You’ve conducted hundreds of face-to-face interviews in the past. A virtual interview simply involves doing the same thing but through a screen, right?
Not quite. Virtual interviews have a unique set of benefits and challenges. Conducting virtual interviews incorrectly can make them seem like a poor alternative to in-person interviews, but getting them right can lead to efficiency gains, reduced bias, and excellent hiring outcomes.
In this article we explore the following topics and share some virtual interview best practices for hiring managers, recruiters, and other interviewers:
- What is a virtual interview?
- In-person vs virtual interviews
- Types of virtual interviews and interview tools
- Conducting virtual interviews
- Getting the most out of a virtual interview
- Reducing bias in a virtual interview
- One-way virtual video interviews
- Focusing on the candidate experience
What is a virtual interview?
Virtual interviews enable recruiters and hiring managers to ask questions of job candidates without meeting face-to-face. The interview can take place in real-time or answers can be pre-recorded by the candidate. Virtual interviews are made possible with video conferencing platforms and other online tools including instant messaging and chatbots.
According to TechRepublic, 86% of companies conducted job interviews virtually in 2020.
In-person vs virtual interviews
While there are several benefits to conducting in-person interviews, virtual interviews provide just as many – or possibly more – benefits for recruiters and hiring managers.
In-person interviews enable the interviewer to read the candidate’s body language, such as their posture during the interview or physical signs of nervousness. In a virtual situation, the interviewer is limited to watching the candidate’s facial expressions for non-verbal cues.
Showing the culture
When a shortlisted candidate visits your office, hiring managers often take the opportunity to conduct a brief tour to help give them a feel for the workplace culture and facilities. Virtual interviewers have to “tell, not show”, which may not be as effective in portraying the culture. However, this can be achieved at other times in the recruiting process by creating videos that show what it is like working at your company.
If you’ve ever run a high-volume hiring project, you will know that one of the major challenges is scheduling. Juggling candidate availability with the calendars of multiple interview panelists can be extremely difficult, along with securing a meeting room in a busy office. Virtual interviews are much easier to schedule because candidates and interviewers can join the meeting from anywhere and do not need to commute to a central location.
Most video interviewing platforms have the option to record both the video and audio of a virtual interview with the tap of a button. This can allow interviewers to re-watch the interview at a later time (useful if there is a strong debate over the best candidate), or enables people who were absent to watch the interview. Recording can also be crucial for probity purposes, or could be used in a training situation to help interviewers improve their interviewing skills.
Be sure to inform candidates if you are recording the interview, and let them know the purposes the recording will be used for.
While virtual interviewing technology is a great enabler, it also comes with technological risks. Interviews can be interrupted by poor connectivity, or candidates (and interviewers) may have difficulty learning to use the technology.
Virtual interviewing has proven an effective way for companies to hire safely without exposing candidates and employees to the risk of exposure to Covid-19.
Types of virtual interview and virtual interview tools
While video conferencing platforms are the best-known virtual interview tools, there are other options available. These include:
Virtual interview software
Virtual interview software is similar to video conferencing software but has functionality that is tailored to virtual interviewing.
One-way video interviewing software
One-way video interviewing software involves candidates pre-recording video answers to a standardized set of interviewing questions.
Chatbots can be programmed to ask candidates a set of standardized questions by text and in some cases rich media. Candidates might be asked to answer questions by either free text or multiple choice.
Automated phone interviews
Automated phone interviews involve candidates listening to pre-recorded questions and recording their answers by phone.
Text-based live interviews
Text-based live interviews involve interviewing candidates using instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp.
Conducting virtual interviews
Preparation is key to ensuring the smooth running and positive outcomes for virtual interviews. Use the following tips to increase the chances of a successful interview for both parties.
Provide details to the candidate
Give the candidate plenty of information and let them know what to expect. You may choose to provide tips on using the virtual interview software or advice on presentation in a virtual setting.
Have a plan B
Have a plan B that is ready to go in case of technical difficulties. This could involve having the candidate’s email or phone number at hand so you can contact them immediately if the video connection is lost.
Standardize interview questions
Create a standardized set of interview questions to enable assessment, help minimize bias and create a level playing field for every candidate. Stick to the script and resist going off-topic during the interview.
Log on 10 minutes before the interview to check the connection and confirm audio and video features are working. Encourage candidates to do the same thing, and have a plan B (such as switching to a phone call) in place in case something is not working.
Be on time
You wouldn’t walk into an in-person interview 15 minutes late, so don’t make the mistake of thinking lateness is acceptable in a virtual interview. Similarly, avoid rescheduling interviews unless it is really necessary.
Remember that while you are judging the candidate on their appearance, they are doing the same to you, the interviewer. Make sure you dress appropriately and conduct the virtual interview from a well-lit, distraction-free location. Turn off anything that may distract you during the interview such as email notifications or text messages.
Afterward, be sure to get in touch with the candidate (either manually or with automated candidate messaging) to thank them for attending the interview and inform them of the next steps and expected timelines. Don’t “ghost” unsuccessful candidates – they deserve to be kept in the loop and informed of the result as soon as possible.
Getting the most out of a virtual interview
Typically, most of an interview is spent attempting to determine if a candidate has the skills required to do the job.
Get more out of your interview time by pinpointing top performers before the interview by using a skills assessment. This will give you the confidence that all shortlisted interviewees have the skills required. It will also free up the interview time to focus on other issues such as cultural fit, telling the candidate about the workplace culture, or determining what the candidate can bring to the team.
While it can be easy (and often interesting) to get sidetracked, be sure to stick to standardized interview questions to make sure everything is covered and to reduce bias.
Use the tools and functionality available to you. For example, some virtual interviewing platforms have functionality including automated subtitles (vital for hearing-impaired candidates), automated note-taking, screen-sharing, and more.
Reducing bias in a virtual interview
Ways to reduce bias when conducting a virtual interview include:
- Delaying bias by replacing resume screening with skills testing. This will mean that seeing shortlisted candidates on-screen will be the first time you are exposed to factors such as age and gender, but any unconscious bias will be balanced by the knowledge that you are looking at one of the top performers across the skill set necessary to do the job.
- Avoiding one-on-one interviews. Having multiple interviewers will lessen the chance of one person’s biases impacting the results. However, it is important to avoid overwhelming the candidate with too many interviewers in a virtual interview split-screen environment. Limit the panel to five at the most.
- Using text-based interviews. While it can be hard to get a full impression of a candidate via text, this interviewing technique is truly blind so long as the interviewer avoids asking any questions that may lead to bias.
- Asking a standardized set of questions to ensure a level playing field for every candidate and giving every candidate the same length of time.
Depending on which country you live in, there may be several questions that it is illegal to ask. In Australia, for example, interviewers cannot ask about the candidates’ ethnic background, religion, age, sexual preference, political leanings, disabilities or inquire if they are pregnant or planning pregnancy.
One-way virtual video interviews
Having candidates record answers by video to a set of standardized questions can be a powerful part of your online skills assessment. Not only will it help you see if the candidate nails the answer, but it will also be a way for them to showcase their personality.
One-way video interviews avoid scheduling challenges as they allow assessors to review the videos at a time of their choosing. Their standardized nature also helps reduce bias.
Remember to set the candidate up for success by providing clear instructions, such as how long they should spend answering each question.
Focus on the candidate experience
Virtual interviews should be treated as an extension of your brand. This means that the look and feel should align with the way your company speaks with its customers.
Be aware that a candidate who has a negative virtual interview experience with you may become a detractor, damaging your employer brand online. Treat every candidate with respect by logging into the interview on time, communicating frequently, and asking them for their feedback on what they believe could be improved.