Case study: Remote hiring

09 June 2020

By Julia Samuel

Case study: Remote hiring

​Over the last few weeks, while some organisations have paused their recruitment activity, others have been full steam ahead and, of course, have had to switch their usual face to face process to one that’s completely online.

We were thrilled when one of our clients had the confidence to do that, and kick started their search for a new Administrator, just a few weeks in to lockdown.

Many organisations are now revisiting their hiring plans for the rest of the year, and looking at how they can incorporate virtual hiring, in order to adapt to the ‘new normal’.

We thought it would be useful to share our clients’ approach, experience and some of their tips.

Getting started

“We’re lucky that the nature of our business means that throughout this period, our clients have still needed our services. Our recruitment activity is built in to our business plan, and therefore we’re typically always looking six months ahead. Therefore, we had everything in place – a clear idea of the role, who we were looking for and the budget - and were confident that our business was in a good place to continue.

“We come from a corporate background where video calls with clients, as well as interviews, have been the norm, that gave us the confidence in our ability to make the switch to virtual interviews for our business too.”

A wider spread of candidates

“Having worked with Sarah West Recruitment before, they already had a good understanding of us as a team, and the type of person that would fit in, so we didn’t need to ask for anything different when it came to qualifying candidates.

“The big benefit of conducting the process during lockdown has been that we saw a much wider spread of good quality candidates, versus the last the time we were hiring for a similar role.”

Switching from one interview, to two

“Previously, our process has involved one interview, with the two business owners at the same time, covering all aspects in one go. This time, we switched to a two-stage process – one interview with each of us, individually. The first stage interview covered the technical elements of the role, the candidate’s capabilities and what they’d be doing day-to-day. This determined who was taken through to the second stage interview, with the other business owner.

“The second stage went beyond the specifics of the job. It was about bringing more colour to the organisation – what we stand for, how we work, checking that we share the same values and how we’d support, train and develop them in the role. And getting to know them on a personal level too.”

The benefits of going from one to two interviews

“We felt that the interviews went more smoothly, for us and for the candidates. We’ve got different styles and skillsets and doing it individually meant we weren’t tripping over each other’s questions. The conversations flowed much more easily and we feel that we got better responses from those we interviewed, than we would normally.”

Technology – test, test, test!

“Having worked in much larger teams where everything you need technically is set up for you, and there’s support on hand if something goes wrong, we spent time making sure everything worked like clockwork.

“It was interesting for us to see the candidate’s approach too. From the outset, we were looking for someone proactive, IT-literate, who’s a natural problem solver. One candidate struggled to access the link and while, of course, these have been strange times and people have been thrown in at the deep and with video calls, it also showed us who displayed some of those key characteristics we were looking for.”

Changing the style and format of the interviews

“We both adapted our usual style and format. Face-to-face interviews normally involve an element of ‘shifting around’ – getting seated, offering someone a drink – so it was important to do that artificially with some small talk, before getting the formal part of the interview underway.

“At the first stage, depending on the role, I’d typically have a list of questions I’d run through. This time, I asked more open questions about the candidates personally and professionally, I talked more about more about the size and make-up of the team than I probably normally would, to be able to understand why they really wanted to work here. I wanted to find someone who genuinely wanted to work here, who was looking for something more than ‘just a job’. While you’re mentally trying to fill in the gaps that you’d normally get, through body language for example, it’s still easy to pick up on who’s genuinely passionate, through their voice.”

Benchmarking body language

“At the second stage, the questions were prepared in advance and were interspersed with more personal questions about home life, hobbies or pets. This gave the candidates the chance to relax and talk about more openly in between the work-related questions and gave me the chance to baseline their body language too, so I had something to compare with when I asked more challenging questions. It helped show when they were feeling confident or more nervous in their responses.

“I also talked more about the office and the environment. We’ve got pictures on our website, which definitely helped, when the candidates were doing their research.

“Whether it’s because we’ve had some previous experience of hiring virtually, although not specifically for our business, we didn’t feel at a disadvantage not having met with everyone in the process face-to-face. We were absolutely confident in our decision when it came to making a job offer.”

Onboarding

“Before we started the recruitment process, we had two plans for induction – one remotely and one if we could be in the office.

“We were already onboarding remotely, so a priority has been to understand what capabilities our new team member has to work from home, and what practical support they might need from us. Other than that, not much has changed as all the paperwork and reference checks are carried out as before.

“Now that restrictions have been lifted slightly, on their first day, we do meet at the office – just the three of us (socially distancing!). It gives us a chance to welcome them in person, for them to see the office and for us to run through some of the precautions and practicalities that we’ll have in place, going forward, so they’re reassured, if and when we do return to the office.”

Getting to know the team before joining

“Normally, we’d invite any new starters to the office to meet the team before their first day. Instead, they’ve been taking part in our team quiz on a Friday. It’s not work-related, it’s informal and chance to make introductions and for everyone to start to get to know each other.”

Is there a place for virtual interviews going forward? What are the benefits?

“Definitely, especially when it comes to holding first stage interviews. Here’s some of the benefits we’ve found:

Less travel

“Video interviews are particularly useful if people are relocating. That said, cutting down on travel, whatever the distance, has to be a big plus.”

Interviewing more candidates

“By interviewing virtually, I’ve had the time to do more first stage interviews than I normally would. Agreed, this time round I’ve not been out on road doing client visits but going forwards, having the ability to do interviews, from the car even and not having to spend time getting back to the office, will mean I’m able to see more people.”

A quicker recruitment process

“As travel isn’t involved, scheduling interviews is much easier. Although we held more first stage interviews than we did previously, we were able to do all of them over two days, whereas they’re normally more spread out.

“This is much better for candidates too as they’re not waiting, for what sometimes feels like an age, for an update.

A step up from first to second stage

While we’ve had no qualms doing the entire process, virtually, when we can we’ll probably do the second stage face-to-face again. For us, and we assume the candidates, it’ll feel like a ‘step up’.

Do you have any tips for candidates?

Practice

“Firstly, it’s nothing to be scared of, however, much like when you hear your voice for the first time on a recording, it can be a shock to see yourself, so make sure you have some trial runs beforehand. It also makes sure the technology’s working too.”

Dress code

“The way you dress for an interview can be indication of cultural fit. If you’re not sure how to dress – ask.

“It’s also useful to bear in mind that what works face to face, doesn’t always translate well on screen. Lots of patterns or stripes can make your eyes loopy! Also, be comfortable, there’s nothing worse than having to keep readjusting your clothes during an interview, for you or the person interviewing you.”

Location

“It’s important to think about your background and the lighting. The candidate we hired apologised for the lighting during her first interview. For her second interview, she’d spent time shifting things around to make it better. The fact that she’d spent time thinking about it, considering the detail, impressed us.”

Preparation is key

“Do all the preparation and research that you’d do for a face-to-face interview. Have questions to ask and some paper and a pen to hand, to make notes.”

Don’t be too relaxed!

“While we made an extra effort to help candidates relax during their interviews, being in familiar surroundings, it might be easy to go to far the other way!”

If you’re worried – say something

“If you’re nervous, or even unhappy with your set up for the interview, say something. It’s better to refer to the fact that you’re interviewing from your kitchen, for example! It makes for a positive impression and shows you care.”

If you're making the switch from face-to-face to virtual hiring, we'd love to hear any hints and tips you have to make the process run smoothly.

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