The Virtual Interview

Cost and time savings are prompting more employers to turn to video interviewing tools.

By Dave Zielinski Jul 1, 2012
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July CoverThe venerable telephone screen is becoming just a memory in the hiring process at Ocean Spray, the juice company in Lakeville, Mass. To separate pretenders from contenders in initial rounds of interviews, recruiters now send candidates an e-mail link. The candidates then click to respond to preset interview questions while being recorded on a webcam.

Hiring managers review and rate the video profiles, share them with co-workers for comments, and move contenders to the next round.

This virtual screening tool has multiple benefits, says Martin Mitchell, senior manager of talent and diversity at Ocean Spray. It guarantees that the same questions are asked in the same way of each candidate, offers more insight into candidates' personalities than a phone screen and is schedule-friendly.

"Our hiring managers love being able to see candidates respond on screen to questions, rather than reading notes recruiters type up," Mitchell says. "They can watch the video profiles at their convenience during the workday or at night, and share them with other managers if they think [a candidate] might be a better fit for another position."

Recruiters create the one-way recorded interviews via an online technology platform provided by HireVue in Draper, Utah. The practice has freed up time for a "lean" recruiting team. "Previously, if we did phone screens with eight candidates, that meant eight hours for our recruiters and another four hours to type up and polish notes," Mitchell says. "The new system is a big time savings for them, and we can get a lot more candidates through the screening."

New Platforms

It wasn't long ago that video interviewing was restricted to Skype calls or asking candidates to interview from the videoconference suite of a FedEx Office store. Today, more recruiters in more companies rely on their own or vendor-supplied online platforms for one-way recorded interviews or live, two-way interviews. Many are drawn by improved broadband connections, a desire to offer promising prospects technical support, and the travel cost or productivity-related savings.

In an August 2011 survey, the Boston-based Aberdeen Group found that 42 percent of respondents were using web-based video for at least some job interviews, up from only 10 percent in 2010. Respondents in the Talent Acquisition Lifecycle study included managers from 500 companies of diverse sizes across various industries.

"Video-enabled interviewing is no longer just something HR leaders are curious about. More are actually adopting it," says Mollie Lombardi, an Aberdeen human capital research analyst.

Standardizing the interview process represents one justification for using one-way recorded interviews. The interviews also add a visual element to candidate screening and create efficiencies. Yet the main driver for video interviewing continues to be cost savings. According to another 2011 Aberdeen report, ROI of Video Collaboration, 72 percent of the managers surveyed identified reduction in travel costs as the primary reason for these investments.

When Ocean Spray brought finalists to its manufacturing facilities for in-person interviews, it cost $1,000 per interview once airfare, hotel stays, and car rental or taxi fares were paid. Video interviews eliminated these costs. And, "With video, we also can arrange to interview candidates faster, and they don't face the problem of having to take time off from work to travel," Mitchell says.

Replacing the high travel-related costs are smaller fees paid to vendors. Most companies pay per interview or through an unlimited-use contract. Many use a software-as-a-service model.

Kip Welch, director of recruitment for Chesapeake Energy Corp., a natural gas company in Oklahoma City, Okla., pays about $100 per interview hour for live video interviewing services provided by GreenJobInterview in Costa Mesa, Calif. Welch says the system saved him $400,000 in 2011 for 458 job interviews when compared against previous costs for flying candidates in.

'Soft' Cost Advantages

Tom Marshall, managing partner of Helgesen Industries Inc., a manufacturer of hydraulic fluid products in Hartford, Wis., with 400 employees, uses live video interviewing to screen candidates for sales positions.

Because the jobs are so pivotal to company growth, Marshall does much of the interviewing himself through an online technology platform provided by Montage of Delafield, Wis.

Marshall can now qualify each sales candidate in about 30 minutes to decide whether to fly the individual in for the next step. In the past, having to arrange a lot of early-round in-person interviews was a "scheduling nightmare."

"The soft costs, or my time, are even more significant to me than the hard costs of travel-related savings," Marshall says.

