Virtual Interviews: Best Practices Now and Beyond COVID-19

Allowing virtual connections with anyone anywhere in the world expands the pool of candidates for employers.

Learn 10 best practices for conducting successful virtual job interviews

The workplace discovered well before the pandemic that in-person interaction is not the only way to do business. Remote collaboration and meetings were already on the rise before the public health crisis accelerated the trend. For businesses outside the healthcare, retail, and manufacturing industries — whose workforces typically must perform their jobs onsite — COVID-19 made remote interaction necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

As more companies shift from onsite-only operations to predominantly work-from-home (WFH) options and virtual meetings, many HR departments will need to recruit and interview job candidates remotely, too. Besides keeping people as safe as possible during the pandemic, virtual interviews also benefit employers and candidates by:

  • Accommodating various schedules, including those of recruiters and hiring managers and candidates who work full time, live a long distance away from the office, or are unable to travel for an in-person meeting
  • Eliminating some of the pre-interview preparation required for in-person meetings, such as logistical or “housekeeping” details
  • Raising candidates’ comfort level so they can engage in natural conversation with recruiters and hiring managers
  • Allowing virtual connections with anyone anywhere in the world, which expands the pool of candidates for employers and the list of potential workplaces for jobseekers
  • Ensuring that no high-quality candidate is overlooked and therefore eliminated from the interviewing process

Virtual vs. in person 

We’ve compiled a top-10 list of best practices for planning and conducting virtual interviews from employment experts. The list covers the unique benefits, technological challenges, and planning requirements that make remote interviews a positive experience for interviewers and candidates.

Jillian Radke, North American head of campus recruitment at Aon, thinks that scheduling virtual interviews with candidates is more efficient than scheduling in-person interviews. In an email to Workest, Radke noted that remote interviews can eliminate such in-person interview challenges as the unavailability of conference rooms, the absence of essential colleagues on the day of the interview, the inability of candidates to travel to and from the worksite, and other setbacks that keep interviews from getting on the calendar.

“Interviewing virtually can allow for more flexibility for both the candidate as well as the hiring team,” Radke added. “Another benefit is that we’ve been able to include colleagues from other offices in interviews, which is not something we would have typically done if the interview were conducted in person.”

Tech challenges

Familiarity with the technology and the challenges involved in holding virtual interviews is vital. “I make sure that I’m very familiar with the tech platform that we’re using,” Leigh Yanocha, executive director, head of people strategy at Knopman Marks Financial Training, told Workest. “There’s nothing worse than not having a good Internet connection or not knowing how to use the tech platform.”

Interviewers and candidates should be familiar with how a tech platform’s light, camera, and sound affect their actions and appearance. “In a remote interview, you must ramp up your energy [because] the screen takes your engagement down a few levels,” Heather Deyrieux, president at HR Florida State Council, told Workest by email. She also recommended having an organized, professional-looking background for the camera and using software like MS Teams or similar service if you want an obscure background.

Distractions

“As an interviewer, show some grace on this front and recognize that depending on the situation, interviewing from home can potentially be a stressful and distracting situation for the candidate as well.”

Distractions are natural occurrences in meetings, including virtual or in-person interviews. Since candidates may share their homes with partners, spouses, children, roommates, or pets, Radke said that employers shouldn’t rule out candidates because of unexpected background noises and other interruptions during a virtual interview.

“That certainly shouldn’t be a factor in considering whether or not [candidates] are qualified for the position,” she said. “As an interviewer, show some grace on this front and recognize that depending on the situation, interviewing from home can potentially be a stressful and distracting situation for the candidate as well.”

Since electronic distractions also can derail an interview, Yanocha recommended minimizing the screens on your devices and turning off all notifications. She also pointed out how a characteristic such as a speech impediment or stuttering can take your attention away from the candidate’s job qualifications. “I try to zone in on what the person is saying,” said Yanocha. “I don’t make eye contact, [but] just focus on the camera itself and not the eyes of the person on the screen.”

For first-time holders of remote interviews, Deyrieux advised that you practice going through the process before the meeting. “Log into the meeting 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time to ensure everything is working that day and no updates were made to the platform,” she said, referring to the software platform you may be using, such as Zoom or Skype.

writing notes and planning

Top 10 practices

Whether you regularly hold virtual interviews or are doing so for the first time, these 10 best practices can help improve the process:

1. Plan

“Virtual” doesn’t mean “winging it. The same preparation that goes into outlining the discussion for an in-person interview should be applied to the virtual interview. Interviewers should know what information they hope to give and receive from candidates before the interview. Yanocha said that her team of interviewers receive packets with sets of questions to ask candidates.

