February 6, 2012

Are Skype interviews good for you?

Filed under: Heads up, How to Say It, Interviewing, Q&A, Readers' Forum

In the February 7, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader says Skype interviews aren’t such a good idea:

Thanks so much for hosting an Open Mic session and offering your professional expertise. My career is in IT (information technology) and although I feel more like a commodity these days than the business professional that I am, there are interviewing techniques that throw up a big red flag.

Recently I was asked to do a Skype interview. There are many factors with a Skype interview that can be held against a candidate because it introduces things that are not common with the typical phone and face-to-face interview process. The interview is with a local company but regardless, I still find it as an unfair practice. What are your thoughts?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

My Advice

I’m with you. I don’t like “phoners” in general. If you’re uncomfortable with this kind of interview, you can’t tell companies to stop doing it, but you can politely decline.

How to Say It:
“I’d be glad to invest time to come meet with you. I think I can demonstrate how I can contribute to your bottom line by doing X and Y for you. But I’m sorry — I get so many requests for e-mail, telephone, and virtual interviews that I respectfully decline them. I need to know that a company is really interested in talking shop. When I attend such a meeting, I’ve done my homework. If you’d like to meet with me, I’ll be ready to show you what I can do for your business.”

I think if a company balks at that suggestion, it’s wasting your time. Are they really interested in hiring someone, or not?

There’s a time and place for social media tools, to facilitate communication. I don’t think an initial contact is it. Whether it’s via telephone or Skype, there’s an enormous difference between casually chatting with someone about his work, and conducting a job interview. I think the technology emphasizes the power one party has over the other, and it makes forthright, balanced dialogue awkward. The candidate is always at a disadvantage. (And the employer may wind up wondering why she wanted to interview a talking head.)

I don’t think it’s appropriate to make a person perform on video if there’s not already a relationship in place. The person who invites another to talk business has an obligation to make the experience pleasant. That’s why we buy one another lunch. It’s an expression of our investment in, and respect for, the person we’re soliciting.

I get fed up with the “social media” tools that employers use as an excuse to avoid investing adequate time to assess a candidate. Check Recruitomatic & The Social Jerk (Or: Why you hate recruiters) for more about this. Perhaps there are ways to engage another person before suggesting that they appear on your computer screen for an interview, but it doesn’t seem the employer in your story has done that.

I hope the How to Say It example above gives you an idea about how to handle this. But please — use your own words, and modify the message so you’re comfortable with it. Sometimes, you have to push back firmly, but make sure you do it politely.

If you’re going to do a Skype — or any other kind of video — interview, don’t miss these 8 Tips for Successful Video Interviews by Rachel Ryan.

What’s your take on “phoners?” Have you ever done a Skype interview? Maybe I’m looking at this wrong, but I think Skype interviews put the candidate at a disadvantage, and they might leave the employer thinking he’s talking to Max Headroom. Please post your comments and suggestions.

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58 Comments on “Are Skype interviews good for you?”
By Dave
February 13, 2012 at 10:09 am

@Crumbs and marybeth:

One issue I have with phone screens/calls with HR (or people playing HR)… Sometimes they don’t have the power to reject/deny canidates outright. For example, I’ve had times (when I was more naive) where the person I’m taking to doesn’t negotitiate the pay or know about the budget. You end up taking time off and driving a bit and end up finding out the job isn’t a good fit and/or the pay isn’t right for you.

By SteveG
February 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm

@Dave
You are correct the screeners I have talked to do not have the power to accept. As far as I understand it their role is to find a reason to reject the candidate. Thus they ask questions which you are expected to answer but almost always have no answers to your questions.

If I do get an interview – I never consider it a waste of time. It is a learning moment because you will never know it is not a good fit until you go.

By Nick Corcodilos
February 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm

@SteveG: Let me push on what you said a bit. Please think about this.

It is a learning moment because you will never know it is not a good fit until you go.

Wouldn’t it be better to know beforehand, and go only if you know it’s a fit?

How could you do that? I think it’s possible, and I think it’s essential.

By Crumbs Jr.
February 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Dave wrote:
:One issue I have with phone screens/calls with HR … You end up taking time
: off and driving a bit and end up finding out the job isn’t a good fit
Well, yeah, but we’re more concerned with the opposite: not with not knowing that the job is good, but with finding out that it isn’t. I’ve never had a phone interview with an HR person, btw. I like the phone intro because there’s usually a good chance to quickly find out if the job is not for you – in which case I don’t want to spend time going there. But Nick isn’t concerned about that; instead he says you should physically go there and avoid the phone phase. I disagree with that. A brief chat with the hiring manager over the phone is helpful finding out if there are any reasons you shouldn’t proceed with the opportunity to begin with. Saves a lot of time this way, and I don’t see any negatives to doing it that way.

Btw, just got a dozen rec. inquiries for an obviously same job again. All in a matter of days. I can’t figure it out, why would anyone hire multiple recs at the same time for the same position? A mystery wrapped in enigma etc.

By Dave
February 15, 2012 at 4:21 pm

@Crumbs Jr.

I have no problem talking on the phone (or emailing, or Skyping or whatever).

I think part of the problem is that some lackey (i.e. Secretary, HR, Recruiter, etc.) acts as the gatekeeper but they have no real power and/or they don’t know the job. Let me talk to the hiring manager for 20 minutes, then we can decide if we want to move forward.

By robert harris
December 6, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Skype interviews provides the hiring company with an opportunity to discriminate plan and simple. They just do it to see how you look. Considering that you have minorities that talk like they are white. Im black and i cant tell you how many ignorant people told me that I sound white after they met me like that is some sort of compliment or something. The company can hire who they want and the skype interview provides them an opportunity to practice workplace discrimination. I agree video conferencing should be done only when there is a relationship already. Honestly why cant the hiring company determine if you are worth investing in for an in person interview with from a 30-45 minute phone interview? I think the skype interview is lame and places the job seeker at a disadvantage always. Two things determine if you get the job. Your qualifications and if you fit in. Unfortunately skype gives them the opportunity to see if you fit into the culture by your appearance.

Now they can still discriminate after a in person interview but its less likely they are going to do that after bringing you in for a inperson interview. Big companies like apple, google dont do this.

If everyone stop agreeing to skype interviews I guarantee that the hiring companies will stop doing them.

By David
February 3, 2014 at 4:30 pm

I have a skype interview today. I agree its a subtle form of discrimination.

By L.T.
October 1, 2014 at 3:54 pm

It is bad enough that in person I have a face made for radio, and a voice suited to silent movies.

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