In-Person Job Interviews—They’re Baaack?

As some UK firms revive face-to-face interviews, what do leaders stand to gain—and lose?

For the past few years, people have had the luxury of waking up, throwing on a shirt, and flipping open their laptops at the nearest table—for a job interview. But were these video-call tête-à-têtes too good to last? 

That may be the case, at least in the UK. Starting this fall, some major London accounting firms say they plan to conduct their assessments in person. Experts say recent graduates who spent lockdown in remote-learning situations have an interpersonal-skills gap—reportedly, only two in three business leaders think Gen Z has the appropriate soft skills for the workplace. Leaders hope in-person interviews will help companies improve their odds of selecting individuals who can “play nice” with colleagues and clients.

“If you meet a candidate live, rather than through a screen, there are just certain nuances—like sense of humour—that you pick up,” says Sally Talbot, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who leads the CHRO practice for UK and Ireland.

To be sure, in-person interviews have yet to be widely resumed both in the UK and worldwide. UK companies in particular have had a hard time convincing workers to return to the office, with occupancy rates still globally low.

But experts say returning to the office, at least for job interviews, could become more common. The need to hire people with strong teamwork ability, those experts say, has become even more important in the hybrid era. The upside of hiring good collaborators is hard to ignore—one study found that merely priming coworkers to believe they’re collaborating caused them to work 64% longer than their solo peers. “Some people might need to work with others in a collaborative way to get the best out of themselves,” says Mark Lancelott, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leader in its Sustainability practice.

The move does come with some risks, as it can greatly limit the pool of available candidates. When meeting candidates in person, experts add, leaders must guard against unconscious bias related to accessibility needs or physical traits. One survey found that two in three Black women reported changing their hairstyle for a job interview to decrease the odds of being passed over due to hair discrimination. Experts add that people from challenged socioeconomic backgrounds may have difficulty attending in-person interviews because of travel or care costs for children and elders.

Ideally, firms and candidates should work together to agree what works best, says Funke Abimbola, Korn Ferry associate client partner in its DE&I practice in London. “Or they run the risk of overlooking a large cohort of talented candidates.” 

The in-person approach, however, does help job seekers get a more immediate feel for the culture of an organization, say experts. This is critical: one study found that a toxic corporate culture was ten times more powerful than compensation in predicting whether employees would leave a job. And with over two-thirds of millennials and Gen Zers considering changing careers in the next 12 months, leaders are hard-pressed to hire people who know—and like—what they’re signing up for from day one. “If you go into a new office, you get a sense of how people work and what the culture is just from what you see, hear, and feel,” says Lancelott. “That's always a useful data point.”


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