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Video interview red flags: Why they’re not all valid

Video interviews are used to evaluate candidates just like in-person interviews. They do have, though, a unique element: they’re focused – often subconsciously – on the image. When you can only see the candidate’s upper body and the background behind it, you start paying attention to things you wouldn’t otherwise notice.

video interview red flags

Put simply, do you know what your office employees’ apartments look like? Even more, do you care? Then why should the setting that candidates pick for their video interview matter? Surely, a candidate who has a clean background and speaks fluently in front of a camera will make a great first impression. But it’s a huge leap to reject candidates outright because, for example, the lighting was not good or if they were clearly working from the kitchen table.

Let’s see what the most common candidate video interview red flags are and why you should take them with a pinch of salt:

1. Less than perfect environment / background

There are lots of online guides that help both candidates and interviewers get ready for a video interview. They usually advise to have a background free of clutter, pick a well-lit room and mute notifications. Does this mean that a candidate who doesn’t adhere to all these tips is inexcusable? Hardly.

Elements like poor lighting, background noises or interruptions from pets and roommates can indeed be distracting. But let’s face it: we can’t replicate the office environment. We’re asking too much from candidates when we expect them to have the perfect setting for their video interview.

Think about these scenarios:

  • Corinne is living with three roommates and the only quiet place in the apartment where she can have the video interview without any distractions is her small bedroom with just her bed and no desk.
  • Benjamin has some issues with his internet connection these days so he chose to have his video interview at a quiet but outdoors cafe instead.
  • Damian is currently employed and has a video interview with another company, but the only mutually convenient time was during his lunch break, so he takes the call in the parking lot inside his car.
  • Anastasia was invited to a video interview but has only a desktop PC without a webcam, therefore she connects through her smartphone that she has to hold as stable as possible during the entire call.

Or, have a look at this real video interview that went viral a while ago:

There are many reasons why candidates might not have this perfect, distraction-free environment for your video interview, so don’t be so quick to judge them – or, especially, reject them.

But…

If it’s essential for candidates to have good video skills (e.g. let’s say you’re hiring for a video editor role or a customer education position), you want them to proactively think about details, such as the quality of lighting and sound. Those candidates will likely stand out. Make sure, though, that you take into account the actual work conditions: if they’re going to be working from your office, then an unexpected interruption from a pet during the video interview should not be a dealbreaker, because it’s not something they could have easily prevented – or something likely to happen at your office.

2. Poor body language

Do you know this trick where you put a post-it next to your webcam to remind yourself to look through the camera when you’re on a video call? Not everyone does. And even if they use this trick, it doesn’t mean that it’s always effective. Job interviews are stressful anyway, more so when you have to speak to a computer as opposed to a human. It’s normal that candidates forget to maintain “eye contact” during a video interview.

Besides lack of eye contact, other signs of “poor” body language, often stated as red flags during job interviews, could be:

  • fidgeting
  • not smiling
  • having a bad posture
  • playing with their hair
  • biting their nails

Although those behaviors indicate nervousness, don’t be quick to raise a red flag. Video interviews put candidates in the spotlight, and particularly their face, meaning that it’s easier for you to focus on a tic they might have or a nervous movement they make.

We could argue that candidates could practice and fix those non-verbal cues that don’t read well on camera. For example, in one-way video interviews, they do have the chance to pre-record themselves and check how they look and sound – but this doesn’t necessarily make the process easier for them.

People usually don’t like how they look on camera or how their voice sounds, especially when they’re not familiar with this process. That could make them come across as uncomfortable or anxious. To help candidates ease their nerves, you could:

  • Share some tips beforehand to help them prepare for the video interview
  • Have a member of the hiring team record themselves welcoming candidates to the hiring process in order to set the tone
  • Send a video example to show them how to best present themselves

If the role has nothing to do with speaking in front of a camera (whether recording yourself or live), then you shouldn’t be harsh on people who might struggle with that. And don’t assume that they lack self-confidence; for example, note how the tone of their voice changes when they speak about something they know very well. This is a better indicator of whether they feel confident about their skills and knowledge.

But…

If the video interview is a simulation of the job (i.e. if the role involves speaking to clients through video or giving online presentations), then candidates’ performance can give you a hint of how well they’ll do at the actual job. Also, poor body language could be a red flag if we’re talking about over-the-top behaviors, such as excessive nervousness that doesn’t let the discussion flow or an extremely relaxed attitude (e.g. lying on the couch during the job interview while wearing pajamas).

3. Technical difficulties

One common reason why candidates struggle with – or are cautious about – video interviews is that they’re not familiar with the tech requirements. Examples include internet connection hiccups, video interview software they haven’t used before, or hardware (e.g. camera and microphone) setup.

While candidates don’t need to be IT experts to attend a video interview, there are certain tech issues they might not be aware of in advance. For example, their internet connection could be OK for regular web surfing, but video calls usually require more capacity. Therefore, they might realize that the connection is less stable only during the interview itself.

Unless the video interview is a testament to candidates’ technical skills, consider sending some simple guidelines ahead of your call to prevent such issues when possible. Mention how candidates can:

  • Join the call (e.g. whether they need to download specific software)
  • Check the quality of their camera, microphone and speakers
  • Practice recording themselves before submitting their final answers (in case of one-way video interviews)
  • Troubleshoot common technical issues

However, keep in mind that no matter how well prepared you are, things don’t always go as planned. Don’t jump to the conclusion that a candidate is unprofessional or less interested in the role if they show up a few minutes late; tech hiccups could happen at any time. Perhaps they had checked before the call and everything was working, but as they tried to join the meeting, they noticed that their camera or microphone disconnected, so they needed to restart their computer which cost valuable minutes. (“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”)

It’s best to help them overcome those technical difficulties – or even reschedule if there’s no other solution – rather than judge them over things they can’t necessarily control.

