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Retirement Weekly: The latest indignity in hiring? One-way video interviews.


If you’re a “Sex and the City” fan, you may recall a 2001 episode from the original TV series. Mr. Big (Chris Noth) complains that the woman he’s pursuing does not answer his calls or return his messages.

“She can reach me, but I can’t get her,” he repeatedly says.

This is the power of one-way communication: One party exercises more control over the timing and nature of their interaction.

Like dating, job interviews are a delicate dance. As the applicant and interviewer converse, they size up each other.

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But more interviewees are facing the same kind of vexation that Mr. Big experienced. In one-way video interviews, candidates record themselves delivering succinct answers to an employer’s pretaped questions.

Job seekers submit their recordings into the void. There’s no one on the other end to respond in real time.

In viewing these auditions, employers can vet applicants more efficiently and pick the ones who get to advance to the next round of the hiring process.

Young job hunters may welcome these platforms. Perhaps they’re accustomed to curating their image on social media. Or they’re comfortable filming themselves on their devices and seeing their talking head fill the screen.

But for people in their 50s and up, one-way video interviews may be off-putting. At a bare minimum, they expect human communication to consist of back-and-forth exchanges—nods, gestures, shared observations. The quick questions, answers and clarifications—and the discovery of commonalities (“I grew up in Ohio too!”)—create more opportunities to forge bonds.

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Employers have many options when setting up one-way video interviews and many software providers to choose from. They can require applicants to respond almost immediately to a series of questions—giving them as little as 10 seconds to reply to each query.

“Sometimes you can take a break,” said Benjy Gillman, co-founder and chief executive of myInterview, based in Tel Aviv, Israel. “It depends on the employer’s discretion.”

Alternatively, employers might let interviewees ponder the questions for days, rehearse their responses and submit the best ones.

“Generally, employers let you retape motivation-driven questions so that you can prepare a more thoughtful response,” Gillman said. “They may not let you retape knowledge-based questions.”

For example, an airline that’s hiring flight attendants might instruct applicants to say, “Please fasten your seat belts” in French within a few seconds. But you may have much more time to explain why you think you’d make a great flight attendant.

Regardless of how much time you’re allowed to respond, you may feel nervous recording your answers. Gillman’s advice: Radiate authenticity. If you rely too heavily on scripts or try to sound perfect, you risk coming across as canned or fake.

“And you can do the interview at your convenience,” he said. “You don’t have to travel to the employer and be there at a certain time.”

Peter Laipson, a Massachusetts-based educational leader, has participated in three one-way video interviews using Spark Hire, another popular platform used by employers. In each case, he received the interview questions beforehand and had unlimited time to plan his responses. “I could do as many iterations as I like,” he said. But with a time limit of three minutes for most of the questions, he kept pruning his prerecorded answers. “The time goes quickly,” he said. “You need to be concise.” 

He warns that it’s tempting to talk faster to cover more ground. But he advises candidates to speak slower and more conversationally—and stick to the main headlines of their answer without feeling compelled to elaborate on every idea. While he appreciated the chance to present his best self to potential employers, he acknowledges that it’s more time-consuming than a live two-way interview. Even though each video interview only consisted of three or four questions, it took him a few hours to nail his responses within the allotted time frame. 

Laipson, who’s in his 50s, feels confident about his speaking skills. 

“I don’t know how a shy person would feel about it,” he said. “It does disadvantage people whose skill set doesn’t include responding to questions in a pithy way.” In a two-way conversation, both parties can pose follow-up questions. If someone uses an acronym, the other person can ask, “What’s that stand for?” If a candidate makes a claim or cites statistics, the interviewer can ask, “What’s your source for that information?” 

The unidirectional nature of one-way video interviews precludes lively conversations where verbal volleying begets mutual understanding and learning. And time constraints can limit a candidate’s ability to provide a complete answer.

 “You may only have time to make a few points if you’re cut off at three minutes,” Laipson said. “In a live interview, the interviewer can ask, ‘Have you thought about this other possibility?’ That lets you elaborate on your thinking.” 

The good news is the software is generally user-friendly and simple to master. “We try to make it as technically frictionless as possible,” Gillman said. 

Laipson found the Spark Hire platform easy to use, adding that it offers an introductory video that walks first-timers through the process.

Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

Retirement Weekly: News and analysis for those planning for or living in retirement

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