Ever consider comparing grandma’s cooking to fast food? Of course not! Yet the fast food industry is going strong because its offerings are…well, fast. Tasty? Maybe, but definitely convenient and fast(er). So the question came up here recently about comparing remote vs. in-person interviews. The overall conclusion is like how we feel about grandma’s cooking: There is a place for both but the remote interviews don’t hold a candle to those conducted in-person. However, there are appealing aspects to different remote interview methods which include various levels of speed and convenience much like drive-throughs and cooking subscriptions that can save you time.

Back when the only option to interview job candidates remotely was by telephone, the pros and cons were more distinct. The up-front advantages of a phone interview are the cost/time saving potential and convenience. That and perhaps relieving a candidate (or you) from the embarrassment of a bad hair day. It’s perceived as more of a pre-screening tool to sort out the more desirable candidates to invite later for in-person interviews. Who hasn’t gone a block to the nearest drive-through wearing bunny slippers because it was so convenient, fast and cheap? Enter the on demand robo-interview and video chat.

The robo-interview:

Less commonly utilized, robo-interview formats usually consist of recording answers to a list or pre-recorded set of questions. Most of us aren’t comfortable with public speaking, and we’re certainly not YouTube stars accustomed to recording videos for the world to see so it’s important to keep that in mind when trying to attract top talent if you consider this as an employment screening tool. But hold on:

  • Do you have to sift through dozens (hundreds?) of resumes/applications?
  • Is your company/industry so popular that you can’t keep up with the volume of open positions to fill?
  • Do you like ordering pizza to be delivered/ready at a specified time using apps instead of calling?

If you say yes to at least two of these, there could be benefits to using this method. If used as a pre-screening tool like phone interviews, it’s a relatively simple process for you as a hiring manager to compose the questions, post the job online and provide a link to those truly interested applicants willing to take the time to answer the questions. You can then review the responses, share the footage with other hiring managers and follow up with inviting top applicants for an in-person interview… all on your own time.

Consider the following aspects of robo-interviews as they pertain to your particular company:

Of the applicants who do submit their recorded answers, introverts might be perfectly happy to avoid interacting with other humans, but do you imagine most of them to be perfectly comfortable with only having a couple of tries answering a question within a minute? Will the responses convey their personalities enough to determine if they will mesh well with the job and other people? Or do you want to turn up the heat like Gordon Ramsay and see how well someone responds to stress?

This interview method removes personal interaction which could be good if you need to ask the same questions in exactly the same way for a more level playing field. If you’re running an engineering firm and keep the questions to technical ones, this might be a good way to go to gauge knowledge, creativity and observe problem-solving thought processes before considering the applicant for the in-person interview. It’s like handing off the same secret ingredient in an Iron Chef episode to see what everyone does with it.

The video chat:

If you would rather initially connect with a candidate on a more personal level, you might do well with the video chat method. The concept of live video chatting back in the 60’s was a fanciful take on the future in shows like The Jetsons and Star Trek. Now that this technology is here and growing dramatically in popularity, it’s a step away from the actual traditional in-person interview while still offering some degree of personal interaction. They tend to run shorter than in-person interviews but still gives everyone a chance to get to know each other better. Think of it as similar to those increasingly popular food subscriptions that are delivered to your door. Everything has been pre-measured and prepped so all you need to do is cook it. There is still some room to tailor it according to how things progress.

The huge added benefit here is the addition of visual input for both sides. You’ll catch that smile supplementing an enthusiastic voice, the confident posture when answering a technical question, perhaps even a rude eyeroll or glassy-eyed deer in headlights expression. You can expect a candidate to look appropriate yet still more likely to be relaxed from their kitchen table or living room. That is, until their cat jumps onto their lap or the gardener shows up with a leaf blower. Even that is an observable moment as you see how a candidate reacts and deals with an unexpected stressor.

In comparison to an in-person interview, however, it’s still interacting using two-dimensional flat surfaces so it will also tend to flatten the “humanness” of the participants. A study by the McMaster University Degroote School of Business conducted in 2013 found that candidates and interviewers seemed less likeable and less competent with the use of video interviews. Yes, nothing compares to grandma’s cooking and an in-person interview!

