By now, you’ve likely discovered the advantages of conducting a remote interview. It’s convenient for you and the candidate, it’s easier to schedule separate interviews with the hiring committee, it saves you the cost of a candidate’s lunch or travel expenses, and you can conduct more assessments more quickly.
Most importantly, and especially in this very challenging labour market, the remote interview allows you to meet your top candidates and make a hiring decision before many old-school competitors can even finalize arrangements for an on-site meet-and-greet.
Still, the remote interview presents a few complications. Details you never had to consider when interviewing at the office — your background, screen presence and technology, for example — must now be part of any well-planned meeting. Otherwise, you risk mishaps that can distract and frustrate you and the candidate.
Following are seven basic tips for carrying out a smooth and efficient remote interview process that will help ensure you, the candidate and anyone else involved has a positive experience:
1. Set expectations
For many candidates, a job interview, whether remote or on-site, can be stressful. You can help ease some of the anxiety by telling them what to expect and how to prepare. That includes:
Easing the technology curve
Don’t assume the candidate is familiar with the video platform you’re using, even if it’s a well-known, popular platform like Microsoft Teams or Zoom. When you send the interview invitation, include instructions on how to call in at the scheduled time and additional steps the candidate might need to take to sign in. This is especially important if you’re using specialized remote interview software, such as VidCruiter or MyInterview.
Providing details about the interviewers
Share the names, titles and LinkedIn profiles of everyone from your company who will meet the candidate. Also provide an agenda that makes clear whether everyone will be on the call for, say, one 60- or 90-minute interview, or if there’ll be a series of 20- or 30-minute one-on-one meetings.
If you’re planning to conduct a longer interview, be sure to build in a break every hour or between each session for the candidate to go off camera to stretch and refresh while you write up your notes.
Conducting a trial run
Prior to the interview, check the status of your webcam, microphone and internet connection. Take a few minutes to review your video platform’s tips on how to resolve lags and freezes, echoes and other common problems. Suggest to the candidate, too, that they do the same.
Assigning any ‘homework’ in advance
If the position requires a performance task or skills test as part of the interview process, send it to the candidate with clear instructions and enough time for them to complete and return it before the call.
Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations say they will continue with a fully remote or hybrid workforce. See 5 Key Benefits of Hiring Remote Workers to learn why.
2. Have a backup plan
A technology glitch can often be addressed with a measure of patience and a couple minutes of troubleshooting. But what if, despite all your efforts, the video platform you’re using keeps crashing, the audio won’t work, or someone’s computer simply calls it quits?
When all else fails, move to the phone. Make sure you have the candidate’s number and email handy so you can easily connect. The phone won’t be ideal, and you may decide to just call and reschedule the interview for another day. But better to start or postpone the conversation than allow a tech snafu to raise stress and frustration levels.
3. Minimize distractions
See that pets and young children are supervised safely in another room and housemates know not to disturb you during the interview. Also, be sure to switch off your computer’s screen alerts and IM chats during the interview. This is not the time to multitask. Mute calls and text messages and place you phone out of sight, so you don’t unthinkingly reach out for it during your conversation.
When the camera’s on, hide the platform’s self-view feature so the candidate takes up the entire screen and your full attention. Also, try to reduce movement during an online interview. If you’re constantly shifting or walking around, it can make it hard for the other person to focus on the conversation.
4. Look professional
It’s a remote interview, but you should still dress as though you’re going to work, even if you’re at home.
Also, before you join the video call to interview a candidate, consider the following:
Are your shoulders and face centered on the screen — not too close and not too distant?
Do you need to adjust ambient lighting by opening or closing blinds in your home office, or the lighting near your camera so that you look natural and welcoming?
Is your background professional? Consider choosing a background such as a tidy bookshelf or go for a plain wall. Alternatively, open your video platform’s settings and select a blurred background.
5. Come prepared with probing questions
Thoroughly review the candidate’s work history, skill set and — if assigned — the returned performance task before starting the call. Print out the potential hire’s resume, too, as well as your list of questions, so you don’t click around your screen looking for them during the call.
If conducting a panel interview, share the agenda with all interviewers and confirm everyone knows what they’re going to ask, who’s asking the first question, the second, and so on. Or, if it’s to be a series of interviews, in what order (and what time) they’ll meet the candidate, and what each team member will ask during their session.
After introductory necessities and open-ended warm-ups (For example: What about the job attracted you? or Can you tell me about your background?), employ a mix of behavioral and situational interview questions that will help you learn more about the candidate’s suitability for the job and workplace culture, their potential to upskill and advance, and their work ethic.
Skills and professional history aside, make a point of gauging the candidate’s experience working with remote teams. You want an employee who is comfortable with off-site and, if your company plans to return to the office when safety protocols allow, on-site work arrangements.
6. Be inquisitive yet friendly
Look at the camera when you’re speaking, not the other person’s image, as tempting as that may be. Keep your voice calm and speak clearly, and smile when appropriate, just like you would in person. You want to put the candidate at ease and demonstrate that you’re engaged in the conversation. Also, wait a few seconds at the end of sentences or after the candidate speaks to minimize talking over each other.
7. Deliver a strong close
You might be making the final hiring decision. But remember that the job interview is a two-way street: You’re looking for the ideal employee, and the candidate wants the best possible career opportunity. That means you have to make your own sales pitch.
The job description you posted was the initial pitch. It continued during the remote interview, when you picked up on cues to share what interests and excites you about the company: The workplace culture and values, for example, or the opportunity to advance, support for professional development, or company milestones and goals all might have come up during your conversation.
As you near the end of the remote interview, deliver a strong close so you make a lasting, positive impression. Ask the candidate if they have any questions, giving whatever time they need for this part of the call. Circle back on anything you’d like to add to the earlier conversation, then invite the candidate to make a final statement (For example: Is there anything else we should know about you?).
When the remote interview is over, thank the candidate for their time, and tell them what’s going to happen next in the process and when they can expect to hear from you. Honour that commitment, whether it’s good news or bad. Never leave a candidate hanging.