Video Interviews Help Address Long-Term Unemployment

By Roy Maurer Mar 5, 2015
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HR and hiring managers began using video interviewing to simplify the hiring process and increase access to a wider range of talent, but some companies have found that the technology can also help address one of the country’s most vexing problems: long-term unemployment.

About one-third of the 9 million Americans counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as unemployed are considered long-term unemployed—jobless for 27 weeks or more.

About 2.6 million have been unemployed for a year or more. About one-third of that group have been unemployed for more than two years.

Compounding the problem, employers are disinclined to hire even well-qualified job applicants who have been out of work for six months or longer, according to the National Employment Law Project. The long-term unemployed are about half as likely as the short-term unemployed to get a callback, according to a White House report. The interview callback rate for otherwise identical resumes falls sharply as the length of unemployment rises, with callbacks 45 percent lower for those unemployed for eight months compared to those unemployed for just one month, the report said.

Removing Barriers

In January 2014, the White House launched an employer initiative with over 300 companies signing a pledge to develop leading practices for recruiting and hiring the long-term unemployed.

One of the companies highlighted was Frontier Communications.

“Frontier changed the way we meet applicants,” said Jim Oddo, senior vice president of human resources at the Stamford, Conn.-based telecom. Frontier made a commitment to take down barriers in the application process and give those with gaps in their employment history a chance to let their personality shine, by shifting from “resume first to interview first,” Oddo explained. “Instead of recruiters opening up a position and looking at a pile of resumes, we shifted to video interviewing” for the company’s call-center sales and service representative jobs, he said.

“We found that applicants’ prior experience was not really a key determining factor of future behavior and that the soft skills and competencies that a candidate possessed, such as optimism, motivation, empathy, enthusiasm and the ability to delight the customer, were more important indicators of their future contribution.” The ability to delight a customer is not easy to find on someone’s resume, Oddo explained, and “Video interviews gave us a way to quickly identify those competencies.”

Video interviewing is just one way employers can assess a candidate’s soft skills, commonly reported as the most important and most difficult attribute to assess.

Employers that have incorporated skills-based hiring rather than relying on recent job experience have seen a 25 percent to 75 percent reduction in turnover and a 50 percent to 70 percent reduction in time-to-hire, cost-to-hire and time-to-train, according to a 2014 guide for employers looking to hire the long-term unemployed, produced by Deloitte and the Rockefeller Foundation.

“People are who they are, not what they write,” said Mark Newman, founder and CEO of HireVue, a digital recruiting platform and video interview service provider. Newman predicts that empowering candidates to tell their stories will be the next era in recruiting and hiring. “The job interview is a life-changing experience. The organization that empowers candidates during the hiring experience leaves a lasting impression of their brand,” he said.

Applicants submit video responses to interview questions designed around certain skills or competencies at their convenience. Hiring managers then review what comes in.

Oddo said his hiring managers were skeptical at first. “They wanted to see resumes, like they’ve been doing for years,” he said. The initiative was small when it started, “with a few hiring managers in select locations. Now they’re seeking more video interviews. We’ve spread it across the company, and use it for almost all call-center positions.”

Of the 3,000 positions filled at Frontier in 2014, 462 were individuals from the ranks of the long-term unemployed, making up 15.4 percent of new hires for the year. Another 513 hires were individuals who had been unemployed in the short term.

To date, the company has retained 82 percent of long-term unemployed hires, compared to 79 percent of individuals who were employed elsewhere at the time of hire. “We find a high level of loyalty and commitment from the previously long-term unemployed group,” Oddo said.

Long-term unemployed hires were also promoted at a greater rate (15.7 percent) than employed hires (13.6 percent).

Oddo recommends that employers record and track data on their long-term unemployed hires “to help debunk myths” about the productivity of this worker category.

Wider Range of Talent

Proponents of video interviewing also say the technology helps level the playing field by allowing easier access to a wider range of talent. “We certainly had an increase in applicants that came in with backgrounds you would’ve never thought would’ve made it at Frontier, but they’re still here, because of attitude, energy and a desire to be a part of a winning team,” Oddo said.

Dish Network is another company that answered the president’s call to hire the long-term unemployed. The satellite service provider has been hiring the long-term jobless as field service technicians since 2014, and it intends to expand video interviewing for overlooked talent across the company this year.

“Video interviews have allowed easier access to a wider range of talent to Dish opportunities,” said Eric Wohl, vice president of HR field operations at Dish, based in Denver. “We meet people that we may not normally see because hiring managers may not see the experience they’re exactly looking for and disregard them.”

Wohl said Dish’s hiring philosophy is to focus on a candidate’s qualities and makeup, especially “high levels of energy, intelligence and the need to achieve,” and not strictly on job experience found on a resume. “We actually prefer to hire people without prior experience so we can train them in the Dish way and not have to worry about undoing previous training,” he said.

Hard-to-fill jobs may be a good starting point for hiring the long-term unemployed, Wohl suggested. Dish especially looks to hire or rehire those who have left the workforce due to family care and military service and workers in their post-retirement second or third careers.

Another benefit of video interviews is that they save a lot of time, according to Wohl. “You get a really quick feel for a candidate and eliminate time spent scheduling interviews, enabling your screeners to spend their time looking for candidates with the best fit,” he said.

“Looking for an exact experience set is, frankly, a lazy way to find talent,” Wohl said. “Shift the hiring mindset a little, reduce focus on exact skills and train people. It’s more successful long term.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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