Interviewing techniques – CERN

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James Purvis, head of Recruitment, Programmes & Monitoring Group at the laboratory, decided to explore new ways of vetting and interviewing candidates with surprising results

Cern is the European laboratory for particle physics, one of the world’s largest and most respected centres for scientific research. From Nobel Prize-winning physics to the invention of the World Wide Web in 1989, our goal of pure research continues to contribute to science and technology. We are funded by 20 European Member States and tend to target them when sourcing candidates.

The screening of applicants across such a diverse geographical base can translate not only into a potentially costly recruitment process but pose scheduling issues to accommodate candidates across different time zones. We promote our vacancies via our own recruitment website, social networks and professional networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube as well as across over 40 job boards throughout Europe. There is no shortage of applications. I wanted to investigate the possibilities video interviewing could provide to reduce recruitment delays and costs. We decided to trial automated video interviewing in the recruitment of a project manager in civil engineering to see if the technology would work for us. The interviewing panel consisted of a recruiter, John Osborne (a senior civil engineer to whom the new recruit would be reporting) and another CERN member of staff.

Initial resistance

Typically, our hiring managers would use telephone interviews to screen candidates and concerns were raised that the video interviewing process might take more time than conducting phone interviews. Instead, all we had to do was log in to our CERN video interviewing account, create the interview title, add the questions in text format and finish by adding the candidates’ email addresses. They were automatically invited to complete the interview. The entire process took less than 15 minutes. We then logged back in our own time to view the video responses. The team was pleasantly surprised the automated video interview worked out as a faster replacement. As Osborne said: “Initially when I heard about it, I was worried the process would take more time than conducting phone interviews but in fact it was much quicker.”

One advantage was that the introduction of video screening has enabled us to eliminate the phone interview from our recruitment process. To schedule telephone screening interviews of, for example, 10-15 candidates and ensure they are all available during the same time period as the hiring manager, requires considerable administrative effort. Without video screening, more thorough CV vetting would have been required; instead the hiring managers quickly shortlisted 10 video interviews. We were particularly taken with the ability to watch candidates talk through their experience, as watching someone speak about their project management experience will tell you a lot more than reading about it on their CV.

Inviting 10 candidates to complete a video interview from 100 applications from multiple countries, to a shortlist of five face-to-face meetings has made a significant impact on the costs of our multinational sourcing process. This video screening technology has not only proved itself as a valuable time-saving tool but also provided us with huge savings in the cost of bringing people to interview: even reducing the number of personal interviews from five to four represents a 20 per cent saving.


To date we have conducted over 150 video screening interviews and have had a 99 per cent response rate from candidates with much positive feedback. The buy-in from both the recruiters and hiring managers has also been extremely positive, not only in terms of time savings but also in terms of flexibility. Being able to watch the video interviews in their own time meant they could fit recruitment in and around their own busy agenda. And by facilitating the team to see the candidates — see their personality coming across — they were able to connect with them much more than phone interviewing.

Selecting the right people for interview

We do not have a multi-stage recruitment process; being invited for a personal interview involves the candidate being on site for one full day and, in addition to the interview, take written tests and have a site tour. The decision is then made after that one day, so the video screening technology greatly assisted us in selecting the best people to bring forward for this intensive process. Screening also accommodated our two official languages — English and French. We presented the questions in both languages and gave candidates the option to answer in their preferred language but they did have to answer at least one question in the other language. Being able to see candidates speak provided us with an excellent language assessment tool.


Video screening fits very well with our strategy of modernising CERN’s recruitment process while providing the benefits of both streamlining and cost. We currently have over 200 openings, which include jobs, graduate/post graduate posts and internships in the pipeline. Video screening now forms an integral part of our recruitment process. We initially trialled the video interviewing product through the provider Sonru on one particular post. Since then, we’ve made the decision to use it on any post in CERN where communication/interpersonal skills are important. We have had great buy-in from the hiring managers, candidates and recruiters alike.

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