go. As a result, catering companies are often hiring. Many caterers love working with college students who are home for the summer or teachers looking for extra money on their summers off.

During the wedding season, the best catering companies will have two to three weddings on the same day and you’ll be able to work every weekend if you want. 

In many markets, the catering season extends beyond summer weddings. University towns have receptions, graduations, and college reunions. Individuals have private parties for milestone events.

Companies host holiday parties, summer picnics, and other employee engagement events, although Jackie Spigener, who owns Silver Sycamore Events Resort, a wedding and event venue in Pasadena, Texas, says corporate events haven’t yet returned fully.

There will always be more opportunities if you live in a bigger city, simply because catering will serve multiple markets, but even in my part of upstate New York, I could get a shift every single weekend from May to October if I wanted.

server holding champagne glasses at outdoor wedding

Jobs in Catering

Catering jobs include bartender, server, and cook. Bartender and cook jobs tend to go to people with previous experience in that role.

Pro Tip

Catering companies may pay for TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) for bartenders to learn responsible alcohol service. If not, you’ll make up that $40 expense in your first shift. 

A typical catering shift lasts anywhere from 7 to 10 hours and you may need to travel to the location (I’ve gone as far as two hours, but been paid for travel time). The work is physical, the hours are long, and you’ll be on your feet the entire time.

There are perks. You’ll be a fly on the wall at events held in beautiful locations. If you’re the sort who gets bored easily, you’ll appreciate having different work environments, since  many caterers travel to several event venues in the region.

“Catering is an extremely fun job as every event is different, and you can see a lot of really cool venues and be a part of some amazing events,” says Daniel Wolfe, owner of Wolfe and Wine Catering in Houston.

Eating on the Job

You’ll be fed on your shift; this might be the same food guests are eating or a separate, simple meal. Food that was not served to the guests and would otherwise be wasted is typically up for grabs at the end of the night. I’ve also taken home wedding decor, bouquets, and opened bottles of wine.

While it helps if you have previous experience, this is absolutely not necessary.

“All of the catering/food serving skills can be trained if the work ethic and personality for customer/guest service is there,” says Spigener.

Catering Side Gig Jobs

Depending on how big the event is, the caterer could need dozens of people. Some will need high-level culinary skills but that’s not what you will probably be doing. Think of your as the muscle and if you’re dealing with guests, a server with a good attitude.

There are positions for people of all skill levels. For example:

Jobs for New Hires

  • Refill water glasses
  • Clean up during cocktail hour
  • Clean up after event

Jobs for Experienced Workers

  • Pass appetizers
  • Tend the bar
  • Serve people sitting at head table

While I started with a catering staffing company, I wouldn’t recommend doing this. I was basically a temp sent to bolster catering agency staff, who earned more than I did.

The agency agreement prohibited temps from being hired on by any caterer we’d temped for, which kept us corralled in lower-wage, disposable work.

Approaching companies directly is the better option. While catering companies are typically looking to hire in spring, this year’s labor shortage means that many are understaffed. You can find local caterers who are looking to hire on Craigslist or by searching for event venues and catering companies in your market and reaching out directly.

If you know someone who works for a restaurant or hotel that has a banquet facility, they may be able to refer you.

server setting the table at formal event

How Much Money Can You Make Catering?

Restaurant workers in most American markets receive a well-below-minimum-wage shift payment and make most of their money in tips. Catering workers tend to be paid competitive hourly wages, plus tips.

Thanks to the hospitality industry labor shortage, it’s a worker’s market. Employers all need to staff up at the same time, so companies have to compete on wages. Reach out to several companies at the same time, then take your pick of one or more that pay the most.

The Hourly Wage

Wolfe currently pays $12-$15 per hour for servers and $15 per hour for cooks. Bartenders earn $10 per hour with a tip jar visible or $25 per hour with no tip jar. Wolfe says he pays based on the cost of living and would probably pay 20 to 30 percent more if he were located in a market like California or New York.

Private party shifts tend to be shorter — a skeleton crew will be working in (or outside) someone’s home for a dinner service or cocktail party — but the odds of a direct cash tip at the end of the night increase significantly.

Spigener says she currently starts catering staff at $10 per hour.

LaSonya Holmes-Boulware, who owns My Girls Catering and Food Truck in Greensboro, North Carolina, starts catering servers at $10 per hour and cooks at $15 per hour. Experienced workers can be paid more for working elite events.

Looking for more ideas for side gigs? Check out our list of the best 25 side hustles of 2021.

What the Bosses are looking For

When hiring, Spigener looks for personality (“courteous and mannered well”) and a willingness to pitch in. Wolfe values punctuality (because “an upset client is a lost client”) and flexibility, since it’s difficult to predict when shifts will end.

Attention to detail, a good work ethic, and a positive attitude are his top desired skills. Holmes-Boulware seeks out people who are willing to work flexible schedules, like Wolfe, and prefers those who have prior experience with events.

I’ve worked in restaurants and for caterers. Catering has always paid me more per hour, in every market I’ve worked. The seasonal nature of the job makes it an ideal side gig. If you can get in with a top-notch caterer now, when the need is high, you can secure a lucrative side hustle for as long as you need or want one.

