The Report

Would you survive a video job interview?

Would you survive a video job interview?

Posting in Technology | From Issue 14 March 24 & 31, 2014

Screening candidates via Internet video services cuts corporate recruitment costs but may leave some would-be employees at a disadvantage.

When Stewart Wolfe was asked to schedule an on-demand video interview after applying for a marketing strategist position with Chipotle, he was caught off guard. “It was the first time I’d heard of it,” he recalls.

It’s a growing trend, though, as technology makes inroads into a process that once relied on phone calls and in-person conversations. A 2012 study by OfficeTeam showed 63 percent of human resources managers in the United States often interview candidates by video, up from just 14 percent one year earlier. That number includes casual, ad hoc Skype usage. A more recent innovation, however, centers on online platforms purpose-built for job interviews, with features that significantly alter the experience for both the employer and the potential employee.

For an on-demand, or one-way, video interview, a candidate logs onto an online platform on his or her own time. Using a computer’s camera, he or she records answers to questions shown on the screen. In most cases, a question is displayed, giving the candidate 30 seconds to prepare. Then, he or she gets two or three minutes to record an explanation about why his or her experience is a good fit for the job.

“Usually in an interview I listen to affirmation and the voice of the interviewer to make sure I’m kind of saying the right things,” Wolfe says. “But that is a luxury you can’t have when you’re recording a video.” 

Instead, he made an effort to ensure the video looked great. He set up three different lights in his dining room and practiced looking at himself while talking. How did Wolfe know to do these things? He previously worked in video production and was a media studies major in college. He got the job.

Major companies such as Samsung, UPS and the Discovery Channel are using on-demand virtual interview technology provided by GreenJobInterview, Take the Interview, Interview4 and other providers due to the advantages for the employer. Wendy Manganaro, talent acquisition and diversity manager for Ocean Spray, cites the cost and time savings for her company, which uses HireVue’s platform to screen first-round applicants for almost every position. According to third-party research commissioned by Montage, another provider, its clients save at least 50 percent of travel budgets and shave off at least two weeks in the hiring time span. But Manganaro stresses, “The true benefit for [Ocean Spray] is the ability to get multiple internal perspectives on each candidate.” That's because recorded videos can be watched and rated by numerous managers.

But how does this technology affect the candidate’s experience? And does it work in some people’s favor?

Manganaro sees one significant upside for the candidate: “You can do it at your leisure. You don’t have to take time off of work.” She feels every candidate is at “an equal disadvantage” regarding the lack of social cues when recording their answers.

Inna Kraner endured several video interviews before being hired as managing editor of startup referral service The Expert Institute. She calls the experience “nervewracking” but she’s “used to interfacing using FaceTime and Skype,” so it was a familiar process. Plus, the fact that The Expert Institute relied on video interviews “seemed modern. I was excited to join a company that was using it,” Kraner says.

But when Elizabeth Drachman needed to create an on-demand video for an editorial position with a news Web site, she found the experience off-putting. “I engage with people when I interview as opposed to just speaking about myself,” explains Drachman, communications manager for the international development organization DAI. “I am a great conversationalist—and this was the opposite of a conversation.”

Drachman found it “incredibly distracting to see yourself talking to yourself” and to watch the timer counting down the seconds as she answered questions. In her estimation, it’s “a terrible way to get a sense of someone. In fact, it gave me a pretty dismal opinion of the company overall.”

That judgment would make Kurt Heikkinen blanch. As president and CEO of Montage, he believes the experience of using his company’s technology, when done right, is a chance for an employer to provide deeper insight into the available position and its corporate culture than possible within a traditional job posting, through the use of features such as welcome videos. 

Cynthia Fukami, professor of management at the University of Denver’s Daniels Business College, says conducting job interviews via online technology with identical questions posed to everyone “offers companies some ability to control the bias, which is also beneficial to the applicant.” She points to the chitchat that happens in person: “How was your drive?” “Did you watch the Broncos game?” The answers “can cause you to like or not like someone,” which may or may not bias impressions. 

But no process is neutral. While Wolfe’s knowledge of video lighting might not be why Chipotle hired him, it certainly was a way for him to display his attention to detail and level of preparation.

Right now, most video interviews are part of the early screening process among organizations that use them. “This is really made for the first-round interview,” says Michael Morgenstern, The Expert Institute’s vice president of marketing. By using recorded interviews, his small, 20-person company can assess and consider a larger pool of nonlocal applicants for openings.

The major disadvantage to a candidate is his or her inability to interview the potential employer. “Not having the chance to ask questions is a real loss,” Fukami says. The candidate can’t learn anything from the process except what the employer chooses to reveal.

“The power differential is so much greater,” observes Matthew Lombard, a professor of media studies and production at Temple University who studies telepresence technologies. The companies “are going to watch what you created while answering their questions,” he says.

Lombard agrees that video interviews improve efficiency, and even muses whether they would be useful when considering Temple’s graduate school applicants. But in the end, “You’re putting on a presentation. You’re playing a role. It’s asking for a skill that not everybody has.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons

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Theresa Everline

Theresa Everline is a Philadelphia freelance writer interested in arts, culture and urban affairs. Formerly the editor-in-chief of Philadelphia City Paper, she has written for the New York Times, the “Ideas” section of the Boston Globe, NextCity.org and Preservation Online. Her essay about living in Cairo was selected as a “notable essay” for The Best American Travel Writing 2005.