Increasingly, we are seeing business leaders question what will life be like ‘post-COVID-19’. With remote appointments and interviews being conducted via video conferencing, could the interview process change forever as a result? Berwick Partners’ Basil le Roux and Tahira Raja explain.
We both started our careers in recruitment at a time when smoking was allowed in offices, candidates would post their CVs to us and we would fax them to clients, and very few people had mobiles, which meant we had to work from 8.00am – 8.00pm in order to get hold of people. Over the years most of this has changed, but the one constant has been the face-to-face interview.
Yet, when you think about society today, this is odd. People date online, we are happy buying houses off-plan, employees are inducted and developed online, and many are managed remotely. Given everything we have learnt from behavioural psychologists about unconscious bias, is the face-to-face interview process the most appropriate way to appoint the best candidate?
The COVID-19 pandemic is throwing up a major challenge to this time-honoured approach and, from our experience, some organisations and candidates are swiftly adapting to making the entire process remote.
Basil was recruiting a Director of HR for a major UK education charity when we went into lockdown. The decision was taken by the client to continue the search and to move the process online. It helped that in the sector many schools deliver lessons online, which meant the hiring manager and leadership group were comfortable with the approach. The client adopted a structured approach to interviewing, which both provided consistency to the questions and reduced any bias to the assessment. The bigger challenge came with the candidates as it was perceived as ‘novel’ and they had to overcome their perception that recruitment had to, at least in part, be done face-to-face. This was done through building trust with the candidates throughout the process. This included increasing the number of stages in the process and pointing out how so much of life was now online.
The result was that the client offered, and the candidate accepted.
Tahira Raja from our Financial Leadership Practice had a similar experience. She was conducting a search for the Finance Director of a management organisation. We moved to the lockdown period the week before the client interviews commenced. We reached out to both the client and the candidates and sought their views on how they would like to proceed. A strong rapport based on openness and trust had already been developed, meaning this was an easy conversation for us to have.
The business’s view of the role was that a Finance Director was required now, more than ever. The candidates also expressed a desire to proceed as planned. The first stage interviews were conducted by the CEO and a board member, and a short analysis exercise was emailed to the candidates 30 minutes prior to the interview. This was used to break the ice and develop rapport. The client ensured questions were clear and also allowed 10 minutes at the end of the interview to answer any questions around the process and current climate. This provided comfort to the candidates around the openness of the CEO and the honesty with which she dealt with the uncertainty.
For the second stage interview, the candidates submitted a pre-prepared presentation and continued the dialogue. The client had more interviewers present during these video calls than they would have had ordinarily. This allowed the business to seek multiple views on the candidates and to assess their likely fit with the organisation, as well sharing the burden of the responsibility amongst the senior leadership team. Likewise, the candidates were able to develop a stronger insight into the individuals and culture of the organisation.
The client offered the role to a candidate, who happily accepted the role. By sharing the responsibility to appoint and ensuring a more thorough interview was conducted, both parties were able to glean more from the interview process and were comfortable with making their decisions.
Both examples highlight how the recruitment process can continue remotely – the same way as doctors demonstrating that they can see patients remotely. Businesses are adapting to the circumstances we find ourselves in, to ensure the best outcome. With more time and thought having to be invested into the selection process, will this new, more robust approach increase the number of diverse candidates hired, make the market more international and result in fewer hiring mistakes? Only time will tell.