How Covid changed job interviews forever: what you need to know

Sometimes technology-based change happens very slowly or not at all

For example, despite telephones being around for quite a while now (!) and the more recent mobile revolution, telephone screening is still rarely used by employers. If they do telephone interviews it’s usually only for initial stage information gathering.

By contrast the internet has changed recruitment dramatically but it’s been a fairly gentle evolution over the last 25 years. Related web-based video technology has also been available for a long time and the home broadband speeds needed to support reliable interviews have been available for years too.

Despite the availability of the technology, only 18 months ago video interviewing was still rare in mainstream hiring. It was sometimes used in place of international travel but even that was unusual: the norm was that overseas applicants (even with Right to Work) didn’t get considered unless they were available for physical face to face meetings.

Why was this? Habit inevitably has a big role to play. And in this case the alternative to physical meetings did not seem especially compelling so there was no driver to change. It seemed obvious that the traditional format was better and had advantages for both sides.

So much so that it’s highly likely that one could have looked forward ten years and seen little change.

However, then Covid hit such that ALL business meetings were overnight moved online.

Working from home the spur for change

Fast forward to 2021. In person interviews seem odd, verging on unthinkable. Certainly the huge advantages of safety (the original catalyst) but also convenience (for both sides), simplicity and speed have out trumped the formerly perceived benefits of the in-person interview.

Originally this was driven by the pandemic and lockdown rules but as these ease little seems to be changing. There has been no increase in requests for physical meetings despite relaxing of restrictions.

Meetings at less convenient times are easy as no-one is kept waiting before a long commute home. Very busy people can find slots more readily. People formerly difficult to schedule for a meeting because they were at client sites in other locations (or even other countries) are now readily available to interview. No one needs to find half a day free to trail into a London office.

It’s partly that the new world has opened everyone’s eyes to the advantages but mainly that overnight, video meetings were the only option. They are now the norm and people rapidly became very familiar with both the technology and the subtleties of the new medium.

Some firms made use of open evenings, especially for less senior appointments. The replication of this format is straightforward and enhanced by the potential to allow candidate anonymity while giving an informative and compelling presentation to a number of potential applicants. This could be coupled with short one to one discussions afterwards.

Are there any downsides?

None proven as yet! There may be a backlash in months or years to come as mismatched staff and employers part company from each other, throwing the whole hiring model into question, but it seems unlikely.

Some recruiters in particular are still cautious and emphasising the difficulty of assessing the “chemistry” fit without the “real life” meeting, but most would concede that they haven’t experienced any real problems yet! And of course, there are many examples of in person chemistry fooling us or leading to poor decisions too.

Linked to this there has been no real evidence of wariness from candidates about job moves with a wholly virtual process.

Clearly the level of commitment required from candidates to enter into a recruitment process is lower but this doesn’t seem to have led to an upsurge in “fishing expeditions”. However, as candidate shortages bite there will be an increase in counter offers and it may be that the lack of real drive to move will in some cases make these more successful. Set against this of course the opportunity for employers to engage with candidates who might not otherwise have been prepared to meet can only be a positive development.

What do you need to know about virtual job interviews?

Over a year on both employers and applicants are very familiar with the potential perils of Zoom/Teams meetings and, like old style interviews, both sides should keep the need to impress at “front of mind”.

  • Neither side would appear scruffy, or use a cluttered room, or be unprepared, or late “in real life” and absolutely the same logic applies in virtual meetings. Smart casual is the expectation from both sides and T shirts are still not acceptable!
  • Applicants need to consider how to make a favourable and memorable impression given that video misses the physical cues that can help them stay in people’s memory. For the right reasons of course.
  • Employers that might have relied on impressing because of swanky offices, even if subconsciously, need to ensure that the candidate experience still creates a great impact.
  • Many have still not got the hang of looking at the camera rather than the screen which makes a huge difference to engagement.

The ease of meetings is a blessing and a curse. Thought should be given to negating any potential downside of the limitations of virtual meetings by perhaps involving more people and/or more meetings. This would apply to both sides: the candidate should in turn feel comfortable asking for more meetings or to meet more people if they feel they need to.

In this context it’s important that both sides can see the potential culture and values fit which can be easier if more people are involved.

However caution is needed to avoid adding complexity and extending timescales needlessly.

Finally, consideration should be given to a real face to face stage if it is clear that this will have genuine value! Perhaps pre offer for both sides to have a final check? Perhaps post offer to help “seal the deal” and see one or more real life colleagues?

In summary it took a global pandemic to effect a genuine paradigm shift in recruitment and the new model now looks like it’s here to stay.

FAQs

Yes because most hiring is now conducted via video calls, mainly Zoom or Teams. Face to face meetings are unusual and perhaps may not be a routine part of the recruitment process in future.
Not really: you need to prepare, to engage with the interviewer, to impress, to look smart, to use the right body language and eye contact, to answer the questions well. Much like a face-to-face physical interview in fact.
Large scale use of video interviewing and subsequent hiring only took off from mid 2020 but indications so far are that both employers and applicants have both embraced it and found great jobs and employees as a result.

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