Video job interviews increase opportunities for employers, workers

CorrespondentSeptember 21, 2013 

  • Tips for video interviews

    • Check your technology to make sure everything is in working order at least half an hour before the interview is to start.

    • If you’re not familiar with Skype or FaceTime, try it out with a friend and ask them to give you honest feedback. How does the lighting make you look? Are you remembering to look at the camera rather than the screen? Do you appear at ease?

    • Dress just as you would for a regular job interview. Sit up straight, make eye contact, don’t fidget.

    • Make sure your surroundings are neat and not distracting.

    • Find a quiet place away from family and pets.

    • Follow up by mailing a thank-you note.

The woman on the screen went from animated to frozen in an instant, leaving Billy Fidler scrambling to piece together splintered dialogue. His first Skype interview with a potential employer was off to a bad start.

Their computers – his in Goldsboro and hers in Beijing – were connected by an invisible thread that constantly threatened to break. But when his interviewer threw him a curveball, Fidler took advantage of the spotty connection.

“She asked a question that I had no idea how to answer, so I froze my face for about four seconds,” he recalled, during a recent phone interview. “She was, like, ‘Billy? Billy are you there?’ and then I unfroze after I had time to think.”

Fidler, a recent Elon University graduate, ended up getting the job. He now teaches English to adults in China. He credits the video interview for his hire, as his distance from Beijing rendered an in-person interview unfeasible.

Navigating an interview from behind a computer screen is becoming increasingly common for job applicants. A recent survey by Right Management, a global workforce consulting firm with offices in Raleigh and High Point, found that 18 percent of job candidates have participated in a video interview within the last year, more than double the percentage that had done so a year ago.

“I think probably the biggest reason for the increase is greater access to video technology,” said Margaret-Ann Cole, regional vice president of career management for Right Management’s Northeast operations. “Now, many people have a smartphone or an iPhone with video capabilities, and anyone who has a PC could do a live video chat.”

While video interviews are not seeing regular widespread use among Triangle companies, some employers have integrated video technology into their hiring processes, using it to further narrow the applicant pool after one or more rounds of phone interviews.

The University Communications department at Elon, Fidler’s alma mater, has used video interviews in the hiring process for six employees over the past two years. The department conducted the initial interviews by phone and then conducted one or two additional interviews using Skype. Finalists were invited to Elon to interview in person at the expense of the university.

‘It has saved us some costs’

“I think it has saved us some costs,” said Dan Anderson, vice president for University Communications at Elon. “Equally as important is the time factor. If we want to move quickly on a search, we’ll use Skype because waiting for travel schedules to line up can delay your search for weeks.”

Though more personable than a phone interview, video interviews leave much to be desired. Fundamental interview etiquette – a firm handshake, good eye contact, engaging small talk – gets lost in cyberspace. But video interviews may provide insight into other aspects of an applicant’s eligibility.

“With Skype, you can see how comfortable someone is with technology,” said Ray Angle, director of career services at UNC Chapel Hill. “Are they looking at the camera, or are they looking at the screen? There are a lot of organizations and companies that do a lot of work online and interact with colleagues online, and comfort with technology is key for a lot of employers.”

The Right Management survey found that nearly a quarter of job candidates in their 20s and 30s had experienced a video interview within the past year, which Cole attributes to their efforts to advance their mid-to-late stage careers.

Older workers are engaging in video interviews more frequently as well. Anderson said the use of video interviews may create more opportunities for candidates looking to change jobs.

“In the past, a candidate might not have been brought in to interview because the company wasn’t sure they wanted to fly them out,” Anderson said. “It’s a good opportunity for someone at a distance to interview for a job they might not have been considered for.”

Job search centers help

Career centers at many universities, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, now offer advice and services to help students prepare for screen-to-screen interaction with potential employers. Woody Catoe, associate director of career development at N.C. State, reminds students to check both their technology and their appearance.

“If there’s a pause, students need to know how to handle that,” he said. “I encourage them to check with the interviewer up front and ask what they’d prefer to do if there’s a problem. You also want to check how you look on screen. The lighting might be poor, so be sure you’ve checked that out before the interview.”

In an effort to ensure quality and professionalism in video interviews with potential employers, the career services department at UNC-Chapel Hill connects students to interviewers through a video conferencing program kept in its office. But Angle said most employers still prefer on-campus recruiting to video interviews.

“I think as the world becomes more competitive, video interviews will become more prevalent, but the hypercompetitive employers who want to get the best and brightest college students want to get on campus and be seen,” he said. “They want to invite them to their side and woo them to become part of the organization.”

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