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April 20, 2020

Pandemic Pivot: hiring remotely

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As we all attempt to navigate the uncertainties of COVID-19, I am grateful that my business, WORK180, has already mastered three key things on the ‘pandemic pivot’ to-do list.

I’m referring to hiring, on-boarding and managing teams whilst working remotely.

WORK180 is a global jobs platform with 40 employees working across Australia and the UK, and we’ve been at it for over 5 years. Prior to that, I’d worked remotely for about 8 years and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to companies managing a remote workplace.

In my conversations with employers across Australia, UK and US, one of their main challenges is whether to freeze hiring, because they are unsure of how to hire and on-board people remotely.

The other hurdle is around on-boarding people remotely. More on this in the next chapter of the Pandemic Pivot.

First impressions count

The way candidates experience your recruitment process is crucial to theirs and your business’ success. Whilst it may be daunting to consider how you will replicate your existing process which relies heavily on in person interviews, I am here to tell you it’s possible. In fact, when I ask new starters at WORK180 about their initial thoughts on the company after their first week or two, the most common responses are, “I can’t believe how smooth the interview/on-boarding process was. I did not expect this at a fully remote company.” This is often followed by “I feel more connected to my peers than I ever did in a physical office.” This blog will focus on the first part – hiring remotely. Check out other articles we put together on working remotely, leading remote teams and working from home with kids.

Setting up for interviewing remotely

Something that Zak Islam, VP / Head of Engineering, Tech Teams at Atlassian encountered when first working from home was the need to upgrade his internet, as it was affecting his video calls. “I had to quickly make the transition from back to back mostly in-person meetings to a full day of remote meetings over VC. With my kids at home, this put some strain on the internet bandwidth as I was in meetings and the kids were streaming. It is difficult to have an effective meeting when important parts of the conversation were being dropped. My internet bandwidth exceeded Zoom’s specs but the video and voice was cutting in and out at times. Upgrading my internet helped a lot.” Some other tips, and advice for remote meetings in general:
  • Make sure you log into [Zoom] five minutes early and be ready for the candidate
  • Ensure that you use different meeting links for each candidate, to avoid having candidates ‘testing’ the link and accidentally dropping into other interviews
  • Set up your camera in a way that allows the candidate to see you clearly without being too close to the screen (interviews that are extremely close up can be jarring).
  • If possible, having the candidate’s CV up on a second screen can be super helpful
  • Be present- no multitasking such as looking at another screen, checking emails etc.
  • Try to mute your microphone while the other person is speaking, in case there’s unexpected background noise
  • Set your email app to “working offline” and snooze any other notifications that may pop up and distract your attention.
  • Ensure you don’t book interviews back to back. Give yourself time to prepare, record notes, grab a coffee or tea in between interviews.
  • If you don’t have a spot at home with a professional background, consider downloading one or using some templates in Zoom.
Bonus tip I keep a jug of water on my desk (add lemon and mint if you want to get fancy) and constantly fill up my water glass. Make sure said jug has a lid on it or keep it on the floor- destroying a laptop during a pandemic is not ideal!

Extra consideration

During these challenging times, it’s more important than ever to practice empathy. For example, there is a high chance of both the employer and candidate having children around whilst working from home – I would simply put a note in the email prior to the interview to explain that this is the case. Perhaps, if you have someone to help with the children, you can negotiate a time that’s outside of core working hours. For example, you can provide a choice to virtually meet at 1pm (with kids) or 6pm, at which point someone else can take over childcare and you can have a less stressful time slot to offer. We all need to think outside the box! Be understanding if an interview needs to be rescheduled. Of course, this needs to be within reason but again, empathy has never been more needed than now.

