Use videoconferencing for job interviews

ITworld.com –

Videoconferencing proved long ago that it can reduce travel costs and extend a company's geographic reach, but have you considered what it can do for recruitment? Conducting job interviews over a long-distance video hookup has undeniable benefits. Doing it consistently well requires mastering some logistical issues, however; recent Web-driven trends make the technology choices both more interesting and more complex.

The potential for savings is obvious. Renting a videoconferencing room -- the preferred option for companies who lack their own remote facilities -- rarely costs more than a few hundred dollars per hour. Travel and hotel costs can easily exceed $3,000.

Arguably, a more important benefit is the expanded labor pool that videoconferencing lets you reach. "It's opened up the world for job candidates," said Lois Grimshaw, provincial coordinator of videoconferencing at the British Columbia Ministry of Education in Victoria, B.C. "In the past, you wouldn't have flown someone in. It would be too expensive." Grimshaw said her agency used a video interview to hire a candidate in Cairo, Egypt, and she regularly rents out her boardroom-size videoconferencing facility for interviews.

Video interviews have been around for at least a decade, said H. Michael Boyd, program manager of human resource strategies at International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass. "The search firms started using it years ago when videoconferencing was in its infancy," Boyd said. "Around 10 years ago, they would send people to Kinko's, which had videoconferencing rooms." The method worked well for executive search firms because the search firm's commission could easily cover its expenses, and clients benefited by relieving senior managers of time-consuming prescreening interviews, Boyd said.

Kinko's remains a player in video interviews, said Amy Holmes, group manager of conference services for Sprint's Global Business Markets Group (Kansas City, Mo.), which provides the network connections and services. "Kinko's does a lot of business in the interviewing space, especially in the major metropolitan areas," Holmes said. "In fact, they are targeting HR people." You can schedule the joint Sprint/Kinko's service by calling (800) 669-1235. Sprint, like archrivals AT&T, MCI WorldCom, and others, also sells videoconferencing hardware and connections directly to corporations, according to Holmes.

Get a room

If you want to try video interviewing and your company lacks its own remote facilities, you'll have to book a room near the candidate. Live video interviews are more feasible if you own equipment at the recruiter's or hiring manager's location. If your company has such facilities, it might have a full- or part-time videoconferencing coordinator who can do the legwork -- Grimshaw does it for the British Columbia government. She arranged the Cairo interview by locating a facility run by the American Chamber of Commerce.

Besides Kinko's, your best bet may be a local college. The academic community maintains a large percentage of public videoconferencing facilities; dozens of overseas and US schools rent out rooms that aren't being used for remote learning. Some companies also use these academic connections to interview college graduates at their videoconferencing sites. Texaco, for example, reportedly interviewed 120 MBA students recently at 25 campus and hotel locations around the world.

To find a third-party videoconferencing site, Grimshaw suggested referring to listings of public rooms, such as the International Videoconferencing Directory. (See the Resources section below for a link.) There are also brokers who will do the legwork for you. I found two -- EyeNetwork and Vtcmeetings.com -- in a quick search of the Web.

Web technologies: Changing the picture

The Internet is helping to make video interviews cheaper, easier to distribute, and reusable, which enables radically different options for exposing job candidates to a camera, an interviewer, and a set of good questions.

The first and most obvious choice is to put a $50 camera and Web-based conferencing software on each participant's PC. Long knocked for its small, grainy images and herky-jerky movements, PC video has improved markedly in recent years, and the popularity of media players such as RealPlayer 8 from RealNetworks (Seattle) makes it easy to distribute recorded interviews. Some experts, however, caution that only more expensive, dedicated hardware from vendors such as PictureTel (Andover, Mass.) and Polycom (Milpitas, Calif.) provides a realistic simulation of in-person interviews. The last thing you want to do, they say, is distract already nervous participants with video problems and technical glitches (though in fairness, these are hardly unheard of in $20,000 room-size systems).

PC-to-PC job interviews are the purpose of LawyersCareer -- from LLM Software (Birmingham, Ala.) -- which is built on conferencing software from CUseeMe Networks (Nashua, N.H.), a de facto standard for PC video. Law firms like Florida-based Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart P.A. use LawyersCareer to screen prospective hires at law schools nationwide. Candidates are, if anything, less nervous than they would be marching into a law firm for their first interview, said Mason Miller, LLM Software's chief strategic officer. "They've been treating it just like that computer is the interviewer," Miller said. Law firms regard the cheap videoconferencing as a way to mine talent at dozens of schools they could never afford to send recruiters to. "The law schools have understood that the alternative to a somewhat lower-quality interview is no interview at all," said Miller, whose company may offer the software in other vertical markets.

With a search firm, corporate hiring managers can avoid early interviews altogether, and even get-acquainted and final interviews that require management participation are easier if the headhunter sets up conferencing on the candidate's end. Managers can save even more time by recording the interview for playback on a PC.

That's the approach of Source 2000 (Houston), which uses the technology (offered at its Website, Internet-Interviews.com) to hire low- to mid-level IT workers for mostly local Fortune 500 companies like Halliburton Company. Though Source 2000 has the ability to do live interviews, "there's not much point in that," said CEO Terry Parks. Source 2000 knows the specific hiring needs of clients and has developed standard questions for positions, which tend to be for help desks and other tasks that require generic IT skills.

"The real intention of putting it on tape is that the client can view it at their leisure," said Parks. He admits that the demand hasn't taken off as he thought it would when he started 2 years ago, and clients aren't willing to pay extra for the service. Still, its value is clear when you consider the time spent on the preparation and social niceties of each in-person interview -- steps that can be avoided by viewing recorded interviews on a PC. "You know within 5 minutes whether the person is qualified for the job," Parks said.

Another IT-focused headhunter with video interviewing capabilities is Directfit (Irvine, Calif.), which makes a high-quality video of each candidate, then uses it along with other profiling and screening tools to match candidates with clients. "We have built a database of pre-qualified candidates," said Directfit's executive vice president, Nat Dodge. The company may offer live interviews within a year, said Dodge.

Video recommendations

Experts offer tips for getting the most out of video job interviews:

  • Be sure to make time up front to chat informally with candidates, get acquainted, and help them feel comfortable, just as you would for in-person interviews.
  • Check the legal implications. Boyd said the electronic record of an interview can theoretically be used to show that you discriminated against a candidate based on their appearance, a violation of equal opportunity laws.
  • Look at the camera, not at the screen: it creates the impression that you are looking directly at the person at the other end.
  • Strive for quality video output. Despite the protestations of PC video advocates, a more realistic, attractive, well-presented video image is a better simulation of an in-person interview. "If it's not quality output, you'll be distracted," Dodge said. "You need to be able to listen to the candidate."

Resources

Directfit: http://www.directfit.com

EyeNetwork: http://www.eyenetwork.co.uk/home.htm

International Videoconferencing List: http://www.sju.edu/imc/vc_list.html

Internet-Interviews.com: http://209.25.254.123/iview/index.html

Vtcmeetings.com: http://www.vtcmeetings.com

The Virtual Recruiting Network: http://iamag.com/infoage/virtual.htm

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