Video conferences are becoming an increasingly popular method for conducting job interviews, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. There is, however, a catch: in comparison to face-to-face interviews, applicants come off considerably worse in digital interviews. In a study simulating digital and face-to-face interviews, psychologists at Ulm University have now discovered why this is the case. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Business and Psychology.
Everyone wants to present themself in the best light at an interview for a highly coveted position. A key aspect is employing certain social techniques designed to impress the interviewer. These include communication tactics, such as emphasising strengths and downplaying weaknesses, but also non-verbal techniques based on certain postures or gestures. “In the field of psychology, we use the term ‘impression management’ to describe this”, explains Professor Klaus Melchers, head of the Department of Work and Organisational Psychology at Ulm University. And this “impression management” does not take place in online interviews as frequently as it does in face-to-face interviews. The result is that people who have an online interview are evaluated more negatively in terms of their performance than those who go through a traditional interview in person. The study also discovered that social presence and eye contact are perceived as being less intense in an online interview than in a personal interview.
In their statistical analysis, the researchers were able to demonstrate how closely these three factors are related. “These results makes sense as well, when we consider that human beings always adapt their behaviour to the reactions of their counterparts. Without eye contact, it is hardly possible to develop a strong social presence. And both are essential for developing a feeling for which tactics I should be using to create a positive impression of myself for my counterpart”, says Dr Johannes Basch. The first author of the study is a research assistant in Melcher’s department.
For the study, the team of psychologists conducted a total of 114 simulated job interviews with students. Of these 114 interviews, 57 were conducted as face-to-face interviews and 57 in the form of a videoconference. In order to ensure ample material for assessing applicant performance at a later point, both the digital interviews and those that were conducted face-to-face were filmed. In addition, the test subjects completed an online questionnaire in which they were asked to share their own perceptions of the interviews.
Interviewers evaluated identical applicant responses in a more negative way when expressed digitally
The study also showed that identical responses from the applicants were evaluated by the interviewers in a more negative way when presented in an online interview than in a face-to-face interview. This means that not only does impaired performance on the part of the interviewee result in poorer performance in videoconference interviews, but more negative assessments on the part of the interviewer play a role as well. Other findings from the study dealt with aspects of fairness and concerns in the area of data protection. For example, it was found that the test subjects perceived online interviews to be less fair than face-to-face interviews. The subjects also had greater concerns about data protection issues with the digital formats. On the other hand, the subjects saw the increased flexibility connected with the use of online tools such as videoconferencing as an advantage.
“Our results have practical relevance as well”, the researchers emphasise. For instance, they would not advise companies to use different interview formats in a single recruitment round, as this would naturally result in clear disadvantages for applicants who are interviewed online. “I can only advise applicants to choose the face-to-face interview if they are given the choice. This usually improves their chances”, explains Professor Melchers. And if the online interview cannot be avoided, the researchers recommend using a technical trick that can help: “Position the camera on the monitor in such a way that you can easily observe the reactions of your interviewer and at the same time establish eye contact via the camera”.
Basch, J. M., Melchers, K. G., Kurz, A., Krieger, M., & Miller, L. (2020). It takes more than a good camera: Which factors contribute to differences between face-to-face interviews and videoconference interviews regarding performance ratings and interviewee perceptions? Journal of Business and Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-020-09714-3
Text and mediacontact: Andrea Weber-Tuckermann
Translation: Kate Gaugler