Phone vs In-Person Interview

Conducting interviews is a core part of the human resources team, but there are several ways to go about it. Two of the most common options are phone interviews and in-person interviews. Both options are viable for interviewing a candidate, but they have their pros and cons. Picking the right interview for the right situation is crucial, so it’s a good idea to review the advantages and disadvantages, both for your business and the candidates themselves.

The Pros of Phone Interviews

Phone interviews have been around nearly as long as phones themselves, and they are an essential part of the hiring manager’s toolkit. Part of the reason is the advantages they have over other forms of interview.

 Phone Interviews Eliminate Geographic Distance

Perhaps the strongest advantage of a phone interview is the ability to conduct the interview regardless of the geographic distance between the hiring manager and the candidate.

Phone Interviews

A candidate in California can interview for a job in New York and the only concern is choosing a time that’s appropriate for both parties. Challenges increase with scheduling phone calls in different countries – a candidate in Australia interviewing for a job in New York will need to be up in the middle of the night – but arrangements can always be made.

 Phones Calm Some Interview Anxiety

Passing an interview and winning a job can be a life-changing event for a candidate. Stakes are high, and so too are stress and anxiety.

Geographic Distance

There are a lot of different ways to alleviate anxiety in candidates, but conducting a phone interview can be helpful for many people. Phone interviews eliminate some of the sources of stress, such as an unfamiliar office location, worrying about dress code, eye contact, and dozens of other things that are on their mind the day of their interview.

 Candidates Can Use Resources and Notes

In a real job setting, employees are rarely tasked with performing their job without resources on hand. An internal knowledge base is a common resource for most companies, so why shouldn’t a candidate have access to notes and information to help them with an interview?

Taking Notes

They might not be able to bring their notes with them to an in-person interview, but they can keep them on hand for a phone interview.

 Effective for Initial Screening

Phone interviews shorter and lower stakes than in-person interviews, which makes them ideal for the early phases of screening your candidates.

Phone Screening

Once your ATS has performed a basic screen and you’ve selected your initial candidate pool from your available applicants, you can conduct phone interviews to select the best candidates to proceed to in-person interviews.

The Cons of Phone Interviews

Phone interviews may be a tried-and-true form of an interview for businesses, but they aren’t 100% effective at selecting the best candidates for a job. That’s why other forms of interviews still exist, after all. Some of the biggest drawbacks of phone interviews include:

 Some Candidates May Have Phone Anxiety

Job interview anxiety is normal and expected, but some people have phone-centric phobias or phone-specific anxiety.

Downsides to Phone Interviews

This often results in poor performance in an interview when the candidate would perform exceptionally in an in-person interview. Unless the role is phone-heavy, in which case, the candidate is self-selecting.

 It Can Be Difficult to Build Rapport and Judge Character

One of the greatest challenges with phone interviews is the loss of many communication cues that are present in in-person conversations.

Judging Character

Body language, facial expressions, gestures, and other non-verbal communication cues are lost over the phone. When you ask a question and hear silence on the other end of the phone, is the candidate stumped or processing a wealth of information? Body language can tell you, but the phone cannot. How important this information is, well, that depends on a lot of factors and is the subject of scientific study.

 Duration of Interviews is Often Shorter

Phone interviews tend to be shorter and more formulaic than in-person interviews, where a conversation can emerge and meander organically.

Shorter Interview

Phone interviews tend to be a shorter call-and-response format with fixed interview questions, and little room for deviation. While this can help in impartial judgments on the candidates’ answers, it also gives less leeway for nuanced and complex answers.

 Technology Can Fail

A person will not suddenly lose their ability to speak in the middle of an in-person interview.  On a phone interview, however, any number of technical issues can get in the way of the session.

Bad Wifi Signal

Phones disconnect or lose signal all the time, connections can be poor and lead to low voice quality, and so on. Interviewers and candidates must both be vigilant and prepared for technical issues.

The Pros of In-Person Interviews

In-person interviews have been conducted for as long as people needed to take on other people to accomplish tasks, and are older than most societies, though many things have changed over the centuries. Meeting candidates in person has many distinct advantages.

 Longer Interviews Give More Time to Build Rapport

Where a phone interview might last for 15-20 minutes, in-person interviews can last for 30 or more.

Time to Build Rapport

This gives you a lot more time to cover answers, discuss topics, and gain a solid impression of the person you’re interviewing. You can take the time to build rapport and have a more honest conversation with a candidate in an in-person interview setting than you can in a phone interview.

 There’s More Flexibility to Clarify and Expound Upon Questions and Answers

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Conversations can ebb and flow in an in-person interview. You can express curiosity and leverage excitement to get a candidate to come out of their shell, you can get a stronger impression of who they are beneath their interview preparation, and you can take the time to dig deeper into the answers they provide.

Expand Questions

This is especially important in interviews for technical roles, where a technical advisor or manager of the given department can ask more technical questions to assess skills and thought processes that a typical HR manager might not know enough to assess.

 Personal Charisma Plays a Role

What kind of person are you dealing with as a candidate? Are they introverted or extroverted, type A or type B, team players or lone wolves?

