By Steve Bates

You’re piloting a 37-foot-long boat on a river deep in enemy territory. Your mission: Extract a Navy SEAL team pinned down by gunfire. Your craft can cruise at over 45 miles per hour, but the noise might alert the enemy to your approach. With 360-degree vision, you notice fellow sailors around you tightening grips on weapons. Night begins to fall. And you have less than 10 minutes to save the day.

It’s only a virtual reality (VR) simulation of a Navy mission, but for many who don the special headgear and immerse themselves into the action, the experience is jaw-dropping.

VR is a technology-assisted environment that simulates the real world or an imaginary one. It can evoke vivid sight and sound—and even taste, smell and touch. There’s more to the Navy mission simulation than simply the wow factor, however. It’s a way to show potential recruits what it’s like to be a part of the service.

Many Navy employees never see battle, of course. The Navy has more than 100 career specialties, many of which involve little danger. But once a potential recruit has felt the special operations boat rock and watched comrades dangle from a nearby helicopter through the VR experience, he or she develops a closer connection with the Navy and its broader mission, said Capt. Dave Bouve, the service’s director of marketing and advertising, who is based near Memphis, Tenn.

“My job is to tell the Navy story,” Bouve said. “VR is just another tool.”

As of early 2017, the Navy had two large vehicles that were driven from college campus to campus to offer the VR exercise. “It’s an opportunity to start a conversation” with a potential recruit through a debriefing after the VR experience and through follow-up e-mails, said Bouve.

If you have never experienced VR, he added, “It will probably blow your hair back.”

Bouve and others who use VR in recruiting say it’s a way to differentiate an employer from others in a field. It helps solidify a brand. It illustrates what it’s like to work for an organization. And it demonstrates an employer’s commitment to cutting-edge technology.

Online shopping firm Jet, German mobility and logistics provider Deutsche Bahn and Commonwealth Bank of Australia are among large businesses using VR in recruiting. Some colleges are even starting to use VR to recruit students.

‘Truth and Validity’

VR has found a variety of niches in HR—from training to diversity and inclusion programs to talent acquisition. “It’s got truth and validity to it,” said Joe Shaker Jr., president of Oak Park, Ill.-based Shaker Recruitment Marketing.

VR can have a major impact in recruiting if used right, he said. Shaker added that another advantage to using VR in recruiting is that it helps marginal job candidates “self-select out” once they get a picture of a company and its employment opportunities. That gives recruiters more time to focus on serious prospects.

VR could make the leap from “nice to have” to “must-have” for recruiters, suggested Alexa Merschel, a national talent leader for assurance, tax and advisory services provider PwC in the Philadelphia area. “This is practically an expectation at this point” in some industries, she said. “There is a demand for real-time experience, to show what it is like to work at the firm.”

PwC started using VR on college campuses in 2016. A job hopeful can strap on a VR headset and be transported into the spacious, brightly lit lobby of PwC’s Boston office building. An employee arriving for his first day of work gets a tour of the facility, hears about a student loan paydown program, rotational assignment opportunities, mentorships, a softball game after work and an upcoming community service day. He meets several colleagues in person and joins others in a teleconference.

“We’re trying to bring our firm to life,” Merschel said. “You see it and feel it, including human interaction. We see it as enhancing our brand as a technology-enabled professional services firm.”

General Mills has been using VR to recruit talent since 2015. A team of employees used special cameras to capture footage around the company’s Minneapolis headquarters and at popular landmarks in the area.

The VR experience was designed to let job candidates see themselves working at General Mills and living nearby—without the expense of flying them to Minneapolis for final interviews. Using VR, potential employees can walk the halls of the company and even work out in the gymnasium.

“The thing with VR is that you can’t escape it” once you put on the headset, said Peter Schlueer, president and co-founder of VR products and solutions firm WorldViz in Santa Barbara, Calif. “You have the full attention of the person using it. It’s so visceral, it creates an indelible memory in your brain.”

He added that recruiting is “a fantastic use” of VR technology. “Seeing is believing.”

Steve Bates is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.

This article was first published on SHRM.

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