Job Interviews — Virtual or Physical, which wins?

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I’ve conducted both digital and in-person interviews very recently — which would I choose in the new tomorrow? Funnily enough, the jury is still out as to which I prefer. Both have their merits and pitfalls. Both will still result in selecting the wrong candidate, on occasion. There is still no perfect way of matching a person [and all of their complexities] with a job role + organisation [with all its complexities]. Technology allows us to close the gap on opportunities, literally breaking down borders and removing bias in some areas, yet the process itself, for most, continues to be problematic.

For me, an interview starts before I even get into the room; it starts on social media. What the interviewee posts on their various accounts says a lot about them. If they can’t be found on any social media channels — this also says a lot about them too. Either way, I have already preemptively started interviewing you. Your CV [intentional] + your social/online CV [often unintentional] + any additional word of mouth from shared colleagues means that a deliberate bias is already forming, way before the day of the interview. And that’s before any psychometric tests. All of these contributing factors are data points that help me make my choices, whilst I have to make the assumption that you, the person opposite me [across the table or on-screen] is trying their hardest to cultivate and project the best image of yourself, for the role in question.

The metrics used by decision makers change as you go further up the chain, and as the organization gathers more data on you.

Level one — can you do the job as specified in the role description?

Level two — information from others to support this decision making process is required to really delve into your competency levels

Level three — validation and consistency of senior people to determine whether the candidate fits the company culture and understands the company values.

Each and every level comes with its own biases and value judgements.

And on the day — what other biases can we determine through physical presence? How you look, how you shake hands or greet your interviewer. Senses such as sight, smell, hearing are all triggered — the interviewer will unconsciously or not judge you on how you’ve dressed, your accent, your personal hygiene and more.

Interestingly, whilst companies are trying to diversify their workforce, generally, they tend to not be able to do so, because peoples’ multi-layered biases end up with them hiring people “like them” — reflections of themselves. We have all, I’m sure, worked for someone senior who’s said, “you remind me of when I was your age”. People in positions of power seem to like replicas of themselves. But that’s another story.

Interestingly, the rise of digital interviews will, I believe, help to eradicate some of these biases [not all though], and also re-frame the job market with a more global context. What the last few weeks have revealed is that an awful lot of cross-border jobs / contracts / business engagements can be done via video. Physical geography is very slowly starting to become obsolete in hiring managers’ decision making processes. Asides from removing some of the biases, other benefits of digital interviews include reduction in logistics and cost efficiencies too.

One of the aspects missing from video interviews is also how people read [and react to] in-person situations; being able to “read the room” is a key part of many jobs — but not all. So digital interviews will continue to be dependent on the sector or industry you’re working in. And indeed the role. If the job is public facing, then of course, the interviewer will need all their senses to determine whether or not you’re right for the role. But for so many other roles, we will see technology being used more and more, to secure the right candidate, outside of in-person bias.

This way of holding job interviews is soon going to be the norm, as COVID-19 accelerates our global adoption of remote working. Furthermore, digital interviews provide far greater transparency and allow for interviewers to be more conscious of their biases, as they are recorded — which helps keep everyone on their toes and makes the process fairer.

Which would you choose and why?

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