The Pros and Cons of Virtual and In-Person Interviews

Recruiting experts share what they’ve learned one year after the start of the pandemic

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 26, 2021
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​Virtual interviewing became essential in 2020 for most companies when in-person job interviews were suddenly stopped due to social distancing orders.

Experts believe a combination of the two interviewing methods will be the way recruiting and hiring is done post-pandemic as traditional hiring practices make a comeback alongside recently adopted virtual processes.

Looking ahead, 41 percent of 1,140 hiring leaders said they plan to use a combination of in-person and virtual interviews, according to a study commissioned by HireVue, a video interview and assessment provider. The research found that 23 percent of respondents plan to move solely to virtual interviewing.

"Virtual interviews are not going away," said Peg Buchenroth, senior vice president of HR at staffing and recruitment firm Addison Group in Chicago. "Virtual interviewing will remain an option for talent acquisition, depending on the situation."

The optimal interviewing method is often tied to the type of recruiting being done, Buchenroth said. Video interviewing is clearly beneficial for high-volume recruiting, for example, or for roles that will be completely remote. "For senior roles, you may start out virtual, but at some point you'd want to have in-person engagement," she said. "Hiring for senior roles is a big investment, and you will want to interview those candidates in person."

The Benefits of Technology

Video interviewing accelerates the entire hiring process. Setting up onsite interviews with candidates and all relevant stakeholders is a chore for recruiters and sometimes fraught with canceled and rescheduled appointments.

Hiring managers can conduct more interviews in less time virtually than in person, said Colleen Garrett, SHRM-CP, a recruiter at health care staffing firm Clipboard Health, headquartered in San Francisco. "Once a call is over, the call is over," she said. "When interviewing in person, you have to account for the potential for someone to be late and other interruptions or obstacles that happen in the office."

The scheduling flexibility and availability of interview participants to log into their computer for an interview versus taking the time—and time off for employed candidates—to meet in person is one of the top benefits of virtual interviews, said Alexandra Obanion, lead recruiter and talent advisor at Celanese, a chemical technology company based in Dallas.

"Some candidates aren't able to easily travel due to any number of circumstances, and virtual interviews allow them a level of flexibility," Buchenroth said. For positions with several rounds of interviews, a predominantly virtual approach also works well, she added.  

Tiffany Ballve is a senior talent sourcing manager leading a team that oversees interview events for engineers at Microsoft. "Before going virtual because of COVID-19, we were doing about 15 of these events per month, bringing in about 30 to 65 candidates per event, always in person, at the Seattle campus," she explained. "We always had space and logistics limitations to interview that many candidates at the same time. Logistics kept us from scaling bigger. But moving to 100 percent virtual removed those logistical complications, so now we're running 30 to 35 events per month. We're saving so much money not having to pay travel costs."

Obanion said that virtual interviews also allow more of the employer's stakeholders to sit in on the interview from wherever they are around the world. Garrett further explained that recorded interviews can be reviewed by more team members on their own schedule or used for training purposes for new hiring managers and recruiters.

The expansion of recruiters' search parameters is another advantage of virtual interviewing and remote work. "You can connect with more remote and out-of-state candidates," Obanion said.

Buchenroth added that employers are not the only ones with the ability to cast a wider net. "The technology gives more candidates the opportunity to apply to jobs outside of their local area, too."

Can't Beat Face-to-Face for Engagement

While many would agree there's more of a personal connection on video than on a telephone call, meeting a candidate in person offers the best opportunity for genuine engagement.

"For roles that require strong social skills, such as client-facing or senior leadership positions, employers may want to meet candidates face-to-face," Buchenroth said. "In-person interviews offer a higher level of engagement. You can read body language better and get a better sense of someone's interpersonal skills."

She added that interviewing for roles that require skills demonstrations would also benefit from in-person interaction. "There are numerous tools that help test candidates virtually of course, but it may be best to bring those people in," she said.

Technology itself is another obstacle to virtual interviewing. "Not all technology is the same, and some of these interview platforms are glitchy," said Matt Duren, senior manager of talent acquisition at Tenable Network Security, a cybersecurity company in Columbia, Md. "They'll cut out on you, or there's Internet connectivity and bandwidth issues or video processing issues. You then have candidates being evaluated on the ability to maintain a video interview, which has nothing to do with the job itself."

Duren added that popular videoconferencing technology like Zoom and Microsoft Teams were meant to be collaboration tools and are not set up for job interviewing. "I think the functionality there needs to be improved for HR purposes," he said.

Clipboard Health's Garrett said requiring virtual interviews can also be a barrier to entry for low-income candidates who don't have Wi-Fi or laptops with reliable webcams at their disposal, or aren't as technologically savvy to navigate interviewing software.

The shared pandemic experience has engendered empathy among recruiters and hiring managers, but new biases may have also been born, such as judgment of a candidate's ability to effectively do a video interview or judgment of a candidate's home surroundings, referred to as  "background bias."

Finally, some people aren't familiar with the video-interviewing format and just don't like it, feeling that it's uncomfortable or unnecessary. Adapting to a new normal of remote hiring could be stressful and frustrating for some.

"It could be awkward for those who have never done it before," Obanion at Celanese said. "There can also be distractions, which make it easier to lose focus."

Duren agreed but said distractions have become normalized since the pandemic. "One recruiter I know said he did an interview with a candidate who had a screaming baby on her lap the whole time. He just accepted it. I was doing an interview and my daughter started playing her bass clarinet nearby. I've stopped apologizing for it."

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