The Perils of the Automated Online Interview

Over the past year, I have had to take three interviews, all from companies that took pride in their innovativeness, from "Interview," in this case, might be a misnomer because interviews usually involve a conversation between the candidate and his interviewer. I think might have been a better name because I was answering questions in front of my computer monitor. Nobody was there to respond, except for the next question that was asked. And, to be quite frank, they're probably the three worst interviews I have ever given.

When websites like TakeTheInterview and other competitors like InterviewStream and InterviewMaster were first introduced, hiring managers must have gone crazy. After paper job applications were replaced with online forms and phone calls with video calls, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the hiring process went digital. With these websites, it would now be possible to outsource the onerous and time-consuming task of screening potential candidates. All a hiring manager would have to do was type in the questions that they would like to ask their candidates, and then invite them to take the interview. The candidate would then be shown the question, given a few seconds to prepare, and then recorded while giving their answer. While, to a hiring manager, this would seem like the perfect and exact replacement to the phone screen, I would like to argue that it is not a suitable alternative, and in fact damages the hiring process.

As a filmmaker, I have spent hundreds of hours behind the camera filming interviews of everyone from college students to factory workers to high-ranking corporate executives. You might think, as do many others, that those who interview better in person will also interview better on camera. Certainly, this must be what hiring managers thought too when they decided to outsource their screening process. Unfortunately, this is where you'd be dead wrong. I have met seasoned managers who crumble in front of a camera even as entry-level employees are able to articulate themselves almost flawlessly. I have met an established CEO who took an hour of shooting to record a five-minute message and a student who has spoken to crowds of hundreds, yet could not seem to recite five straight sentences. What's going on? Am I just meeting the wrong people?

You see, while speaking to a person one-on-one is one thing, speaking in front of a camera is another thing altogether. The former rewards those with excellent people skills and conversation abilities; the latter, those who have experience acting and speaking even as nobody listens. This might be forgivable if having to record yourself in front of a camera was part of the job description, but it isn't! While a physical (or even one done on Skype or Google Hangouts) allows you to evaluate a candidate's ability to carry a conversation, something which most, if not all, jobs require, absolutely no part of a video interview translates to anything done in the office. No entry-level job, except maybe acting, will ever require you to record yourself speaking to a camera. The only exception to this might be recording a birthday message for your boss for that surprise AVP that your company is preparing for him.

While no researchers have yet studied the power of online interviews in predicting job performance, other scientific principles can shed light on why they aren't such a good idea. For some people, being in front of a camera might trigger stage fright, which is probably as relevant to the job as claustrophobia. For others, being videotaped might lead them to fall prey to an observer effect, in which people act differently when they know there are being observed. Indeed, there are some situations in which informing people that they are being observed would be a good idea, such as if you want to reduce the number of crimes or get people to work harder.

In the context of an interview, there is simply no place for a camera. By outsourcing interviews, hiring managers are discriminating upon those who have stage fright and are simply not used to being in front of a camera, while showing preference for those who are more confident in front of one. This is completely irrelevant to most jobs, and leads to a future in which qualified yet camera-shy candidates are judged awkward and incoherent while confident, camera-savvy ones are branded as eloquent and intelligent. Unfortunately, there is no basis for any of this. And, when qualified candidates are brushed under the rug, companies do not get the talent that they are looking for. Indeed, nobody wins except for the websites that offer these services.

Ultimately, a company cannot claim that their greatest asset is their people if they are not willing to invest the time and resources to find the best ones. The rest of the hiring process can go digital, but the interview should not be one of them.