Joseph Barber explores the benefits and challenges of answering interview questions without any human interaction at all -- and how to do so most successfully.
By Joseph Barber
In my most recent Carpe Careers essay, I talked about the possible rise of the video resume as the go-to application medium used in some types of internship or job applications. The video resume provides an opportunity to bring your experiences and skills to life and to add a touch of your own personality to the mix. After all, in a normal resume, it is hard to generate a lot of energy with bullet points alone -- and I am not sure I would recommend approaches such as these in your next written materials:
- Excitedly collaborated with a team of three PhD students to …
- Enthusiastically analyzed complex environmental data using Python
This week, I will focus on the continued rise and growth of the video interview as part of the application process. I am not talking about our new normal of having real-time interviews by video conference with real people. Rather, I mean the one-way video job interview that is often held over platforms like Spark Hire and HireVue. In such interviews, candidates are sent a link to a platform where they will have to record answers to standardized questions without any human interaction at all. Employers then have access to those recordings and can share them with anyone involved in the hiring process.
Although the format of these one-way interviews will differ depending on the type or role and the type of employer/industry, in most cases, candidates will be asked about 3 to 10 questions. The questions are most often delivered one at a time, so you may not know what is coming next until you have recorded your answer to the current question. You will also usually have time to think about your answer once you know the question -- and that can give you a moment to think of a good example and get your thoughts together -- something that isn't as possible when you are interviewing in person.
You'll be alerted as to how long you will have to answer each question, which might differ based on the question or be standard across them all. You will also probably be told if you can do retakes if you are not happy with your answer and how many you are allowed.
Retakes sound like a fabulous idea in theory -- who doesn't like the idea of being able to go back after messing up an answer and overwriting it with a better one? And, in fact, this can be a great benefit in one-way interviews when used strategically. Say, for example, you are asked a behavioral-based question along the lines of, "Give me an example of a time when you disagreed with your adviser," and the first story that jumps into mind as you answer is an example that you don't really want to talk about, doesn't necessarily end with a good lesson learned, and makes you feel negative. In such a case, probably thinking of another example would be a good idea. This would be worth a retake.
But if you are tempted to retake the answer just because you stumbled over a word or two, or the response didn't quite feel "perfect" enough, then I might be tempted to reconsider. There is no perfect; we are all human, after all. And no employer wants to hear an entirely scripted, robotic-sounding response that is delivered without any faults whatsoever.
In general, the one-way interviewing approach provides a way for employers to hold first-round screening interviews more efficiently from a timing perspective, as no one has to be in the same room/meeting at the same time. But it does offer some of the following challenges when it comes to the candidates who are giving their answers.
Setting the stage. As always, first impressions count, so making sure your sound, lighting, background, and general ambient environment all look good and professional is important. No beds in the background, no cluttered surfaces. Unlike platforms like Zoom, you may not be able to blur your background, and so be prepared to move furniture around your space to eliminate visual or audio distractions if necessary and possible.
Dealing with a lack of human feedback. I remember one interview where the director of the office asked me a question about "future trends in this career field." These aren't the easiest of questions, and if you start off on the wrong track with your answer, it can be hard to get back on it. Well, I clearly did start off on the wrong track based on the face the director made: it wasn't a positive, nodding-in-approval face. That gave me the opportunity to revise my answer very quickly.
Feedback from people in the interviewing process is helpful. Interviewers may not be consciously aware of the signals they are giving off, but it is incredibly reinforcing when you see a lot of nodding heads as you answer a question.
In a one-way interview, you don't get any of that. Depending on the platform, you might not even get a mini-window with your face in it. Some people hate seeing themselves on video meetings, but with my Ph.D. in animal behavior, I spend far too much of my time looking at myself during video calls. We've been doing these video engagements full-time for a year and a half, and I still want to know what I am doing, what I look like, and how I am coming across. My vanity aside, the option to see yourself in a one-way interview does provide a bit of self-reinforcement in that you feel you are in an actual conversation with someone, and that can help make your answers more engaging. Without the self-view option, you will need to remind yourself to look at the camera and visualize the hiring team who will be viewing your video -- which leads us to the next challenge.
Bringing the right energy. In a one-way approach to screening interviews, the employer isn't doing much to get the candidate excited about the position. Little energy is added to the interviewing process to help candidates present the most optimistic, energized, ready-for-action version of themselves. As a candidate, you get all the nervousness of interviewing without any of the excitement of engaging with potential future colleagues.
Bringing energy to your answers is important: not out-of-control energy but also not "I'm just sitting here in my living room" energy. How much energy you need will be somewhat connected to the job itself, but hiring managers will rarely be captivated by monotone responses and overly rigid body postures. You can only really be yourself in an interview -- and yourself is definitely good enough -- but make sure that you present an energized version of yourself.
Providing the right content in the right amount of time. The questions you get asked in these screening-type interviews shouldn't be too surprising. There are likely to be entirely predictable ones, such as:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What do you know about our organization/department/team?
- Why do you want this position?
- What will you bring to this role?
And then you'll probably get a few behavioral questions based on the skills most sought after for the specific position, such as:
- Give me an example of a time where you managed a project.
- Tell me about a situation where you established new relationships.
- How have you solved problems in your research?
If you notice that the time you're given for a question is short (e.g., 30 to 60 seconds), then you know that you'll have to provide an overview answer that highlights the main takeaways and lists (rather than describes) some of the situations where you used the skill you're asked about to generate good outcomes. When you have two or three minutes to answer, then you will want to provide a summary response to begin with, and then tell a story using an example to illustrate the skill in action.
This is where your STAR (situation, task, action, result) structure for your storytelling will be helpful. Once you are done with your story and tying aspects of it back to the position you're applying for, a great best practice is to hint at other examples you could share if invited to the next round of interviews. So, in the last 15 to 20 seconds, you could mention something like, "And I would happy to share a couple more examples of where I used this effectively as a teaching assistant for a 400-person class or as part of my involvement in the student-run data science group on campus." As long as the example you give in your answer demonstrates to the potential employer that you have the skill, this "leave them wanting to know more" approach can get people excited about meeting with you to learn about your other experiences.
Whether video resumes will take over as the new normal in the future is unknown, but the continued growth of these one-way interviews for screening rounds is far more certain. Keep some of these points in mind if the person you have to talk to in your next first-round interview is yourself!
Joseph Barber is senior associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Graduate Career Consortium -- an organization providing an international voice for graduate-level career and professional development leaders.
FROM Jeff Morris - Founder of CareerDFW and CareerUSA.org - If you would like to try a one-way video interview - click on this link - afterward, I will send you the link so you can watch it back. No one else will see it.