Round 1: Pre-screening via a video call

At WORK180, the first step for shortlisted candidates is to have a quick (30 min max) pre-screening conversation. This is done using Zoom, a video conferencing tool that can provide you with free video calls (up to 40 mins per call) I’ve used many other tools and must say that Zoom has never let me down knocks on wood. The concept of a video interview is new and can be daunting for most people. Ensure to provide candidates with instructions to download the Zoom tool prior to the interview, when you send them the calendar invite. I asked some of our newest team members for their perspective and advice when it came to be interviewed remotely. “I always approached a video interview in the same way as a face-to-face interview. I prepared well, dressed appropriately, ensured there were no distractions / background noises, set up my immediate environment to reflect my professional brand and had my video on. As a candidate, I expected the same in return from a prospective employer.” Jodi Rosenthal, WORK180’s Head of Customer Success shared her advice for both candidates and employers on the importance of a professional environment for a virtual interview. Lots of candidates find it hard to interview via video when they are used to interviews in person. Some tips on overcoming this came from Kate Bushell, who joined WORK180 as Head of Sales in the same week as COVID-19 ramped up to nearly a million cases across the world. “I think the main thing for people to think about is just to be themselves. It can often seem daunting for someone who hasn’t interviewed this way previously, so the best advice I gave myself was just to treat this as a normal face to face interview and to shift my mindset into this space.” As the interview begins, your first job is to make the candidate comfortable. Start by asking how their morning/day was, maintain eye contact, smile. Let them know that you are also new to this video interview process and do your best to put the candidate at ease. When deciding if to proceed with them to the next stage, counter your unconscious bias – if they did not seem confident, it could be because this is their first video interview. The anxiety around this could affect their confidence in a way that’s irrelevant to their professional skills. The goal for round one is to establish a ‘culture add’. Note I don’t say ‘culture fit’. If you are not familiar with this term, this is a great article from our COO which explains the concept. Bonus tip Never ask “what is your current salary?” in an interview. This is why you should never ask this question. Always allow enough time for the candidate to ask you questions, and clearly explain the timeline for next steps.

Round 2: A written assignment

WORK180 candidates who pass the first stage are then given a written assignment to complete within a set period. This helps understand how people think and how much effort and research they put into their application. For technical roles, this involves a code test for developers, design test for designers or data test for data analysts.

Round 3: Conversation with peers

Right near the top of candidates’ wish lists for an ideal recruitment experience (number one is salary details on job ads) is the ability to meet their potential team members. It’s important to know that often the decision to accept a role (especially at senior levels) is made on how prepared companies are to provide this opportunity. This process is beneficial for candidates, as well as for employees and your company. Candidates can learn firsthand about the role they are interested in, ask specific questions and address concerns. Their peers are in the best position to provide information on the ins and outs of the role. Candidates can be candid with questions about leadership, as well as the company culture. This helps align expectations and increase both engagement and retention rates. Involving employees in the interview process means they will be more likely to play a key role in setting up the new teammate for success.

Round 4: Final interview with CEO/Hiring Manager

At WORK180, the final stage of the hiring process is an interview with either myself, my Co-CEO, or with both of us. Prior to the interview, we are provided with notes from the rest of the team, who may highlight some areas for us to unpack further during our conversation. It’s mandatory for each interviewer to fill out a feedback form throughout the process and return this to the HR team after the final stage is complete. Within the form, it’s important to capture both detailed feedback on the candidate along with a short summary of the feedback. If you are unsure when you can provide an update on the status of their application, commit to providing the candidate with an update either way within a clear time frame. It’s ok to at that stage, say that you are still interviewing and will keep them updated – ensure to do this, even if you have not reached a decision within the nominated timeline. If the candidate is unsuccessful at the final round, they will be notified via a phone call, with the short feedback relayed to them. If they are open to exploring more detailed feedback, this will also be provided. Not sharing feedback is both detrimental to the candidates’ development along with damaging to the company brand. If they are successful, call them with a verbal offer, followed by contract creation and all the usual processes you followed pre-pandemic in terms of paperwork. This is followed by a handover to the on-boarding lead, which we will cover in our next blog. Ensure to sign up to the HR & D&I Professionals fortnightly update to receive the blogs to your inbox. Remote hiring is new for a lot of people, and we hope that sharing our processes will help you fine tune your own. It won’t be perfect overnight, but we are confident that you’ll learn some valuable techniques to implement even when/if you decide to return to hiring in person.

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About the Author
WORK180 promotes organizational standards that raise the bar for women in the workplace. We only endorse employers that are committed to making real progress so that all women can expect better.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.