Hiring virtually during COVID-19 – anything is possible!

The world around us is unrecognisable but the great success story of the human race is that we adapt to change, sometimes for the better.

Shutdowns and social distancing guidelines in response to COVID-19 have led a vast number of industries to move their operations to virtual overnight. Most have done this very successfully and are even seeing some benefits. Hiring managers are faced with the prospect of either putting a freeze on vital new appointments or conducting their recruitment in this virtual environment.

Our message is – do not set yourself backwards by freezing your recruitment, especially as restrictions are likely to last for many months to come. You had valid reasons for creating or needing this role filled. Do not abandon your strategic plan and put yourself in a weaker position when things return to normal (or semi-normal).

When your hires are strategically important to the impact your organisation makes, it’s understandable to want to have a physical meeting with your appointee to build a rapport, pick up on body language, and get a sense of the energy he or she brings. However, through planning, co-ordination, and best practices, hiring can be adapted for our new virtual workstyle in the same way much of our other work has. CCI has supported the recruitment of a number of posts through this crisis – it can be done.

We have prepared some guidelines to support you in conducting a full and comprehensive recruitment process virtually which will give you the confidence to make a job offer.

Stage 1: Individual, pre-interview screening sessions

This involves narrowing down a lengthy list of candidates and identifying the stronger ones to bring forward in the process. Virtual tools make this process incredibly efficient. First stage, screening interviews are done by CCI via Zoom and interrogate a candidate’s skills and experience as well as ensuring their values are aligned with the organisation’s. Even in a virtual environment, we are able to assess a candidates’ communication and engagement skills, body language, personality traits etc.

Stage 2: First round, individual interviews with key team-members or stakeholders

Once we have presented you with a shortlist of candidates who can do and want this job, we would ask you to narrow down the shortlist further by selecting the candidates you would like to bring forward for a n official interview. Then, we would ask you to identify key team-members or individuals within the organisation who have a vested interest in getting to know the candidates, and arrange 20-30 minute 1:1 remote interviews during which each team member probes for a specific competency. We recommend each person capture interview feedback centrally and independently, then review and discuss as a group to identify recurring themes that emerged in the interviews.

Stage 3: Panel interview with hiring team

A more in-depth panel interview with final candidates can help you understand their behaviours in different circumstances, ask more in-depth questions around their motivations and how they might do a job, and get a sense of how they will fit as part of a team. You could also introduce a presentation or task at the interview stage.

Stage 4: Narrow the candidates down to the final one or two

Create a different environment, albeit virtually, to get a different perspective of the candidate. This could be an informal chat over coffee or an early evening drink to see the more personal side of the professional that has already impressed. The questions would be different and give you an idea of how they would engage with the Board, volunteers, supporters, stakeholders in a more relaxed setting or at an event. This could give you added insight as you also get to see them in their home environment, an added bonus.

Stage 5: Extending the probationary period

You do have the option of negotiating an extended probationary period with the candidate due to these exceptional circumstances and not having met them in person. This gives you added security if, on taking up their post, you discover there is a lack of rapport or more serious issue that is a barrier to them being effective in their role.

Getting the most out of Virtual Interviews

Well-conducted video interviews let you efficiently rule out weaker candidates and piece together a fuller picture of your candidates later in the process. Preparing for virtual interviews is the same as preparing for face-to-face ones, and it is key to determine:

  • The assessment needs for the position: 1:1 interviews or a panel, written assessment or presentation, any challenging assignments, etc.
  • Technology being used and any IT support needed
  • How interviewers at different stages will avoid duplicating questions and share the results of their assessments centrally
  • Priority areas or competencies each interviewer will probe for assigned in advance
  • How to communicate the process, technology being used, interviewees and other necessary information with candidates

We recommend these guidelines to help prepare for virtual interviews during all stages of the recruitment process:

Have an Objective

Plan ahead and consider what you need to hear from a candidate for him or her to advance to the next stage of the process. This means prioritising the most important responsibilities of the job and weighing up the candidate’s suitability and capability against these. This will help guide the questions you’ll ask during the interview.

Prepare Questions and Structure

The best telephone or video interviews are conversational and dynamic, giving both the employer and the candidate the flexibility to explore if it is a good fit. Having a planned structure will eliminate any lapses or awkwardness in the discussion, helping the candidate feel more at-ease and ensuring you get the information you need from the interview. It can be useful to have between five and ten questions planned in advance, depending on the level of the position and how far in the process the interview is. It may be helpful to prepare questions to give you a sense of the candidate’s remote working experience, and how he or she might deal with the associated challenges.

CCI can support you by writing draft interview questions to ensure you get the most out of the candidate.

Who’s Calling Who?

To help the process go smoothly for yourself and the candidate, clear communication on the logistics of the interview can go a long way. Ensure the candidate knows the start and expected finish time for the call (keeping time zones in mind if appropriate). Sharing contact details is important, and as the employer it is a good idea to lead the exchange by agreeing that you will call the candidate.

CCI will manage this whole process and ensure there is a back-up plan if the technology fails on the day.

Prepare Your Environment

Where you conduct an interview can make a big difference. If possible, try finding a room where you won’t be disturbed. Ensure you have the lighting and setup ready to go if using a video interview.

It will be important to recognise that at times disturbances can’t be avoided. Family life and work life are converged more than ever. In many ways, managing the unplanned intrusions during an interview can often provide good insight into how the candidate deals with pressure or an unplanned event. But it will also make a difference to be forgiving of disruptions and glitches as we all adapt to these new circumstances.

Put the Candidate at Ease

Telephone or interviews by video conference can feel awkward and stressful at the best of times, even without a global pandemic. The pressure on candidates can bring out their nerves, but in an environment where reading body language is more difficult, it’s easy for the nerves to be misread.

It will be important to give the candidate the opportunity to shine by starting with conversation and ‘ease-in’ questions. If possible, leave the trickier questions to the later stages of the interview and hiring process, where the candidate will have had a better chance to settle into the situation.

In Summary

Virtual interviews have their advantages. They help you quickly eliminate candidates who don’t meet the job requirements while sparing everyone the time, expense, and carbon footprint of travel for a face-to-face interview. They force us to create a more robust interview process in which we really take the time to get to know candidates before making a decision.

What hiring decision-makers struggle with are the components of an interview that are lost in translation virtually: social cues, the ability to quickly connect and build a genuine rapport, seeing how the candidate reacts to the working environment, his or her attitudes and energy. All of these things factor into the vital final hiring decision, so proceeding without them makes us wary. The steps outlined above should enable you to hire with confidence. The alternative is to put yourself in a more vulnerable position, especially when it comes to gaps in leadership positions. Remember, it can take 6 months from the start of a recruitment process until the person takes up their post. You should not delay!

While traditional practice is to hire a new employee only after a face-to-face meeting, current circumstances call for us to adapt and creatively respond to the challenges COVID-19 has presented us. With thoughtful planning, consideration for your organisation’s specific circumstances, and the proper tools and setup, virtual end-to-end recruitment can be successful.

Untitled design (6)