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How to pick the right candidate virtually

How to pick the right candidate virtually

Posted on November 2020 By Nicholas Farley

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For those who have seen the recent hit Netflix documentary, the Last Dance, NBA coach Phil Jackson will be a familiar name. 

Jackson coached the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships, working with some of the biggest stars in basketball history like Michael Jordan. Jackson once said, "The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” This quote signifies the value of working in a team, and echoes the importance of making the right hire during the interview process.

Star employees, like Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls, can account for upwards of 400% in productivity compared to the average team member and will play a big part in meeting your companies goals. Usually, when someone is brought in with exceptional talent and attitude, it will also elevate their other team members to higher performance levels.

If your business is lucky enough to be hiring right now, it’s crucial to identify the exceptional candidates during the recruitment process. Whilst this seems self-explanatory, without having the level of interaction you would normally, it can make it trickier than usual to pick out some good – and bad – qualities are more obvious in a face-to-face setting.

Add this to today’s less than ideal interviewing conditions, which are ripe with distractions. Candidates’ kitchens are now their interview rooms, and stir-crazy kids are their coworkers. In this environment, some patience and empathy will go a long way to selling your company to a prospective employee.

So, how do you make sure you are prepared to properly vet potential new hires over Zoom, Google Hangouts or Facetime.

Ask the difficult questions!

According to a recent Linkedin survey, many hiring managers are reluctant to make a new hire during the pandemic. We get it – it’s hard to get a good feel for someone without having met in person, despite the arguments of there being more top talent out there now than there has ever been before.

To get past this issue, it’s important to prepare a set of questions to help understand your candidate’s characteristics, and whether these mirror some of your highest performing employees. An article in the Harvard Business Review, Christine Porath suggests enquiring about past behaviors over hypothetical questions, and always requesting a few examples to gather the most insight.

An example is asking the candidate “describe a time when you have exceeded expectations in the office.” Another worthwhile question is “Can you recall working with a difficult person? If so, how did you handle the relationship?”

The candidates’ answers will shed light on their emotional intelligence (EQ), their fortitude and whether they have what it takes to go the extra mile. Christine also recommends asking questions that require the candidate to be honest and even a little vulnerable.

For instance, “What about yourself would you like to improve most?” This will give you a good indication of the type of person they are, how passionate they are about developing as a person and how they would fit with your team and values. It also gives the opportunity to discover if they regularly take stock of their skill set and goals.

“How” over “What”

When conducting a virtual interview process, focus on candidate’s responses to “how” questions. For most of the generic “what” questions, this information can be found on their LinkedIn and resume.

For each candidate, ask yourself, “How do they act under pressure?” “How is their demeanor?” Porath recommends honing in on these types of questions, as they let you get a feel for how they will fit in your team and may open doors to other questions that help find out other important information.

Consider whether the candidate was logged on and ready at the time of the interview, as the prepared candidates will always pre-test the interview environment and make sure it is good to go beforehand. These little signs are an indication the candidate is thorough and organised – which might be a key indicator of success for the role your hiring for.

Get a second opinion

A successful hire can be made by virtue of how they encourage and uplift others in the team. That’s why with the less than traditional climate at the moment; it’s a great idea to see how they act outside of the interview vacuum. 

A seemingly nervous and unsure candidate might excel when placed in a group setting.

A lot of our clients take this approach, and recruit at least one other team member to participate in the virtual interview process. Together, they can see how a candidate will interact with their peers, and potentially indicate if they will be a success. Also, this strategy will give the candidate critical information about your company and help them decide if it is right for them. Porath recommends giving the candidate “a first hand opportunity to observe your team’s and organisation’s values” and decide if they’re willing to “sign up to live those values.”

Utilise the reference check!

Reference checks are normally done near the end of the interview process, when the majority of the leg work is done and is often seen as a formality to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. Hiring managers often breeze through them, but when used right, they are a great tool to support a totally virtual interview process.

If you want to learn how your candidate can work as part of a team and excel in the role, but doesn’t have the opportunity to meet anyone other than yourself first hand – a reference is the next best thing.

There are some questions that are illegal to ask when completing a reference check – so steer clear of these for starters.

However, asking pointed questions will give you an indication of a candidates past behavior to determine if they are right for the role. For instance, “Tell me about a project you worked on with the candidate” and “Can you tell me how this candidate worked in their team.”

It’s also important to pay attention to how the referee answers. If they are enthusiastic and cannot speak higher of the candidate – this goes a long way to indicate their potential worth to your company. On the other hand, if they robotically describe their former colleague, or are reluctant to answer certain questions – it may raise some additional questions.

It’s important to prep a list of strong questions before hand. If using a recruiter, you can always ask to add in additional questions to the reference check, which might help make your decision. Although, Stopgap has a list of tried and tested questions which we pose to each candidate’s referees to get the most transparent answers.

Hiring is as challenging right now as it ever has been. By preparing a virtual recruitment strategy ahead of time, or handing your services over to a company who specialises in virtual recruitment like Stopgap, it’s still possible to identify the cream of the crop and make an offer to a candidate with confidence they are a great fit. This can all be achieved whilst introducing a potential new hire to your company’s culture and values.

To speak with a consultant about handling your organisations virtual recruitment process, feel free to get in touch with us any time.

Credit to Essentially Sports for the image of Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. This article was adapted from a piece in Fast Company.