Here's Why We're Overusing Video Job Interviews as a Screening Tool


Discussing the growth of video interviews makes me feel like a dinosaur.

That's because I have been in the workforce long enough to remember  a time when video interviews were an oddity, a unique experience that were only used in exceptional circumstances when you had a strong candidate but no good way to talk to them face-to-face.

I remember one time some years back when I took half a day to drive to another office with another manager to do an interview because that's where the remote, video interviewing set-up was located. We had to jump through a lot of hoops to get the candidate set up to talk to us, but it was all worth it in the end because the person turned out to be a great hire.

Remote videos are common for today's candidates

Of course, the world has changed a lot since then because video interviewing is not only commonplace today, but so easily done that companies are using video interviews to screen early-stage candidates, according to The Wall Street Journal.

As the newspaper reports,

First-round job interviews are the latest part of the hiring process to undergo digitization as companies use video interviews to cut recruiting costs and times. (Cigna ,Goldman Sachs, and IBM) are among the employers now asking some applicants to log on to a website and submit video responses to interview questions in lieu of talking with a human. The method has grown in recent years as nearly everyone has access to a laptop or smart phone with a front-facing camera, and companies say it is an efficient, fair and inexpensive way to process hundreds of applicants.

Salt Lake City, Utah-based HireVue Inc., which provides video interviewing software for Goldman Sachs and 600 other firms, said it hosted nearly 3 million video interviews last year, up from 13,000 five years ago."

Not a tool that works for everyone

Yes, video interviews are now commonplace, but what seems odd is the fact that it used to be that talking with a human was a good screening tool, and that personal interviews early in the hiring process were considered an important part of what both companies and candidates expected.

But today, video interviews are the norm and they generally mean talking to a camera, probably on your computer, and answering a series of questions that a real person in talent management or HR will review later. It can take some getting used to, and isn't something that works well for everyone. The Journal points out that:

Applicants ... say that computer-guided interviews take some getting used to. Amy Hall was never the type to get nervous during job interviews, but when the 29-year-old had to complete a video interview last year for an internal job switch at Cigna-Healthspring, she recalled feeling apprehensive and camera-shy. She waited until after work hours and used a computer in the IT department. With the door closed, she clicked a link to Cigna’s video-interviewing site.

Replaying footage of her interview responses was “very uncomfortable” at first, she said. She resubmitted two responses, but ultimately found her stride and even preferred the video format because, she recalled, “you’re not trying to perform.” Last January, she got the job as a senior data analyst managing records for Medicare doctors."

Good technology that is overused

My take: I get that video interviews (or more correctly, video questioning, because there usually is no real person on the other end to actually do an interview") are a modern, cost-efficient way to screen candidates, but I wonder -- how many candidates get screened out who simply aren't good on camera? And, how many of those candidates might have been hired, or at least looked at more closely, had they gone through a traditional, in-person interview?

Video-interviewing software vendors told The Journal that their programs "make hiring more fair because all applicants must answer the same questions, placing substance over schmoozing and small talk," but I wonder -- doesn't schmoozing and small talk tell you something about the candidate too? And what if a really good candidate struggles with the video format and simply comes off poorly because of it? Are we so loaded with good job candidates that we can toss away some who struggle with the technology?

In my book, using video interviewing to screen early-stage candidates creates as many problems as it solves, and is part of the commoditization of the hiring process that started with the development of the big job boards where great candidates could easily get lost in the hundreds (or maybe even thousands) who could apply for any and every job with a simple push of a button.

Hiring is an imperfect process, and video screening adds a lot more imperfections to it. Yes, it may save companies a lot of money, and it may allow them to plow through a lot of candidates, but it heavily skews the process to people who are good on camera -- whether that is a skill that is relevant to the job they are interviewing for or not.

Yes, interviewing is an imperfect process

Count me as someone who believes that this is a good technology that is turning into a bad trend as it gets overused by organizations who want to treat people as widgets that are easily analyzed and processed by the cheapest and easiest tools possible.

You can do that, of course, but don't be surprised if you find that it isn't always getting you the best candidates. That takes real people doing real interviews in a face-to-face environment.

Editor's Note: Talent Insider is fueled by Checkster, and Checkster has a nifty Interview Checkup tool that automates the interview debrief process with speed and accuracy.