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Video for the Final Interview? The Research Says...

In our world where so much in-person interaction has been slammed to a halt by Covid-19, the ability to have live interviews with candidates has been severely impacted.


But hiring has surged in some sectors, and overall the tech companies we serve here at RocketPower echo the words of Cam Martin, Head of Recruiting Pipeline Channels at Dropbox in Fast Company’s article on How to Ace a Remote Job Interview:


“We need to hire great people to continue building our product, and that hasn’t changed.”


Lockdowns and Shelter in Place orders are critical for public health and welfare. But it also drastically interferes with what has always been the holy grail of the interview process before an offer: the onsite, face-to-face interview.


Zoom and other video services have become the communication method of the day for teams working remotely. And while video interviews are a regular part of the overall recruiting process, there’s definite hesitancy to use them for the final step before an offer.


But - should there be?


At RocketPower, we’re a data driven company, and we wanted to see what the research says on the subject of the efficacy of video vs live interviews. An initial look didn’t yield much beyond video interview platforms saying how great and convenient they are.


So we did some digging. What we've found can be helpful for not only our clients, but hopefully many others who are trying to understand their paths forward to hiring critical roles - and whether they should be holding - or moving forward using processes adapted to the times.


Our COO Jeff Baumgarten found there has been some intriguing scientific research on video platform usage in the context of how the researchers themselves are able to conduct qualitative research – very analogous to what hiring managers do in a final interview.


This 2016 paper argues that interviews via video “offer new opportunities for researchers and should be embraced with confidence.”


A thorough read-through shows that when considered from the POV of the person who is being interviewed, by delivering a better candidate experience, an interviewer might be able to see more of their true personality.


“We thought that the data gathered using Skype, in our personal experience, was just as good as the data gathered using face to face interaction. In some cases even better in fact. Using Skype, we could not share the same space as our participants, so we lost a bit of the social contact and the energy from the other person. On the other hand, some participants may be more inclined to open up when being interviewed via Skype, because they can stay in their own chosen environment… both the researcher and the researched are able to remain in a safe location without imposing on each other's personal space….The fact that the participant is in a familiar environment may be more beneficial to participants who are shy or introverted, allowing them to feel more comfortable opening up in front of a screen.”


When reading through the whole study, there is actually a wealth of fascinating data and commentary on how video can actually make the interviewee more comfortable and improve the candidate experience.


Another research paper, this one from September of 2019 focused specifically on Zoom:


“The majority of participants (69%) identified Zoom as a preferred method compared to in-person interviews, telephone, or other platforms.”


Among those who preferred face to face, the researchers found that this was mostly based on their habits and comfort level with the technology itself:


“Participants who preferred face-to-face interviews commonly referred to their interest and confidence in digital technologies. As one participant expressed: “I’m old school and I like face to face things, but this is the closest thing I can get to face to face.””


In an interesting and ironic twist of our current Shelter In Place situation, many people who had previously had less experience with video now have had a crash course and forced familiarity with Zoom and other platforms.


Also, such an “old-school” approach is likely to have less impact on digital natives among Millenials and Gen Z – but you have to be sensitive to bias here.


There is no question that face to face onsites will likely always be a part of the process in most companies. (Not all of course, some have abandoned onsites altogether, particularly if they are a fully distributed workforce.)


However, it’s important to remember that face to face itself is not without its drawbacks.


Science Daily reports that:


”The research suggests that in live face-to-face settings, people rely more on their gut-level evaluations of another person. "They focus on how that person makes them feel.”"


The article then suggests that face-to-face meetings are key for making strong impressions – which is also a custom made trap for biased hiring decisions that can land you in court without strong interview training.


Is it possible that if you are interviewing on video instead of F2F your inherent lack of trust of video over live will force you to trust the platform less and rely on more objective measures? Hopefully so! And there’s good reason to do so.


In one of her many fantastic articles, Jessica Stillman in Inc. Magazine, explored the theory that interviews could be done away with altogether. In the article, Harvard law professor and author Cass Sunstein says that interviews just don’t work, period:


The post goes on to explore in detail why we're so often badly misled by interviews (in short, people are really good at making up stories to confirm their own subjective and basically useless first impressions), which is well worth reading in full. But the most thought-provoking aspect of the article is probably its stark conclusion. "People ought to be relying far more on objective information and far less on interviews. They might even want to think about scaling back or cancelling interviews altogether. They'll save a lot of time -- and make better decisions," Sunstein concludes. "People ought to be relying far more on objective information and far less on interviews.


So what would objective measures be?


Jeff and I have been proponents for some time of the approaches of Laszlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google, and current founder of Humu. In his outstanding book “Work Rules”, he references a 1998 study which provides meta-analysis of almost a century of research on correlating assessment techniques to actual job performance.


There’s no question that work tests – an opportunity for a candidate to demonstrate the actual skills required to perform the job - show the highest correlation to job performance. This can be done in simulations such as coding tests common in engineering hiring. However, literally overnight, there are more active candidates who are not currently working now than at any time in recent history. Could you bring a key hire on as a contractor for a time and see how they perform and work with your team?


Next on the list is Structured Interviews which are a whopping 63% more likely to correlate to job performance than Unstructured Interviews.


What’s the difference? It comes down to consistency in content and evaluation. (For a deeper discussion on this – see this brilliant post from Joe Thornton, Head of Talent at Playfair Capital.)


Why does that matter in the video vs. live discussion?


Just by the nature of sitting fixed in front of your laptop, video interviews naturally can lead to more structure vs getting too relaxed in person with a person you feel more comfortable with (again – bias warning!). Structured interviews are flat out more reliable.


The data from Bock has been out there for years and he is a revered voice in Silicon Valley and beyond, yet not relied on often enough.


So, video interviews instead of F2F in the time of Shelter In Place? Every company has to make their own decisions on this.


One last comment is from Peter Petralia, Ph.D. whose research is referenced in the 2016 study above. He actually used video successfully in a scenario harder to execute than a 1:1 interview – serving as performance coach of a dance troupe with their studio in New York while he was at his home in England. (Just in case you think this is too theatrical an approach – he’s no stranger to product development either as a Certified Scrum Master). His summation:


“If the choice is to use a slightly imperfect set of technologies to facilitate working together or not to work together at all, then I choose the former.”


Great way to sum it up in a world that’s been turned upside down in the past few weeks.


Stay safe out there!


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