“Recruiters shouldn’t expect people to show up physically for first-stage interviews,” candidate says

May 8, 2024
4 min read
Image of a black woman sitting in front of her laptop, throwing her hands apart, with an excited look on her face

Recruitment is an evolving responsibility in the workplace. A skill that requires some level of specialisation. It is, therefore, on the part of the recruiter or hiring manager to decide what will be involved in the process, including the form of interviews that will be adopted.

Reports available considering applicants' preferences over the past four years have shown some sort of contradiction to what experts predicted will be the future of recruitment after the pandemic.

For instance, a Future of Recruiting report published by PwC in 2020 revealed that in a world where most office workers will prefer to work from home even after COVID-19 has been long gone, the traditional recruitment process might no longer suffice for companies that want to get the best talent.

It, therefore, encourages companies to adopt virtual/remote recruiting and onboarding rather than in-person.

Conversely, one of the report's takeaways is that tech can be used to streamline the process, but it should still be human-centred. Still, respondents say they prefer in-person meetings or phone calls when it's time to negotiate job packages or accept formal letters.

On the other hand, an online survey published in February 2023 among 2,019 US adults, revealed that 70% of Americans prefer in-person job interviews, compared with 17% who prefer video calls. This suggests that even though people prefer the option of working remotely, they still want to make their first impression in person.

Interestingly, a recent poll on X (formerly Twitter) revealed a similar statistic, where 61% of 585 respondents preferred physical interviews to virtual ones.

In the face of the increased need for convenience and the use of tech, these stats are surprising. So, why do job seekers and employers still value the in-person experience?

The allure of physical interviews

The rise of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) gave rise to a lot of criticisms about how it puts quality talent at a disadvantage. Adding another impersonal layer like a virtual interview could further deny candidates opportunities to make an impression.

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A finance expert involved in making hiring decisions, because he occupies a senior position, leans more towards physical interviews. He submits that an in-person interview offers a window for the candidate to impress beyond their resume.

He emphasises the importance of nonverbal cues like posture, dress, and hygiene, all of which contribute to a well-rounded first impression, especially if the candidate is coming in for a client-facing role.

The professional draws attention to the main goal of an interview — to find out how well an applicant fits into an organisation. And how candidates carry themselves in a professional setting is one way to find out if they are a good fit.

From his experiences over the years, another finance professional, Alexander Okwuaku, echoes a similar sentiment while highlighting the value of building connections with interviewers in person.

"I am biased towards the traditional, in-person interview because it offers more – gauging the interviewer’s body language, having a glimpse of the company’s culture, the opportunity to make acquaintances with the wider team before the start date, etc. I have had more success with in-person interviews. I usually come out of an in-person interview feeling more confident knowing that I didn’t just provide relevant answers to the interview questions, I also made connections with the interviewers."

Reading the room during a virtual interview

Virtual interviews have been praised for their flexibility. As explained by Subomi Adekoya, a chartered quantity surveyor, the efficiency of the process and its cost-effectiveness for recruiters and applicants are a plus. He also cites logistics and safety concerns as reasons why in-person interviews should be sparingly demanded.

Another respondent who works with a recruitment agency agrees with this, and stresses how needless it is to demand a physical interview first.

She believes interviews can be logistically challenging because applicants often face the stress of finding the location and managing transportation costs. Hence, recruiters should acknowledge this burden and reserve on-site interviews for the second or third stage, or when there's a possibility of hiring the candidate.

Interestingly, online interviews may be putting the applicants at a disadvantage.

A lawyer who has job-hunted in Nigeria and the UK complains about how uneasy online interviews can feel.

"Video calls can sometimes feel awkward, and it can be difficult to read the interviewer's facial expressions accurately. All you have to make an impression are your words."

A typical recruiter's interview scorecard — used in evaluating applicants' performance — would ordinarily exclude certain desirable traits that could only be noticed in-person.

The implication of this is that scorecards for virtual interviews might have fewer highly weighted items.

For instance, 10 items on a scorecard with an overall score of 100 will have more marks than fewer items on a scorecard with the same overall score.

The legal professional also highlights the challenge of navigating interviews where interviewers appear preoccupied with taking notes. This can disorient candidates since they are not sure if they have the interviewer’s attention. Other visual cues could have come in handy here, but the virtual option only presents you with the interviewer's face, or nothing if it's a pre-recorded interview.

Tailoring interview formats to company needs

According to the finance executive, candidates might need to be evaluated physically to verify certain traits needed to approach clients.

"People often underestimate the power of those physical cues."

Still, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach, because when he was interviewed for his first banking job, he wasn't looking as impressive as he would have liked.

He concludes that, depending on how it is handled, physical interviews can also be disadvantageous to the candidates.

Meanwhile, Adekoya highlights the opportunity for recruiters to have access to a wider talent pool when they consider the virtual options. They could also save time from initial screenings and focus on qualified candidates for face-to-face meetings.

Okwuaku, however, insists that physical interviews offer applicants the opportunity to gauge company culture and have a feel of their potential workplace.

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Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.
Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.
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Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.

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