Face-to-face versus online recruitment: which is the best scenario for the candidate?

The perception of a candidate by a recruiter is more favourable when the meeting takes place face-to-face, according to Rod McColl and Petya Puncheva-Michelotti

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, online employment interviews have dramatically increased as companies avoiding face-to-face meetings. But in fact, Covid has only accelerated a trend that was already well underway worldwide.

Several companies now offer online interview platforms using artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to analyse candidates’ profile. Video responses are uploaded, automatically transcribed into text and analysed by a computer algorithm. Variations in candidates’ voice and facial expressions are also measured and interpreted.

To further minimise costs, the human element is either minimal or non-existent, with avatars acting as interviewers. These virtual interviewers speak like Siri or Alexa, but of course, the roles are reversed, and they are the ones asking the questions and quizzing candidates about their career paths and aspirations.

The advantages of face-to-face meetings

Virtual job interviews are becoming increasingly popular. Major companies such as Walmart, Microsoft, Adecco, Unilever, Nissan and Sodexo are using them to recruit. The video interviewing software market which was valued at US$ 176.1 million in 2019 is projected to reach USD $405.7 million by 2027. In addition, with the development of AI technology, the people analytics market, valued at USD 2.03 billion in 2020 is expected to rise to USD $4.24 billion by 2026

Some companies offering virtual recruitment interviews have faced ethics challenges. HireVision, a US recruiting company with over 700 corporate clients, has been sued several times by applicants for invasion of privacy. Studies to date suggest that companies should at least remain cautious about how they use these tools, and how these tools should be integrated into the employee selection process. The accuracy of algorithms to evaluate candidates compared with in-person interviews and assessments requires further scientific research to validate this interview approach.  

In a recent study we conducted, we found that recruiters’ perceptions of candidates were on average, much more favourable when the meeting takes place in-person compared with online. Candidates were interviewed by the same recruiters both online and in-person, with a two-week break between interviews. Candidates from the in-person interview were considered to be more open, sociable, friendly, professional and calm than when the interview was ‘remote’.  To minimise bias, interview order was randomly applied. 

The importance of the first interview

When undertaking an online interview, many signals that humans naturally transmit and receive when physically in the same room together, are suppressed behind a computer screen. We also believe that this distortion makes a person’s performance less memorable compared with the in-person experience. Or put another way, recruiters relied more on the memories formed from the in-person interview. As online recruiters can only see candidates’ faces, and direct eye contact is difficult, they may get the impression that they are hiding something. Poor interview environment such as lighting, camera angle and appearance may can also create shadows on the face, which may be falsely interpreted as physical or psychological reactions such as evasiveness or nervousness.

We would advise candidates to choose in-person job interviews rather than online, if given the choice, especially for the first interview if there is more than one. This is especially relevant to extroverts, who may struggle to communicate their personality traits online. If a poor impression is given during the first interview, via a screen, it will affect the perception of recruiters for the second time around. Recruitment professionals who have increased the number of video conferences in recent months may be unaware of the potential negative consequences of these distortions. As such, Artificial Intelligence tools that are intended to analyse candidates’ performance should be under scrutiny.

The problem with virtual recruiters

Virtual recruiting tools are now able to record and transcribe words, but semantic analysis does not allow for subtleties of facial expressions, voice tone, or the use of humour, for example. Candidates who have understood that it is often necessary to look the camera ‘in the eye’, smile and move minimally in order to appear composed, will be at an advantage. The situation is particularly problematic when the interview is conducted by virtual recruiters.

The first failures of artificial intelligence

Anxious people will lose their nerve when they are asked to position themselves precisely in front of the screen, with a limited amount of time to answer each question, in a context similar to that of identity checks at airports. People who are not very expressive or and have difficulty expressing their emotions, will also be disadvantaged. It is difficult to identify a person’s personality in very artificial conditions that modify the way candidates interact during an online job interview.

In conclusion, I would say that a telephone interview with a candidate will give a more realistic impression of their personality than a video conference, whether or not they are analysed by artificial intelligence, as people are more comfortable and experienced with this communication tool and have adapted over time to its constraints.

Dr Petya Puncheva-Michelotti is Associate Professor in Management and Organization at Rennes School of Business. Her work focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility and her research interests include sustainable development and AI-driven businesses. Dr Puncheva is Programme Director MSc in Sustainable Management and Eco-Innovation at Rennes School of Business.

Dr Petya Puncheva-Michelotti is Associate Professor in Management and Organization at Rennes School of Business. Her work focuses on Corporate Social Responsibility and her research interests include sustainable development and AI-driven businesses. Dr Puncheva is Programme Director MSc in Sustainable Management and Eco-Innovation at Rennes School of Business.

Dr Rod McColl is Full Professor, Marketing Pole Area, at Rennes School of Business where he teaches Service Marketing, Strategic Marketing and Research Methodology.

Dr Rod McColl is Full Professor, Marketing Pole Area, at Rennes School of Business where he teaches Service Marketing, Strategic Marketing and Research Methodology.

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