Keeping essential jobs filled – online interview tips for employers

Published: 15th April 2020

Keeping essential jobs filled – online interview tips for employers

For some considerable time now, the technology has been available to allow us to do job interviews online via video. But despite this, many of us have tended to shy away from making the final decision until we’ve had the opportunity to meet potential hires ‘in the flesh’. 

However, as with so many other aspects of our lives, Coronavirus is forcing us to reevaluate our usual approaches and question what really matters. In terms of hiring new talent using online video, in reality, changing our attitude is probably the biggest hurdle we face. So increasing our level of confidence about getting recruitment decisions right, using online methods alone, is key. 

For many businesses, the current crisis is making us look hard at the way we do things. It is forcing us to identify new ways of working, to be bold and creative in forging change and in further building resilience as we develop solutions. Indeed, much of what we introduce now will pave the way for a new and improved ‘business normal’ after the current adversity has passed.

Progressing to being comfortable and confident in making hiring decisions based on video interviews will not only ensure we can maintain momentum to recruit essential roles now, but provide a far more efficient and painless approach for both employers and candidates alike in the future. There are many benefits involved, including reduced time and travel cost, if part, or all, of the interview process is done online.


Like with any interview, you need to know what you want to get out of it before you start. So make sure you have read the candidate’s application or CV thoroughly, and have a general framework of questions prepared. Some you will ask all candidates, others you will have identified specifically for them, given that interviewee’s individual work experience and skills. This will ensure you cover the necessary ground and allow you to focus on key areas of their suitability, as well as illustrate to them that you are prepared and interested in them. Don’t however, use a structure that is so rigid that you miss opportunities to explore and probe comments or issues that come up in their answers. This is often where the greatest value lies.

The basics

While the need to make sure the technology is set up right and working well is obvious, many overlook the benefits of doing a test run internally first. Also, ensuring you have any required links, passwords and other login necessities well ahead of time reduces last minute frustrations. After all, you want to be in the right frame of mind when you start the interview, not stewing about IT glitches.

Making sure your screen is in a suitable position with the camera at eye level, the lighting is good, your sound and video are both on, and that you have all your necessary paperwork to hand are other key elements of your preparation. It’s also worth noting that while conducting an interview on your mobile may be OK in an emergency, it’s far from ideal. So your laptop or iPad, positioned securely and not hand-held, will provide a far better experience for you and interviewee alike. 

Setting the scene

Keep in mind that candidates may not be used to doing online video interviews, which can add to their level of apprehension or stress. Taking the time at the start to outline the areas you’re looking to cover, how long the interview is likely to last and how it will be structured, will help them know what to expect.

It can also be useful to spend a couple of minutes telling them about the company and the role. This will not only given them time to ‘settle in’ to the interview, but will also help them start to understand and engage with your company and help to further reinforce their interest in the job and working for you. It will also allow you to assess if they pick up information that is relevant to the job and incorporate this into their later answers.

Engage – make the most of the advantages

Don’t forget that most of the interpersonal cues and prompts we can use face-to-face can also be employed in a video interview and, if done well, there are also potentially less distractions. Interviewing via video means your candidate is literally ‘front and centre’. You are ideally placed to see their facial expressions and what they are communicating non-verbally, as well as hear their answers. This is also true for you, given it’s likely they will only be looking at your face and shoulders. So, make sure your facial expression is not conveying the wrong messages, subconsciously or otherwise. Also, make sure you look at the camera, not your screen, this helps with creating rapport as it will provide the closest possible recreation of face-to-face eye contact.

Nodding, smiling and leaning forward will provide encouragement to them when they are answering questions. If you are taking notes, still try to maintain a good level of eye contact, or perhaps explain at the beginning that you may look down at certain points if you are making notes.

Give them space 

One element that can be more tricky in a video interview is emulating the natural flow of a face-to-face conversation. Both speaking at the same time, or awkward silences can be more prevalent, especially if there is any kind of time delay. Giving encouragement such as “take your time”, nodding, or making a note to show interest can help. As can not feeling the need to jump in the second after they have finished a sentence, instead pause a moment to see if they have completed what they wanted to say. Not being afraid of silence is also a technique many good interviewers use in person and works just as well via video. What people say to fill the silence can give you good insight into how they think and how they cope with uncertainty.

Use scenario questions

If you still feel you haven’t got a handle on the ‘real person’ in a video interview, asking them about a real situation can help. Having a few scenarios prepared that they might face in the role can give you some insight into their approach and how they would deal with different issues. Outlining a situation, providing context, and then asking them what they’d need to consider, the steps they’d take and the result they’d want to achieve, can give you clues as to how they might perform in the role. This is similar to competency based interview questions, for example “Can you tell me about a time when you’ve had to improvise to achieve your goal?” However, people are more likely to be able to prepare ‘stock answers’ for competency based questions, which may not allow you to get beneath the polished, pre-prepared response. By describing a specific situation in your business that may arise in the future, they are more likely to have to think on their feet and you can gain greater understanding of how they operate, how they would apply their skills and experience and how they will approach dealing with other people.

There’s no reason why video interviews, done well, can’t provide all of the information needed to make the right hiring decision. We are all currently wrestling with new challenges and being forced to make changes in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Recruitment is one area that the current crisis can actually provide a useful catalyst, that ensures we embrace a more efficient way of recruiting, more quickly than we might otherwise have done. The benefits of which will be felt long after the crisis is over.


Insight from Rachel Hannan

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