Blog about virtual interviewing and how to improve this process to maximise its return

FMC Global Talent | Optimising Virtual Interview Processes

James Watson, Smart Industry Director at FMC Global Talent
James Watson,
Smart Industry Director at FMC Global Talent

My name is James Watson, a Director of the Smart Industry team at FMC Global Talent; I hope you are staying well during this challenging period.

As a follow up to the impact of COVID-19 on recruitment processes recently shared by my colleague David Powell, I thought it would be helpful to provide some key insight into how companies are managing virtual interviewing during this challenging period.

Nice to meet you?

It has been fascinating to see how full digital selection processes and remote on-boarding have worked in practice and, in April, I began to note a slightly higher than average ‘failure rate’ at recruitment interviews. Some of our business clients were getting bemused as to why A* candidates from initial interview rounds had so obviously struggled with the presentation stage.

Looking into some of those recent candidate experiences uncovered some underlying challenges for even the highest calibre of candidates:

‘no time was provided to build a rapport and the process was exceptionally formal from the first second of the call’

‘I wasn’t given the opportunity to finish each section of my presentation before I was interrupted’

‘there was a panel of four interviewers, and they talked over each other asking conflicting questions before I had a chance to answer’

Video conferencing is nothing new to most, however only the minority of interviewers have regular experience of completing a full selection process virtually. What is clear for most of us is that they are not the virtual copy of a face-to-face environment some of us may be expecting.

The overriding message: candidates and interviewers alike struggle if the interview process hasn’t been adequately adapted to fit the virtual environment.

Overcoming the Challenge

Factor in time for informal interaction and introductions at the start. Seems simple, but the bit that often happens in person between arriving at reception and the interview room is a crucial first touchpoint to begin building a relationship and easing into interview mode for all participants.

Plan structured presentation-question sections and elect a designated chair if you are hosting a panel interview. Everyone should be clear how the presentation will run and when questions will be asked and answered. Agree a “hands-up” mechanism at the start of the interview to enable impromptu pauses at the next best opportunity. Some video conferencing tools limit the display to just the person talking and so an unexpected interruption will not only disrupt their rhythm but it will also kick the interviewee off the main stage and potentially damage their presentation.

Body language cues are much harder to read. Despite this, body language remains a key ally for interviewees in validating whether they are ‘hitting the mark’. If a candidate misses the point of a key question, be fair and try to give them a re-direct to enable them to show their talents. The lack of social cues means it is also much easier to misinterpret each other, so be mindful and accommodating of this and it will radically enhance the quality of an interview for everyone.

Don’t be distracted. Phones ringing, smart watches vibrating, emails popping up, articles and paperwork in your eyeline have no place in face-to-face interviews and so should not be present in a virtual interview either. If both interviewer and interviewee offer their undivided attention, both will get a better return on their time invested.

Short virtual tours of the office and factories. To overcome the challenge of communicating the business culture and environment over a video call consider takinginterviewees on tours of the premises. But, be careful not to replace quality with quantity: we have had feedback of some virtual interviews taking 7 hours as a result. Mutually agree and stick to an appropriate time frame to maintain a quality interview experience.

Virtual ‘norm’ post COVID-19

While it typically remains preferable to meet in person, a virtual approach should be embraced as a viable option. Digital selection and virtual onboarding may not become the ‘new norm’, but they will certainly be used more readily and in more recruitment processes than before.

In a world where vacancies need to be filled immediately, travel remains restricted and candidates continue to be on different continents to hiring leaders, it may yet represent the most viable. Not to mention the positive inroads against carbon neutral objectives such an approach would help businesses make.