Study Finds Ways to Improve Job Outcomes for People with Serious Mental Health Conditions Using Online Virtual Reality Job Interview Training

Virtual Reality Job Interview Training (VR-JIT) can help promote employment among people who experience serious mental health conditions and are engaged in individual placement and support (IPS), according to a federally-funded research study conducted at Thresholds with the University of Michigan.

IPS — an evidence-based model of supported employment — focuses on assessment, rapid job placement, job development, and ongoing supports for people experiencing serious mental health conditions who want to work. Thresholds is a community behavioral health nonprofit that offers services, including IPS, to those experiencing mental health conditions.

Virtual Reality Job Interview Training is an online simulator where people repeatedly practice with Molly Porter, a virtual hiring manager. Molly provides trainees with practiced interview skills through a series of common job interview questions and gives them automated feedback about their responses. With IPS, approximately 50% of clients practice interview skills by role-playing with their employment specialists.

According to Dr. Matthew J. Smith, developing interview skills is a significant component to getting a job. Smith is the lead researcher from the University of Michigan and Director of the Level Up: Employment Skills Simulation Lab.

“Our recent study suggests that if clients learn how to sharpen their skills through VR-JIT they could help improve their employment outcomes. We found that virtual interview practice was especially helpful for a significant number of IPS clients who typically remained unemployed and are the most vulnerable to living in poverty.”

IPS is the most highly regarded evidence-based practice in supported employment for individuals with serious mental health conditions, yet some people in IPS still may not obtain jobs. Findings from this new study at Thresholds show that clients who struggled to obtain jobs within their first three months of IPS had a higher employment rate when combining VR-JIT with IPS, as compared to clients who only participated in IPS (52% vs. 19%). The group practicing interviews with Molly via VR-JIT combined with regular IPS practices also obtained their jobs more quickly, had improved job interview skills, higher job interview confidence, and lower job interview anxiety. These results support older studies of VR-JIT — occurring in laboratory settings — where trainees improved interview skills and had more job offers.

Thresholds’ IPS Team Leader, Nayab Boghani, said, “Our clients felt confident in talking to employers directly without the aid of the employment specialist. Many clients expressed that practicing, speaking, and answering questions helped relieve the anxiety they felt before practicing with Molly.”

All Thresholds study participants were 18 years or older, provided written informed consent, could read at least at a 4th grade level, and experienced behavioral health symptoms for conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. All participants completed interviews at the beginning and end of the study, reporting on multiple outcomes.

“It gave me a sense of being a little bit more comfortable and knowing what and what not to say and how to look the person in the eye. Because to be honest, the job I have now is due to Molly,” said Marquita Carter, a Thresholds client.

For decades, Thresholds has been a pioneer in employment research and evaluation, hosting some of the first studies that established IPS as an evidence-based model. IPS services at Thresholds also have received awards such as the 2006 Lilly Reintegration Award for employment and reintegration, and have served as a model for best practices nationally. These research programs also continue to enrich the field.

“Thresholds recognizes the vital role that research and evaluation have in advancing the quality of all clinical services and promoting their sustainability,” said Dr. Lisa Razzano, Vice President for Research at Thresholds and a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Thresholds values innovation and these ongoing partnerships with leading universities and academic health centers reflect our continued commitment to evidence-based practices.”

According to Dr. Smith, this study provides valuable information about the significance of job interviewing skills on obtaining work overall, as well as how VR-JIT and other tools like it can be seamlessly integrated into IPS services. Although these are results from one study, outcomes suggest that this job interview simulator can serve as a useful tool for IPS employment specialists.

“Employment Specialists could use the VR-JIT website to review their client’s progress working with Molly and bring that information to their one-on-one meetings,” said Dr. Smith. “This approach could help streamline their practice with clients, creating a more efficient model to build skills for the clients who request this type of assistance.”

About Thresholds: Thresholds is one of Illinois’ largest and oldest providers of mental health and substance use treatment. Thresholds provides innovative behavioral and primary healthcare that promotes empowerment, well-being, and full participation in community life. Through unwavering community-based engagement, support, and advocacy, Thresholds helps people living with mental health and substance use conditions find home, health, and hope. Learn more at

Media Contact: Debby Hernandez, 773-537-3868

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