Can I really hire somebody without meeting them in person? How do we ensure that they're right for our organization?

03 Apr 2020

Can I really hire somebody without meeting them in person? How do we ensure that they're right for our organization?

Finding the right person to join your executive team can be challenging even in the best of times. But recruiting during a global pandemic is another story altogether.

COVID-19 has organizations rethinking their strategies and operations, but many companies still need to hire critical talent to weather this storm and are unsure of how to move forward. Many organizations have come to us asking: can we really hire somebody without meeting them in person? Can a virtual interview process be just as effective?

We asked a few of our recruiters to share what they’re hearing from their networks and how they’re helping clients continue to recruit for critical senior roles without any in-person meetings.

Shifting to Virtual

Recruiting senior executives has traditionally included multiple in-person interviews, panel discussions and quite often a meal or two for finalist candidates. But this has been changing over the last decade. For many of our clients, especially those in sectors like mining, education, technology and even government, it’s already common to use technology for screening candidates. While the shift to online may seem like a big change, the process is actually quite similar to how we’ve been working with clients for years and is usually seamless and effective.

“The technology is extremely conducive for conducting interviews, and virtual recruiting isn’t new for us,” says Anthony Batchelor, head of the Odgers Berndtson Technology Practice. “The research side of our searches is processes-driven and thorough.” Mary Katherine Bouchard, an engagement manager based in Montreal, agrees, “there are a lot of check points with clients and hiring committee discussions that usually occur via conference call or video chat, so this practice doesn’t change.”

Getting to Know You

The shift to video from phone and in-person interviews will be an adjustment for some candidates and clients – and it might mean some awkward conversations or even a disruptive child or pet, but these moments provide opportunities to see how people act under stress and deal with surprises. We are working with candidates to help them prepare for video interviews, to ensure that they have access to the necessary technology and are prepared to put their best selves forward. We’re also helping clients set realistic expectations about how a video call may feel different than an in-person meeting.

“Video communication is quite mainstream. Leaders across sectors are increasingly called upon to capture their thoughts and views using video as the communication tool,” shares Jason Murray, a Partner in the Academic Practice. “If a candidate exhibits confidence and poise during a video interview, this is a good indicator to clients that the individual is controlled, adaptable and likely unflappable.”

And what about the more informal discussions, the executive team meetings over drinks or dinner? These less structured conversations are an important part of understanding who a candidate is and helping them let down their guard – but there are ways to do it virtually. We’ve been trying 'ice breakers’ and ’coffee meetings’ via Zoom or Webex and the technology really provides opportunities to have more informal conversations. “Be creative,” says Mary Katherine, “ask candidates what they’re reading, what their first concert was, what their job was in high school? Changing the conversation to something more personal can help people relax and can create opportunities to understand who they are and their personal strengths.”

Creating a More Level Playing Field

Another benefit of video interviews is that they can offer a more level playing field. Before this pandemic, some short list candidates were interviewed in-person, while others virtually, depending on geography. Operating during this pandemic means that all of our candidates are presented with the same rules and opportunities to show us who they are, how they cope under stress, and share how they can provide compelling remote leadership.

“It also provides clients with an opportunity to check their unconscious bias and focus on the qualities that are most important to the role,” says Anthony. “There’s still a lot of talk about cultural fit in recruiting, but we should be focusing on cultural contribution – how does this candidate bring new perspective and experience to this role? How can they add to our culture?”

Growing Importance of Reference Checks

Referencing has always been an important part of our search process, but in this new reality the weight they are given and the way they are conducted becomes even more important. “Reference checks are often completed over the telephone and, while the referee’s words are important, their tone and expressions can be even more informative. As organizations begin to make more hiring decisions using a virtual interview process, we recommend speaking to referees via video,” says Jason. “You want to know that the referee is a champion of the candidate, and video is arguably more effective than telephone in determining that."

The reality is that leaders need to be able to shift quickly. The future of leadership means more flexibility, more courage and strong communication skills. This also means being able to ace virtual leadership, so why not start with the interview process?

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