Lisa Sable does not look back fondly on her first-ever video interview.
About a year ago, Sable interviewed for an executive-level position at a software firm headquartered in Chester, Pa., near Philadelphia. As part of the process, one of her interviews was conducted via videoconference with an HR person based in the company's Phoenix office.
"I felt very uncomfortable throughout the whole interview," says Sable. "I'm older than 35, so maybe it's an age thing, but I grew up on person-to-person contact -- I like to look someone in the eye and shake their hand."
Adding to her sense of discomfort was the fact that she wasn't sure what part of her body the camera was focused on, while the TV monitor -- which was on the other side of the conference-room table -- did not display a good view of the interviewer.
"The camera took in her entire desk, so I couldn't really focus in on the person because there was so much distraction," she says.
Sable ended up not getting the job, and she says she's fine with that.
"I didn't really want the job, partly because of the location but also because the interview process was just very robotic -- it made me feel that I would not be a good cultural fit with the company," says Sable, who's now vice president of marketing for a document-management company in Philadelphia.
Bill Gottlin, on the other hand, has plenty of good things to say about video-based interviews. "If we fly someone in for a face-to-face interview, we're looking at spending up to $500 or more for an airline ticket, plus up to $400 for a hotel room in Manhattan, the cost of meals -- it adds up quickly," says the director of HR for New York-based Continental Industries Group. "And if you're bringing someone in from overseas, there's the whole issue of visas, travel documents, et cetera."
Video interviewing -- via an online service that lets job candidates sit for interviews without leaving home -- has helped Continental Industries (which sells chemicals and polymers) screen out candidates who are a poor fit much earlier in the recruiting process without going through the trouble of flying them in for a face-to-face, says Gottlin. It also makes it easier for the firm to connect with candidates who may be located in out-of-the-way places and who might not otherwise consider the company, he adds.
Gottlin points out some additional benefits of video interviewing: "If [the candidates] are in their home offices, you can get a sense of how organized they are. If you notice what appears to be a sea of paper behind them or their office looks like a bomb scene . . . you gain greater insight into the way they actually work, as opposed to what they tell you about their work habits."
Video-based interviews are nothing new. In the wake of 9/11, many companies turned to videoconferencing to replace in-person meetings and sales presentations, including candidate interviews. Yet it's costly: Companies must rent or purchase expensive equipment and facilities, while job candidates may be required to travel great distances to videoconference facilities.
Nowadays, of course, there are cheaper alternatives, thanks to increasingly ubiquitous broadband Internet connections and recent advances in Web-camera technology. When used in tandem with Webcams, Skype -- a free Web-based phone service -- allows companies to conduct real-time phone/video interviews via the Internet.
For organizations that prefer a more polished approach without the hassles of installing their own software and equipment, three relatively new vendors -- HireVue, Greenjobinterview.com and ooVoo -- are among the firms that provide virtual-interviewing services via the Web. HireVue and Greejobinterview.com market themselves specifically for recruiting purposes, while ooVoo is aimed more generally at businesses and consumers.
Web-based interviews can spare companies from shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars to fly in candidates who may fizzle within minutes of the first handshake. Needless to say, the tools can't replicate the experience of meeting someone in the flesh. And some candidates, as in Sable's case, may be less than comfortable at the prospect of looking into the cold eye of a Webcam during a crucially important meeting.
A "Good Fit"
Among the benefits of online video interviewing are that it allows companies to link up dispersed managers for candidate interviews, says Elaine Orler, president of the Talent Function Group in San Diego.
"The video interviewing trend is being driven by the opportunity for cost savings and the ability to schedule a panel of managers to interview a job candidate, rather than schedule separate interviews," she says, adding that many of her clients have begun asking her about video-interviewing technology.
"You can do these group facilitations without leveraging a lot of third-party products," she says.
That's been the case at the University of California-Los Angeles, where the school's fund-raising arm has been using Greenjobinterview.com in a pilot project to interview executive-level candidates from across the nation. Amy Rueda, UCLA Development's director of strategic talent management, says the public university -- which is highly sensitive to the cost of flying in candidates for job interviews -- was looking for a low-cost solution that would let it broaden the range of potential candidates.
"If the person just isn't a good fit for the organization, we can see that in real time rather than waiting six weeks for the person to be able to come out for an on-site interview," says Rueda. "We're taking a process that could typically take six to eight weeks and taking it down to days, if not hours."
Using Greenjobinterview.com gives UCLA Development access to a broader array of candidates, says Rueda. "Passive candidates might be very hesitant to jump on a plane and come out to us, but this gives them an opportunity to get a sense of us without having to fly across the country," she says. "You can open up the playing field and look at a broad swath of candidates without regard to where in the country they're located."
Melissa McMahon, senior director of talent acquisition at CDW, says the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based technology services provider turned to video-based interviewing for managerial candidates because on-site interviews took up too much of the hiring managers' time -- time that could be better spent building sales teams and attending to customer needs.
"We wanted to find a way to make the selection process easier for our managers without compromising the quality of candidates or the quality of their experience with us," says McMahon.
Last year, the company began a pilot program that uses video interviewing for screening applicants for certain manager-level positions. So far, at least 25 candidates have been screened in this fashion, says McMahon, adding that CDW plans to renew the pilot program and is considering extending it to other parts of the company.
The online interviews "don't necessarily take the place of face-to-face interviews, but it lets us narrow the pool down, from five or six people to the top two," says McMahon.
Cost is another attraction: McMahon estimates the company spends an average of more than $50,000 per year just to fly candidates in for interviews. With video interviewing, the company spends only $150 per session.