Charisma

Assessing the type and quality of the person you’re interviewing can be especially important when you’re putting together high-performance teams or are seeking highly-skilled, charismatic, or assertive people. A lot of this, again, comes from non-verbal cues and elements of body language that don’t come through in a phone interview.

 Effective for Later Screenings

Phone interviews have a lower barrier to entry and lower stakes. Most people recognize that a phone interview is merely the first step of an interview process (though the reality is it’s somewhere in the middle).

Screening Before Interview

In-person interviews are better for the narrower candidate pools when you’ve chosen the best options to interview and need to figure out which of them is the best one to fill your open positions.

The Cons of In-Person Interviews

In-person interviews have a few drawbacks of their own, of course. Otherwise, they would be the only interview style used. The truth is, while they play an important role in the hiring process, they aren’t perfect.

 Geographic Distance Causes Problems and Inhibits Some Candidates

Conducting in-person interviews is difficult for candidates who live outside of your local geographic area. They may have to drive into town, they may have to fly in and book a hotel for a night, they may have to make arrangements to visit at the appropriate time.

Geographic Issues

This can be even more difficult if you’re hiring internationally; the need to navigate visas, customs, and other travel roadblocks can make it difficult to conduct such interviews, especially on short notice.

 Dress and Physical Impressions Bias Interviews

Everyone judges the people they meet, no matter how much effort they put into eliminating those judgments. While a large part of the modern hiring process relies on assessments, paperwork, objective questions, and other techniques to eliminate bias, some elements of physical appearance can still influence decision-making when not properly accounted for.

Dress Bias

For example, when you are presented with two otherwise identical candidates, do you hire the one with the fitted suit or the one with an ill-fitting suit? By rights, this shouldn’t matter, but the impression they leave on you is different. Dress is one of the least dangerous judgments to make, as well; often, inherent biases in terms of gender, race, and presentation can be much more insidious and dangerous.

As Lou Adler writes for LinkedIn:

“It’s imperative to prevent biases from creeping into the interview as much as possible to make fair (and good) hiring decisions.”

 Scheduling and Confidentiality Can Be Important

When interviewing a candidate with the intention of hiring, there may be concerns about scheduling and confidentiality.

Scheduling and Confidentiality

It can be difficult for an employee to take a day off to interview for a new job, and if they are discovered, that can cost them their existing job regardless of whether or not you extend an offer. Scheduling becomes a juggling act, and poor interview scheduling practices can jeopardize otherwise great candidates.

What About Other Interview Formats?

There are other formats for interviews that can be conducted in the modern age.

 Recorded interviews are interviews where the company sends a questionnaire to candidates, who record videos of themselves answering the questions.

Recorded Interviews

These allow the candidate to prepare for their questions ahead of time, record multiple takes to get a good one and showcase some elements that are missing from phone interviews, such as body language and gestures. However, due to the asynchronous nature of the interview, there’s no call-and-response. As such, these interviews are rarely used.

 Video interviews are interviews conducted through a video chat service, such as Skype or Zoom, or with a dedicated video interview service. They have many of the advantages of an in-person interview while minimizing some of the drawbacks such as the need to bring candidates in from disparate geographic areas.

Video Interviews

The largest drawback to video interviews is their reliance on technology. Like phone interviews, video chats can fail, and technical issues can plague conversations. Unlike phone interviews, many more pieces of technology need to work in tandem for a video interview to be a success. If someone’s microphone, speaker, camera, or internet connection fails, the entire interview fails. With a phone, at least it’s just a phone.

That said, there has been an explosion in video interviews in the past year, primarily due to the safety concerns caused by the Covid pandemic. They’re “the next best thing” to an in-person interview, so long as the technology cooperates.

 Chat interviews are rare but may be used for initial filtering, and some modern companies are experimenting more with them. These are similar to phone interviews, in that they are usually used for early screening. They use a platform like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or simple SMS messaging to conduct a brief interview.

Chat Interviews

While this interview style can be useful for some basic screening, and for engaging with potential cold candidates or old candidates who may not still be interested, they have many disadvantages. They have all of the disadvantages of phone interviews, and then some. The absence of voice through chat is even more difficult for both interviewers and candidates than voice-only communications. Additionally, many of these services are primarily mobile, and mobile devices are slow and difficult to type through, with autocorrect leading to errors as often as it corrects them.

 Other interview styles exist as well, such as group interviews and all-day skills assessments. These styles have their unique purposes, such as serving to filter through large candidate pools where requirements are not strict. Often, these are used for entry-level jobs, internships, and “unskilled labor” positions. The social dynamics can be of mixed usefulness.

Other Interview Styles

Overall, there’s no single best interview format. Each interview format has a specific role to play. Chat and recorded interviews are not in vogue, and they’re likely valuable to some specialized companies. For the most part, however, phone interviews are a good screener for the middle of the hiring process. Video interviews can bridge the gap between phone and in-person interviews, and can occasionally serve to replace one or the other, or even both. Which you choose is up to your hiring process.

Which do you prefer, in-person interviews or phone interviews? Have you had better success with one over the other? Did we leave anything out? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below – we reply to every comment and would love to hear your experiences!

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