October 2016

An Institution Asks: Should we consider using video technology in place of the more traditional “airport” interviews for semifinalist candidates?

An in-person interview for semifinalist candidates is a tried and true way to help search committees determine qualifications and fit for leadership positions. But it is expensive for institutions and difficult to schedule both for committee members and candidates. We have seen a number of committees opt for the “Skype” interview to help narrow the pool of qualified candidates. This can be effective if well prepared.

First, the technology used must be reliable; it is not helpful to have connections cut in and out as a candidate is trying to answer questions. If committee members are preoccupied with the capability of the technology, they are not focused on having a productive conversation with the candidate.

Secondly, the set-up must allow for a conversation. The candidate must be able to see committee members, and all committee members must be able to see the candidate. These interviews should give committees a chance to experience the candidate as a person, not a disembodied voice. The technology must be robust enough to allow for follow-up and reactions from both committee and candidate to flow freely in a conversational way.

Lastly, the preparation of questions must be as thorough as with in-person interviews. A committee’s ability to learn how a candidate might function in your setting depends on concrete, well-thought-out questions that seek to learn what the candidate has done in situations similar to those that will be confronted in the new position. And the questions must also elicit a sense of the person and how this candidate will fit into the culture of the institution.

A technologically enabled semifinalist interview must be extensive enough to gauge a candidate’s preparation and interest in the position. Don’t make the interview shorter than an in-person interview. You must work as a committee to create an atmosphere of give and take, so you can get a sense of both competence and fit for your institution – whether interviewing at an airport or in the cloud.

A Candidate Asks: How should I prepare for a Skype-enabled semifinalist interview?

The short answer is that the preparation is the same as for an in-person semifinalist interview. You should be clear about why you are seeking the position, and be able to explain both your qualifications and interest in an engaging way. You also need to know a great deal about the institution and why the current position is open, what the institution hopes to accomplish with a new hire, and how your experience has prepared you to meet their needs.

In addition, for a technologically enabled interview, you need to pay attention not only to the presentation of your person, but your surroundings. A room in your home with an open door behind you and people moving in the hallway doesn’t serve you well as a backdrop for your conversation. You don’t want the committee preoccupied with the wallpaper you chose; you want them to experience your personality and to listen carefully to the content of your answers. You want to test the environment you choose by looking at it yourself through the lens of a computer, if possible. Make sure the background is not distracting, but might convey a message about your seriousness. Make sure you will not be interrupted. And use whatever connection you can find with committee members. Speak to the people and not to your machine. It might be helpful to practice with a friend, so you don’t seem to be speaking to a machine, but are engaging with the people – that is your job in an interview, whether in person or via technology.