3 Steps to Make Video Interviews More Revealing and Less Awkward

As an interviewer, your primary goal is to reveal what candidates are actually like and get beyond all their canned responses and interview scripts. If that were easy to accomplish, of course, everyone would be a great interviewer. But as we discovered in the study “Why New Hires Fail,” 46% of new hires will fail within 18 months, and only 19% will go on to become high performers. 

Clearly, interviewing accurately isn’t easy.

When interviewing candidates over video, the challenge is that much greater. As much as we’re all pretty comfortable with Zoom, WebEx, etc., we’re still not nearly as comfortable online as we are face-to-face. Nevermind that most face-to-face interviews don’t carry the risk of internet outages, poor lighting, and garbled audio.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take that will relax candidates, encourage them to speak freely, and ultimately deliver far more insight into their real attitudes.

Step 1: Quickly Build Rapport With This Sentence

Most interviewers understand the need to establish rapport with candidates early on in the conversation. However, far too many try to do this with putatively easy questions like, “Could you tell me about yourself?” 

The problem is that while such questions are not especially difficult (most candidates have a canned response at the ready), describing ourselves in a few sentences is still pretty awkward. Let’s face it, even a short and rehearsed script can still sound strange and unnatural (e.g., “I’m a motivated self-starter who loves working on teams…”).

Instead of forcing candidates to perform the typical job-interview kabuki, establish rapport by telling them how excited you are to learn all about them. This is as simple as saying, “I’m really looking forward to our conversation today, and I’m really excited to learn all about you and hear about your experiences.”

This sentence cuts to the chase of what you really need to accomplish — relaxing candidates and setting an expectation that you want them to speak freely. Remember that for you to assess candidates accurately, you need them to speak as much as possible in the limited time you have together. The more they talk, the more you’ll learn about them.

Step 2: Establish a Rule to Eliminate Jockeying for Dominance

As more candidates have taken training on how to interview (whether on their own or through outplacement programs), they’ve become increasingly skilled at wresting control of the conversation away from hiring managers. Unfortunately, the more that candidates jockey for dominance, the more they can avoid revealing their flaws. And this risk is especially fraught in video interviews as lagging audio or choppy video can make this verbal dance painful.

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In video interviews, it’s far better to have clear rules for taking turns than to rely on the improvisational back-and-forth we typically use in face-to-face conversations. To that end, after your rapport-building sentence, try saying, “What I’d like to do is spend the next XX minutes learning more about you with a series of questions I’ve prepared. Then after that, we’ll leave the last XX minutes for you to learn more about us and for you to ask any questions you’ve got for me.”

By setting the expectation up front that their questions for you will follow your questions for them, you can immediately reduce any awkward (and technologically challenging) jockeying.

Step 3: Eliminate Awkward Silences With This Simple Instruction

A tricky aspect of video interviews is that with audio lags, it’s sometimes hard to know when someone is finished speaking or if there’s just a connection problem. So it behooves you to set a simple rule at the outset for candidates to signal that they’re done answering your question. 

These three sentences will help you with that: “One other thing to note is that in video interviews, it’s sometimes tough to know when someone is done speaking. So after I ask you a question and you answer, just let me know that you’ve finished answering. This way, I won’t accidentally interrupt you and miss any of the great stuff you’re going to share.”

As I noted at the beginning, interviewing is difficult under the best of circumstances; adding technology makes it that much harder. But if you’re willing to add a few sentences into your hiring routine, you can eliminate much of the awkwardness and detour around most of the likely technological impediments. The end result will be conversations that are far deeper and more revealing.

Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include Hiring For Attitude, Hundred Percenters, HARD Goals, and Managing Narcissists, Blamers, Dramatics and More. Mark’s groundbreaking leadership studies have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and U.S. News & World Report. Mark has also appeared on CNN, NPR, CBS News Sunday Morning, and ABC’s 20/20. He’s trained leaders at the United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, Mastercard, and hundreds more.

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