You have a job interview scheduled. You’re stressed. You don’t know what questions to ask the interviewer, or how to properly frame your answers.

Fortunately, Molly Porter, a virtual hiring manager, is available to help.

Molly is the fictional star of a computerized virtual reality job interview training program invented by Morris Bell, PhD, professor emeritus and senior research scientist in psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. Bell has spent over a decade working with fellow researchers and the Maryland-based company SIMmersion to develop and market the simulator to help people perfect their interview skills while they seek employment.

A new paper published in Psychiatric Services and co-authored by Bell reveals that the virtual reality interview program does provide strong support for people seeking employment, in this case people with serious mental illness who are receiving Individual Placement and Support services (IPS).

The study found that the 52 percent of people who had not found work in nine months of IPS and then used the virtual reality interview program found employment compared to 19 percent for people who didn’t use the program. Bell said the results show the program can be a useful tool for people who need help preparing for job interviews.

“People who get this training are more likely to go out on job interviews, and are more likely to get jobs more quickly,” he said. “It’s much more than you could ever get by role-playing live with somebody.”

Bell envisioned the job training program more than a decade ago. It took a couple of tries but he received a grant to fund his work. He helped write the computer script and worked with SIMmersion to develop the software, which uses an actress to portray Molly to simulate an interview.

People can practice interviewing with Molly to help build confidence for real-life interviews. Molly asks the questions and depending on the person’s answers will ask follow-ups that will vary by amount of rapport established. Better responses get friendlier questions; worse responses get more difficult questions. Feedback is provided.

“It’s fun and completely interactive online,” Bell said. “The feedback is very specific. You can go back and review the dialogue.”

The simulator also provides instruction for how to share factors that may apply to a person’s life, such as a person’s experience with mental illness, their need for accommodations, prior military experience, or involvement with the justice system.

Bell said some people become anxious when they start the program, but then become comfortable enough to try to outsmart Molly with their answers. “That’s just a sign of them getting more comfortable with it,” he said.

Based on a person’s answers, Molly can tell if the interviewee is confident, suited for the task, and reliable. “People improve in those areas they had a weakness for,” Bell said. “You are really seeing skills training in action through the feedback.”

Bell’s vision has been for the simulator to be widely used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where he is a senior career research scientist, and by job training centers.

“Role-playing isn’t easy to do. Giving good feedback is difficult and job coaches don’t usually have the time to provide the repeated practice,” he said. “To be able to have a system that really can provide top quality job interview training with feedback and repetition is a true asset for vocational rehabilitation.”