Face-to-Screen: the Remote Recruitment Experience

A smooth and well planned change to meet the needs of this new reality we're facing at the moment.

Despite most of life coming to a stand-still because of COVID-19, it is important to remember that not everything has stopped. Companies are still conducting interviews and hiring, just the process has altered a little from what you might have been used to. 


The stay-at-home requirement has made virtual interviewing an essential element of the hiring process and, thankfully, we live in an era that has us more connected than ever before, with more choice than we know what to do with. With face-timing, skype, Zoom, Google hangouts and many others, keeping in contact with other people over a distance has never been easier. But a question looms for those currently job hunting: will the new changes dramatically affect their ability to secure a job?


Most people have taken the time in their adult life to learn the art of an interview. Preparing their possible answers and learning how to make the best first impression; you only get one chance after all. However, while a lot of these practises can easily translate to a remote interview, there are some vital differences. There is no avoiding the fact that talking to a potential employer can be nerve-wracking and awkward at times, but this is arguably even more challenging when being conducted via a computer screen. 


For starters, there is the potential for so many more things to go wrong like an audio lag or video glitch. If an interviewee’s internet is poor and the connection is unstable, will that reflect on their performance? Interviews conducted remotely also have the problem of not allowing the candidate the opportunity to see the office, test the commute, or meet the entire team. These can prevent the candidate from getting a full understanding of the opportunity and whether or not this would be a good fit for them. It is disconcerting to commit to something without having all of this information. An additional concern might be that both parties may not have the opportunity to get an accurate ‘feel’ for the other. It is possible that the screen may remove an element of natural human connection, making the process more finicky, inaccurate and mentally draining than a normal face-to-face meeting.

Our minds are together when our bodies feel we're not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally

The idea that a video-call is mentally draining is not unprecedented. In fact, there has been research to prove that this is the case. “Zoom-fatigue” is real and Gianpiero Petriglieri, (an associate professor at Insead) explains that it is because a video call requires far more focus than a face-to-face conversation. During a video chat the natural silences, that are usually fine, instead induce a level of anxiety as they might indicate a technological issue. Also, the level of non-verbal cues (e.g. facial expressions, body language, the tone and pitch of voice) are dramatically limited and we have to work harder to focus on what we can see in a very small screen, which consumes a large amount of energy. Petriglieri explained that during a video chat “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we're not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally”. This level of mental fatigue combined with the stress one feels during a normal interview situation could be slightly overwhelming and could impact a candidates performance.


How can companies work to alleviate these issues?


We can only address these thoughts and ideas from experiences we have had since hiring during the lockdown. Due to our work being focused online, the lockdown has not impacted Novafutur in the same way it has impacted other companies and sectors. If anything this start-up is growing faster and stronger than ever before. We have been hiring non-stop since we were first created at the start of 2019 and since the start of lockdown we have hired several new employees, with new positions opening up as we grow.


All of the new employees had interviews, tests and ultimately accepted the position during lockdown from within their homes, having never met the full team. We asked them to complete a short survey in order to gain their feedback about the process and see what they had found helpful. We also enquired what they thought could be changed for future candidates, as well as their overall satisfaction with the company and its handling of remote interviewing and work-life adaptations.

Our Findings

Firstly, we asked for their opinion on one of the key problems with remote interviewing: the candidate does not get the opportunity to meet the team as they ideally would during a face-to-face interview. The feedback was split 50/50 between those who had seen it as an issue and those who had not. Some explained that they had initially felt anxious but that this soon faded on the first day as everyone in the team made themselves very approachable. Another agreed that, naturally, they had concerns about this but no more than they would have during the hiring process pre-lockdown, and any reservations they did have were eased by the team leaders who were friendly and always happy to answer any questions.

Another said that the overall positive experience of being hired by Novafutur assuaged any concerns they had during the process, explaining that, in their experience, a company’s initial communication is typically a good reflection of the company culture. However, the others said they did not see this as an issue when deciding whether to accept the position or not. Overall, the new members who were concerned about not having met the whole team had their minds put at ease by the few people they did meet during the process. The team leaders acted as the face for the company and accurately conveyed the working atmosphere and culture we try to foster. Whilst others felt that whether you are conducting interviews online or in person there will always be a level of uncertainty that is unavoidable, you just have to jump in and see if it works. 


Next we asked our new hires whether or not a virtual interview was more difficult compared to the regular face-to-face. It was suggested that while it would have been nice to meet in person, the way the team leaders handled the process was smooth, given the circumstances. Others explained that while they would have preferred a physical, face-to-face interaction, they felt that there was no noticeable difference. Some expressed that they felt slightly hindered by the virtual format, suggesting that it was more challenging to gain an accurate sense of who they were talking to or that they were not able to ask as many questions. However, any questions they did have were answered soon after joining. In contrast, some said they felt at ease with the new format and a couple expressed that they actually preferred it to the traditional way of conducting an interview. It is safe to assume that, in these situations, personal preference plays an important factor. 


We also took the time to ask our new team-members if there was anything we could have done differently to support them or improve the process. The majority of the feedback conveyed that we had made the relevant accommodations to facilitate and ease the hiring process during the current climate. It was suggested, however, that we could provide more information and detail from the start about the company’s goals and projects. Some employees expressed that if they had known as much about the projects, as they do now, they would have been even more excited about joining the team and their future prospects here. We will work to make these amendments and will continue to provide new candidates with the information and support they need. We are also taking steps to maintain a high level of communication within the company throughout this time of physical separation with weekly company-wide video conferences. These meetings give everyone the opportunity to meet colleagues outside of their immediate team and learn about other aspects of the company.

Summary

Overall, we had a huge amount of positive comments from the new members of the company with some very useful constructive feedback that we will take on-board. While some found the remote interview format slightly more inconvenient than the traditional face-to-face, the general consensus seems to be that Novafutur has handled the circumstances well. People felt welcomed by their teams, any questions were happily answered by the team leaders throughout the process and our approach during hiring was said to have accurately represented the culture of the company.

So, has moving everything online removed the human element of the process? In short, no. As long as you make the effort to maintain good communication, this does not have to be the case.


Written by:
Aoife McCardle

References

DeVries, H., (2020, 8th April), Forbes, "How To Conduct Remote Job Interviews During COVID-19 Crisis", accessed 20th May 2020, <https://www.forbes.com/sites/henrydevries/2020/04/08/how-to-conduct-remote-job-interviews-during-covid-19-crisis/>

Jiang, M., (2020, 22nd April), BBC Worklife, "The reason Zoom calls drain your energy", accessed 27th May 2020, <https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting>