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How to conduct video interviews: 7 tips for employers

Interviewing candidates over video doesn't have to be stressful. Here are seven virtual interviewing tips to help you prepare.

Your next interview is likely to be a video interview. As part of interviewing team, you need to make sure you're ready to be in front of the camera -- and that you've helped your candidates get ready too.

"Prior to COVID-19, video interviews were becoming more and more common, but they still weren't happening nearly as much as they are now," said Jon O'Camb, senior talent acquisition partner at Erie Insurance, in Erie, Pa.

As of April 2020, 86% of organizations were incorporating new virtual technology to prepare for interviewing candidates, according to a recent Gartner survey. Video interviewing may become the new standard, even after the COVID-19 threat has diminished.

Particularly if your organization had to suddenly switch to virtual interviews, understanding how they are different from in-person interviews and learning best practices is critical. Here are tips on how to conduct successful video interviews for your organization.

1. Cultivate empathy for job hunters

Effective interviewing in the age of COVID-19 starts with an awareness of the challenges job candidates may face. Whether they're job hunting because of layoffs or for other reasons, putting yourself in their shoes is important, even if the video interviewing component of the job hunt may seem to offer some clear benefits.

Six or seven months ago, a candidate would have to get up, get changed, jump in the car and sit in the lobby waiting; now all that wasted time is gone, said Scott Sendelweck, director of employment brand at Indianapolis-based Community Health Network. Candidates no longer have to put their kids in daycare or schedule time to figure out to and from, Sendelweck said.

On the other hand, virtual interviews come with a potential issues, such as distractions or technical difficulties.

"When [job candidates] would interview for jobs [in person] they would put on their best work outfit and be prepared to go into to an office and put their best foot forward," said Kyle Lagunas, director of strategy at Beamery, a talent management software company based in London. "It wouldn't matter if … they had five roommates, or if cats liked to jump on their desk."

In-person interviews meant that interviewers and job candidates could step into a controlled environment to interview and focus just on the interview, he said.

As major events continue to disrupt "normal" life, that is not as likely to be true.

7 tips on how to conduct virtual interviews
7 tips on how to conduct virtual interviews

2. Combat unconscious biases

Keep in the mind that there is a potential for unconscious biases during the hiring process. It is up to everyone on the hiring team to invoke strategies to overcome the difficulty of reducing hiring bias.

"Unconscious bias is something that all people may have whether you're aware of it or not," O'Camb said. "It's typically based on your upbringing, your years of experience or the role that you're in."

The hiring panel should include people from varying backgrounds, roles and experiences within the company.

"You want more than one interviewer to be evaluating candidates so you can get different perspectives from different people," O'Camb said.  "This ensures that you're evaluating the candidate solely based on their skill sets and who is the best fit for the position, rather than any unconscious biases that you may not be aware of."

3. Prepare questions for the virtual interview

As an interviewer, you may be dealing with your own challenges so having a strategy for virtual interviewing is critical. Before your virtual meeting with the job candidate, you need to prepare for it just as you would for in-person interviewing.

For example, put together a list of questions related to the role and the candidate's past experience.

"All questions should be related to the job and the candidates' experience, nothing personal," O'Camb said.

Consistency is key, as well.

"You should be asking the same questions for all of the candidates that you're evaluating," O'Camb said. "This makes it a fair and objective process."

A good example of some questions to ask are behaviorally-based questions that cover the candidate's last jobs and how they reacted in certain situations.

"The idea behind [behaviorally-based questions] is past behavior predicts future behavior," O'Camb said. "It's a good way to see how candidates have handled similar situations in the past that they may experience in the job that you're interviewing them for."

4. Provide candidates with clear instructions

Most candidates may already feel nervous about interviews. Including technology can add another layer of anxiety.

Access to high-speed internet, a quiet space or a dedicated workspace are harder to come by than we might expect.
Kyle LagunasDirector of strategy, Beamery

"We try to make sure that the candidates have everything that they need ahead of time so they're comfortable and ready to do the video interviewing," O'Camb said. "We send them very clear instructions on the software or the website that they're going to be using."

"Also provide them with information of who they're going to be meeting with, the times they're going to be meeting them and people's titles to allow them to do their company research ahead of time," he said.

Keep in mind that a candidate's circumstances may change before and even during the interview.

"Access to high-speed internet, a quiet space or a dedicated workspace are harder to come by than we might expect and especially difficult for people who might be young professionals or may be coming from adverse socioeconomic backgrounds," Lagunas said.

Reach out to the candidate beforehand to make sure they have the technology required for the interview and aren't experiencing any issues.

"[Both before and after COVID-19] very few organizations are actually prepared … to say 'If you have any problems, here's my cell phone, text me and I'll let the hiring manager know' or 'if you don't have a webcam, that's OK, you can use your phone,'" Lagunas said.

"I think [preparing the candidate] is especially important now when [job seekers] are feeling very vulnerable and stressed about securing employment," he said.

5. Create a good video interviewing setup

When you are interviewing a candidate – whether you're the primary recruiter, the hiring manager or a potential teammate -- you are the brand ambassador for your company. That means creating an interview setup at home to match how you would portray yourself in the office.

Pick a space to conduct your video interview. Try to stay away from areas in the home where people may gather, as well as any rooms with loud background noises, as that can be distracting to both you and the candidate.

"Make sure you declutter your space and have everything looking nice and clean and tidy around you," O'Camb said.

Good lighting is also important.

"If you're sitting in front of a window with your back to it and then the camera is pointed towards you and the window that can make you look like silhouette, whereas if you turn around and have that light coming in towards your face, then that's going to illuminate your face," O'Camb said.

Remember that dressing professionally is just as important as it was when you were working in the office.

"Dress appropriately for how your company would want you to be portraying yourself as an interviewer for that role," O'Camb said.

6. Focus on the candidate

Once in the interview, avoid any distractions and focus on the task at hand.

"Don't do anything else while you're interviewing," O'Camb said. "Don't be checking your emails or doing other tasks; just make sure you're focused on the candidate. "

Jot down notes throughout the interview and ask follow ups if needed.

"[Notes are] important to have so you can look back and evaluate the candidates later on," O'Camb said.

While the candidate is talking, stay engaged with affirmative nods and eye contact as much as possible.

Look at the camera, not the screen, so it appears to the candidate that you are making eye contact, Sendelweck said.

If any distractions occur, do your best to be patient and understanding.

"If somebody looks off screen or is looking down or the volume isn't exactly right, don't take those types of nonverbal things as a sign that they're not going to be the right fit," O'Camb said. "It's your job as the interviewer to make sure that you're being objective based on their experience and their background to see who is the best fit for the job."

7. Debrief with the interviewing team

Everyone on the interviewing team should meet and compare notes to see whether to move forward with the candidate.

"The process of hiring involves a lot of collaboration," Sendelweck said. "The hiring managers will make decisions and then we [as recruiters] can decide whether we're going to hire this person or whether we're going to bring them in for another interview."

Check your notes to make sure you got down the key points.

"Fill out an objective structured scoring card … so you'll be able to provide scoring based on different categories on the questions that you asked," O'Camb said. "It gives you a clearer picture of how each of the candidates did."

Once you have gone through your notes, the hiring team should meet to discuss the candidates and who each stakeholder thinks is the best choice.

"[During COVID-19, recruiters] use Microsoft Teams or set up an Outlook invite and discuss candidates with those hiring managers directly and say, 'OK, this one here doesn't look as great, but this one here is' or 'This will be our backup candidate'," Sendelweck said.

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