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Online interviewing tips for HR and Hiring Managers

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I’ve had a lot of people asking for advice on handling an online interview situation as more first stage interviews are conducted via Zoom, Teams or similar.

Many people will say that you need not do anything differently as you can still see and hear the people involved but I would challenge that based on what I’ve noticed over the last few years of interviewing via online platforms. 

NB If you are a candidate looking for advice please use this link for my blog post on internet-based interview techniques for the applicant.

Some of the adaptations you need are subtle but worthwhile if you want to increase your chances of making the best hiring decisions.

Send links out in good time
Ideally send the link for the online appointment when you confirm the time and date of the interview.  I’ve had panic-stricken candidates call with 5 or 10 minutes to go before an interview start time saying they haven’t received a link from my client. While “oh, I’ve just sent it” gets the candidate on the call, they are unlikely to perform at their best while the adrenaline and mild panic is still affecting them.

Prepare questions & follow-up questions (and be prepared to give a little leeway)
I’ve found that responses to questions can be more concise when speaking with people online.  I’m not sure why this is but I think it may have something to do with the fact that they are often more focussed because they have less (or more) background information and distractions to filter out.  People often concentrate harder if they’re trying to ignore the kids / dogs / cats / gerbils rioting in another room, or have created a little bubble of concentration so they can focus. 

It can also happen because people are more nervous about online interviews.  They worry that the WiFi will fail, that you can’t hear them, that you’ll judge the wallpaper / light fittings / fact that their spouse has just wandered into shot in his/her underwear.  This may make some people answer the nub of the question without elaborating.  Others may go the other way and tend to babble.  Have some questions prepared that explore the most important aspects of what you need in the person for this role and have some supplementary follow-up questions that will coax the information out of those that tend to clam up.  You could miss an absolute star hire if you haven’t given them the opportunity to give the best account of themselves.

If you are conducting a panel interview, make sure you are organised so that people are not talking over each other.

Start with a little small talk
Don’t launch straight into the interview.  Help your candidates to relax by asking a few questions about themselves.  Have they used Zoom / Teams etc much during lockdown?  How has the current situation disrupted their daily lives?

Be friendly and approachable and you will get more from a relaxed and unguarded interviewee.  I still (despite it not being 1987) get calls from seasoned professionals saying, “well, that was an absolute grilling.”  You’re not Claude from The Apprentice.  You’re trying to get the best out of people not expose them as a shyster to the world. Yes, you do want to do due diligence but there is an art to getting the best (and truth) out of people without them feeling like it’s an interrogation.  I have had brilliant candidates turn down a job offer because of how an interview was conducted.  The interviewer thought they were displaying a level of thoroughness and that they would only accept the best; the interviewee thought them over-bearing, the interview disproportionate to the role and size of company, and that they would be working for a “little Napoleon” if they had accepted. 

Hire for attitude & aptitude
This is true for all interviews not just online ones.  When I deliver interview techniques workshops for hiring managers I start the session by asking for a list of reasons why the unsuccessful hires didn’t work out.  Surprisingly, not being able to do the job rarely features in that list.  The most common reasons include: reliability or attendance issues; poor team fit; bad attitude or personality clash; and poor engagement or culture fit.

As most of the reasons why hires don’t work out tend to be based on values, culture fit, and attitude and personality, it baffles me why most hiring managers spend up to 90% of the interview talking about previous experience and the ability to do the operational aspects of the role.  The candidate CV should give you a pretty good idea of this so, once you’ve taken five or ten minutes to establish they can actually do the job, the rest of your interview should be about determining more about who they are and how they think about and approach things.  This will include what values are important to them and how they like to work etc.

Positive approach
Again, this goes for all interviews whether online or in person.  Look for how the candidate CAN demonstrate what they can do and how they may be right for the role rather than trying to trip them up or why they might be wrong for the role. A positive approach to interviewing sometimes leads you to hiring the person that may otherwise have been overlooked because they may have lacked a few things on your wish-list.  However, if you look for how they fit and ask what you can do to work with them to get the rest up to speed, you will often find somebody who is a better overall team fit and who will likely be more loyal because they are being developed and invested in.

In summary, prepare in advance for your online interviews.  Make sure your questions are incisive but not interrogative.  Despite being able to see your interviewee, this is often a head and shoulders view and there are undoubtably visual cues and a general “feeling” missing from the in-person experience we usually have.

If you need more advice or guidance, I am happy to help.  If you have hiring managers that may benefit from additional interview training, I am delivering online workshops for several clients and will be happy to discuss your requirements.

Just call Sarah on 01902 763006 or email sarah@recruitrecruit.co.uk.


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