The Subtlety and Emotions of Digital Interviewing

May 6, 2020

It’s not news that digital interviewing has become commonplace, where previously it was only frequently used by a few. This inevitably changes the hiring dynamic, even for the most experienced interviewer and seasoned candidate. 

Through numerous recent conversations with hiring HR Directors, business leaders and the senior candidate population we have engaged, we have observed some learnings that have provided assistance and helped make this “new norm” more effective and valuable for both parties.

The Interview:

This remains a two-way interaction. Both parties should appreciate this may be either the first or one of the first instances of digital interviewing for either participant. 

Given the clear economic turmoil on a global scale, it is reasonable for the candidate to enquire and expect more detail about a business’s financial stability, strategy and ethos. We are already seeing senior candidates take a keener interest in the choices businesses are making during COVID-19, and those that are seen as ethical, flexible and acting with integrity may have a hiring advantage in the near future.

It may be appropriate for the business to pre-empt this and provide some dialogue or collateral around short to medium term strategy as well as financial disclosure. Now maybe a time to table all these early in the interview process.

Years of evidence confirms that communication is not purely what one says, but the tone and the body language it is delivered with carries significant weight, typically affecting greater than word choice alone. Much of this is processed subliminally and through the unconscious, but it is important to be aware that at least two of these aspects will be significantly numbed by the video experience. Allowances should be made for this and the facial expressions and body language normally used in a live environment to express yourself should still be utilised on digital mediums.

The strong feedback we have had on two or more participants video interviewing by “panel” has been widely negative, and creates an unnatural and unfair dynamic. In a live physical environment, one is aware of the energy in room and you can gauge the intention of others to speak. Much of that intuition is lost on video, causing awkwardness and poor flow. 

We now have clients who are conducting several shorter one to one interviews in quick succession; instead of three interviewing for an hour, it becomes three interviews for 30-minute slots. Feedback from both the client and candidate has been more positive in these situations.

Most video mediums have recording functionality, and in certain scenarios (with prior permission) this can be a useful resource. Some clients reported that this was a way to reduce numbers of interviewers, allowing additional personnel to experience the interview on playback. 

Many of us can now have what seems to be an endless day of Zoom/team calls, so can be guilty of diving straight into the formalities. In the face to face interview environment, there would always be some pleasantries, whether it be the weather, the journey, the building, common contacts, etc. That few minutes before “one gets to business” should still be a part of the process and goes some way to humanise the meeting and build some initial rapport.

Clearly, there are obvious video interviewing etiquettes that should be observed such as:

  • Have a quality internet connection. 
  • Minimise other broadband hungry devices.
  • Be aware of your background (make it neutral), so not to distract your audience.
  • Dress code should be respectful of the nature and tone of the business. 
  • Camera positioning showing most of the upper body, not just close up on the face, so to allow for some observation of body language.
  • Headphones can improve the sound quality both ways. However, best to test first.
  • Patience on children and animals interrupting calls has evolved, but where possible this is best avoided, so take precautionary measures.

Recognition should be given to the emotional challenge in resigning from current positions at the moment. To add comfort, we have seen some success in giving shortlisted candidates an opportunity to have a further video chat with the team they are joining on a more informal basis and a conversation with recent starters to give confirmation that onboarding without a physical meeting is possible and successful. As the Search partner in this scenario, we are mentally and emotionally preparing candidates at the beginning of the process that it is feasible they may be faced with an emotional decision to resign from their employer, a challenging act at this time, particularly if a business is experiencing significant distress. 

There are some benefits already recognised with the shift to digital interviewing. A significant amount of our time can be spent trying to confirm meetings with leaders, who have very challenging diaries. The digital medium will never replace the authenticity of face to face interviews, but it does give one the opportunity to circumvent the time commitment and logistical challenges of interviews in the office. Additionally, some clients have noted that confidentiality has significantly improved as the event where high-profile, known individuals are seen entering a business is currently not an issue.    

Fiona James-Martin

Partner & Head of Interim Practice at Carlyle

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