Online video also gives him the advantage of seeing candidates on their home turfs. He once had a candidate conduct an interview from his backyard.

Some recruiters use recorded or live video interviews to foster collaboration around hiring decisions.

"Later in the interview, he proceeded to take the webcam and show me some of the meticulous landscaping he had done in the yard that he was proud of," Marshall says. "It's hard to get that kind of insight into who people really are by sitting with them in my office."

At the Pi Lambda Phi Educational Foundation Inc. in Richmond, Va., one-way recorded interviews ease scheduling burdens, says consultant Shawn Upchurch, president of UpSearch. A volunteer with the foundation, Upchurch says its volunteer governing board does much of the screening and hiring of paid staff, scholarship applicants and "mission-critical" volunteers. Previously, gathering board members for those evaluations was a tall order.

"We can now have candidates record video interviews and have the board rate and leave comments on the interviews at their convenience," Upchurch says. And, candidates consider use of the technology progressive.

Human resource leaders trying to build a business case for using vendors' virtual interviewing services are usually asked why they don't opt for free or inexpensive options such as Skype or Apple's FaceTime video calling application instead. For many, it's a matter of:

  • Ensuring a reliable high-quality video connection.
  • Providing technical support to candidates.
  • Branding.

"We don't want candidates to have to overcome any hurdles," says Laura Linthicum, director of recruiting for T.G.I. Friday's restaurants, owned by Minnetonka, Minn.-based Carlson Co. Linthicum uses Montage's virtual interviewing platform for recorded and live interviews. "The candidate has someone standing by to help" with the technology.

Visual and Collaborative

For many recruiters and hiring managers, evaluating body language and personality communicated in video interviews adds a new element not available in a phone screen. When the Aberdeen Group researchers conducted a case study of Wal-Mart as part of a recent project, the retailer's recruiters highlighted the value they found in using one-way video interviews to screen candidates for pharmacist jobs.

Wal-Mart officials separate pharmacist candidates according to their "ability to interact with customers over the counter," Lombardi says. "Recruiters believe recorded interviews give them a better idea of how personable candidates might be."

Video profiles are used for similar reasons at T.G.I. Friday's restaurants for guest-facing positions such as store manager.

Giving candidates the option to re-record answers if they're not happy with responses adds another dimension, Linthicum says.

Because her hiring team members are frequently mobile, Linthicum says it's easier for them to view candidate videos on the road than to schedule or conduct phone screens. "You can log in at night and catch up on evaluating video profiles without having to worry about anyone else's schedule," she says.

Some recruiters use recorded or live video interviews to foster collaboration around hiring decisions. With more stakeholders participating—by logging on to live interviews from multiple locations or leaving comments for colleagues to read on recorded interviews—more input leads to better candidate selection. "You tend to get a more multifaceted view of candidates, and when others can easily see comments already left about applicants, it can lead to better, faster decision-making," Lombardi says.

Recorded video interviews can be a timesaver for candidates as well, Lombardi adds. Instead of reiterating answers to typical early-round questions with every person, they record their responses once.

Overhauling Interviews

Not everyone is enamored with one-way recorded interviews, however. For some, predetermined questions have limits, primarily in reducing the ability to ask probing follow-up queries that can yield valuable insight into candidates' past decision-making or behavior.

In other cases, recruiters voice concern that "passive" candidates, or those recruited but not actively seeking jobs, won't want to risk a video interview circulating or falling into the wrong hands.

PepsiCo Inc. uses live video for early-round interviews for entry- through executive-level positions, says Sheila Stygar, PepsiCo's senior director of talent acquisition. But company leaders say asking candidates to record interviews, rather than conducting them live, strays from their recruiting philosophy.

"Our candidates are interviewing us, just like we are interviewing them," Stygar says. "We also know many candidates are consumers of our products. So it's important they have a positive experience with us throughout the interviewing process, regardless of whether they end up being hired."

Video is transforming traditional hiring at many organizations. Yet the technology can still be a tough sell for human resource leaders trying to convince others wedded to in-person interviewing or wary of vendor costs.

The author is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis.

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