A New Study Confirms Your Worst Fears About Phone Interviews

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It’s always a moment both vindicating and sad when you discover you were right about something you’d desperately hoped was a mistaken hunch. Like sneaking downstairs at night to catch your dad, not Santa, laying presents underneath the Christmas tree. Or discovering, via a sloppily timed Instagram party shot, that your friend really was faking sick when she flaked on your plans tonight. You knew it! But also, bummer.

This is another one of those moments: A new meta-analysis in the journal Personnel Assessment and Decisions confirms that, as so many job-hunters have suspected and feared, it really does hurt your chances if you don’t do the job interview in person.

The researchers, a team of organizational psychologists from George Washington University, reviewed 12 studies of professional interviews — both informational chats and sit-downs for specific positions — focusing on those that included at least one face-to-face meeting and one conducted over the phone, video, or a computer voice-chat program. On average, regardless of interview type, the interviewer and interviewee each walked away with better impressions of the other if they’d sat down and talked IRL. (Video interviews, it’s also worth noting, came out as the worst, for a host of possible reasons: Time lags can mess up conversational flow, cameras make for awkward eye contact, it’s hard to avoid checking your hair in the little screen-within-a-screen.)

There are two conclusions that can be drawn from this. The first is: If it’s possible for you to haul your physical self to the interview, you should. The second is: Sometimes you can’t, and that sucks, and it can make for a lopsided playing field that you can’t do much to level. “Many times, the candidate does not have a choice in the format of the interview,” lead author Nikki Blacksmith noted in a statement. “However, the organization does have a choice and if they are not consistent with the type of interview they use across candidates, it could result in fairness issues.”

Some comfort, though, for anyone currently prepping for a remote interview: As the authors themselves acknowledge, the most recent study in their analysis was published seven years ago — a time when FaceTime didn’t even exist, Skype had yet to roll out free video messaging, and remote work wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. There’s still something to be said for the handshake, but as our technologies and work habits keep on changing, interview norms may, too.