When planning the interview:

  • Draft an agenda with a timeline for the items you want to cover. You may want to give candidates an idea of the topics for discussion. Without an agenda, participants in a free-flowing conversation can get sidetracked.
  • Periodically check how the discussion is progressing, using your device’s clock to stay on course.
  • Leave sufficient time at the end of the interview for a Q&A session to take candidates’ questions.
  • Encourage candidates to follow up by text or email after the interview if they have additional questions.

2. Arrange the setting

The goal is to create a relaxed but business-like atmosphere, one in which you and the candidate can clearly see each other and interact comfortably.

Whether conducting the virtual interview at the worksite or from home, employers should create a quiet, uncluttered, well-lit space. The goal is to create a relaxed but business-like atmosphere, one in which you and the candidate can clearly see each other and interact comfortably.

3. Select a tech platform

Recruiters and hiring managers with little tech experience can get help with selecting software programs from IT experts, either in-house staff, outside vendors or reliable online sources. Choose from software designed for virtual interviewing, such as Jobma or SparkHire, or communication software, like Skype or Zoom. After choosing the platform:

  • Test the hardware, including the sound, microphone, and camera. Workable, the Boston-based hiring software firm, recommends preparing a test video to ensure that the elements are working properly. Making all the tech arrangements ahead of the day of the interview will leave time to correct any malfunctions.
  • Give candidates the interview platform you will be using so they can download it in advance. Radke advised sharing troubleshooting tips with candidates and having their contact information on hand to inform them of any tech issues that occur on the day of the interview.
  • Be ready for unexpected tech glitches, such as losing your Internet connection. Workable recommends making sure you have enough bandwidth and sitting closer to your router if you’re on a Wi-Fi network.
  • Download the software you’re using for the interview on your mobile so that you can notify the candidate of any last-minute delays or switch devices to conduct the interview, if necessary.

4. Minimize distractions

The interview setting should discourage unnecessary phone calls, emails, and text messages to keep you and the candidate from being distracted. The experts recommended that you:

  • Turn off all notifications before the interview begins
  • Remember that candidates may not have the same level of privacy that an office can provide
  • Try turning off the video and just use the audio for more bandwidth if you experience delays in your connection with candidates.

5. Wear business attire

Dressing casually is acceptable, but be sure to:

  • Avoid wearing anything in a virtual interview that’s prohibited in the office
  • Avoid wearing white, brightly colored, or patterned clothing on camera because this attire tends to overpower people and backgrounds; instead, wear navy blue or other dark colors
  • Pass along clothing tips to candidates, who may not be aware of how they should best appear on camera

6. Be personable

Interviewers and candidates have only their facial expressions, body language, and voices to judge how well an interview is going, especially when they’re not in the same room together. For that reason:

  • Establish rapport with candidates and lower their level of nervousness by making sure your facial expressions and tone of voice are pleasant
  • Look directly into the camera, smile, and start the conversation with an icebreaker
  • Be patient with candidates who appear not to understand or hear what you’re saying, and repeat statements and questions, if necessary

7. Avoid illegal questions

Make sure you don’t ask illegal questions, such as those relating to a candidate’s age, race, ethnicity, religion, parental status, disability, or arrest record. And keep up to date on the types of questions that aren’t allowed.

8. Create one event for participants

When back-to-back interviews with a candidate are necessary, create one event — like Hangouts or Zoom — that participants can join using the same link. Just as with an in-person interview, set a schedule specifying when each interviewer should log on and off with a candidate. And include breaks between meetings.

9. Close on a strong note

The Robert Half company recommends ending an interview by telling candidates what the next steps in the selection process will be and thanking them for their time. The idea is to show the candidate that your organization is a great place to work with a positive, transparent, and supportive culture.

10. Get candidates’ feedback

Survey candidates on how well the virtual interview went. As you evaluate their skills, knowledge, and overall qualifications for the job, their assessment of the interview process — including the discussion, questions, and technical setup — will help you prepare for future remote interviews.

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