CDW uses a solution from Sandy, Utah-based HireVue, in which candidates answer a set of eight to 12 predetermined questions via Webcam. After the candidates record their answers, hiring managers use HireVue's software to view the videos at their leisure, score candidates based on their responses and compare notes with other managers on the candidates. Those who make the cut are eventually invited out for in-person interviews.
"We're always looking for ways to make our recruiting process more efficient, and this helps us do that," says McMahon.
Webcam's In the Mail
HireVue, which was founded in 2004, rolled out its HireVue Recorded product (used by CDW) last year -- the company also supports live online interviewing and recorded on-site interviewing.
The product lets clients devise a series of questions in whatever format they choose (true or false, essay, behavior-based). HireVue will then ship a Webcam to candidates who don't already own one.
The cameras can be branded with the client's logo if they so choose, says HireVue Vice President of Marketing Chris Higbee, adding that clients can choose whether or not to let candidates keep the Webcams (which cost between $40 and $90, depending on the quality of video image the client desires).
"We encourage our clients to let them keep the cameras -- it's a nice gesture, and most of the candidates are executive-level folks who will say nice things about the company to their friends and colleagues," says Higbee, adding that 99 percent of clients elect to do so.
The candidates can record their answers at a time that's convenient to them. Hiring managers then use HireVue's software to view the videos, compare all candidates' responses to a particular question and enter ratings and comments for each candidate that can be shared with other managers.
"The chance to go back and view the recorded videos helps managers who may interview lots and lots of candidates and may not remember all of them," says Higbee.
Like HireVue, Greenjobinterview also mails client-branded Webcams and instructions on using them to candidates. (In keeping with its eco-friendly theme, Greenjobinterview.com uses recyclable boxes to ship its Webcams.) At the appointed time, the candidate logs on to a Greenjobinterview-hosted Web site customized to resemble the "look and feel" of the client's, and the interview begins.
Unlike HireVue, the company does not record the videos, says CEO and founder Greg Rokos.
"We want to steer clear of that -- we don't want anything leaked on YouTube," he says.
Rokos, who previously worked as an executive recruiter, says he was inspired to start his company by the hassles and expense associated with air travel and because of the fact that traditional videoconferencing is expensive. "I saw a real opportunity when the technology came along to improve this model," he says.
Indeed, Orler says, the megapixels in Webcams have improved significantly enough that users can get a clear picture of the people they're interviewing.
"The video quality right now is about as good as it can get, which is a lot better than it was two years ago," she says. "It's that level of improved video and image quality that makes it easier to use these tools for such a serious task."
Another plus for the online-interviewing services is that they allow candidates to see the interviewer, she says. "You're not just putting candidates on the screen and watching them, but letting them see, react and respond to the person interviewing them," she says.
Orler herself was initially skeptical of video vendors. "I've been studying recruiting for 16 years and I've seen a lot of things come and go, and in this case I was thinking 'If you already have a Webcam, Skype and instant messaging available, then what do you need a vendor for?' "
What changed her mind, Orler says, was the ease-of-use of the commercial products.
"You have to know some things in order to make Skype, Webcams and IM work together," she says. "These tools have to be easy to use -- for the applicant who may use it just once or twice and for the hiring manager who's being asked to use it every week."
Where To Put Those Hands?
Critics argue that one drawback of online video interviewing is that, as was the case with Sable, some candidates simply may not be comfortable with the format.
"You're dealing with people you can see and hear but you're not in the same room and there's just not the same energy," says Karen Friedman, a Blue Bell, Pa.-based communications consultant.
As a result, she says, some candidates may fail to put their best foot forward and employers risk writing off an otherwise sterling prospect.
"The job applicant doesn't necessarily know where to look during the interview, they don't know what to do if there's 'dead air' time, there might be a lag time between when a question is asked and they actually hear it," she says. "Someone experienced in media understands how to perform in such an environment, but an ordinary person may not know how to pump up their energy and passion so the interviewer 'feels' them, without coming across as aggressive."
Friedman suggests that HR provide advice and tips to candidates to help them prepare for the online interview. "Make no mistake -- these interviews are performances. There are things they can do to help the candidates, such as giving them tips as to where to put their hands, body language tips, technical tips. Go through the whole process so they know what to expect -- eliminate surprises."
McMahon says most candidates are enthusiastic about the online interviews, with only a few expressing reservations along the line of, "What, you mean I have to hook up a camera?" Candidates can dial a 24-hour technical-assistance hotline at HireVue if they have questions or encounter problems, she says. Additionally, CDW's recruiters can send nervous candidates a link to a sample interview so they can get a better idea of what it's like, she says.
Gottlin, whose company uses New York-based ooVoo as its interviewing solution provider, says being at home helps candidates feel more comfortable.
"The candidates feel more relaxed -- they're in a setting of their own choosing, without the stress of having to travel," he says.
Nevertheless, he says, older candidates may not feel comfortable with the format. Continental Industries' own IT department will provide technical assistance to candidates who request help, says Gottlin. "Our IT managers will call them up to see if they have any questions."
Another potential drawback to online interviewing is that it assumes everyone has access to a computer and broadband Internet, says Orler.
"You're also assuming a candidate has the ability to sit still and be connected and engaged for whatever period of time they're expected to for the interview," she says. "Not everyone can do that."
Caveats aside, video is the wave of the future when it comes to recruiting, says Orler.
"An opportunity to make a decision much sooner on whether a person's a good fit with the organization -- that's the Holy Grail of recruiting," she says.