The downside of job interviews over Skype

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I’m getting a number of e-mails and calls about this story on how companies are using Skype to interview job candidates over the web. All the comments so far have been positive—video chatting is a whole lot cheaper than flying out for an in-person interview, and who doesn’t like to save money. The more I sit with this story, though, the more I wonder if there might not be a real downside.

When a job candidate goes to a company to interview, he gets a chance to learn a lot of things about that company. Walking into the actual physical space of an organization—whether that’s an office building, a warehouse, a retail store, a restaurant or a factory—tells a person a lot that an interview over a web link can’t. Are employees cordially chatting with each other, or is each sitting intensely silent at his desk… and are those desks or cubicles or offices? Are the fliers on the walls there to encourage teamwork or to highlight individual accomplishment?

Does it look like the company has had the financial wherewithal to renovate its space within the past 20 years? Is it clear from the mismatched furniture that this a firm which prioritizes keeping costs at a minimum—or does the fancy artwork in the reception lounge indicate a company that likes to spend its profits on appearances?

When you get walked down the hall, do you get introduced to people along the way—and, if so, to which people? Who does the person interviewing you think you might need to know, should you get the job? That is, where would you rank in this organization?

In other words, being in the physical space of a firm can help a person get a feel for whether or not he’d fit in—about whether or not he’d even want to.

One of the tips in my story about how to interview on webcam is to make sure that the area behind you is presentable. The person interviewing you will draw a different impression from a cluttered desk than he would a neat one. Another tip: dress up. Again, there are things to be learned about how seriously you’re taking this job from your behavior.

When companies interview over Skype, they still get to learn a lot of those things about you. But you don’t necessarily get to learn them back.