Video Interview Best Practices for Employers

If you Google “video interview best practices” you will see a lot of “how to look your best on-camera” articles for job seekers. This article is instead aimed at HR professionals who are wondering how their colleagues are using it, and what some best practices might be. I will detail how the technology is being used (and misused), and how to get the most out of it using a Q + A format.

First some definitions. We’ll call interviews where a job seeker reads text questions or watches video questions and then records answers using a webcam “recorded interviews.” We will call interviews that happen live with two-way real-time audio and video communication between the employer and the job seeker “live interviews.”

Q: When should I give a recorded video interview? Should I make it the first step in an “apply online” process, or should I look at resumes to “narrow the funnel” and only invite the seekers who are qualified?

A: There are tradeoffs either way. Making it part of your “apply online” will put videos at the forefront. This could lead to a large number of videos being done, potentially creating more work than scanning resumes to narrow the initial candidate pool. The upside is that video may help you identify some otherwise overlooked talent, and help eliminate some false positives (versus a resume evaluation alone). On the other hand, inviting seekers after the funnel is narrowed is more work. You have to elicit a video interview response from each of them. The reward is that you can concentrate on evaluating just a few videos. The pricing model for your video interviewing software may be a factor as well. If you pay per interview, the “apply online” model may get expensive.

Q: What should I ask the job seekers?

A: Questions that bring out real experience from the seeker’s job history, or help explain what motivates/excites a seeker are best. Answers to these questions can’t easily be faked or Googled. You either did something significant and memorable and can tell a story, or you can’t. Avoid textbook-type questions. Don’t be afraid to ask some open-ended questions about why they want your job or like your company.

Q: What should I look for in the answers? What factors are important vs. less relevant?

A: As hard as it can be, try not to concentrate too much on the quality of the video, lighting, or camera framing. It can be difficult to frame yourself nicely even if you know what you’re doing. Don’t take too many points off for not keeping “eye contact” with the camera lens. Savvy job seekers will make it a point to do this, but most people instinctively look at themselves on the screen (and not into the camera lens). Look more for enthusiasm and solid content in their answers. You can mark them down if you see the telltale left-to-right sweeping of the eyes and monotone delivery as they read their answers off a cue card or notepad window.

 Q: Should we replace our phone screens with video interviews? Or augment them?

A: This will depend on the comfort level of the hiring managers at your company and the results of your first several video interviews. We have seen companies where the phone screen has gone the way of the Dodo; it has been replaced completely by video interviews. Successful candidates move straight to a video “live interview” and maybe a final (but often shorter) in-person interview. Other companies still like to phone screen, but feel more confident that they are interviewing the right people then after watching a video interview first.

Q: How should I choose what questions to ask? My hiring managers are reticent to offer up what they perceive as a “secret sauce” question list they have grown accustomed to over time.

A: Chances are your secret sauce doesn’t change that much, and after a few interviews those questions are now out on Glassdoor or other Internet boards anyway. You have much more to gain by getting answers to your important questions early in the process than you have to lose worrying about someone “gaming” to artificially ace your interview. Again, choosing open-ended questions where candidates describe their experience and motivations and problem solving ability is best. If you start hearing the same answers again and again from job seekers, you can bet you’ve been Glassdoor-ed. Having all the answers saved on video makes this easier to recognize than if you had seven different people performing phone screens (without sharing notes).

Q: I want my recorded interview to be as close to a real, live phone screen as possible. What should I do?

A: Managers often want this capability when video interviewing for sales positions, or other “think on your feet and communicate well on your first try” roles. Some video interviewing systems allow you to limit the number of “takes” and the amount of time that can be used in each answer. With some you can not show the question to the job seeker until “record” is clicked. Combining those abilities (set takes to one, time limit to three minutes or less, show question only when record is clicked) will produce circumstances that closely mimic a real, live phone screen.

Q: What are some more creative uses of video interviewing besides having seekers answer questions as talking heads?

A: Feel free to experiment with methods that mimic the role they will be in if hired. Ask a customer service person to walk you through some troubleshooting steps as if they were on the phone. Have an architect draw a diagram, hold it up to the video screen, then take it away and describe the system using this visual aid. Have a personal trainer demonstrate a two-minute workout program. Have a mobile developer demo his new application by holding his phone up to the camera. With a little imagination you can make both recorded and live video interviews more lively and interactive.

Q: We deal with several agencies for placement (or contractors). How do I keep the playing field level between them if some use video interviews and some do not?

A: This is a policy question where you will have to decide your comfort level. You can choose to standardize on a video interviewing platform and insist that your vendors all submit through it (similar to vendor management systems and resume submittals). You can leave it up to a more Darwinian process where the vendors can choose for themselves whether to submit videos as well a resumes, or just paper. Your hiring managers can decide what they like better. Our evidence suggests that the hiring managers will start requesting the video interviews from all the vendors.

Q: What percentage of seekers refuse to do the video? How do you handle it?

A: We have seen a refusal rate between 1 and 3 percent on average. We see the lowest refusal rates in more technology-savvy locations and professions, and slightly higher ones in less technical folks. In any case, you accept the application but the job seeker has done some self-selection for you. If they don’t want to adhere to your defined process for consideration, that is their choice to weed themselves out. Some job seekers will refuse with the intent of moving straight to a live interview, where they think they will do better. They may cite spurious technical issues.

Q: How do I integrate with my ATS?

A: Video interview software offers different types of integration. (And some ATS companies have built-in video interviewing capabilities.) One is a “deep link,” where a unique link exists for each job seeker, or each interview for each job seeker. This link can be cut and pasted into a field in a ATS that allows links and simple HTML (such as Bullhorn’s “General Candidate Comments” field). This requires zero configuration on your part. The next level up would be API access between the systems. The last level of integration is where this API work has already been done and the ATS vendor has partnered officially with a given video interviewing vendor. In any case, you want to figure out “What is my system of record?” Most companies will consider the ATS to have the “official” candidate record, and the video interview system “hangs off of it.” Also look at workflow, and what sort of time savings you get from integration versus the cost of the integration. Twenty recruiters burning several minutes a day each? Integrate. Two recruiters taking a few extra seconds here and there to keep things in sync? Perhaps you do not integrate.