The Advantage of In-Person Interviews

video-interview-manI was reading another post by fellow BloqSquad member Robin Raulf-Sager about the advantages that Video Telconferencing (VTC) may provide during the interview process (if you missed it, click here). I started to leave a comment that was way too long so I stopped and considered writing this blog. In an effort not to be known as “point-counterpoint” guy, I almost refrained, but I couldn’t do it!

Robin’s article was actually a counterpoint to a DeGroote study that she references, so in all fairness, this is actually a counter-counterpoint post.

In her post, Robin references five reasons that she feels that VTC is a helpful interview tool. She does freely admit that as an Avaya employee, she obviously has a predisposition toward the technology, and I don’t disagree with all five of her points.

I can’t argue with her assertion that if the role you are hiring for is remote and involves telecommuting, that VTC is a viable method of interviewing potential employees, (perhaps in this case even more valuable than a face to face meeting, as this will be the standard for interacting with this employee).

I also can’t intelligently disagree with the fact that companies save time and money when interviewing remote candidates by not flying them in. (I know my new employer had to make an investment in getting me to their office for an interview and that isn’t cheap).

However, I think the other three points need some further explanation that wasn’t provided and/or are potentially off base altogether.

She mentions that one of her customers says of VTC interviewing that it “works,” but doesn’t relate if they hired anyone or not, or how successful those employees were at doing their jobs or if they were/will be retained over time.  It may have worked in saving money in the process but then cost more over time if that position ends up being filled with a revolving door of poor fits.

I would also agree with the theory that VTC is better than a straight telephone interview, but it is not equal to an in person meeting. (I’m reminded of Up in the Air with Clooney here).

Technology can be an impedance to the natural flow of conversation, especially if the interviewee is at home with a sub-par Internet connection. I would argue as well that technology can make one too self aware. Having your own face represented in a window on your screen gives you an awareness of yourself that could be detrimental, especially in providing a genuine representation of how you communicate normally. If you’ve ever tried to film a YouTube video or a commercial, you may know how hard it is to be natural while knowing you are on camera. It is not an easy task.

Finally, Robin gave an argument that it levels the playing field when it comes to “stature” as an interviewer cannot be swayed by your physical appearance or height. This is where I really raise a caution flag, as this can be both good and bad for all parties involved.

Malcolm Gladwell addresses the height issue specifically in Blink, a book about gut reactions. The chapter is titled the Warren G. Harding Error, and warns that sometimes our rapid cognition can lead us astray by overlooking qualifications and letting the physical impression of the person dominate our decisions. It makes the argument that Harding was one of our worst presidents, but he “just looked like the President.” He lends credibility to his argument with a sampling of CEOs, stating that in the U.S., 3.9% of men are over 6’2″ but in the CEO position 33% were of that height. That is a near 10 times over-representation. Were they hired because they were tall? Of course not. Did they leave a stronger impression and come off as more authoritative because they were? Maybe.

The reason I say that equalizing stature with VTC can be good is that we don’t want to hire for the wrong reasons.  However with the amount of applicants and free information on LinkedIn etc, I think candidates are vetted more than ever before they interview anyway.

The reason I say that it can be bad is that if you are hiring someone to go out and see your customer base face to face, don’t you want to hire someone that evokes those feelings in your customers? If tall people transfer height into credibility in the minds of your clients, wouldn’t it be to your advantage as a company? If someone’s demeanor and pheromone make-up puts people naturally at ease, wouldn’t that be good to know when hiring a hostage negotiator?  How would you know if you were never in the room with them?

I guess I can’t be completely objective either as I am 6’5″ and have always worked in face-to-face roles. My main thesis isn’t that VTC can’t be valuable as a hiring tool, but I think its value is directly related to the role you are hiring for.

Am I off base? Say I’m right or pick a fight! Come “get some” in the comments below 🙂