How do you interview when you can’t meet in-person? (Part I)

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If you are a manager, you have likely already stumbled through your first video interview (or soon will), struggling with new technology and finding that your old methods just don’t work. We’ve conducted over 200 interviews using virtual tools and have found a handful of “must haves” to incorporate as you set up your next virtual interview process. In Part II of this series, we will offer “The 5 Best HireBest™ Tips For Conducting Virtual Interviews.”  The HireBest™ approach relies on a clear Cipher™ of what you need in the role, uses structure to get the right data, and frameworks to make the decision. That’s just good practice, virtual or not, and see our website for details on learning the method.

Even if you just apply your old method of interviewing in a virtual setting, the following four “must haves” will dramatically increase your success.

1. Clarify and reinforce expectations regarding set-up

Interviews create anxiety. Anxiety provokes a fight, flight, or freeze response. Unsurprisingly, this does not help interviews go well!

Eliminate the fear of the unknown by explicitly laying out your expectations for the interview. The advice here is to be human and show real understanding that these are unusual times. While the following comments are written specifically with this pandemic in mind, the message stays the same in any virtual setting:

  • What are your expectations for a confidential or formal setting? Or should you let them know “I understand you might be taking this from your cramped city bedroom, and that’s ok!”
  • Put the candidate at ease when their new “co-workers” interrupt; take the 30 seconds to say “hello” to the visitor. Your kindness will go far; trust that the candidate is having enough of a heart attack!
  • Phone vs. computer? We find a higher technological distraction rate when using handheld devices versus a computer. Therefore, we have a strong personal preference for candidates using computers rather than iPhones or iPads, if at all possible. With zero exception, as an interviewer, use the best technology you/your company can afford; you are a reflection of your company and its brand.
  • If you are reading this as an interviewee and only have your phone, then invest in a good phone stand / tripod that will at least make the camera stationary. Also remember to put it into “do not disturb” mode!

2. Plan for (the inevitable) technological failures

Stuff breaks – plan for it! The last thing you want is to lose valuable time with the candidate trying to make the chosen technology work. We always recommend that the candidate and the interviewer have each other’s phone numbers as a fallback.

Further have an alternate video technology service on the ready. I have a draft email always ready to go, sending out an alternative link in case different technologies have problems. If absolutely necessary, ignore Tip 1 about not using your phone and switch to a mobile platform!

3. Recognize that not traveling does not always mean easier

It’s easy to get lulled into a false state of thinking that since you or the candidate don’t have to travel, then video should be much easier. Recognize that this is not always the case, either due to some of the technological issues we discussed already, or due to the unique circumstances related to the Covid-19 shut down. How can you “go to the dentist” when they have been closed for a month? Why do you need to leave early to pick up your child from school, since school is closed too? The traditional cover stories that some might need to use to explain their absences are gone.

We recently conducted our 5-hour Executive Assessment interview with a public company CFO. Due to extreme circumstances, he was expected to be on-call nearly ~18 hours a day. For this candidate we ended up breaking the interview up into an early morning and early evening segment to make it work in their schedule. While it took a little longer than conducting it straight-through, it created an option when nothing else would work. Consider how much you may be willing to or need to flex about your process to meet the needs during this unique time.

4. Use psychometric tools for further common comparison

We have found that with a lot of practice and focus, highly trained interviewers can achieve nearly identical assessment results virtually as they can in-person. Even still, we find adding a validated psychometric assessment such as Hogan is essential to help further round out our understanding of the candidate. We can’t ignore the fact that there is some level of “noise” added in when conducting interviews via video – see the last 3 points! Remember that the interview is just a single piece of data to inform your hiring decision, and the more data you have, the better!     

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