To the Editor:
Ready or not, the virtual interview (VI) process is here, for residency applicants and programs alike. Although previously piloted and studied by several programs, 1 the sudden widespread implementation of VI in the wake of COVID-19 has left little time for careful examination of the biases it may introduce, particularly audiovisual (AV) quality biases. Simply put, applicants and programs may experience unconscious biases based on the quality of the VI audio, video, and recording environment.
Although VI eliminates many applicant expenses, it creates new expenses to consider: webcams, microphones, high-speed Internet access, and physical space for interviews. Access to these will not be equal among applicants, and therein lies a risk of disadvantaging students with fewer resources. This bias has been studied in communications and human resource management (HRM), with results salient to anyone participating in the VI process.
For example, in one series of experiments, 2 participants evaluated brief simulated AV-based job interviews that were either full quality or edited to intentionally mimic a poor Internet connection. Despite identical interview content, candidates with lower AV-quality interviews were regarded as less “hirable.” In another study, 3 researchers added intentional audio lags in one-on-one telephone conversations, while keeping the content of conversations identical. The addition of audio lags decreased feelings of “belonging” and “solidarity” among participants. In both studies, the experiments were repeated with explicit instructions to disregard AV quality, yet these biases persisted.
Another HRM study 4 aimed to qualitatively analyze the reflections made by hiring managers after they participated in AV interviews with job candidates. Researchers found several key factors that interfered with the managers’ ability to connect with applicants via an AV interview: audio and video disruptions; poor camera angles, lighting, and backgrounds; and insufficient eye contact. Interviewers also reflected that VI system reliability affected perceptions of candidates’ competence.
Recognizing that biases are liable to create a systemic disadvantage for some applicants, important steps must be taken to mitigate their impact in the VI process.
Medical schools should provide access to equipment and space for VIs. Residency interviewers need to be aware of their subconscious impressions when reflecting on an applicant’s interview performance. Last, more research is needed to better understand and overcome these biases. For interviewers and applicants alike, we must develop better advice than “Try not to be biased” and “Buy a better webcam.”
1. Pourmand A, Lee H, Fair M, Maloney K, Caggiula A. Feasibility and usability of tele-interview for medical residency interview. West J Emerg Med. 2018;19:80–86.
2. Fiechter JL, Fealing C, Gerrard R, Kornell N. Audiovisual quality impacts assessments of job candidates in video interviews: Evidence for an AV quality bias. Cogn Res Princ Implic. 2018;3:47.
3. Koudenburg N, Postmes T, Gordijn EH. Conversational flow promotes solidarity. PLoS One. 2013;8:e78363.
4. McColl R, Michelotti M. Sorry, could you repeat the question? Exploring video-interview recruitment practice in HRM. Hum Resour Manag J. 2019;29:637–656.