On a mission to create a more unbiased and fair interview

With Tengai we are challenging the traditional job interview by opening up “the black box of recruitment”. Why is this our mission? In the end, it all comes down to three things. First, is a passion to create a fair job interview process where candidates get a chance to show their potential. Second, a mission to seriously attempt to mitigate bias throughout the recruitment funnel. And finally, a vision to make the labor market more diverse and accessible for all.

The idea behind Tengai originated at Swedish recruitment and staffing agency TNG in 2017, where our CEO Elin Öberg Mårtenzon and our CPO Sinisa Strbac initiated an innovation lab called TNGx. Over the past 20 years, TNG has specialized in unbiased, data-driven, structured and competency-based hiring. Always aiming to create an inclusive, fair and more transparent candidate experience, while removing unconscious prejudices to deliver more diverse teams.

Challenging recruitment fundamentals

In order to fulfill their vision, TNG has augmented and designed its own recruitment and hiring tools. Their aim is to assist recruiters to be more objective during the selection and assessment phase. However, when looking at the job interview – the most critical stage of the recruitment process – unconscious bias appeared to be the last roadblock.

Therefore,  TNGx was developed to focus specifically on the interview. The diverse team of specialists, leaders, and recruiters was led by Elin and Sinisa and their vision to integrate their experience with unbiased recruitment methodology in a diversity and inclusion software. TNGx aimed to give hiring managers and recruiters more objective candidate-data. Especially in regard to soft skills and personality traits. The goal was to create a human-like experience, free from unconscious bias. An interview where candidates could engage in an active dialogue with an objective AI robot. Most importantly, a place where they could feel safe, comfortable to be honest so they really could show their potential and competencies. And this is how Tengai was developed.

"With Tengai we gained a scientific way to compare and select the best candidates. I'm convinced that Tengai will contribute to a more sustainable labor market"

Åsa Edman Källströmer, CEO at TNG


Starting point

In 2018, the Swedish award-winning tech company specializing in social robotics, Furhat Robotics entered a collaboration with Tengai. Making it possible for us to implement our unbiased diversity and inclusion software on Furhats operating system. In other words, Furhat Robotics provided the conversational platform on which we programmed the D&I software application. And it’s the software that controls how Tengai behaves and her capacity to conduct structured and situational-based interviews. A great example of a successful collaboration between innovative companies with one shared mission.


Becoming market ready

In 2019, we completed one year of beta-testing and Tengai finally became available for clients in Sweden. To grow on the international market, we became incorporated and thus separated from our "birth mother" TNG. 

During 2019, Tengai and the team participated in a lot of events and our CEO, Elin, shared the exciting development with the world. Tengai even got awarded “Best Newcomer” by the National Online Recruitment Awards 2019 in the UK.


Validated by psychometric experts 

2020 was a big year for us because our methodology was validated by Psychometrics AB. This assured us that Tengai accurately could make data-driven assessments without any human interference. The study also validated that Tengai's interview is assessing work performance and can be used to contribute to a more unbiased interview process. At this time, we also released user-friendly software for recruiters, to make the process even more transparent.


2022: Tengai goes digital

Now, Tengai has developed into a digital avatar, without a physical robot body. While the conversational AI and unbiased framework have stayed the same, we received feedback that the robot interface was inconvenient for both the candidates and recruiters. We, therefore, developed a new interface for Tengai, which still is interactive and has human-like behavior. Tengai's "personality" is still the same, but the digital version of Tengai takes away any physical limitations candidates experience. Which creates an even more inclusive screening experience. 


Robot interviews

Learn more about the history of AI, robotics, and how new technology is changing recruitment as we know it. 

Unbiased recruitment

We have 20 years of experience in unbiased recruitment practices. So we collected our best tips and tricks here.

What does the name Tengai mean?

The name Tengai derives from several sources. Firstly the name actually derives from a hat worn by Komuso. Which are Japanese mendicant monks within Zen Buddhism during the Edo period of 1600–1868. So a traditional Tengai is made of woven straw and covers a monk’s head and face. By wearing a Tengai, the monks “removed their ego” and could focus on what was at hand and nothing else. Exactly how we think an interview should be done. In other words, a recruiter should only focus on skills and competencies. Instead of allowing their own biases or prejudices affect them. This also entails not judging someone’s looks, tone of voice, gestures, ability to hold eye contact or their handshake.

But the name also pays homage to Tengai’s “birth mother” TNG and the company’s core mission to work with unbiased recruitment.


Our six principles 

These basic principles work as the foundation for our software and unbiased recruitment methodology.

1. Challenging the Requirement Profile

We are challenging job-requirements by questioning old truths. Because hiring managers should be thinking in terms of possibilities and future achievements. Instead of letting unconscious bias affect the judgment and basing the hiring decision on lookalikes and historical background.

2. Blind, Anonymous and Objective Interview

Presumptions around age, gender, culture, ethnics, and religion color our judgment. Therefore, Tengai is developed based on an interview process that is anonymous and objective in order to reduce unconscious bias.

3. Inclusive Recruitment Marketing

We create talent marketing that uses inclusive language. For example, this means that they don’t use words associated with age, gender, and culture. As well as, sharing all available positions on open platforms and social media for any interested job seeker.

4. All Candidates are Treated Fair and Equal

All job seekers get to conduct the validated robot interview, which is proven to objectively assess soft skills and personality traits for that specific role. So it is not the highest scoring candidate that is most important. But the one with the right skill-set.

5. Psychometric, Data-driven, Measurable

Our recruitment methodology is based on over 15 years of experience and research. It is completely unbiased and Tengai is validated by psychometric experts to accurately predict work performance. By interpreting answers independently, without any human involvement. The objective approach ensures consistency and brings more structure into the process.

6. Transparent Process

Recruiters can follow the process in real-time with Tengai, where every step is mirrored online. With our user-friendly software, hiring managers have the option to customize the process to fit specific recruitment needs in a completely transparent and fair way.

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