schillingnews flash 1 | 2021 – Video interviews are not an equivalent substitute for the face-to-face, job interview in person. However, video meetings offer significant advantages that will establish themselves in the standard repertoire of the selection process. We expect that in the future only people who have already conducted a video interview will be invited to the personal interview.
A prescribed field study on video interviews
On March 13th, 2020, the Federal Council decreed a lockdown in Switzerland with a far-reaching contact ban to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. Similar measures were taken worldwide. The search for executives continued unabated at schillingpartners and the business even continued to grow. Practically overnight all interactions were conducted via video as it became a new habit for many people in the home office. The previously rather sporadic use of video interviews quickly became standard during the Covid-19 restrictions.
“In the future, initial interviews will only be conducted by video”
This refers to personal, interactive interviews between a candidate and an executive search consultant, which are conducted via a video platform such as Zoom, Teams, Skype or similar and usually last around 60-90 minutes. Our organisation conducts around 1,000 such structured interviews per year, in which the function is discussed in detail and the candidate’s fit for a management position to be filled is questioned. These interviews were usually conducted in our Zurich office before March 2020, but during the lockdown they were conducted by video. Video interviews also became standard for our clients. In some cases, a physical meeting was impossible and interviews for employment were conducted exclusively by video.
The framework provided a good opportunity to test video interviews in broad use and to study their advantages and disadvantages compared to the physical interview. We are not currently aware of a single case in which our clients postponed an appointment – on the contrary, they found creative solutions to enable decision-making. Similarly, we are not aware of a single case in which a miscast was subsequently attributed to limitations in the selection process. Acceptance by both our candidates and our clients was very high right from the start.
Bringing about decisions with flexibility and creativity
The ease with which video interviews could be arranged and the simplified logistics led to a higher number and frequency of interviews. For our clients who switched their selection process to video interviews as we did, the opportunity was given to involve a wider circle in the evaluation process. This was the case, for example, in the appointment of a Global Head of Sales for a chemical company. The selection interviews were conducted not only by the CEO with the Head of HR, but also by other members of the management. In addition, two partners of the private equity investor could be involved, who would otherwise probably not have been flown in for a face-to-face meeting. The same was true for the appointment of a Chief Risk Officer for an energy company, where all relevant stakeholders who would be interacting with this cross-sectional function in the future were involved in video interviews. By having additional conversations from different perspectives, more robust decisions were made.
In many cases, the possibility of a tighter cycle also made it possible to speed up the staffing process. In the case of a large logistics company, our standard process could be reduced from 10-12 weeks to 6 weeks, from initial briefing to research, approach, selection interviews, assessment and contract conclusion. A candidate in another case wanted to abandon the process because he already had a contract offer from another company. In a concerted action, the video interviews with 7 decision-makers involved were conducted without further ado over the Whitsun weekend, the candidate received the draft contract on the Tuesday after Whitsun and proceeded to make a binding commitment on Wednesday.
In general, our clients showed a high degree of flexibility and creativity allowing decisions to be made even under restrictions. The CEO of an energy company decided without further ado to visit his preferred candidate in Germany if the latter was not allowed to travel to him in Switzerland. The two met physically for the first time in an office near the Swiss-German border.
Both went home with a signed contract.
“Tighter clocking allows for an acceleration of the staffing process”
The new standard on video interviews also led in individual cases to candidates being considered who would otherwise have been excluded simply because of the complex logistics. In one recruitment process, for example, an expatriate who conducted all the interviews from Mexico prevailed, and took up his new position in Basel a few months later.
Advantages and disadvantages of video interviews
The structured evaluation of the video interviews conducted in the period from March 2020 to June 2021 show the advantages and disadvantages compared to physical selection interviews.
Basically, the video interview conveys less information. All sensory impressions are reduced to the spoken word and the facial expressions; gestures are also somewhat reduced. Important other personality traits cannot be observed or can only be observed to a limited extent, e.g., presence, body language, manners, dynamics/interaction in the group conversation, active listening, etc. On the other hand, it is precisely this reduction that makes it possible to concentrate on the content. The spoken word, the execution of experiences and performance records are in the foreground and are less overlaid by factors such as appearance, clothing, body odour, etc. This makes the video interview potentially suitable for reducing the so-called halo effect. The halo effect is a widespread cognitive distortion in which positive characteristics are attributed to a person on the basis of likeability traits. Of course, it is important to avoid any bias in the decision-making process.
“The video interview can reduce the halo effect”
Even though video communication has made great progress in recent months and most of our clients and candidates have the appropriate technical equipment, technical shortcomings interfere with the flow of speech and understanding. In contrast to physical conversations, observation time is limited to the interview alone, which means there is no opportunity for exchange in side conversations, e.g., in the reception hall, on the way through the office, in the chance encounter at the coffee machine and other social interactions that can provide valuable insight.
At the same time, one of the biggest advantages comes from the reduction in logistical effort and other set-up times, resulting in tighter cycles and interviews with more people involved:
• the consideration of additional candidates who might be excluded hastily or because of complex logistics
• the involvement of additional adjudicators who can provide additional perspective
• the organisation of additional interaction to clarify issues or additional aspects
Another advantage comes into play especially when conducting interviews in larger groups, for example when nomination committees are involved. Conversations via video usually require better preparation and stringently controlled implementation, because pauses in speaking, mutual interruptions and idle time are perceived as particularly disturbing. The use of a structured interview guide also makes the evaluations of the interviews more comparable, which in turn makes decisions more robust.
Finally, video interviews make economic and ecological sense through the economical use of resources.
With structure and planning to a successful decision
Against the background of experience and evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages, the following success factors emerge for the use of video interviews:
• Coordination of a structured interview plan at the beginning of the recruitment process with type of interviews used (digital, telephone, video, on-site, lunch, etc.), persons involved, timing. The use of video interviews is usually advisable for part of the interaction.
• The format for each interview phase should be the same for all candidates in order to maintain an appropriate level of comparability.
• Good preparation of content, i.e. determination of participants, duration, questionnaire/ interview guide, main topics per interview and elements to be tested, assessment scale.
• Several interviewers form an opinion as independently as possible and record their results in writing before the discussion.
• Organisation of a professional interview through the use of tried and tested technology, picture detail with full upper body for visible gesture use, neutral and bright background, professional clothing, calm atmosphere, proper lighting, etc.
• Use of “screen sharing function” to illustrate an organisational chart, demonstration of photos of the company premises, presentation of case studies, etc.
Summary and recommendation
Video interviews have become a standard during the Covid-19 no-contact period. The enforced, widespread use has led to a valuable trial period that has helped the technology, which has long been available, to make a breakthrough. Even without contact restriction, and even in cases where the logistical burden is comparatively small, video interviews should be used for part of the selection process, because they enable efficient and robust decisions. The technical possibilities should be used specifically for the inclusion of relevant decision-makers, focused interview topics and an optimal meeting dynamic. By broadening the involvement of relevant people in the decision-making process, the quality of the decision is increased. In the executive search process, video interviews usefully complement the review of written application documents, telephone exchanges and, finally, physical meetings. Although video meetings are a supplement and not a complete substitute, they offer a valuable tool in helping postpone the assessment of subjective personality traits until the end of the selection process. Especially subjective factors such as presence, appearance, manners, etc. are quite relevant, but can thus be assessed separately from the professional qualifications.