Why Virtual Interviews Fail

July 15, 2020

Michael Ganeles

Most people are less comfortable with virtual interviews, but they’re increasingly necessary. The secret to success? Structure.

Woman in her kitchen sits at a computer during virtual interviews

A few months ago, a friend of mine called me with a mix of excitement and nervousness in her voice. She was contacted by a recruiter about a position that she really wanted and given her relative inexperience with interviewing, she wanted my advice. The problem? It was going to be one of those virtual interviews. 

One of her biggest concerns was deciding which room she would take the interview from. “Should I take it from the dining room? People may come down the stairs and make noise.” “Should I take the call in my bedroom? Is it weird to have a bed in the background?” “What happens if they see the pictures I have hanging on my wall and reach certain conclusions about me?”  

We spent a good 30 minutes talking about the ideal home-based interview location with me advising her to focus more on what she plans to say and less on where she plans to say it. But this friend of mine isn’t alone when it comes to concerns over virtual interviews.  

According to a study by staffing company Yoh, 62 percent of American adults would prefer to be interviewed in person. Why? They said an in-person interview is the only way to really judge the opportunity. And they’re worried that a virtual interview limits the connection they can make with the interviewer.  

In other words, candidates are worried that they won’t get to know you or the job well enough. Likewise, many employers worry that they won’t get enough insight into the candidate. In fact, many companies are asking for guidance on how to equip their leaders to conduct effective virtual interviews. But are virtual interviews so different from in-person interviews? The answer depends on what your in-person interview process was like.  

How well do we really get to know people in interviews? 

Is it really that we don’t get to know people well enough unless we see them in person? Or does meeting in person just enable us to make judgments based on outside criteria? 

Any time we meet a new person, we make snap judgments. We read their body language. We make assumptions based on how they look and dress. We might make inferences based on whether they accept the offer for a cup of coffee. 

All of these quick judgments usually happen quickly and subconsciously. But they have a deep impact on our decisions. In fact, a Careerbuilder study noted that 87 percent of employers say they know whether the candidate is the right fit within the first 15 minutes. Furthermore, nearly half said they could tell within the first five minutes. 

It’s certainly not enough time to judge a candidate based on data or their capabilities. Instead, we’re taking shortcuts, and making decisions on all kinds of irrelevant criteria. And it enables us to make decisions based on bias. 

Virtual Interviews can introduce new biases 

The scary thing is that virtual interviews just exacerbate concerns over bias-riddled hiring. While interviewers may have fewer opportunities to observe those in-person cues (like the hiring manager who told me that he can tell whether a person will make a good sales rep based on how they shake his hand), they now have a glimpse into candidates’ personal lives that they never had before. 

During a virtual interview, they may catch a glimpse of a person’s home interior, a dog barking or a child running in the background and reach some pretty wild conclusions. They may judge a candidate based on a picture or poster hanging on their wall in the background which is just ludicrous—unless of course, the candidate has a New York Mets poster in the background, which clearly demonstrates their loyalty and resiliency. (Author’s note: It has been scientifically proven that New York Mets fans are more resilient than Yankees fans since they’ve had to deal with far more setbacks.)  

So how do we address the slippery slope of bias that comes with virtual interviewing? The key to mitigating bias while reducing the awkwardness of the virtual interview is to add more structure to the interview process. 

How to structure a virtual interview 

In many companies, managers are left to their own devices to determine how they want to structure an interview which is even more risky in a virtual environment. Without any training or structure, they typically revert to whatever they’ve experienced in their own interviews.  

As a result, the interview may be unfocused, and the manager fails to collect the relevant data. After the interview, the candidate may decide they don’t even want the job. And in the worst cases, candidates may even file a complaint if the interviewer asked illegal questions. 

Here are seven key factors to take into account when structuring your virtual interview: 

1. Determine competencies and behavioral interview questions before the interview. 

Before you go fishing, it’s always good to know what you’re fishing for. Make sure your hiring managers are provided with a set of well-defined behavioral competencies that are important for success in the role. In addition, make sure you provide them with behavioral interview questions that will enable them to reliably assess candidates against those competencies. And always remember to interview every candidate for the role using the same competencies with the same set of questions.

2. Choose a reliable technology. 

 Virtual interviewers are awkward enough and job seekers may have a heightened sensitivity to negative candidate experiences during this stressful time. Try to minimize the likelihood that you encounter technical issues by testing your technology before the interview and making sure you have a good connection. 

3. Make a positive impression. 

As the interview begins, build a rapport with the candidate by addressing both their personal and practical needs. On the practical side, make sure that you give an overview of the job and company, and set expectations for the interview. When it comes to personal needs, I don’t mean that you should ask personal questions. Rather, every candidate needs to feel respected, and that they are being treated fairly.  

4. Appoint multiple interviewers.

When you only have one interviewer, the decision rests solely on their opinions. But with multiple interviewers, each person can represent a different perspective on the candidate, which reduces bias. In addition, it helps the candidate see a bigger picture of what the company culture is like, which is especially important in virtual interviews. 

5. Focus on behavior.

Success in most jobs isn’t just about what gets done. It’s about how it gets done. Behavioral interviewing questions focus on what candidates did and how they solved problems. While it may sound simple, the reality is that past behavior predicts future behavior and we need to make sure that hiring managers are asking the right questions to collect  examples of past behavior. You might think of these questions as the ones that start with phrases like “Tell me about a time when…” 

6. Use the STAR method to collect information.

The STAR method helps you to collect complete stories that show how someone acted in a situation. It’s a simple and incredibly effective way to collect accurate information, and reduce bias in how you evaluate the candidate. (And you might not know it, but DDI actually invented it!)

7. Address motivational fit. 

The behavioral questions and STARs can help us measure whether a candidate can do the job, but how do you know if the candidate will do the job?  Motivational fit is about finding out how the candidate’s likes and dislikes relate to the job. For example, do they enjoy travel if it’s required for the role? Do they like the job's location? By assessing motivational fit, you can see whether they will be motivated and satisfied by the job and the company. Note that motivational fit is about understanding a candidate’s likes/dislikes and determining how it aligns with what the job and organization has to offer. Too often, we hear hiring managers use the term “Poor Culture fit” to describe a gut feeling that a candidate just wouldn’t “fit in” with others at the company. But managers usually don’t have objective criteria for what cultural fit means, which can introduce bias.

Of course, what happens after the interview is also critical. Each interviewer should individually review the data and rate each competency. Then they need to get together (probably virtually!) to talk about their impressions. This step is critical to making an unbiased decision. 

Virtual interviews create better opportunities 

Virtual interviews certainly present unique challenges. And many of us miss getting to meet people face-to-face before we hire them. But they also present organizations with tremendous opportunities. 

For example, virtual interviews enable you to source candidates from anywhere, without paying for travel. That opens up the talent pool dramatically. The bigger talent pool also means you have access to more diversity in your candidates. And as an added bonus, it often makes it easier for candidates to make time for the interview as they don’t need to travel. 

With an unprecedented amount of quality talent on the market, organizations can’t afford to get virtual interviews wrong. Those organizations that get it right and are able to equip their hiring managers to conduct effective virtual interviews while ensuring a positive candidate experience will reap the benefits for years to come. 

Learn more about how to overhaul your interviewing process with our webinar, How to Turn Your Managers into Great Interviewers. 

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