Videoconferencing interviews viewed unfavourably – by both sides: Study

Less positive perceptions by interviewers and applicants
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/24/2013

Video interviews have their upsides, allowing recruiters to reach a broader pool of candidates while saving time by screening out the no-gos.

But a study out of McMaster University in Hamilton has found a few downsides to this approach, with both applicants and interviewers rating videoconferencing interviews less favourably.

“There are red flags that are raised by the study. It’s not saying necessarily you shouldn’t use videoconferencing interviews, we’re saying you should be careful in terms of how you use it,” said Greg Sears, co-author of the paper and associate professor of human resource management and organizational behaviour at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa.

The study involved 104 full-time MBA students randomly assigned to be interviewers or applicants, each doing both in-person and videoconferencing interviews.

A customized, web-based videoconference interview interface was developed for the study and, prior to each interview, participants were given an overview of the study and a job description.

The actual interviews were 25 to 35 minutes in duration and consisted of 12 situational interview questions.

Overall, applicants reported less favourable perceptions of procedural justice in the videoconferencing interviews. This meant lower ratings for chance to perform (they could show their skills and abilities), selection information (they understood what the interviewing process would be like) and job-relatedness (doing well in the interview meant they would do the job well).

They also had significantly less favourable evaluations of their interviewer when it came to key recruiter characteristics: personableness, trustworthiness, competence and overall appearance.

On the other side, interviewers scored job candidates lower in doing videoconferencing interviews when it came to overall performance, affect toward the applicants (if they would want to socialize with them) and hiring recommendation.

Unnatural setting

Because it’s not a natural setting, job candidates may act differently during videoconferencing interviews or feel they can’t “sell” themselves as well, said Sears.

“Maybe they’re more self-conscious about how they’re behaving and maybe they’re nervous so maybe they’re not responding as well to some of the questions like they would in a face-to-face interview. Sometimes it can be distracting, the technology is just distracting, so people aren’t thinking as clearly as they would.”

However, the study found interviewer ratings for perceived competence of job candidates did not differ during the videoconferencing. That’s encouraging, said Willi Wiesner, associate professor of human resources and management at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster and co-author of the study.

“One school of thought would argue the less of the non-verbal relationship-building stuff that comes into the interview, the more valid it should be because you’re focusing more on the factual answers and so forth,” he said.

“From that perspective… it’s quite possible that despite their disadvantages, online interviews might actually have greater validity. We don’t know the answer to that question.”

Technological issues

A big problem with videoconferencing may be the greater level of detachment or depersonalization.

“There’s a bit of a technological barrier that’s imposed with videoconferencing interviews compared to face-to-face interviews so, as a result of that, certain non-verbal and verbal cues don’t come across as well,” said Sears.

“There’s a lack of synchronization in terms of the communication process in general and, of course, the image is truncated as well in the videoconferencing interviews — you don’t actually see the person in their natural form, you’re just seeing the upper part of their body so there’s a bit of a different experience on both ends, and it’s a bit more mechanical.”

When an interview is in-person, the people are escorted to the office, there’s informal chatter and people become more comfortable and start to build a relationship, said Wiesner.

“That doesn’t happen as much with an online interview,” he said. “Features that might appear one way in a face-to-face interview will not appear the same way on the screen, and screen actors realize that and have to accentuate and cameras often zoom in when there’s facial expression that needs to communicate some kind of emotion. That’s not really possible in a webcam interview.”

Another challenge is the lack of eye contact as people usually look at the screen, not the webcam, which can be distracting and make it difficult for both parties to build rapport, said Wiesner. And if there is a poor Internet connection or poor equipment, that can lead to lags or breaks in the conversation.

Pre-recorded more popular

However, the study is based on real-time interviews and many employers use pre-recorded interviews, so the video quality is better.

Most video interviews are used to screen out candidates and are very handy when it comes to remote candidates or saving time, said Emilie Cushman, CEO and co-founder of Kira Talent in Toronto, provider of video interview screening.

“Most times, it’s used at the top of the funnel hand in hand with the resumé or online application, or at the phone-screen level,” she said.

“This really isn’t meant to replace an in-person interview, it’s meant to serve as the first-stage screen, so you still will have that second in-person interview where you can go more in-depth.”

By saving time in the screening process, employers can then spend time in-person with the people who are qualified to do the job, said David Singh, vice-president of strategy and operations at Kira Talent.

“We’re not trying to recreate your entire recruiting structure, we’re just trying to help in what we think is the bigger pain points.”

Pre-recorded videos can also be viewed by several people, and played back if necessary, to screen out candidates, and then live videoconferencing or in-person interviews can be used after, said Sean Fahey, founder and CEO of VidCruiter in Moncton, N.B.

But it’s not a good idea for employers to use one method for one job candidate and the other for another, unless absolutely necessary.

“That would be discriminatory because not everybody is being interviewed the same way,” he said.

While the study’s results were disheartening when it came to videoconferencing interviews, there’s more research to be done, said Sears, particularly when it comes to predictive validity, which means looking at how well these types of interviews can predict eventual job performance.


Getting it right

Tips for using videoconferencing for job interviews

• Use the same interview approach for all candidates who are competing for the same job.

• Use the best equipment and Internet connections to lessen delays or technical limitations.

• Ensure the cameras are positioned close enough to catch the facial expressions of both the interviewer and the candidate.

• Place the webcam as close to eye level as possible.

• Be more expressive than usual.

• Practise with readily available technology, such as Skype or FaceTime.

• Interviewers should take time at the start of the interview to outline the process and engage in small-talk to allow the applicant to get comfortable.

• Reserve videoconferencing for preliminary screening interviews — final selection is still a job for face-to-face interviews.

Source: McMaster University

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