Recruiter’s Tips On Acing Virtual Interviews

As often as it has been cited, the fact remains that COVID-19 has indeed significantly impacted our way of life – from social norms to business processes, and even recruitment.

Organizations looking to extend their workforce are not daunted by the travel restrictions and lockdowns. Instead, they have adapted their recruitment process by integrating virtual hiring and remote onboarding to ensure that work continues as usual. However, this method is not new to all companies.

For insights into remote hiring, Management Events talked to our very own Talent Acquisition Team Lead, Ties Rohof, on online recruitment and tips for acing virtual interviews.

Virtual Interview

Ties Rohof, Talent Acquisition Team Lead, Management Events Netherlands

Responsible for growing the Management Events brand, Rohof looks for talents, who can lead the organization to the next level in business networking events, in different markets for the company’s commercial positions.

How has the pandemic affected your hiring process?

Actually, for our Talent Acquisition Team, hiring from a distance is not something new.

We’ve been conducting remote recruitments even before the coronavirus since my colleague, Rico Habraken, and I are both based in Amsterdam, and next to hiring for the Dutch office, we hire for the Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, German and sometimes even Malaysian markets.

In our hiring process, we would first perform a phone screening, and discuss the background and ambition of the candidate. If he or she is a fit for the role, we used to set up the first face-to-face meeting in the local office with the Team Manager there.

While the first part of the process has not changed (the Talent Acquisition Team is still calling the candidates), we have shifted the face-to-face interview to a virtual interview.

If that goes well, we normally have one more virtual interview round with a simulation. And then if both sides are on board, we’ll move to the employment contract.

Preferably, we would invite the candidate to our office to sign the contract, since it would be good for the talent to know where he or she will work. Of course, this is an invitation. Due to the virus, we won’t force anyone to come by if they’re not comfortable with it.

What are the biggest advantages, and challenges, of interviewing and hiring talents remotely?

The biggest advantage is that it’s easier to schedule a call. The candidate doesn’t have to come to the office, and both sides are flexible in case we need to reschedule the call or video interview.

Another difference I notice is that candidates feel more at ease, most likely because they’re sitting in a ‘safe environment’ like their home, or at least, not at work. It might also be because they feel that they have the time to talk. The talks are more relaxed and go more in-depth than pre-coronavirus days.

The challenges are obvious; a camera or phone sometimes depict a person differently than in real life. As my colleague, Head of Sales and Country Sales Manager Nick Werring, stated in an interview on virtual sales, it’s hard to fully ‘feel’ someone.

Also, we see that the commitment level of some talents is lower because they have less of a ‘connection’ with the team or company since they haven’t met our colleagues in real life or have experienced our work atmosphere.

What are the steps from your initial contact to the interview?

Different companies have different recruitment processes – some might have multiple stages while others may only conduct one interview. For us, we usually start with the phone screening, where we ask the basic interview questions on the candidate’s skills, qualifications and motivations.

After assessing which candidates are most suitable for the role, we’ll arrange an interview via Microsoft Teams with the Hiring Manager.

Once we have agreed on the time and date, we’ll schedule the appointment and send the remote interview confirmation email, including the Teams meeting link, to the candidate.

If a candidate has been finalized, then we’ll proceed with contacting them regarding employment.

What do you pay close attention to during the interview?

I focus on getting concrete answers to my questions so I have a solid understanding of the candidate’s skills and experience. I would advise the candidates to always try to give short and clear examples whenever possible.

Energy level is another thing I pay attention to. Since sometimes I can’t see the candidate, due to the interview being a phone call, it’s good if he or she conveys their message with extra energy. Of course, you have to stay true to yourself, and not be ‘over the top’. 

I also like it when the talents are curious and ask a lot of questions about the job or our company. Our business model can be complex, and I see it as a plus if someone is honest about not understanding it the first time.

Speaking of which, I think honesty goes a long way. Maybe because of my Dutch directness, I don’t like to ‘sugarcoat’ or oversell our vacancies. Therefore, I like it when candidates are honest with me if they have doubts about something.

Normally, you can tell a lot by body language, but over the phone, this isn’t possible. By discussing a certain worry or concern about the role and company, we can really see if the position is a match and therefore, have a more in-depth conversation.

What common mistakes do candidates seem to make?

Now that people are doing remote interviews at home, I find that people get distracted easily or try to multitask while having the call. Believe it or not; I have had candidates do the dishes or clean the house while I’m on the phone with them for an interview.

I think for both sides, the best approach is to take the time and find a quiet environment. This way, you get a good indication of whether the job is a suitable fit for you without any distractions pulling your attention away.

Secondly, have a notepad near you! And only try to write down keywords or short questions for you to ask later on in the virtual interview. Avoid writing lengthy sentences or notes because you’ll lose what the recruiter might be saying or asking.

What advice would you give to jobseekers on acing their remote interview?

Even though you might be having the interview from the comforts of your home, remember that it’s still a job interview.

Find a quiet place to have the meeting without disturbance or excessive noise. Have a stable table to put your laptop on, and ensure that you have everything you need for the interview organized and easy to share. It’s also important to make sure that you’re well-dressed (with pants too!).

You might want to check in advance that the meeting link works, and that your camera and other equipment are in good working order as well.

How do you virtually integrate the hire into the company when they’re working from home?

We have a structured 4-week onboarding session, given by our very own onboarding team who themselves have had several years of commercial experience within the company. 

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, we would give these training sessions online. We have the onboarding team in front of a camera, and the new hires would check in virtually for interactive sessions. You could say that we were prepared for such instances like COVID-19.

However, we normally have a lot of support from the local teams in the respective offices. The onboarders would get tips and tricks from their local Team Managers or colleagues, who would sit next to them, and for this part, we had to find a solution. For that reason, the hires will have sales or calling simulations with some of the more experienced colleagues.

And in some European countries, we make a special roster so that it would be possible for the onboarders to come in very small groups to the office, maintaining safety and social distancing. That way, we still have the interactivity of a ‘normal’ onboarding, which also helps with the integration of the new hires in the teams.

How would you advise new employees to adapt to working within a virtual environment?

  1. Create your own working space – Have an area that is your designated workspace so you can step into or leave the ‘office’. Make sure you have your basics covered, such as a good computer screen, laptop and the right chair for proper posture.
  2. Plan your breaks – Because working remotely from home mixes your personal life and work so much, it’s fairly easy to eat while looking at your laptop or not taking any breaks at all. Take a walk now and then or really use the lunch break to get away from your desk.
  3. Join (virtual) team activitiesJoining in online activities, such as weekly meetings, talks and kickoffs, makes you feel that you’re part of a bigger organization, and lowers the bar to ask questions from your team.
  4. Go to the office occasionally – If conditions are safe for you, go to the office once in a while to have some interactivity with your (new) colleagues. Or have your Team Manager meetings somewhere outside. That way, you get to see each other ‘live’ and get some fresh air.
  5. Have good headphones – Small but important, a good pair of headphones or earphones will go a long way. From a personal point of view, I can tell you that working from home, you’ll always encounter some distractions that you normally won’t have to endure in the office – a mailman ringing your doorbell or maybe a loud neighbor who decides that Monday 9 a.m. is a great time for a renovation. Using quality headphones to close yourself off and getting some hours of focus really help.

In Conclusion

Virtual interviews tend to have this sense of informality, but recruiters and talents alike need to uphold remote hiring in the same standards as in-person hiring.

With no near end in sight to the coronavirus, remote recruitment is expected to be the norm for the foreseeable future. And these tips will help greatly in navigating the virtual hiring landscape and starting a new job remotely.

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