One Big Interviewing Mistake You Should Try to Avoid

New research says this can affect the way a potential employer looks at you—and how you look at the job.

woman-job-interview
Photo by Eric Audras/Getty Images

Say you’re in the running for your dream job, but it’s on the other side of the country. The higher-ups call you for a final interview, and give you a choice: You can video conference in, or fly out to meet with them face-to-face.

You might be tempted to choose the easier option that doesn’t involve travel or additional expenses. But it may be wise to make the trip: A new study suggests that in-person interviews tend to leave better impressions on both the hiring company and the candidate.

“We live in a world where we increasingly rely on technology, but this study reminds us that personal interactions should never be underestimated,” study co-author Nikki Blacksmith, a doctoral candidate at the George Washington University’s Department of Organizational Sciences and Communication, said in a press release. Blacksmith and her colleagues wanted to see how tools like telephone and video interviewing might affect overall decision making, so they analyzed the findings of 12 studies published between 2000 and 2007.

Their results, published Monday in the journal Personnel Assessment and Decisions, found that overall, technology-mediated interviews resulted in lower ratings—for both parties involved—than face-to-face interviews. Video interviews received the most negative rankings, followed by telephone and computer interviews.

Initially, the researchers assumed that these differences would have lessened over the years, as people became more accustomed to technology in the workplace. But they were surprised to find the opposite: The ratings were actually more negative in the later research. (They do point out, however, that even the most recent study took place seven years ago.)

“Considering the rate at which technology has changed, it is clear that we lack understanding of the modern interview,” the authors wrote.

Senior author Tara Behrend, PhD, director of the Workplaces and Virtual Environments Lab at George Washington University, says the study was not able to determine what, exactly, was wrong with technology-mediated interviews—but does offer a guess.

“On the phone I can’t shrug my shoulders, roll my eyes, wink, or nod my head to show that I understand,” she told RealSimple.com. “That means that the interviewer can easily misinterpret something I say.”

On top of that, she says, taking turns is harder in a video or phone setting. “The chance of accidentally interrupting the interviewer would be much higher,” says Behrend. “If you’re afraid of interrupting, then you might have a long awkward pause instead. Neither option is going to give the perception that you are a strong communicator.”

It’s also difficult to engage in what Behrend calls “impression management”—doing things to make the interviewer like you—when you’re not face-to-face with them. You might not be able to make friendly small talk or show that you’re attentive by smiling and sitting up straight if you’re on the phone or staring into a webcam, she says.

The problem is, many interviewees aren’t given a choice as to what kind of meeting they’ll have. If a company holds all of its interviews for a certain position the same way, the study authors say, then no one has an unfair advantage. But if some candidates are given in-person interviews and others aren’t, results are likely to be skewed. In fact, the study concludes, these findings could potentially open up companies with such hiring practices to lawsuits.

Behrend says that an important next step is finding a way to improve perceptions in video interactions. “There is plenty of popular advice out there about how to do well in a Skype interview,” she says. “For example, making eye contact is very tough online. But, you can configure your computer so that ‘eye contact’ with the camera happens more naturally.” (You can find our expert tips for acing a video interview—and other smart interview tips—here).

She hopes that by studying tips and techniques like these, researchers can help level the playing field—and give remote interviewers gain back a bit of their lost advantage.