Employers have struggled to get a grasp on how to properly conduct a remote interview. The secret is to keep it focused—while also keeping the candidates in the loop.
Interviewing job applicants in a remote environment is a new skill for many employers—and honestly, they’re struggling to adapt.
That’s the take of remote work expert Melissa Smith, founder and CEO of the Association of Virtual Assistants, who says that associations and other employers need to take the process seriously if they want to find the best candidates.
“Their remote hiring process is a direct reflection of what it’s like to work within the company,” she says. “Companies want to talk all about their company culture, but the rubber meets the road in the hiring process.”
And remote hiring has not exactly been kind to many organizations thus far, with stories emerging about applicants going through numerous rounds of interviews just to be considered.
But even before the pandemic, the process left much to be desired, Smith says. Employers have been known to leave roles open for years in hopes of finding the perfect candidate—leaving applicants on the hook for years. And the hiring process often favors people who interview well rather than those who are most qualified for the role. Smith admittedly was one of those people.
“I’ve gotten every job I’ve ever interviewed for, and it’s not because I am the best applicant or the best person qualified,” she says. “It’s because I was the best interviewer, and I always knew that going in.”
However, the remote climate offers an opportunity for associations to reset their processes so the best candidate—rather than the best interviewer—gets picked. Smith offers these tips to employers looking to get the remote hiring process right:
- Ask everyone the same questions. “Every person in the company that’s interviewing at some stage needs to be asking the applicant the same questions,” Smith says. This makes it possible to compare every applicant from a baseline—while discouraging analysis primarily based on the applicant’s interviewing abilities. “There has to be some kind of ranking system that you’re going through that does not depend on how well they look on camera, how well they perform on camera, how well they spoke, or how well they interviewed, if that has nothing to do with their job,” she says.
- Be mindful about who interviews candidates, and why. Some organizations want potential employees to chat with lots of people. That might have worked when it was one person coming into an office for a panel or round-robin interview, but in a remote setting, this can stretch out the number of interviews. Smith says it’s important to winnow things down. “If that’s not going to be their supervisor, that’s not going to be their partner, their team collaborator, maybe they don’t need to speak to that person,” she says. Smith says this is especially a problem when it comes to top-level leaders, who often play a role in interviews even if they won’t regularly interact with the person filling the position. “In that hiring process, know who everyone that’s going to be hiring is and why they are part of the interview process,” she says. If the goal is for a candidate to meet with a potential team, she suggests putting together a more informal group chat rather than multiple interviews.
- Provide clarity on the process. Even if you do your best to minimize the number of interviews each candidate goes through, multiple ones are likely. Applicants may then find themselves stuck in the middle of a process with no apparent endpoint. Smith says candidates should be given clear expectations for each step of the process—including who is taking part, how long each stage will last, and what each step entails. “What happens is when candidates don’t know, they feel like they’re jumping through hoops every single time just to get to the next one, and then we don’t know when the next one is,” Smith says. “But all that should be done in advance—all of it should be scheduled in advance.” A side benefit of having a well-defined process is that it can help interviewers take the process more seriously.
- Don’t change the parameters at the last minute. Given how much preparation candidates do ahead of time, it’s imperative that you show them the respect they deserve. Don’t reschedule calls at the last minute or switch the format, Smith says—and definitely don’t take calls in your car. “The next most horrible thing that companies are doing is scheduling all those interviews and then canceling them or rescheduling them, changing video calls to phone calls, or taking them on the go,” she says. “It’s just absolutely, completely, and totally unprofessional.”
While Smith acknowledges that many employers are still struggling to find their footing, she says that one North Star for making it through is understanding what candidates really want out of the process.
“People want freedom and flexibility; they want to be heard,” she says. “And they want to feel like they matter. If you can just do those simple things and you attract the right candidates, you will have a better interviewing process, even if you make mistakes.”
This is the second of a two-part series on remote interviews. Check out the first installment, focused on tips for candidates.