Job seekers overwhelmingly prefer an in-person interview experience to a virtual interview, according to a recent poll from the American Staffing Association.
In polls conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, most job candidates said they preferred in-person interviews, but many respondents hadn't tried a video interview before the mass shift to remote work in 2020. More people have now been exposed to videoconferencing, and most would still choose an in-person interview experience, according to the poll results.
The survey conducted among 2,019 U.S. adults showed that 70 percent prefer in-person job interviews, compared with 17 percent who favor video calls and 9 percent who prefer telephone calls.
"As someone who works with job seekers every day, I can concur that job seekers much prefer an in-person interview," said J.T. O'Donnell, a career coach who is the founder and CEO of Work It Daily, a career coaching site in Portsmouth, N.H.
"In the last year, a lot more candidates are offering to come in for interviews," said Rachelle Roberts, a senior manager for talent acquisition who recruits for Slalom, a consulting firm based in Seattle. "Many candidates who have been working remotely for a couple of years are specifically looking for jobs where they can go into the office, collaborate in person and form relationships in person. That's been another growing shift in behavior."
O'Donnell said that candidates like in-person interviews better than virtual ones because they want the undivided attention of the recruiter or hiring manager.
"They want to build a stronger connection and bond with the interviewer," she said. "The interviewer can't be as easily distracted when they are sitting across from a candidate. Recruiters are notorious for scheduling Zoom calls but not actually being on camera. They might as well be on the phone."
Roberts said that candidates also want to experience the office space and the workplace culture in person, to better understand if the role is as advertised. "That's harder to get that through a video."
Alan Henshaw, the founder of Talent Fox, a talent acquisition consultancy in the Washington, D.C., area, and a former recruiter for Amazon and Wayfair, said he's not surprised by the poll findings, which queried respondents across industries and sectors, but thinks that the results would probably be more evenly split in metro areas, where more employers offer remote work.
"Some of this would hinge on whether companies have a return-to-office policy or whether the role would be fully remote," he said. "Candidates are evaluating the company as much as the company is evaluating them. If the role is fully remote, being in person to interview may not matter as much, but if the role requires going in to the office, then spending time in the space, interacting with colleagues and getting a sense of the in-person energy is what candidates want to feel before fully committing."
Typical drawbacks to virtual interviews include some candidates and recruiters not taking them as seriously as in-person interviews, difficulty building rapport and technical issues.
"The dynamic is more challenging," Roberts said. "People feel they present better in person and want the opportunity to put their best foot forward."
Henshaw added that trying to conduct technical assessments virtually has been a pain. "If you're talking about software engineers, which is who I recruited for many years, it was very difficult to get systems design and coding assessments done virtually," he said. "There are some tools available to make it easier, but it works better in person. That could be the same for any interview assessment that involves drawing or using a whiteboard."
A Hybrid Approach
Many organizations are implementing a hybrid approach to interviewing, using virtual interviews during early rounds and moving to in-person interviews in the final stage.
"Recruiters like virtual interviews because it saves them time and is easier to manage," O'Donnell said. "Recruiting is stressful, and virtual practices have allowed them to enjoy a remote lifestyle, making their job more convenient."
The benefits of virtual interviews—especially early on—include saving the time and expense it takes to meet in person and allowing recruiters and hiring managers to access a much wider pool of candidates much faster than before.
"Not having to commute for the interview or, worse yet, be flown in for an interview really speeds up schedules, gets to an offer decision more quickly," Roberts said.
Virtual interviewing has made the whole process a lot more flexible, Henshaw said. And while the virtual interview trend hasn't changed how recruiters conduct screenings by phone, it has given back the time it took to meet the candidate and shepherd them through their day of in-person interviews at the organization. "That was part of a recruiter's job," he said. "It may free up time, but from a candidate experience standpoint, there was value in that engagement that built rapport on the day of the interview—that's been lost."
Not all recruiters would choose the virtual approach.
"I prefer in person," Roberts said. "It's our job to communicate our company culture and values and put the candidate at ease and help them feel comfortable. That's more genuine to do in person."
Hiring managers prefer in-person interviews, as well, experts agreed. "When it came time to switch back to in-person interviews, hiring managers were very excited about that," Roberts said.
"Good managers have a higher EQ [emotional quotient], and they can read candidates better in person," Henshaw said. "Managers can get more data points from being in person than from a virtual interview. But being in person also opens up more unconscious bias. The commonalities are more evident, and managers need to be aware of that."
Virtual Interview Tips
Virtual interviewing has made recruiting more efficient but not necessarily more effective, O'Donnell said. But there are ways to improve the experience.
"Good recruiters can leverage the technology to everyone's benefit," she said. "First, turn on your camera. Let the candidates see you. Don't use the virtual interview to race through the process. Take time to engage the candidate, build rapport and have a conversation, just as you would if you were meeting in person."
Roberts suggested that recruiters share logistics and ground rules about the interview and how to best conduct it when the video interview invites are sent out.
"People need to be coached to do video interviewing well, and that includes knowing how to use the technology," Henshaw said.