There is no shortage of quotes about success in business.
“A vision without a strategy remains an illusion.” … “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” … “Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation.” …
The list goes on and each has merit. Yet none of them work without talented people. It is the people you hire who ultimately determine the success of your strategy, culture, marketing, innovation, and all else you do.
Surprisingly, our ability to identify talent continues to be less than sufficient. A 1998 study found that traditional interviews only have 50% accuracy. Things haven’t gotten better since then. In my book The Empowered Candidate, I share a recent study by Gallup that found when interviewing for management positions, we make the wrong hiring decision 82% of the time.
With the current shift toward remote work, and therefore more virtual interviews, accurately assessing talent is increasingly important, but increasingly difficult. Assessing someone sitting in front of you was already hard. Assessing them through a camera lens, during an interview shoved between many other virtual meetings is ripe for suboptimal decision-making.
Two factors drive this issue—social cues and focus. During virtual meetings there are fewer social cues available to help with communicating and assessing. Some experts believe the phenomenon of “Zoom fatigue” is in part due to our brains—accustomed to a 3D multi-sensory world—desperately searching for clues in a 2D virtual world and unsure of what to focus on.
In a virtual meeting this may be tiring, but of less consequence than in a virtual interview where you aren’t just communicating, you are actively assessing the other person and they are actively trying to explain their skills.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can both increase social cues and improve your focus with a set of key practices, some of which may counter previous advice you’ve received.
Camera position isn’t just about keeping it eye level
The common advice regarding camera position is to position it at eye level. Just as important is positioning your camera far enough away that your shoulders and upper arms are visible so that hand movements you make are at least partially visible. Don’t try to solve this by simply leaning back, which could signal aloofness. Maintain a posture that signals attention but position the camera so more of your body language can be interpreted.
When you send the candidate a prep email for the interview, recommend that they try to position themselves in the same way. Explain to them that this improves communication and understanding.
Common advice given about speaking is to avoid being monotone by modulating your voice. Unless you’re a trained performer, that can be hard to accomplish. A realistic area of improvement is knowing whether you are a fast talker. If you are, then slowing down a notch is actually achievable. During a virtual interview, the candidate’s ability to comprehend your questions relies primarily on your voice. Slowing down increases their ability to process your words and frees up their cognitive energy to focus on providing an informative answer that gives you the insight you need.
Don’t look at yourself
The book Mastering The Hire shares another study that collected data from over fifteen thousand participants in eighty countries which found that on average our minds wander 47% of the time. Being on a video call requires more focus because you are on display and feel the increased need to self-monitor. Instead of focusing solely on the candidate, you are also thinking about yourself. It doesn’t help that during a virtual meeting your own image is staring right back at you alongside the other person.
That image is more than just distracting. Research shows when you look at yourself, you will likely be disappointed by what you see. This is due to a bias called “self-enhancement” in which we think we appear better than we do—until we see ourselves. Instead of judging the candidate, you are also judging yourself, and judging harshly. Remove this distraction by simply using the function that removes your own image from your screen only.
Give candidates permission to “cheat”
Research has shown psychosocial stress negatively impacts working memory. Psychosocial stress is stress that comes from interacting with people— like during an interview. Working memory is the function of the brain that allows the explanation of stored information— like during an interview. You can remove some of this stress on memory by letting the candidate know it is fine to have a copy of their resume as well as notes in front of them.
This may sound counterintuitive because we’ve been trained to believe that great candidates can answer any question off-the-cuff. That’s a false belief. Everyone has prepared answers. During a virtual interview, many candidates have notes on their desk or taped behind the computer. Instead of focusing on you, they are trying to scan notes without you noticing. Remove that unnecessary part of the game. Let them know you want great experiences from their memory, not evidence of them having a great memory.
Virtual interviews may not be as effective as in-person interviews, but they don’t need to be markedly worse. A key to successful interviewing—of any type—is removing the interference that exists between you and the candidate. Misread social cues. Miscommunication. Distractions. Unnecessary stress. The virtual environment can heighten all of these. But intentional practices to counter the interference will increase your odds of finding the great people who will drive strategy, culture, marketing, innovation, and all else you do.