America’s office culture underwent an abrupt shift in March as millions of employees transitioned to working at home. Those who remained in the workplace likely saw their in-person interactions limited as new protocols related to COVID-19 safety were rolled out. As a result, that linchpin of HR departments everywhere — the job interview — moved online.
That’s not to say that virtual job interviews were never held prior to 2020. Some companies may have used online interviews to screen the initial applicant pool, avoid scheduling conflicts, interview for remote positions, or meet with long-distance candidates. But virtual interviews went mainstream this year and they are here to stay.
In a blog piece, Josh Tolan states that:
a recent survey of 140 global HR, talent, and business leaders by Cielo found that the majority (82%) of hiring managers will continue interviewing candidates via video post-pandemic. Overall, respondents felt that the combined impact of increased technology and remote working will result in faster, more streamlined, and more effective recruitment (59%) and cost-effective processes (60%).
Like many things that have shifted due to the pandemic, virtual interviews may actually be an unexpected boon. Still, this shift requires more than simply changing from a boardroom to a webcam for interviews. Some forethought and adaptations are required to create a virtual interview process that is effective, timely, and speedy.
Choosing and Monitoring Interview Technology
Most HR staff who are already working remotely have access to basic technology that could be used to conduct virtual interviews. However, it goes without saying that some choices are better than others. Proactively choosing the best video platform for your needs, coupled with functional hardware and a reliable internet connection, will ensure that the actual interviews run smoothly.
Live Video Platform
Of course, a live video platform is a crucial tool for virtual interviews. Many communications tools with video chat are popular and reliable for interviewing, including:
However, some apps were developed specifically for online interviews, such as SparkHire and Jobma. These apps allow branding, including your logo and background colors that may be part of your branding (such as at post-secondary institutions). They also include a recording option. Recording an interview can be quite helpful as it negates the need to take notes, since the recording can be rewound, rewatched, paused, and shared among the hiring team. Without the distraction of notetaking, the interviewers can have a keener focus.
Reliable and fully-charged hardware is the cornerstone of any virtual interview. Keeping backup devices on hand, with the video platform installed or otherwise accessible, can be a lifesaver. In advance of any interview, test all the hardware components, including the camera, microphone, speakers, and/or headset.
Wherever possible, use a wired internet connection instead of wifi. Wired connections are less likely to lag or freeze but if wifi is your only option, try to stay as close to your router as possible. Close all other tabs on the device you’re using and, if possible, disable wifi on other devices until the interview is completed.
Creating and Projecting a Professional Interview Space
Many of those working at home have adopted a more casual approach to work life. However, it’s important to retain some degree of formality during a live video interview. Remember that the candidate is also assessing your company, to make sure it’s a good fit. When setting up for a video interview:
- Dress the same as you would for an in-person interview.
- Make sure the space around you is neat and tidy; or choose for a background effect in your video platform to hide any disarray.
- Ask others in the house to refrain from interrupting the interview and block pets outside of the room.
- Turn off notifications on all your devices.
- Position the camera or laptop a little bit higher than eye level and tilt it downwards. (You may need to prop it on a stack of books.) This creates a more realistic illusion of sitting across a table from someone.
- If at all possible, sit with natural light facing you. If natural lighting is not available, turn on a light and prop it behind the camera. Try not to have lights glaring behind you.
- Remember to maintain good posture, look directly into the camera, and make sure to smile.
One very real drawback of virtual interviews is that it can be difficult for applicants to get a sense of your company’s culture. With an in-person interview, they can assess the office space, meet other team members, and possibly pick up brochures or other company literature. All these things can help a candidate decide if your company will be a good fit.
To address this, Tolan suggests making a “day in the life” video that highlights the company and the role that the candidate will take on. It could include a video tour of the office, introductions of other team members, and a breakdown of the position’s duties.
Preparing in Advance
Just as with in-person interviews, a preformulated plan will help keep the virtual interview process effective and efficient.
Incorporate Initial Screening
Some positions may receive a deluge of applications. To most efficiently short-list applicants, consider incorporating pre-recorded one-way or asynchronous video interviews into the application process.
As Laura DeCarlo explains in a blog piece at Job-Hunt.org, an asynchronous video interview is similar to a demo tape cut by a musician. Candidates are asked to answer pre-scripted questions in a short, recorded interview that the hiring team can watch at their convenience. This can give you a better feel for the candidate’s personality and career goals, helping to assess how well they will fit into the job and your company.
Use Online Scheduling Tools
The back and forth required to schedule an interview can sometimes take a considerable chunk of time. Use a scheduling tool like Calendly or TimeTrade, where the candidate can view and choose from open interview slots?
Let Candidates Know What to Expect
Virtual interviews are new to many and it’s quite possible that this will be a candidate’s first online interview. They may have questions about the process. Addressing those proactively can help soothe a candidate’s nervousness and make the actual interview go more smoothly and efficiently.
- Instructions for accessing the live video platform, which may involve downloading and installing the software or logging into an online portal.
- A list of tech requirements for the software.
- Contact information for your IT department.
- An idea of what to expect during the interview such as who will attend and how long it’s expected to last.
Holding the Interview
If you’ve successfully interviewed candidates in an in-person environment, much of that process can be transferred to an online environment. As noted above, you will need to prepare your tech and your space in advance, and you may wish to incorporate a video that highlights your company culture. But in terms of the questions you ask, or the rubric you use to weight candidates, the same ones you used for in-person interviews should work just as well in a virtual setting.
Extending a Job Offer and Taking Next Steps
Once a job offer is extended and accepted, the other candidates will need to be advised of the outcome. Tolan suggests designing a number of email templates to speed up this part of the process:
- A letter to extend a job offer.
- A standard rejection letter, thanking the candidate for applying but stating that you extended a job offer to someone else, who accepted.
- A “runner-up” letter for strong candidates who you would like to see reapply for future positions.
In addition to sending letters to “runners-up,” you may want to keep their applications, including their one-way video interview, on file so that you can quickly reach out to them when new, suitable positions open up.
The interview process is one facet of HR work that is relatively easy to move online—and there are definite benefits to doing so. As always, virtual interviews allow employers to tap into a wider pool of talent, easily interview long-distance applicants, and manage scheduling issues more adroitly. But given the trends we’re seeing in 2020—with both employers and candidates realizing that virtual interviews can be more effective, timely, and speedy than in-person interviews—it’s quite likely that live video interviews will continue to gain traction.