The Penny Hoarder contributor Lindsey Danis is a Hudson Valley-based writer who specializes in food, freelancing advice, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, NextAdvisor, Greatist, and more. 

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Here’s How to Find Success with AI Video Interview Tips

For the first weeks of quarantine, it was nice to work in sweatpants and spend extra time in bed because my commute involved just walking downstairs. It also gave my pores a break from my daily makeup routine.

But it’s been a year of more or less being cooped up inside, and I would do anything to get back to an early alarm, nice outfit and a fully made-up face. Even a video job interview sounds like fun.

Besides the sporadic social-distanced night out with a small group, the only occasions I have to put myself completely together are for video job interviews, mostly on the Zoom video conferencing platform. And even then, I only needed to look presentable from the shoulders up and sharpen my eye contact. Still, I have found that I feel more confident and professional when I do the whole enchilada, shoes included.

However, another wrench has been thrown in my routine. Artificial intelligence video job interviews where the interviewee is the only human involved are becoming more common. This has added a whole new element to the meaning of putting your best face forward, because that’s part of what AI is assessing. And your voice tone. And your word choice. And more. Our video interview tips can make the process smoother and perhaps help you land your dream job.

The two most common AI hiring platforms are HireVue and Pymetrics. The programs work by recording the candidate;s answers to preset questions, while also analyzing facial movements, word choice, and speaking voice before ranking them against other applicants. The program then lets the employer know which applicants ranked at the top based on the company’s requirements for the job and then indicates who should move forward in the hiring process.

Preparing for an AI Interview

Getting ready for an AI video job interview is slightly different than for the run-of-the-mill Zoom conversation in which you’re talking to a person. Make sure that you have a reliable internet connection and that your background is appropriate for a video job interview. A trial run with a friend or family member might help.

Jim Weinstein, a life and career counselor in Washington, D.C., says that succeeding in an AI job interview requires even more preparation than usual.

“The criteria that your potential employers are using and weighing are secret for reasons that are not hard to understand: it helps prevent an interviewee from gaming the system,” he explains.

Even though the intricacies of the algorithms utilized by programs like HireVue and Pymetrics aren’t public, not all is lost. There are still ways of finding what your potential employer considers valuable and desirable assets.

“Clues will come from the job description, the organization’s website, and conversations with current or former insiders who have knowledge of the position’s requirements and pitfalls,” says Weinstein. “I encourage anyone I coach to utilize these inputs. Because AI-based interviewing systems tend to be used more commonly for highly sought positions where competition is fierce, it’s extra important to do this forensic work.”

Make special note of the words used in the job posting. If “team player” is mentioned, try to work that into an answer about your skills. Consider the experience the post asks for, if it’s five years say that you have five years (or more) of experience. Be ready to answer questions tailored to the posting.

AI Controversies

HireVu’s mysterious algorithms are not without controversy. The company has been accused of systemically discriminating against people in video interviews based on their appearance, particularly facial structure. In 2019, human rights group Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate HireVue for “unfair and deceptive” practices.

EPIC officials wrote that the platform’s “biased, unprovable and not replicable” result constituted a major threat to American workers’ privacy and livelihoods. In January, it was announced that HireVue would no longer use AI for facial recognition analysis of job candidates, but will continue to gather evidence like word choice, intonation, behavior, and other biometric data.


Anticipating AI Questions

When I did my first HireVue interview, I was most concerned with the list of questions they would be using rather than how I would answer them. When you are face to face with a real person, obviously the question-and-answer format is more fluid and conversational. With these types of programs, the experience is similar to taking a test. The interview questions can come in a few formats.

Written Questions

The questions will appear in written form, and the candidate will have 30 to 60 seconds to read them and prepare before recording the answer. There are no do-overs. The recording is permanent.

Video Questions

The questions will be given to you in a short video, usually asked by someone from the company, possibly hiring managers. You will then have a short time to prepare your response.

Coding Challenges

If you are interviewing for a data analyst or software developer job, you will most likely be asked to fix a coding issue or even complete a logic puzzle. The question should specify which language (C#, Java, and JavaScript, etc.) you will be working with. Assume that you will be asked to explain in detail why you chose the response that you did. This is a way of weeding out “cheaters.”

Drawing/Design/Writing Interviews

If you are applying for a job that’s writing intensive or in an artistic field, you will likely need to demonstrate your abilities in realtime. Expect a supplement to some of the standard format questions with at least one prompt. If you need to do external research, use a different tab and do not leave the interview. If you will be writing, have a document open so you can write and edit your draft without the risk of submitting it before you are ready.

Adapting to Video Job Interviews

After going through the AI interview process, I know that I prefer speaking to another person, although I do see how a screening process can help an employer when the applicant pool climbs into the high triple digits. The bigger the company, the higher the chance you have of encountering an AI interview that considers your body language and eye contact as much as your education.

On the positive side, if you are someone who is deeply uncomfortable during job interviews (aren’t we all, to an extent?), it may be nice to not have to interact with another person during the experience. In any case, AI job interviews aren’t going anywhere soon — and just like HireVue had to do after their FTC complaint, we all must adapt.

Olivia Smith is a writer based in Washington, D.C., who has experience in public and political advocacy work. She is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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