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How to Make Hiring Decisions in a Remote Interviewing World

Adam Ward

Here at Growth By Design Talent, we recently published an Operational Adjustments & Emerging Best Practices Guide that highlighted many of these changes, including the shift from primarily onsite interviews to 100% video conference (VC). We’re hearing from a lot of companies that this swift transition is impacting hiring teams’ level of confidence to make hiring decisions.

It’s no surprise that we’re also seeing companies reduce their workforces and trim back hiring plans, if not outright putting a freeze on hiring. In a poll that we conducted with 30+ high growth stage companies, nearly half reported reduction or stoppage of hiring. We’ve created a Recruiting Leadership Guide to help leaders through these and other challenges.

However, while some slow their growth, many others still have a lot of hiring to do, and are doing it in a much more uncertain landscape. The questions are: how to do it, and how to do it well in a world where remote interviewing is the new norm and may remain so for a substantial period of time.

Why is it so hard?

Onsite interviews are far from perfect, but a good one can feel like an effective proxy for working with someone everyday, and help the candidate get a chance to experience what it’s like to work at the company. Candidates can demonstrate their skills through conversation, non-verbal communication, whiteboarding out ideas, or presenting to a group. Employees can illustrate what the day-to-day is like — showing off the cafeteria, arranging casual introductions with potential co-workers, and giving a tour of the workspaces.

Contrast that with today, where after mild technical difficulties, you both pop on your laptop screen five minutes late, get an overly intimate insight into one another’s kitchen — I mean, home office — and are constantly distracted during the conversation by the ever-buzzing feed on the right side of your monitor.

Because many interviewers and hiring managers don’t feel fluent and confident in interviewing via VC, making hiring decisions just got a lot harder.

The biggest contributors to driving a confident hiring decision rely on a candidate’s:

  • skills to do the job and
  • fit for the team and company.

It is even more important to determine who the decision maker is at the start. We’ve gathered strategies for getting the signals from our community of people leaders to help teams continue to make confident hiring decisions.

What is true for assessing for both skills and fit

Structured interviewing is still your friend: Build and leverage structured interviewing for both soft and hard skills to have the confidence in the signal you are looking for, regardless of how you get that signal.

Now more than ever, having a consistent interviewing process is going to be important as we increasingly work and collaborate remotely.

We like to say “facts over feelings,” which means don’t rely on gut feelings about people and be specific and evidence-based in your feedback — that’s part of how you counter unconscious bias and make sound hiring decisions. Having a structured, standardized process helps ensure you do just that. In an environment with constrained budget and remote employees, more emphasis is going to be put on data and the work going into hiring. Structured interviewing also leads to more data on what’s working and not in your process, so you can pivot if needed.

Embrace the awkward: It is going to take time and practice for both hiring teams and candidates to get the level of comfort that you normally would from in-person interactions. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. It’s OK to acknowledge the situation, even the strangeness or stress of it all. Interviewers have a heightened responsibility to get comfortable with VC interviewing so that they can put candidates at ease and get good signal from these conversations. Whenever possible, meet over video rather than phone or text.

Caring is free: We remind our clients this a lot — a little care for the candidate experience can go a long way in helping the interview process be successful, and it often takes less than ten minutes to positively change someone’s experience for the better. A few ideas:

  • Advise the candidate to join the VC a few minutes early to test the set up and make sure they’re comfortable.
  • Put together a few quick tips about remote interviewing for the candidate (especially for technical interviews) to help them know what to expect.
  • Instead of writing someone’s name on the whiteboard in the physical interview room with coordinator’s/recruiter’s number if something goes sideways, you can still replicate that virtually. For example, have the recruiter or coordinator send a brief text to the candidate five minutes before the start of the interview to help calm their nerves and ensure they have all the information they need.

Making sure the interview runs smoothly also helps your interviewers get the signal they need.

Assessing for skills

Trust your process and lean on your more experienced interviewers: It’s important to remember — and remind hiring teams — that if you had a sound interviewing process before, all that’s changed is now it’s happening over video. Once the team gets comfortable with the nuts and bolts of interviewing remotely, it’s important to continue to trust the strength of your interviewing process.

