Hiring in many economies is slowly recovering this year, but with one crucial change: it's mostly virtual. Even though the return to the workplace is underway in many parts of the world, studies suggest that recruiters and hiring managers alike are apparently keen to continue with the virtual processes and digital tools they had implemented last year. For instance, LinkedIn's Future of Recruiting survey in late 2020 found that 81 percent of talent professionals think that virtual hiring will continue post-COVID, and 70 percent believe it will actually become the new standard.
This is not just about conducting interviews via Zoom. According to Parag Patki, Managing Partner at Tata Consultancy Services Limited's ANZ consulting practice, virtual hiring involves replacing the process with a gamut of digital tools: from AI-powered resume assessments, to recruitment bots that pre-screen and schedule interviews, to the use of facial and emotion recognition software to assess personality traits, all the way to digital onboarding that might even include the use of virtual assistants as “buddies” for new hires.
“These solutions significantly reduce cost to hire and speed up time to hire without compromising quality of hire or candidate fit,” he said, adding that the number of businesses using cloud-based and AI powered recruitment tools may well double by the end of this year.
So, how well is the virtual hiring process going in practice? People Matters asked several companies about their experience with shifting to fully virtual hiring.
More efficient, but still needs the human touch
HR professionals and hiring managers alike say a virtual hiring process is much more efficient, both for them and for the candidates. On their end, they can interview and review more candidates within one day, allowing them to maximize the time allocated for recruitment; on the candidates' end, less preparation and commuting time is needed.
However, many hiring managers also feel that there is a lingering need for the human touch. Katie Amin, Senior Manager, Human Resources, APAC at Skillsoft and SumTotal, said that prior to the pandemic, some candidates had trouble with the idea of being remotely hired: “Some would find it harder to wrap their head around this type of interview process, resulting in the need to send out a member of the team to meet them in person during the final stage of the interview process just to add that human touch element to it.”
Some companies have settled on a hybrid hiring model, with the initial contact made virtually, and a physical interaction arranged at the final stages—subject, of course, to local health and safety regulations.
Kelly Johnson, Country Manager at ESET Security Services Australia, said that now, all the initial virtual interviews she and her team conducts are intended to screen candidates before the actual physical meeting. Only the final slate of candidates actually comes into the office for in-person interviews with selected management, and only if there has not been a lockdown in the state where the candidate is being hired.
“It's easier to see their body language and how they respond when they're in the room with you,” she explained. “Not only one on one, but how they present themselves in a group setting with other personalities.”
The human touch becomes even more important when hiring for high-stakes senior roles. 2020 data from Michael Page shows that executive-level hiring plunged almost to zero in the first half of the year, which Michael Page Singapore's Managing Director, Nilay Khandelwal, attributed at the time to boards being reluctant to hire someone they could not meet face to face. Even for senior roles below executive level, hiring managers agree that they would much prefer to interact with the candidate in person before bringing them on board.
Many best practices remain the same
Notably, most of the companies that shared their experience with People Matters are technology firms where managers are already comfortable with the idea of hiring virtually, and candidates tend to have at least a basic understanding of digital processes. But there are still expectations around virtual hiring and onboarding.
For example, employers and candidates alike need to maintain much the same standards for virtual interviews as they would for in-person interactions: punctuality, preparedness, good personal grooming.
On top of this, they need to have a reasonably good Internet connection, an uncluttered background and quiet environment if possible, and an undisturbed stretch of time in which to carry out the interview.
Not everyone can manage this, though. ESET's Kelly Johnson said that video etiquette and familiarity with the technology continues to be a lingering problem: some candidates are not fully conversant with how to share their screens to present on a video call, and an astonishing 80 percent of the people she has interviewed do not look into the camera.
Hiring managers also need to be cognizant that the virtual hiring process can put candidates at an unwarranted disadvantage, sometimes because they simply do not have access to requirements such as a quiet and well-lit environment or even a stable Internet connection, sometimes because their job function has not afforded them the opportunity to become familiar with the norms of virtual interviews.
June Chui, HR Director for Asia Pacific & Japan, Pure Storage, said that for example, candidates for senior tech roles are savvy enough to handle virtual interactions well, but they are not necessarily representative of all candidates.
“Some of the candidates for non-sales roles do find it awkward and uncomfortable to communicate over video and therefore may not perform as well compared to an in-person interview,” she pointed out.
Then, there is the onboarding process. Interview hiccups aside, most companies are actually doing very well with onboarding new hires, according to PwC. The firm carried out an assessment of global internal data in 2020 and found that new hires who were virtually onboarded had a better experience. “Compared to those who were onboarded in-person, they were more likely to say that their overall onboarding experience was positive, that they felt connected to the firm, that they received the coaching they needed, and that they felt welcome by the end of the first week,” its report stated.
A useful tool, but not a complete replacement
From the experience of hiring managers, virtual hiring is definitely a step up in efficiency. It also presents a business opportunity: quite a number of companies that did not previously recruit outside their physical geography have expressed that now that the tools are available, and some common norms have been established, they are willing to consider reaching out to a wider talent pool. Some are planning to apply the virtual hiring process in locations that they were already planning to expand into, others are looking at hires across geographies and time zones simply because the opportunity is there.
In addition, it presents an advantage for candidates who are tech-savvy and used to virtual norms. Some hiring managers find it more likely to be a positive experience: for instance, Caroline Henshaw, Head of People & Culture at Mantel Group, told People Matters that with virtual interviews, people behave more naturally. “They aren’t flustered—getting lost or nervous while they wait, they are in their own homes and often more relaxed and authentic,” she said.
At the same time, though, it's critical that hiring managers understand the limitations inherent in the virtual process. Besides the lack of human contact and the disadvantage to the non-tech-savvy, virtual hiring does not preclude proper preparation, both technological and mental. Employers and candidates alike need to approach the virtual hiring process just as they would the traditional process, but replacing commute and/or travel planning with other types of technological and environmental preparation. In short, virtual hiring hasn't been a game changer as much as it is an alternative path.
Tips for preparing for a virtual interview:
- Check your technology before the interview starts: ensure your Internet connection is stable and your video and audio are working well.
- Try to have a quiet environment where you can focus.
- If possible, arrange a clean and uncluttered background.
- Position yourself where there is good lighting and the interviewer can see your face.
- Remember to look into the camera.
- Prepare as thoroughly as you would for a traditional interview.
- Finally, as an interviewer, remember to extend some empathy to candidates who may not be able to control their environment.