Executive recruiter E. A. Clarke knew that video interviews with prospective candidates, conducted via Skype, would save time and money and prevent jet lag.
What struck him most, however, was the quality of interviews the technology enabled.
"Skype ... re-establishes the professional side of the interview," explained Mr. Clarke, an Ottawa-based partner with StoneWood Group Inc. "It becomes a dedicated hour. People dress for it, they prepare for it."
StoneWood, which scopes out as many as 150 people in a typical executive search before whittling down the list, became a heavy user of Skype's voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) service about 18 months ago. The service allows users to communicate over the Internet through a combination of voice, video and instant messaging. Prior to that, StoneWood made the initial contacts about job opportunities by telephone.
"The problem with that is a phone call is a very casual situation. We found we were talking with people who were on the phone while they were on the commuter train, in their car, walking down the sidewalk full of distractions, dropping their kids off at daycare ... or the cell phone would break up, and you would have to call back. It was a disrupted conversation," Mr. Clarke said.
Most candidates are already familiar with Skype, Mr. Clarke said. For those who are not, StoneWood offers advice on the equipment they need and simply directs them to skype.com, where they can follow the prompts to set up free accounts.
For interviewers new to the concept, human resources practitioners say common-sense rules of engagement apply to recruiters and candidates alike: Make sure the equipment is in good working order and the Internet connection is strong, prepare for some serious questions and answers, and dress as professionally as you would for a face-to-face interview (that is, no yoga wear or track suits, even if you are conducting a pre-dawn interview from your home office with someone in a different time zone). If at work, try to reserve a quiet office rather than conducting the interview from an open-office cubicle – and respect the fact that most candidates would rather do video interviews discreetly, after hours, than from work.
"It's your employment brand that you are representing when you are conducting an interview via Skype," says Ryan St. Germaine, chief executive officer of job board site BCjobs.ca.
The anytime, anywhere aspect of Skype appeals to Toronto-based human resources consultant Anthony Papa, who has logged a lot of air miles in the course of his 25-year career as an HR executive.
"It never really will take the place of a face-to-face, however, it's the next best thing," said Mr. Papa, who was the Brussels-based vice-president of human resources in Europe for automotive manufacturer Gates Corp. before returning to Canada to establish his own international consulting firm.
It accelerates the interview process, especially when candidates are in another part of the country or overseas, Mr. Papa said. "You can interview without having to throw somebody on a plane" – at least in the sounding-out stage.
Skype saves both the recruiters and candidates time and money (the basic one-on-one service between account holders is free) while they establish whether there is mutual interest and fit, reserving the fly-ins for only the most serious prospects, Mr. Papa said.
"It allows you to immediately put a face to the name. It gives you more of a human feeling, a human touch ... and you can actually share presentations, reports, charts and figures."
Businesses can include more participants, or purchase other add-ons from Skype for a fee. Mr. St. Germaine said Skype users can also record their video sessions by downloading compatible plug-ins, such as VodBurner. The content of these recordings can then be shared with others, or uploaded on YouTube or other platforms.
So a word to the wise from Mr. St. Germaine: "It's important to be professional in the way you conduct yourself via video, because you never know ... when you are interviewing, expect that people are watching."
Recording the exchanges allows recruiters to review the interviews later "with fresh eyes, and also lets you collaborate with other team members and show them some of the candidates that you feel are a fit," Mr. St. Germaine said.
On the other side of the webcam, from the candidate's standpoint, an employer's proficiency with Skype and other social media tools is a definite plus, Mr. St. Germaine said.
"If you are looking to get the brightest and best candidates that are out there, they usually want to work for an environment that is going to provide opportunities like telecommuting and working remotely," he said.
"Seeing that a company has the tools in place, and is comfortable using them, is a big thing for candidates who are looking for new opportunities."
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