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5 Do's and Don'ts of Video Interviews

A man sitting at a desk with a laptop in front of a window.

​The coronavirus pandemic has made remote working and social distancing the norm, pushing recruiters and hiring managers to rely on videoconferencing platforms to interview candidates.

"Many organizations still need to screen, interview and hire new employees, and video interviewing allows them to get a better look at their candidates while maintaining employee and candidate safety," said Josh Tolan, CEO of video interviewing platform Spark Hire, based in the Chicago area.

Cindy Songne was recently hired as the chief people officer at Communo, a site that matches freelance talent with ad agencies. She went through the entire recruiting process virtually—a first for the company based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. All interviews were conducted via Zoom, and "it was a great experience," she said. "It felt really natural, more like conversations than formal interviews."

Global workforce management technology company ServiceNow has mixed video interviewing with in-person meetings for years, such as for summer intern selection. But total reliance on video is different.

"I don't think things will ever be the same," said Pat Wadors, chief talent officer and CHRO at ServiceNow. "Over the past few weeks, video has been the great equalizer for us. Somewhat counterintuitively, video has allowed us to find the humanity with one another. It invites us into people's real lives—pets, partners, kids and all."

The fundamentals of interviewing over video are not that different from in-person meetings, but there are a few things to keep in mind to do it well. Experts offer the following best practices for conducting seamless, engaging and successful video interviews.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Interviewing Candidates for Employment]

1. Test your tech.

The quality of the video connection is paramount. "Because technology can sometimes be unpredictable, you really need to test it in advance," said Sally Stetson, co-founder and principal at Salveson Stetson Group, an executive search firm in the Philadelphia area. "Make sure that the video and audio are working properly. I would recommend testing it again the day of the interview and knowing how to troubleshoot tech snafus quickly so you don't waste precious time."

Tolan said establishing a strong Internet signal is important—being hard-wired is best, but if that is not an option, sit as close to the Wi-Fi router as possible—and reach out to the platform's support team if you encounter any issues. Check the webcam and test the microphone. Headsets with a built-in microphone tend to offer a better experience than the mics built into laptops.

To check the quality of your video feed, call a friend and test it out. Providers like Spark Hire can also be of service.

"We have ways to let everyone test their connection, camera and microphone before they enter an interview," Tolan said. "This gives you the opportunity to reach out if you encounter any roadblocks."

Stetson said that recruiters may have to become adept at fixing glitches. She often helps candidates troubleshoot issues via chat if the video or audio is problematic.

Ashley Santiago, SHRM-CP, director of HR at Valley National Financial Advisors in Bethlehem, Pa., advised, "Be flexible in any situation that may arise." Have a backup plan. "I've had interviewees who experienced problems with their Internet connection, and I went with the flow and conducted the interview by phone instead."

2. Set the scene.

Many organizations sent their staff home abruptly when COVID-19 hit, leaving little time for recruiters and hiring managers to prepare home offices. Take the time now to create an appropriate background for interviewing. "Ensure you have a quiet place to complete the interview, with a neutral background," Tolan said.

Look at everything that will be on camera. "Frame the shot, making sure to find a static, solid background free from cluttered spaces," Stetson said. "Sometimes there are things in the shot that you didn't anticipate and don't want people to see. It's also very important to figure out the lighting. Sitting next to a window can sometimes be too bright, but not enough light can hide you in shadow."

Refrain from using the digital backdrops offered by some videoconferencing tools, as they can cause technical issues and look wacky.

"Frame yourself appropriately for the camera by allowing participants to see your head, shoulders and a portion of your upper torso," Stetson said. "Avoid close-ups or being too far from the camera."

Be sure to carefully consider your attire. "I would urge recruiters to be fully dressed appropriately," Stetson said, referring to the trend of "dressing up from the waist up." She added that "you may have to stand up for some reason, and you don't want to be caught wearing a nice blouse and blazer with yoga pants or pajamas."

Our colleagues are aware that we're all currently sharing workspace with spouses, partners, children and pets, and there is an understood level of flexibility in seeing these new "co-workers" appear in the background of video chats. Still, try to set boundaries.

"I've encouraged my own team to lead with empathy, kindness and courtesy," Wadors said. "Recruiters and candidates should be empathetic and not fret if a child or pet jumps into the video frame of an interview. We're working in rare circumstances and should all acknowledge that at times our circumstances can be unpredictable."

3. Have an agenda.

It is the employer's responsibility to make sure interviews are structured and engaging.

"You should continue to treat this as a normal interview even if it is conducted in a different way," Santiago said. She explained how video interviews work at Valley National: "I like to make sure that the candidates receive a schedule beforehand so that they know who will be interviewing them. I also like to break the ice in the beginning by making it a little more personable, to put the interviewee at ease."

Wadors instructed her recruiters to ask candidates about their well-being: "How are they holding up? How about their families? Is there anything they need to get off their mind? Just being curious and compassionate goes a long way to relax people."

Santiago said that just as for in-person interviews, questions based on the candidate's experience should be prepped beforehand.

4. Be mindful.

One of the worst things interviewers can do is appear distracted or unfocused.

"Sometimes working from home, you may tend to feel more relaxed, but you have to strike the right balance between being your authentic self and reflecting a certain level of professionalism," Stetson said.

She added that interviewers should try to avoid side conversations, instant messaging, and checking their phone or e-mail. "Be sure to verbally acknowledge that you'll be taking notes to avoid any misreading of your actions."

Songne urged recruiters and hiring managers to practice talking on camera. Maintain eye contact with candidates by having interview questions fixed next to or slightly behind the camera, eliminating the need to look down at them.

Finally, take care not to interrupt, Stetson said—a critical reminder for panel interviews. "Wait for a natural break in the conversation, and be sure to offer pauses, knowing that it takes a couple of extra seconds in this format for others to chime in."

5. Showcase the company.

Both employers and candidates lose a tangible part of the interview experience when it's conducted completely virtually.

"Candidates miss out on experiencing the company environment and the workplace culture as they try to figure out if the role will be a good fit," Stetson said. "That's why companies should have more of those insights on careers pages and on LinkedIn during this time. Portraying the company culture, with videos from the workplace showing what life is like at the company, may be the competitive edge you need to find the talent you're seeking."

Tolan said that elements of the employer brand should be woven into the video interview experience. "Since you don't have the opportunity to showcase your office and employees as much as you would for an in-person interview, we're encouraging organizations to get creative," he said. "Many customers are having team members record video messages to introduce themselves and talk about what it's like to work there. These video messages can be sent to prospective employees to give them a feel for the company."


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