Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 1;   January 6, 2021:

Virtual Interviews: I

by

The pandemic has made face-to-face job interviews less important. Although understanding the psychology of virtual interviews helps both interviewers and candidates, candidates would do well to use the virtual interview to demonstrate video presence.
A virtual interview underway

Since this pandemic arrived, much has changed about how we work. We're aware of some of the changes, but we're not yet aware of all. As time passes, and we encounter those less-common situations that don't arise every day, we'll gradually become aware of more changes. One of those less-common situations is what we call the interview. We use interviews in sociological research and investigations of all kinds, but the workplace context in which interviews come to mind most readily is perhaps the hiring process. What has changed about interviews in this pandemic is that more of them are now video interviews, also known as virtual interviews.

If you're considering candidates for a new position, for a recently vacated position, or for a position about to be vacated, or if you're a candidate yourself, it's helpful to understand the special properties of the kind of virtual interviews used in the hiring process. In the hiring process, four factors distinguish the virtual interview from the face-to-face interview. They are the home field advantage; the attendance list; video presence; and staging, lighting and makeup.

In this Part I, I focus on the home field advantage. In what follows, I'll use the term interviewer to refer to the representative of the hiring organization, and the term candidate to refer to the person seeking or considering the position.

Home field advantage

In sports, the term Because the essence of a job interview is
disclosure, perceptions of psychological
safety strongly determine the behavior
of both interviewer and candidate
home field advantage describes, for a specific match, the advantage enjoyed by the team that uses as its home facility the facility where the match in question is being held. The home field advantage phenomenon is real. In sports, five factors contribute to home field advantage: the behavior of the fans; the familiarity of the home team with the facility, the community, and the region; the rigors of travel; referee bias in patterns of decision making by officials; and territoriality in the form of elevated passions for defending the home territory.

Because there are no fans, media coverage, or referees in job interviews, the home field advantage in the context of job interviews clearly cannot involve fan behavior, biased referees, or territoriality. But there are analogs to the effects the rigors of travel and familiarity with the venue. One phenomenon that might underlie both of these factors is psychological safety.

Psychological safety

In a given social context, the degree of psychological safety is the prevalence of the perception that taking interpersonal risks is beneficial, or at worst benign [Edmondson 2014]. Speaking up, making suggestions, or disclosing preferences or aversions are examples of taking interpersonal risks.

Because the essence of a job interview is disclosure, perceptions of psychological safety strongly determine the behavior of both interviewer and candidate. Using the lens of psychological safety is helpful for understanding how virtual interviews differ from face-to-face interviews.

Consider face-to-face interviews first. In face-to-face interviews, the interviewer is "playing" on a "home field." Compared to the candidate, the interviewer is more familiar with the facility and the organization. Indeed, many face-to-face interviews are conducted in the interviewer's own office. And the candidate is more likely to have traveled away from home to be present at the interview.

For virtual interviews, by contrast, both parties are at their home fields. In terms of their environments, then, the home field advantage the face-to-face interviewer enjoys is significantly compromised. And it's therefore reasonable to suppose that with respect to their senses of psychological safety the interviewer and candidate are more likely to be in similar frames of mind.

Oddly, to the extent that there is a home field advantage in video interviews, there can also be home field disadvantages for the candidate. For face-to-face interviews, the candidate is likely dressed for the interview, which takes place in a business setting. But for video interviews, by comparison, the candidate might not be as well dressed. Some candidates exploit the camera's limitations. For example, a man might wear a suit jacket, dress shirt, and necktie, but sweat pants instead of suit pants. Only the candidate is aware of this, of course. But it might affect the candidate's approach to the situation. I know of no research that confirms this speculation, but I would not be surprised to learn that such an effect is measurable.

A similar speculation applies to the candidate's setting. The candidate's setting for a video interview might not be as businesslike as would be the setting for a face-to-face interview. Even if the spare bedroom is staged appropriately (more on this next time), the spare bedroom is still a spare bedroom. These differences in atmosphere might affect the candidate's demeanor in ways disadvantageous to the candidate.

Last words

The sense of psychological safety, and therefore the home field advantage, provides advantages to the interviewer for face-to-face interviews. The advantage to the interviewer probably extends also to the virtual interview, but it is attenuated somewhat. Candidates can gain some advantage by choosing a very businesslike setting for the interview, and by dressing as if for a face-to-face interview.

Many employers now recognize that video conferencing skill is an important competence for most knowledge workers. Candidates can gain still more advantage by recognizing that a virtual interview provides an opportunity to demonstrate superior video conferencing skill. Thinking of the interview as an audition can help clarify that particular objective of the exercise.

Next time I'll examine other attributes of the virtual interview, including the attendance list, video presence, and technical matters.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Virtual Interviews: II  Next Issue

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Footnotes

[Edmondson 2014]
Amy C. Edmondson and Zhike Lei. "Psychological safety: The history, renaissance, and future of an interpersonal construct," Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior 1.1 (2014), 23-43. Available here. Retrieved: December 22, 2020. Back

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