Perry Blacher has a knack for finding talent. His only problem is sometimes the best potential employees aren't located across the street, but across an ocean or two.
As the CEO of Covestor, a global mirrored investment firm, Blacher isn't about to fly candidates to his London or New York offices for an interview if he can help it. Instead, he uses Skype's free video calling service to meet and interview candidates.
He says when a candidate turns up on Skype in a formal suit to interview for a job at his Web company, it can indicate a mismatch. That's just one of the things he looks for when hiring for a culture fit, he says. "Maybe over dressing is an inappropriate thing to do."
"It's as much about a good fit as it is about capability these days," he says. "You can sort of see in people's body language things like enthusiasm. Visual signals [are as important] as the things people say."
Using Skype in London, Blacher recently interviewed a San Francisco woman while simultaneously introducing her to employees in New York. Since Skype has a 10-person limit, that wouldn't have worked had he wanted to get all 25 of his employees on the line, but it was enough for his needs at the time.
Toronto-based analyst Jon Arnold, a principal with J. Arnold and Associates, says using video for interviews and other business functions is growing exponentially.
"These things are really starting to make video such a common part of our vocabulary now. It's almost like you're getting to the point where you're going to expect it, not so much that it's a bonus. That's how fast it's moving," says Arnold.
Of course, the free Skype client has some serious competition in this space.
For about $40-$50 a month per head (which is part subscription fee and part a per-minute charge), U.K.-based VuCall provides high-definition video conferencing for up to 100 people at a time and offers application sharing and speaker focus, which automatically switches the view to the person speaking.
And, VuCall's spokesperson Bob Chambers says its service is more secure than Skype.
"Skype is a peer-to-peer system that basically relies on your PC being a part of the overall network solution. There is no overall central server or control unit that's actually operating the system. In that sense, it's inherently insecure," says Chambers, adding that VuCall can encrypt a video call if needed, and can record video sessions that can be streamed to others at a later time.
The ability to record a video call can save recruiters time, which is often one of the great challenges in the interview process: reducing the total time to find candidates.
Some tools streamline the process better than others. For example, it might become apparent that an applicant whose resume looked so promising clearly is not a good fit with your organization. Some tools let you skip through recorded sessions.
Using a service such as Hyier, headquartered in Minnesota, or Utah-based HireVue, you can skip to the next recorded interview, which perhaps has already been rated by others involved in the hiring process. Another advantage is that, after you watch an interview, you can click on the candidate's LinkedIn profile which has been attached to the interview file.
Human Resources Director Tracee Comstock, who works for Utah-based StorageCraft, a backup and disaster recovery software company, has used HireVue dozens of times in the last several months.
She says she can pull up recorded answers from different applicants back-to-back and then compare how each of them answered a key question.
"We typically ask candidates the same 15 questions and the tool allows us to review candidates in a 360-degree format. Skype-like services are in a live format and do not record the interview without an additional plugin. This makes it difficult to go back and truly compare the individual candidate's responses," says Comstock.
HireVue runs between $25 to $175 per interview depending on whether you have a subscription or not. One unique perk: you can brand the interface with your own company's look and feel.
Hyier is in an open beta and has not annoucned pricing yet. Its main strength is a focus on recorded videos and removing some of the other features a company may not need anyway.
Kristen Wisdorf, a division manager and recruiter for North Carolina-based University Directories, which hires more than 600 students each year for sales internships, uses InterviewStream to interview job candidates who record their video responses to questions at their convenience. Costs range from around $50 per interview to a flexible annual subscription for unlimited interviews for larger volume clients.
InterviewStream offers an online video practice interviewing system so job seekers can see how they look and sound in an interview and get common fillers such as "um" and "like" out of their vocabularies.
"Scheduling live interviews when we are traveling and attending events around student's schedules when they are within different time zones can be very challenging," she says. "[With InterviewStream] students are able to complete the interview whenever they can fit it in their schedule before the deadline."
University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Annie Wilkinson is one intern University Directories hired using InterviewStream. "It gave me a little bit of time to rehearse my answers. You get three chances, so it just made sure that I could give them the answer I wanted," she said. "Overall, I thought it was an awesome way to do interviewing."
Imo.im is a free video chat service used by more than a million people each month who can sign in using their username and passwords from Facebook, Google Talk, Yahoo and other popular sites.
What's different about it is you can group all your accounts together to get a global view of who's online and then video chat with a group of people who might be coming from different platforms.
Not only did Ralph Harik co-found Imo.im, which is headquartered in Palo Alto, California, he also uses it to interview and test engineers seeking to work for the company. By opening another window alongside Imo.im and using sites such as ietherpad.com or typwith.me, Harik can ask an engineer to solve a programming problem and then sit back and see how he or she does it.
"There are a lot of talented people who wouldn't have the chance to interview if it wasn't for video chat," says Harik, who has hired people from around the world after interviewing them on Imo.
Imo engineer Ahmed Aly says it isn't unusual for companies to put technical folks through a programming test, but there is a difference when doing it via video.
"For me, the virtual interview was easier because I didn't need to get a visa or to take a long trip," he said, although he did experience a trade-off for not having to travel. "In an on-site interview, it's easier to discuss the problem on a whiteboard because it's easier to draw pictures with a marker than a mouse to map out the solution before coding."
Considering the ubiquitous nature of web cams on the average job hunter's desktop and the slick services popping up that make conducting an interview simple, interviewing via video is sure to become more commonplace for the average SMB.
Remember this, though. Everyone we talked to sealed any employment deal with an in-person meeting.