But…

When hiring for tech roles, poor troubleshooting skills might be a red flag. Again, though, don’t focus on the problem itself, focus on how candidates handle those technical issues as they arise. For example, candidates who panic because they can’t connect to your video interview software or because they fail to make their microphone work might not be the best fits for an IT role where they’ll have to support others and regularly solve tech issues.

4. Inauthentic answers

The purpose of video interviews, just like any type of job interview and assessment, is to gauge candidates’ skills and decide whether they would be a good fit for your company. So, when candidates give canned answers, when they sound “robotic” without letting their skills shine, or when they fail to answer a question by giving vague or one-word answers, you can’t truly understand their potential.

This doesn’t mean you should instantly disqualify them, though. First, try to identify and address the reasons behind their interview performance.

  • Canned answers are usually the result of common, overly-used interview questions – such as “What are your biggest strengths?” or “Why are you a good fit for this role?”. Your candidates likely have heard those questions many times over and learned to answer in a specific way. Instead, differentiate your questions to prompt candidates to share their unique experiences. For example, you can ask them to describe specific examples where they showed empathy at work or to walk you through one of their past projects. You could also give them a fictional scenario and see how they’d approach it.
  • Lack of experience talking to a camera makes candidates sound robotic and less engaged. It’s not necessarily an indicator of their communication skills. Help them get more comfortable by setting the right tone yourself. When we speak to other people, we tend to mirror their behaviors, so the more you smile and the more confident and relaxed you look, the easier it’ll be for candidates to show their true self. If you’re conducting one-way video interviews, you can send an email to candidates prior to their recording to introduce yourself so they’re feeling they’re addressing you even if there’s no live interaction.
  • Technical difficulties might cause candidates to give poor answers or even to miss a question. When they give a vague or very short answer, there are chances that they might haven’t heard the question properly. Consider asking a follow-up question if you’re not satisfied with their answer. For one-way video interviews, make sure that you give candidates clear guidelines on how to submit their answers and that your video interviewing software is intuitive and easy-to use. It’s helpful if candidates can record multiple takes and pick the one that best captures what they want to express. Also, if you have a time limit, make sure that candidates are aware of that in advance and that the timer is in a prominent position.

But…

When candidates clearly don’t put an effort in showcasing their skills, even if you’re asking the right questions and helping them feel comfortable with the process, this could indeed be a video interview red flag. Inevitably, those who do their research, come prepared and can explain whether and how they’d add value to your team will stand out, unlike candidates who stick to socially desirable answers or seem they want to get it over with.

5. No-shows

“They didn’t show up at the interview, so they probably aren’t interested in the role.”

“It’s unprofessional to not notify the interviewer when you can’t make it to the interview.”

These are valid concerns when candidates miss a (video) interview. Particularly for one-way video interviews, where candidates can record their answers at their own convenience, it’s odd to miss the deadline.

But, have you thought that maybe it’s you, not them? Besides serious, last-minute emergencies or lack of professionalism, interview no-shows indicate that candidates changed their mind and don’t wish to invest time in your hiring process. If you dig deeper, you might find that you’re “pushing” them to that decision.

For video interviews, specifically, no-shows could mean that:

  • Candidates might feel that the process is cold and impersonal. Picture this: they applied for a role at your company and are looking forward to hearing back from you. Instead, they get a generic message to log into a platform and record their answers. Try to add a human touch to your outreach to candidates during every step of the process. Introduce yourself, share a quick custom video from a member of the hiring team or offer some useful tips to candidates so that they don’t feel their only interaction with your company is through a screen.
  • Candidates may not understand why you interview them online. Unless you’re hiring for a remote position, video interviewing might seem an odd choice to local candidates or even an indicator that you don’t want to invest time in them. To avoid that perception, be open about the structure of your hiring process. You can send shortlisted applicants an overview of the next steps or describe the process on your careers page. When candidates know what to expect, they’re more likely to be engaged.
  • Candidates might struggle with setup or technical requirements. Imagine not being able to download the video software, struggling to find how to record or re-play your answers or having questions pop up at your screen without you knowing that the time is on. This is not the kind of experience you want to offer to candidates – and it could explain why some of them don’t complete the interview. Make sure that the process is user-friendly; try it out yourself, test it with your colleagues, gather and use feedback to improve it before inviting candidates. Also, share step-by-step guidelines and be available for questions candidates may have.

But…

You can’t know for sure why a candidate didn’t attend a job interview – whether in-person or remote – unless they tell you. And while it’s difficult to get this information from candidates themselves, you can see if there are any patterns. For example, if most no-shows are during the video interview stage for a specific role, you might want to check whether this position attracts less tech-savvy candidates, so you need to present the process in more detail. If numbers tell you that, in general, candidates drop out from the video interview stage, reach out to your most recent hires to understand what challenges they faced when they were in that stage. No-shows are not something you can easily control, but you can try to offer a great candidate experience to prevent as many as possible.

Video interviews help you find out which candidates will make better hires. Don’t rely on quick shortcuts, though. Making assumptions about candidates may speed up the process, but puts the quality of your hiring at risk. To avoid biases when interviewing candidates online, think about what you’re looking for in potential hires beforehand. Then keep an eye out for those qualifiers in candidates’ answers, as opposed to focusing on apparent video interview red flags.

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