Video Interviewing: Not Yet Ready for Prime Time

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Video Interviewing: Not Yet Ready for Prime Time by Mike Frost
HR Magazine, August 2001

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Video may have killed the radio star, as the 1980s novelty song by the Buggles observed. But video interviewing has a long way to go before it makes extinct more traditional forms of employee screening.

Despite technological advances in teleconferencing, video recording and streaming media, the applications for video interviewing have not advanced significantly beyond a few years ago. Still, as companies expand their candidate searches nationally, and even internationally, many expect video interviewing to grow in popularity.

Video interviewing allows long-distance candidates to be more viable, says Carole Martin, SPHR, an author and the president of www.interviewcoach.com. And one of the big advantages is that, unlike a phone interview or looking at a resume, a video interview really lets you observe the candidate, their body language and how they answer questions, adds Martin, who is also the interview expert on the Monster.com web site.

Right now, video interviewing has three primary constituencies:

  • Universities and community colleges, which offer video interviewing facilities to employers to assist their campus recruiting efforts.

  • Executive recruiting firms, which use video interviewing to sort through candidates from around the country and even worldwide without incurring the expense of flying them in.

  • Large corporations that use video interviewing to screen candidates in remote locations.

We see video interviewing being used most often by larger organizations, often the Fortune 500 companies, says Kathleen Vanyo, a managing consultant in the Phoenix office of the outplacement firm Drake Beam Morin. Not surprisingly, its most popular with high-tech companies as well as those in the communications industry.

The key advantage video screening offers is cost savings, says Jim Dick, chief executive officer of Candidate Quality Management (CQM), an Owings Mills, Md.-based firm offering video interviewing services primarily to academic and government units.

Most employers that use video interviewing have a tendency to focus on how much they're saving in travel costs, which video conferencing certainly does help with. But, another thing that companies have recognized is that video interviewing results in significant savings in administrative costs, Dick says.

Ways to Watch

CQM can either facilitate a live videoconference between candidate and employer or provide the company with an unedited videotape of a screening session conducted by a professional interviewer. This cinema verite approach ensures that the video interview resembles an in-person meeting as closely as possible. In person, Dick says, a candidate would not be able to erase her answer, so she cant do so on the videotape, either.

At Hire Intelligence, a Houston-based company that provides video screening services to employers and staffing firms, candidates interviews are watched over the Internet.

We offer a turnkey recruiting solution that allows employers and staffing agencies to review high-quality, prerecorded video interviews of job candidates along with their profiles, on demand, from our video-serving network, says Kathleen Zaccaria, founder and president of Hire Intelligence.

Hire Intelligence has candidates travel to a nearby videoconference center to answer an interviewers questions. Some candidates have been referred to Hire Intelligence by an employer or staffing firm. Others are job-seekers who have approached Hire Intelligence directly to be placed in its system.

The company also facilitates live videoconference interviews. These, too, can be stored on Hire Intelligences server and viewed by potential employers.

Generally, the purpose of the video interview is as a pre-screening tool. Candidates are given a list of 10 questions, based on their profile, says Zaccaria. The interviews take the place of phone screens performed by HR offices and staffing firms. With a video, a hiring manager can get a better idea of how well an applicant communicates and presents himself. And, it gives the candidates a better opportunity to represent themselves. I cant tell you how many times a candidate has said to me, If I could just get in front of the employer, I know I could get this job. Video interviewing allows them to do that early on in the process.

Both CQM and Hire Intelligence require candidates to travel to nearby teleconference centers to conduct their interview. Although this saves time and money, critics say the real promise of video interviewing wont be realized until candidates don't have to travel any farther than their home office to be interviewed.

That's the approach used by FutureStep, a retained executive search firm owned by Korn/Ferry International and The Wall Street Journal. When FutureStep wants to interview a candidate who has previously submitted a profile on its web site, the company sends him loaner video equipment, which is then used for the screening interview.

We use small videophones, which are sent via FedEx to candidates homes, explains Linda Blair, managing director of search operations. They can hook it up themselves, using their regular phone lines. We initiate the call from our offices, and after about 30 seconds, they can see us on the phones 4-inch by 4-inch screen.

It's very easy to use. We've very rarely had any problem, says Blair. FutureStep forwards interviews on CD-ROM to its client employers.

This approach allows FutureStep to screen a large volume of candidates quickly and economically. This replaces flying a candidate in for a face-to-face screening interview with us, says Blair.

In fact, says consultant Vanyo, most companies use video interviewing for screening and intake sessions, rather than hiring interviews. Its a time- and cost-effective way to interview and screen a lot of candidates quickly.

Despite these savings, she notes, employers haven't exactly embraced video interviewing. Each quarter, we have 75 to 100 executives in transitions. I don't think more than one or two are asked to do a video interview.

What's putting video interviewing in pause mode?

In part, Vanyo believes many employers are content with traditional phone screens, particularly with the advent of convenient cell phones and cheap long-distance service. Another thing were seeing in this relatively flat employment market is that candidates are willing to fund part or all of their travel to get in front of a potential employer. People are taking extraordinary steps to arrange face-to-face interviews.

Another drawback: Access to high-speed phone and Internet connections needed to achieve synchronized voice and video transmission is not nearly as commonplace as many predicted it would be.

Our clients are very impressed with the technology, says Blair of FutureSteps videophone-based interviews. But while the audio is exceptional, the picture is not crystal clear or broadcast quality. Its also slightly out of synch with audio.

There are also legal concerns. Video interviews should not be used in place of a formal application or resume, says Holly Robbins, an associate attorney in the labor employment group at the law firm of Faegre & Benson in Minneapolis. There are questions you cant ask on an application, such as age or race. But these are going to be obvious on a videotape. Instead, says Robbins, video interviewing is more appropriately used as a substitute for a face-to-face first interview, where an employees physical characteristics are evident to a hiring manager.

Tony Lee, general manager of CareerJournal.com, an executive career site that tracks employment trends, says video interviewing introduces another kind of bias. It tends to favor candidates who know how to play to the camera, he says.

Stand By for More

But with employers casting their nets ever more widely to snag high-quality candidates, video interviewing is becoming increasingly common. And, industry observers believe, advances in telephony and technology will make video interviewing more practical and effective.

Martin expects job candidates to incorporate video presentations in the materials they present to potential employers. CDs will eventually replace plain-paper resumes, and videos and electronic profiles will probably not be far behind, she says.

CQMs Dick says advances in video streaming technology hold great promise for video interviewing. You're already seeing more and more employers with videoconferencing facilities in place, he says. The next innovation is to move video interviewing onto the Inter.net. The only thing holding that back right now is bandwidth.

As more companies and individuals get videophones, I think you will see video interviewing used more widely, says Vanyo. Even then, she doesn't think video interviewing will replace in-person contact. There's a human factor involved here. Think about the Internet. Everyone thought it would make job searching super quick, you apply online, interview online and hire very fast. We haven't​ seen that. Employers still want to meet the people they are hiring face to face.


Mike Frost, former director of Internet operations at SHRM, is a freelance writer and consultant based in Alexandria, Va.
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