These days, video interviews are very much part of the recruitment scene – both for recruiters and for companies who are looking for staff. An analysis of placements we’ve made so far this year shows that the majority of hires have been made using online interviews – i.e. without the candidate and the hiring manager meeting in person at all.
A few years ago this would have been unthinkable – before 2019 I can’t recall ever having received a job offer for a candidate for a permanent job where the parties HADN’T met in person.
But things are very different now. Everyone’s doing it!
But are they the be-all and the end-all? Are there alternatives? Here are five reasons why video interviews work well, and five reasons where they fall short.
Pros of video interviews
Here are the five main advantages of video interviews, as we see them.
The main reason that video interviews work well is that they are so convenient. We interview virtually all our candidates using video interview software nowadays. We’ve interviewed people at home, in their cars, while out walking, and even when they’re actually at work! (Not usually recommended.)
Convenience goes hand in hand with accessibility. You can now interview people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend a meeting in person very easily because of mobility issues, for example.
The technology for all this is available to everyone with access to the internet, and it’s often available without needing to download any software at all.
If you happen to own a smartphone (and 92% of people in the UK did in 2021) then the tech you need is literally in your pocket. And you can’t get much more convenient than that.
Cost / efficiency
Video interviewing software is very cheap – or free. You can pay for specialist software, like we do with Hinterview, but it’s easy enough to do it for nothing using WhatsApp, Facebook, Zoom, and MS Teams if you have Office 365. The only real cost is your time, and even that is considerably reduced because video interviews are usually shorter than in-person interviews.
Talking of time, most interviews that we do ourselves only take about 10-15 minutes, which can easily be fitted into a coffee / lunch break, although the interviews our clients conduct can end up being much longer than this – sometimes comparable in duration to a traditional face-to-face interview.
But don’t forget the time that isn’t wasted before and after the meeting! In particular, the hours spent travelling to and from the interview location. This is usually time spent by the candidate rather than by the interviewer, but it still has an effect on how the interviewer themselves feels.
When someone has made the effort to physically move themselves to a different location it seems rude to allocate them less than half an hour at the very minimum, so it’s common to spend longer on the interview than necessary – you’ve already made your mind up but you carry on for the sake of good manners. With video there’s no such obligation – in fact, the need for small talk is somehow considerably less.
Don’t forget the expense of travelling to and from the interview, fuel / train tickets / taxis / parking / sandwiches. None of this applies online.
Specialist recruitment video interviewing software usually allows you to record the interview and send a link on to the end client for their review. The software we use (Hinterview) has this feature.
The format we adopt is as follows: our client supplies us with four or five questions that they would like us to ask. We set up a video interview with the candidate(s) and ask them these questions, with follow-ups where appropriate. It’s a real conversation and both the recruiter and the candidate are visible on the screen.
We spend some time talking to the candidate before we start the recording, to explain what’s going to happen and to get their permission to record. If they’re nervous we try to put them at their ease before going live. Then we press the red button and ask the questions. Our client gets a link to the recording, which they can watch at their own convenience on any device with internet connection. We often get feedback from clients late in the evenings, which suggests to me that these video interviews are being watched on the sofa after the kids have gone to bed.
Sociable, no. Convenient, yes!
This is an easy one. As remote working becomes ever more popular, so is the need to interview online.
Think of the extra reach you have if you’re prepared to employ people who don’t live down the road. No matter where your office is based, you will always be able to widen the pool of available candidates if you will consider people living elsewhere.
So far we have set up video interviews with people in Europe, North America, South America, Africa and Australia. Just Asia and Antarctica to go!
Holiday interviews happen too – they can actually work very well, and there’s no need to dress up if the other party knows you’re away from home. Remember to put on a shirt, though.
Interview nerves are very common, but video interviewing reduces the extent of the problem. Doing an interview in your own home, using your own equipment, and wearing whatever you like on the bottom half of your body – all these things combine to make the experience less daunting than attending in person. You don’t have to stress about missing the train, or sitting in traffic, or needing the toilet; these are no longer factors, so you can concentrate on doing your best in the interview itself without these distractions.
And once the interview is over you can relax immediately.
Cons of video interviews
This all sounds very positive so far, but it’s not all good news! Here are five areas where video interviews are not necessarily the best way forward.
Reliance on technology
We talked earlier about the technology you need, and how available it is. But problems can still arise!
Internet issues are the main culprit here – you need decent broadband to have a two-way conversation online, and it’s not always guaranteed, no matter what your service provider thinks.
In addition, the software you use might fail without warning (although it hasn’t happened with Hinterview yet).
And phones do run out of battery, of course.
No matter how good your broadband, or how well you’re getting on, or how in-depth your conversation, meeting online can never be as good as meeting in person, from the point of view of getting to know someone.
Latency – the inevitable delay before a transfer of computer data begins – can range from very short to uncomfortably long, but communication is never going to be instant. This can have a real negative effect on conversation flow, as anyone who has ever had to say ‘No, after you’ more than once to the same person for the same interruption will understand.
My estimate is that video interviewing is 90% as good as meeting in person, which is fine for most circumstances – especially for remote working – but not perfect. See ‘Personal Factors’.
As humans, we are wired to judge other humans in very subtle and often unconscious ways. We instinctively pick up on various characteristics that you just wouldn’t get via a screen: body language, physical presence, even smell.
Unconscious bias isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it’s only natural. In some ways it’s good to eliminate these factors and judge solely on interview performance, but if you’re going to be working in the same room as the candidate you’re interviewing, you need to know that you can get on with them in person, and that they will represent your company / team in the way you want them to.
Video interviews don’t allow you to make these judgements, so you might get it wrong.
While video interviewing might be good for most people, especially those who are good with IT, it’s not so easy for everyone. Some people don’t have a smartphone, or don’t have good broadband, or they may be dealing with other difficult circumstances that you don’t know about. They may not be able to afford the equipment they need, or they may be uncomfortable with the idea of being recorded.
And things can happen online that would be impossible in a face-to-face interview situation. Dogs bark, postmen knock, children cry. Things like this can unsettle a nervous candidate and it’s possible for the interviewer to judge them for events that are out of their control.
Be mindful of not indirectly discriminating against candidates like this.
Not taking it seriously
Maybe it’s the convenience of it all, maybe it’s the fact that the interview is only likely to last to 10 minutes, or maybe it’s because you have another meeting at 2, but it’s true to say that not everyone takes a video interview as seriously as they would a face-to-face encounter. This goes for both parties – hiring managers and jobseekers.
Our advice is always to prepare for an online interview in the same way as for one that’s in-person.
If you’re the candidate, consider what you’re wearing, think about the lighting and what’s in the background, do your research and arrive on time.
If you’re the interviewer, read the person’s CV in advance, be punctual, and have a structure for the interview.
When both parties get it right, video interviews work well, but getting it wrong risks the reputation of the company, or the candidate, and – most importantly – the recruiter!
That last bit was a joke, but we know from experience that great candidates can let themselves down badly by not preparing themselves properly, and otherwise-reliable clients have missed out on star candidates by doing the same.
Conclusion: video interviews – good or bad?
Full disclosure: at Blues Point we love doing video interviews – and we’ve been fully converted to their charms since 2019. When covid struck in 2020 they became much more popular, simply because there was no other option, and it’s fair to say that others have now cottoned on, and they are now a staple of the recruitment process for many.
In conclusion, they’re very very useful, but not quite perfect. The traditional alternative of meeting up in person is still something to aspire to, but video interviews are very nearly as effective, and are much more convenient for all concerned.
Read more about video interview techniques here and here.