“Ask interviewers whose normal non-COVID-19 routines include VC interviewing to sit on more panels. Our remote engineers are more comfortable relying on VC signal than folks who are just now doing interviews remotely for the first time, and they can add a confident voice to an otherwise indecisive hiring decision meeting.” — Tiffany Fenster, Stripe’s Head of Recruiting

You may already have experts on VC-interviewing within your company — rely on them now.

Build your toolbox: Leverage online white-boarding or paired programming tools. We shared some examples of these in our Resource Guide for recruiters and hiring managers. Spend time as an interview team testing these tools and re-calibrating on what good looks like over video. Use shadow and reverse shadow interviews if needed.

Sometimes more is more: If you find you need to bolster your current interviewing process to give interviewers additional signal and confidence, you can:

  • Add a presentation or problem solving session. For example, ask the candidate to prepare a presentation for the interview panel with an example of a recent problem they solved that they’re proud of. Or, you could give them a business relevant, but anonymized, data set that you work on together. Both approaches can give you good signal on both the what (skills) and the how (fit) of their work.
  • Supplement interviews with external signals like in-depth references and past work samples. Make sure you’re clear on what signal you’re looking to get from these.

Assessing for fit

For many companies, understanding how someone gets their work done and how a new hire will add to your company culture is just as important as learning about their skills to do the job. Assessing for fit can be challenging and subjective, even when there are multiple opportunities to meet in person.

“Interviewing teams should still “focus in on the interpersonal signals you would have anyway in an onsite interview. You can’t ignore those just because it is through a screen. For example, did they do their research on the company? Were they focused? Did they make eye contact with the camera? Was the candidate able to answer crisply, concisely, and provide concrete examples?” — Glen Evans, VP of Core Talent at Greylock

All of this can be accomplished in a video interview.

Take the time: Have the hiring manager or interviewers spend extra sessions with candidates getting to know them. Be accommodating to candidates that request additional time to ask more questions.

“People act differently on VCs — don’t. Be natural, save time for getting to know the other person, and include the banter you would have had in live, in person chats.” — Rich Cho, Head of Recruiting at Robinhood

We have the tendency on VC calls to jump straight into the business at hand but it’s better to give a few minutes for the casual conversation you’d normally have in person. 30 minute interviews may need to be extended to 45, for example. Additionally, leverage those in the company that may have a connection to the candidate (referral or otherwise) to do virtual walk-ins/walk-outs and breaks.

Make it less formal: Host virtual coffee chats/lunches/happy hours for candidates. It can be harder to break the ice with these, so giving the hosts some structure — tools and topics to cover — can help. They could share why they joined the company and why they are still here, talk through a project they’re working on in more detail, or highlight an open-source project. The goal is to replicate more informal interactions, the kind that might happen when you’re walking a candidate to the interview room or having lunch with them. These meetings definitely don’t have to be restricted to the interview loop or hiring manager; connect the candidate with other culture carriers or cross-functional collaborators.

Plant seeds early: When candidates come on site, they get a lot of ambient information about your culture from being in the office. This helps them decide if they want to work for you, and be able to express specifically why. To get similar responses on VC you may need to “feed” the candidate more about your company culture and values directly, pre-interview. You can use an existing library of videos and articles, and send them to the candidate before the interviews. Or, try creating new cultural artifacts. You can:

  • Ask the hiring team/interview panel to record short videos to communicate the impact of the role and how it fits within the broader team or company goals.
  • Record a message from the CEO or department leader about what the company is doing to support employees at this time. Make it broad so recruiting can share it with any candidate.
  • Invite the candidate to sit in on a virtual team meeting and see how you do things, even in bumpy times.

Keep in mind the videos and artifacts can be scrappy, and created with your phone. Authenticity beats perfection.

Remember: with practice, preparation, and a few small changes, you can empower your team to get comfortable with remote interviewing and hiring.

“Any hiring decision comes with an aspect of risk and unknown, so as long as you run a rigorous interview process assessing for the candidate’s skills and attitudinal fit with your team and company, you will probably make the same decision with or without meeting them in person. In fact, you might be making a less biased decision by removing an in-person interaction.” — Joel Baroody, Head of Recruiting at Brex

This current world of remote work is not going to change back immediately — investing the time to make your process as strong as possible in this reality will only make your team better in the long term.

Growth by Design Talent helps early & mid-stage high growth companies design talent strategies to help them scale quickly and thoughtfully. Reach us at hello@gbdtalent.com

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