Did Video Kill the Cover Letter?

Devin Foster

In this recap of the April 22 episode of Talent Experience Live, we explore the escalating trend of video cover letters. Sebastian Niewöhner, Head of Video Product at Phenom, shares his perspective on why organizations and candidates alike should embrace video to enhance the application process.

Video has permanently changed how talent acquisition teams interact with candidates. From day-in-the-life employee testimonials to virtual office tours to video offer letters, the medium has cemented its place as more than just a stop-gap measure to replace in-person interaction during the pandemic. 

Now, candidates and organizations increasingly are opting to use video cover letters, too! Check out the full episode below for Niewöhner’s expert take on how to best integrate video into the application process — and read on for more highlights!

When Video Cover Letters Make Sense

Before we dive into the benefits of candidate videos, let’s address the obvious question: Did video really kill the cover letter? (Or will it?) 

Not likely, Niewöhner said. For positions in many fields, such as medicine, engineering, and law, traditional cover letters are still necessary to convey all the technical details of a candidate’s background. 

But video cover letters are especially useful for job roles where communication style, personality, and culture/team fit are crucial. Think marketing and communications, HR, creative teams, sales and other customer-facing positions.

RELATED: Confessions of a Hiring Manager 

The Value of Video in the Application Process 

Video gives job seekers a chance to showcase their personality, and it simulates face-to-face engagement before the interview stage. It's a big advantage to help recruiters identify best-fit talent. 

Here’s a breakdown of the major benefits of video cover letters:

Video Cover Letters Can Supercharge the Screening Process

Video adds another dimension to the screening process, giving recruiters a tool to compare candidate applications and make more accurate screening decisions. A candidate who doesn’t seem like the perfect fit on paper might actually have just the personality and passion the company needs. Video helps translate that. 

The inverse is true, too: video helps recruiters understand early in the process when a candidate’s interaction style just won’t gel with a specific position or team.

Video Helps Candidates Differentiate Themselves

This opportunity for extra personalization is a big benefit to candidates, too. “You’re not one of 100 documents that are just on the table or in the email inbox. You’re the person you really are, and you can really shine with motivation, with qualifications, and your personal fit to the company,” Niewöhner said. 

In fact, Niewöhner encourages candidates to include video in their application even if the company doesn’t require it. 

“It’s a good way to stand out,” he said, sharing an example of a candidate who sent out seven video applications and was invited to six interviews in one week. “When you create something that jumps out and creates a ‘wow moment’ for the recruiter, you benefit yourself in the hiring process.”

Video Can Reduce Bias in the Screening Process

Clients often express concerns about video introducing bias into the screening process. But when done carefully, video can help support diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in recruiting, according to Niewöhner. 

Employers can level the playing field by giving candidates the same set of questions to answer. And video allows diverse candidates an equal chance to showcase their passion and experience early on in the application process. 

Organizations can also reduce bias by having multiple recruiters and hiring managers review the video submission, giving a more diverse set of voices to the candidate selection process. 

READ MORE: 7 Best Recruiting Tools To Hire Great Talent

Tips for Integrating Video into Job Applications

Some organizations are beginning to include video as a mandatory part of the application process. Niewöhner shared best practices for rolling this out in a way that optimizes the experience for everyone:

1. Help candidates get comfortable with the process.

Niewöhner recommends that organizations provide clear instructions, as well as practice sessions for candidates so they can get comfortable with the nuances of self-recording, such as holding a camera and presenting themselves on video.

Candidates should also have the option to re-record an answer in case their initial response doesn’t turn out as they’d hoped.

2. Have candidates respond to three types of questions.

Ask one personal question, one question regarding motivation, and one question regarding qualifications, Niewöhner advised. Specific questions will vary according to the job role, of course, but these general categories can help recruiters better determine which candidates to advance in the hiring process.

“With this set of questions you get a very holistic understanding of who you’re talking to,” he said. “Especially with the motivation question, it’s easy to figure out, ‘Does this person really want to work at our company?’” 

3. Make video application feel like a personal experience.

Video application questions should mimic the back-and-forth cadence of an in-person conversation. Recruiters should present the question rather than the question appearing in text, Niewöhner recommends. “This communication on eye-level is really important to give candidates the feeling that, ‘Hey, this is a great experience.’” 


Future Use Cases for Video in the Talent Lifecycle 

Aside from using video in the application and interview process, the next few years will see companies integrating video throughout the entire talent lifecycle, Niewöhner said. 

Spotlighting videos on career sites to make an immediate first impression with candidates will continue to trend. “What we saw previously with Talentcube is whenever a company makes the first step and introduces themselves in a video, it really increases the conversion rate of video applications and video interviews,” he shared. “That’s a very big aspect for candidates – to have authentic videos and authentic impressions on the career page.”  

Companies will also use video to create next-level job descriptions, giving a behind-the-scenes look at job roles and organization culture. 

Even after the application process, communication between recruiters and candidates will increasingly take place with video, Niewöhner predicted. Video especially is valuable to use when declining job candidates, providing a personal touch to build brand positivity.  And in the onboarding stage, video can be used to make team introductions, and for other internal communications regarding new hires. 

WATCH: Show, Don't Tell: How Innovative Video Best Conveys Your Company's Stories

Ready to get the cameras rolling? Learn how you can leverage Phenom's Talent Experience Platform and the power of video to connect candidates, recruiters, and employees throughout their entire journey.

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