We have quite a few clients who are conducting first, second, and third interviews via video conference software like Zoom. If you are new to doing this, the first thing you’ll notice is that it’s just different than face-to-face interviewing.

First, there is often a technical glitch getting started, so you might feel like you want to skip past the small talk. After all, you cannot really ask, “How was your trip here? Did you find us OK? Can I offer you a coffee?” The candidate does not get any chance to “see your office” or to see how you all interact in a group setting. But a bit of small talk actually helps make the rest of the conversation more warm and productive.

In a video call, the energy level “in the room” is different for every participant. So everyone’s ability to focus on the conversation differs.

Staring at a computer screen is nothing like being in a room with real human beings. The distractions are endless. Your computer alerts are distracting. You can probably see each person’s face, but most of their body language is missing. Some of you are home with children and pets or have unstable internet connections. There are video lags where someone’s face no longer aligns with their words.

At several points in the conversation, you will be so distracted by someone’s background, lighting, or connection problems that you fail to listen. And then your mind wanders, or you get bored.

And, although these distractions consumed most of your attention, none of them predict a candidate’s ability to do the job. All of that “on-air presence” is irrelevant to doing the work (unless the candidate will be leading webinars for you).

Virtual interviews and client presentations require a specific type of energy. It takes quite a bit of effort to project into a camera and sound authentic, and quite a bit of rehearsal to appear confident, relaxed, and unrehearsed. And all that has little bearing on someone’s ability to do most jobs. First impressions are particularly dangerous right now.

What To Do Instead

The key thing to remember when conducting a video interview is to reclaim your attention span. Our brains are wired to think that what we are paying attention to is important, but it’s not. This mistake is called “the focusing illusion.” When you focus on the superficial, you overlook the relevant. Without even noticing it, you compare the video interview experience to your experience watching highly produced videos. And your brain concludes (without evidence) that the candidate was boring because they failed to hold your attention.

(In The Case for Competency-Driven Interviewing, we share the extensive research behind this. Two-thirds of your rating of another person is really just a reflection on yourself.)

How to Focus on What Is Important

Before the interview, determine what you want to learn. Think about what your interview questions will be, and develop some additional questions to ask yourself to better help you reflect on what is important. For example, you might ask the candidate about a complex project they led. But then ask yourself whether that kind of leadership style would fit your culture, or whether that level of complexity would be relevant to your current work environment. You can focus your mind with questions. And the more you can challenge yourself with relevant questions, the more you can control what you think about. You will make better hiring decisions when you draw more attention to what matters. By rigorously focusing on job competencies instead of appearances, you will tend to be less biased in your decisions.