How to maximize your use of video chats:

  • Make sure connections and equipment is in top working order.
    Too many interruptions will feel like trying to cook while a two-year-old is running around in the kitchen.
  • Position the webcam as close to eye level as possible right above the screen and at a distance that captures your facial expressions. Remember, both parties tend to look at a screen and not directly into the webcams so it is important to minimize the lack of direct eye contact.
  • Be sure to emphasize your facial expressions a little more because you don’t have the full use of body language. Candidates who are more comfortable with their interviewers tend to give better answers and develop a favorable impression of potential employers which causes them to be more likely to accept a job offer.
  • Have someone take notes so you don’t have to keep looking away from the webcam.
  • You can also record the actual interview so you can go back and review the candidate’s responses and share the interview with others. Recorded interviews can help in deciding which candidates gave better answers, but you also run the danger of nit-picking. Remember that saying about too many cooks in the kitchen?
  • You can show candidates a pre-recorded video of current employees in action off and on the job to give them a feel of your company’s “menu” and all of the “specials” that would make your company stand out as a first choice.

Hopefully you’ll be confident about inviting candidates over by the time you’ve picked out the finalists… and that grandma would approve!

As a general principle, employers are legally permitted to monitor their employees online during business hours. Keeping a close eye on workers can help maintain company confidentiality, limit workers from surfing the web on company time, and ensure the prevention of harassment.

But such monitoring does come with caveats, as well as risks.

For example, screening employee email on the employer’s network may be permissible but may require advance notice. In states such as Connecticut and Delaware, laws are in place that require employers to provide prior notice before electronically monitoring employees. A union contract may also place certain limits on monitoring and public-sector employees may have some rights under the Fourth Amendment with regard to unreasonable search and seizure.

Federal law can also come into play. Although the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) generally prohibits the monitoring of electronic communications, it contains a “business purpose exception” that permits employers to monitor the electronic communications of workers if the company has a “legitimate business purpose.” The statute also allows monitoring with consent and many companies do this by including such permission as part of the onboarding process for new employees before granting access to the company’s networks or systems.

Another wrinkle: third-party communications. States such as California and Illinois mandate that all parties to a communication provide consent to its interception in transit. For employers, that means providing notice to recipients of employee emails and obtaining their consent before scanning a message from a friend or third party. Many companies post a notice on the company’s website and/or include a statement in employee emails that all messages are subject to monitoring and any response implies consent with the employer’s practices.

Even with all these issues, monitoring emails may be more straightforward than focusing on employee social media accounts. The Stored Communications Act (SCA) addresses the situation of accessing electronic communications stored by a provider (such as Gmail or Microsoft), as distinct from an employer accessing emails on its own system. Under the SCA, employers can be liable for the unauthorized access and disclosure of electronic communications in storage on corporate servers of a provider.

Further, roughly half the states ban employers from either requiring or requesting a worker to verify a personal online account like a Facebook profile, blog or Instagram or to log on to their social media account. While technology is available for employers to get around these laws (using keystroke logging software, for example, or taking screenshots), some of the information being monitored by an employer could itself be protected – such as union organizing activities under the National Labor Relations Act, attorney-client communications or in some states, geolocation data.

Mobile devices add another layer to the analysis. For workers using employer-provided mobile phones or devices, the employer has the right to legally monitor use from contact lists to photos and videos to Internet visits and emails. As for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) situations, the terms are generally dictated by the employer’s BYOD policy, but this is an emerging area of law and therefore murky.

All of these legal considerations are centered in the United States. Companies that operate outside the U.S. borders will have international law to contend with as well, notably the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and regulations found in its member states. As a general matter, EU law and the GDPR offer employees a greater level of privacy than that found in the United States. Last year, the EU’s highest court did rule that companies can monitor employee email – if workers are notified in advance.

Perhaps most importantly, employers should recognize that like all things related to technology, the legalities of monitoring employees online are constantly evolving. Being able to adapt to changing laws, regulation and technology will keep employers on their toes.