October 1997

Interviews the New Fashioned Way

by Auren Hoffman

This is a fantasy.

Blurry vision; weird blotches on my face; people moving at 10 frames a second; and no peripheral vision. Is this some terrible disease? Some crazy acid trip? No. It's videoconferencing over the Internet.

I could barely make out the receding hairline of the person I was interviewing. After coming into focus he accidentally tipped over the camera and was lost. Well, not exactly. I could still hear his muffled voice on my crackling speakers.

I used BridgePath, a recruiting company I work at, to find the perfect sales guy. He sent me a stellar resume and an impressive list of references. His cover letter was well-written and he even had a Web page (which looked quite good). But Mr. X was in Austin, quite a ways away from the BridgePath office in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was only a first round interview, hardly big enough to justify the expense of flying him to California. So I emailed him and requested that we do an initial phone interview.

Mr. X is an impressive guy--but he wanted to impress me even more. He suggested that we do a video interview over the Internet using Microsoft's NetMeeting. He convinced my skeptical mind and we set up a 30 minute meeting. 30 minutes? What was I thinking?

Of course, there were technical problems. Mr. X could not find me. It happens all the time that an interviewee gets stuck in a strange city looking for the right building. But Mr. X was lost on the information superhighway. It turns out that Mr. X entered my IP address wrong. Then, just as he fixed it, his computer crashed. Finally, after coaching him on the phone, Mr. X and I were finally connected on NetMeeting attempting to conduct a normal interview.

I set up a dual screen--one that shows Mr. X, one that depicts me. But all I could look at was myself. You know the saying that TV adds 15 pounds to you? Well computer cams make you unbearably skinny! And ugly! Plus, because of the lighting in the room, I had a weird blotch on my head.

The interview seemed like it was being conducted under a strobe light. Even though Mr. X was on an ISDN line (and me on my trusty T1), the interview looked more like a string on pictures haphazardly put together than video. I doubt we ever surpassed 10 frames a second. Mr. X could be sitting still for a while and then move slightly and it would totally throw me off. I would start to worry that he had run away and then, all of a sudden, he'd be back into view.

The static is what killed me. Though Microsoft NetMeeting is a great product and is very easy to use, the video and audio capture had its flaws. Static video, garbled words--it just goes to show you that Internet communications still doesn't beat the real thing.

With the blotch on my head, the strobe light, and the static on the line-- the interview was like Mikhail Gorbachev meets Cheech and Chong (and the trio singing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds).

Needless to say, the interview was a disaster. Here was some supra-skinny guy with a blotch on his head asking garbled questions in an interview that was supposed to last 30 minutes by ran for 106 (but who's counting?). I could not get my points across the Internet and he could not answer questions he could not comprehend. Twice, I actually typed my questions in the NetMeeting chat window.

In the end, Mr. X took another sales job and sent me a polite card telling me he was pleased with the interview experiment. But it left a bad taste in my mouth. From now on, when I can't interview in person, I'm sticking to the telephone.

Auren Hoffman ( is the President of BridgePath, an Internet recruiting firm for college students and recent graduates. He also consults with Human Ingenuity. His weekly philosophy on life can be found in Summation.

Copyright © 1997 by Auren Hoffman. All Rights Reserved.

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