Zooming in: what to expect from a virtual interview

The pandemic has obliged many employers to start interviewing job candidates on video. Given the benefits this process has offered, it could become a permanent fixture
Woman on Zoom

The virtual interview is edging ever further into the HR mainstream, thanks to both the huge increase in remote working since the Covid crisis started and the flexibility this hiring practice offers. The latest annual Resourcing and Talent Planning Survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has found that 54% of organisations are using video in recruitment, with two-thirds of these saying that the technology has accelerated the hiring process.

While virtual interviews offer several benefits, convenience is their main attraction. They can expedite a process that is often delayed by the process of coordinating both parties’ schedules to arrange an in-person meeting. 

“Video interviews will become a permanent part of recruitment,” says Lucy Bisset, director at the Liverpool and Manchester offices of recruitment company Robert Walters. “The ease with which two parties can jump online, with no travel required, and keep things to 30 minutes – which can often be tricky in person – helps to speed things up. At a time when job candidates are thin on the ground, employers are keen to keep the hiring process slick.”

Video could increasingly feature in the application process, too, Bisset predicts. 

“It’s almost a replacement for the first-stage interview, with applicants initially being sent a series of standardised questions to answer on video,” she explains. “Within a few hours, a hiring manager can have a shortlist by making quick-fire judgments based on candidates’ communication skills and their cultural fit, as well as the detail of their answers.”

The key to incorporating video successfully into job interviews is ensuring that the process goes as smoothly as possible. A few key techniques will help here.

Building rapport with a candidate remotely will involve several of the tactics you’d use for an in-person interview, just with a screen-friendly twist, Bisset says. 

“We’d usually shake hands when first meeting in person. On a video call, try to use more hand gestures to add warmth to your greeting,” she suggests.

If being calm and articulate over Zoom isn’t a core skill for the role, how people perform on camera should not be used as the benchmark for success

Another tip for keeping the conversation personable is to use the candidate’s name more often than you normally might and ensure that you look engaged throughout the meeting. 

“Interviewers should start with some small talk rather than launching straight into their questions,” says Claire McCartney, the CIPD’s senior policy adviser on resourcing and inclusion. “Before starting the interview proper, they should check that the candidate’s audio and video feeds are working and that they’re happy with the set-up.”

If you can, be somewhere where you don’t need to blur the video’s background, which can feel like a “subtle barrier”, according to Bisset. Also be sure to remind candidates that they’re not being judged on their skill at using videoconferencing software. 

Khyati Sundaram is CEO of Applied, the creator of a recruitment platform that’s designed to remove bias from the selection process. She says that interviewers “should make a conscious effort to be open-minded and accommodating of all candidates, always bearing in mind that some will take to virtual interviews better than others. If being calm and articulate over Zoom isn’t a core skill for the role, how people perform on camera should not be used as the benchmark for success.”

An awareness of diversity and inclusivity in virtual recruitment is essential for building a team that encompasses a breadth of voices, experiences and skills, Sundaram adds. 

“As the great resignation wears on, this is a smart move,” she says. “Our research shows that debiased hiring drives staff retention rates of up to 93%. I expect that more businesses will adopt a skills-based approach to hiring in the coming months to select the best people and feel confident that they’re going to stay.”

McCartney says that interviewers should ensure that they ask each candidate beforehand if they require any reasonable adjustments to the process – if they have a disability, for instance – just as they would for an in-person meeting. Making the experience as consistent as possible for all applicants is key to ensuring that the process is fair.

“Fairer remote hiring processes can be aided by digital tools,” Sundaram adds. “Centralised hiring software can enable several members of a hiring team to score the same candidate independently based on the same set criteria, without knowing that person’s identity or previous employers. This makes the process as objective as possible.”

Following up with each candidate promptly after the interview, whatever the outcome, is also important, according to McCartney. Giving feedback will “demonstrate appreciation of the candidates’ time and enhance their experience”, she says.

Whether candidates progress to an in-person interview or not should “always be determined by an objective scoring process”, Sundaram says. “This should be based on the extent to which the candidates’ skills match those required by the role, as determined by different members of the hiring team.”

And where should the next interview take place? Bisset envisages the humble coffee shop playing a greater role in the process. 

“This has always been an interesting technique,” she says. “It’s a great way for a hiring manager to see the level of confidence and ease that a prospective colleague displays in a neutral environment. With office space declining, I can see coffee shops becoming increasingly popular locations for second or final interviews – somewhere a candidate can talk without their surroundings feeling too clinical.”

What can a candidate’s online presence reveal?

Is there still a need to scrutinise a job applicant’s social media profiles before offering them a job, or even before inviting them to an interview? While doing so might sound as dated as the old holiday albums we all have lurking on our Facebook profiles, an awareness of a candidate’s online presence can still help in filling in some of the blanks on their CV. 

“In a world that’s becoming increasingly virtual, trust is often missing,” says Hannah Power, an independent business and personal branding coach. “It’s hard to build a relationship of trust with someone you don’t know ‘in real life’. Social networks enable the employer to take a look at the person and they offer a little accountability for how that individual behaves.”

A flick through someone’s Twitter account, for instance, will give you a chance to see how a person interacts with friends and strangers online. But most candidates are wise to the risk of being investigated this way and have set their profiles to private, protecting them from the critical gaze of a potential employer. LinkedIn is, of course, the exception. It offers candidates a platform from which to sell themselves and gives recruiters a chance to find the most exciting talent to approach.

Power suggests a few things to look out for when scanning a potential employee’s LinkedIn profile. “If they discuss their activities outside work, this gives them the chance to show that they have things they really care about,” she says, adding that any content they’ve shared can offer insights into the topics that make them tick. “It’s also interesting if they have made a lot of connections, as this demonstrates that they’re actively networking.”