hiring virtually

Ask the Right Questions When Hiring Virtually, Pros Say

With remote interviews, many of the cues you would normally use to read a person are lacking. But there are still tactics you can use to help make the right choice when hiring virtually.

Even in normal times, selecting the right candidate for a position can be challenging. But, for many organizations, COVID-19 has made the process even more difficult by requiring employers and candidates to adjust to remote interviews that lack the kind of human connection – including direct eye contact and collegial handshakes – that in-person exchanges can bring.

The shift comes with consequences, experts say. According to new research from Robert Half Canada, more than half (56 per cent) of employers say the cost of making a bad recruiting choice is higher than it was pre-pandemic.

Still, given that remote work is likely here to stay for many and that virtual hiring offers access to larger talent pools, we are likely to see more, rather than less, remote recruiting going forward.

Here are four tactics that can help you make the right decision when hiring virtually.

Prepare your questions

With remote interviews, you have to be slightly more pointed in the way you ask questions, says David Dial, founder of Calgary-based Dial Solutions Group.

“Some people are professional interviewers. They do a great interview. Then they show up and within the first week you’re saying, ‘This isn’t the person we interviewed.’ ”

One solution, Dial suggests, is to ask questions that put the candidate into unique or challenging job-related scenarios. Listen for evasive responses, he adds.

“Take the person away from a script and observe how they behave,” he says. “If they’re feeling uncomfortable answering, dig in a little bit with follow-up questions.”

Connect creatively

When interviewing in person, you can often get a feeling about a candidate by reading their body language, Dial says.

“Remotely, you miss that … so you need to listen very carefully,” he says.

To help compensate for a lack of in-person cues, Michael French, regional vice-president of Robert Half Canada, suggests spending a few minutes getting to know the candidate. Choose questions that showcase their personality and why they are interested in the role and organization, he says, and pay attention to facial expressions and tone.

“Get a good understanding of how and why they came to meet you,” he says. “Make sure their tone comes across as comfortable.”

Connections can also be made with prospective teammates, adds French. Once candidates are shortlisted, arrange video conferences with future colleagues and consider their feedback during the final selection process.

Stay alert to cues

The pandemic has brought added stress for many employees, and it’s important to show flexibility and understanding, says French.

There are limits to employer flexibility, though. If a candidate reschedules an interview more than once, it may indicate someone who is unreliable. If they have persistent technical issues during the interview process, this could be a knowledge gap.

Beyond having the right skills, it often comes down to a candidate’s attitude and the overall impression they make, French says.

“Look out for someone who responds negatively,” he cautions.

This could be a sign they’re not the right fit for the role, adds Dial.

Probe for solutions

Finally, if you find yourself with a bad hire on your hands, try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of firing on the spot, says French.

Instead, exhaust all options to keep the new employee rather than waste time and resources used to replace them, he advises. For example:

  • Consider whether talking about any issues – such as punctuality, meeting deadlines – could put things on track.
  • Assess whether retraining could be easily executed.
  • Find out if the employee has personal issues because of the pandemic.
  • Determine whether your virtual onboarding process is effective.

If you must let an employee go, Dial adds, do it fast and within the probationary period. “Mistakes are made when people hire because they’re desperate to fill the role,” he says.

“Take your time hiring the person. But, if it’s wrong, change it quickly.”

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