Help and Advice For Employers When Conducting Online Interviews

The peak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic appears to have passed in the UK, and the lockdown is beginning to be eased.

For businesses, however, uncertainty remains. Current advice suggests that some form of social distancing will be in place until a vaccine is found, which could be as late as next year. This is likely to mean a continuation of remote work and communication for many – and a dilemma in terms of recruitment.

With a continuing need to avoid unnecessary contact, job interviews may have to be conducted online for the foreseeable future. This presents a range of challenges – both practical and legal – which will need to be surmounted if businesses are to successfully recover from this pandemic.

As such, we’ve decided to compile a guide to help employers interview someone for a job online. From technical tips to the semantics of interview questions, we’ll help you to prepare for this new interview format – and help you meet your legal responsibilities in the process.

Interviews and COVID-19

While businesses have had the capacity to conduct online interviews for some years now, relatively few had chosen to use them. While this owes partly to the familiarity of in-person interviews, it also speaks to some of the weaknesses of the format. Many employers feel that meeting someone face-to-face gives them a more accurate and reliable impression than what they can see down a camera lens.

Unfortunately, the challenges posed by COVID-19 mean that may not be possible. Instead, employers will have to look at how they can adapt the online interview format to their needs, and retain as many of the benefits of face-to-face interviews as possible. This means not only careful preparation of your questions and interview structure but considering how you can gain a more complete impression of a candidate’s suitability for the role.

The value of a comprehensive interview process is not just to find the most skilled candidate, but the one who best fits your team dynamic. A successful hire will fit as seamlessly as possible into your company culture, adopting your brand values while collaborating effectively with their colleagues. By investing in remote interviews, you’ll ensure that they not only deliver work to the quality you expect, but that they contribute to a positive and productive workforce.

Online Interviews: Challenges and solutions

There are a number of challenges you will face as a business in the process of preparing for interviews. Some of these are specific to the online interview format, while others are more generic. By considering all of the factors that go into an ideal interview, you can make improvements that will carry through to the resumption of face-to-face interviews in the future.

Preparation

Incisive questions form the backbone of most interviews and help to display both the candidate’s knowledge and their ability to communicate. Preparing these in advance will help you to structure and standardise your interview, making it easier to compare candidates.

Rather than posing the same stock questions in each interview, you should look to tailor them to the role you’re recruiting for. You might also look to improvise a question if something comes up that you would like to delve into, although you should be extremely careful that anything which isn’t pre-prepared is within your rights to ask. 

The Equality Act 2010 states that discrimination in recruitment and selection of employees is illegal, and employer’s will need to ensure that their recruitment process is fair in order to avoid any claims of discrimination. Questions on the following topics may be seen as discriminatory:

  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Citizenship
  • Native language
  • Religion
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy or maternity
  • Memberships or affiliations (e.g. trade unions)

Some other questions are discriminatory under certain circumstances, but not others. You should only ask about health or disability in very limited circumstances. Employers have a right to ask disabled employees whether there are any parts of the role that they cannot do with reasonable adjustments but not to infer that they would be unable to do so, or ask about the disability itself.

You should only ask about an individual’s age if it is a requirement for the job, i.e. you need to be 18 to sell certain products. You should only use phrases such as ‘highly experienced’ when this is an actual requirement of the job otherwise you could discriminate against someone who is not old enough to have the qualifications. 

It may also be relevant to enquire about an individual’s eligibility to work in the UK. This should take the form of a direct question, and not phrased in such a way that it casts doubt on the individual’s ability to live and work in the UK long term (e.g. “Are you a UK citizen?”).

Choosing a team

A common foible of many recruitment processes is a lack of diversity in the recruiting team. One common issue is affinity bias, the unconscious attraction to people who are like us. This can lead a recruiter to favour candidates who look, sound or act like themselves – overlooking candidates who are equally or even more suited to the role.

There is a significant body of evidence that a more diverse workforce drives greater innovation outcomes, and leads to better financial performance. Simply put, an increased variety of thoughts, perspectives and experiences leads to greater creativity, and decision-making which considers and accommodates for a wider audience.

This does not mean you should apply ‘positive discrimination’ in your hiring process. Instead, be mindful of any biases you hold when considering candidates, and seek to balance these with a diverse recruiting team. By considering different perspectives on a candidate, you should reach a more complete understanding of their merits – and gain a more valuable employee.

Adjusting to remote interviews

Conducting interviews remotely has its challenges, namely that there is a physical barrier between you and the candidate. This can prevent you from building a rapport with them, and make it more difficult to gauge their reaction to certain questions, and the way they conduct themselves in a real world setting.

From the interviewee’s perspective, some of these changes may be improvements. Taking part in a remote interview may be less nerve-wracking than a face-to-face interview, which could give you a better sense of the candidate’s actual abilities. Depending on the role, of course, it may also deny you a valuable insight into how they act under pressure.

It is still possible to make some of the same observations; you may just need to be more observant. Pay close attention to the candidate’s body language, and how they have presented themselves for the interview (lockdown hairstyles perhaps excepted!). Eye contact and handshakes may be out of the window, but you can still gauge posture and fidgeting.

Technical considerations for online interviews

As much as you will expect professionalism from your interview candidates, you must also project it in your interviews. For remote interviews, this means getting a solid handle on the technology, and ensuring that the process goes off with as few glitches and interruptions as possible.

You should start by deciding on a platform to use, and making this clear to all parties. Zoom and Google Meet are the two most popular video conferencing apps, and are widely available across devices. They also allow you to set up a meeting with a link ahead of time, allowing you to join and begin the interview quickly.

You should also consider how you are presenting yourselves on camera. Some camera angles are more flattering than others, and you should take care that your surrounding environment is as professional and free of distractions as possible. You should also be accommodating, however, as some people may be limited in where they can place their computer.

Finally, you may want to consider recording the interview for future playback, in order to replay answers or notice details you might have missed. Zoom offers recording for paid subscribers,  while Google Meet has made recording free until September 30th, 2020.

Remember that this must be conducted in line with GDPR. The candidate should be made aware of the video app that is being used, and of that company’s GDPR policy. You will also need to provide a Fair Processing Notice for your use of their data. They will have to agree both to using the app and to the recording and storage of the interview ahead of time.

Finalising the Process

There may also be additional checks that you wish to carry out, including health checks and psychometric testing.

While the education, relevant experience and associated skills of an applicant are relatively easy to determine during an online recruitment process, their personality can be much more difficult to assess.

The results from psychometric tests can provide valuable insights for decision makers to help them choose the right person for the job, cross-referencing the job requirements with the mental and emotional capacity of the candidate.

If health checks are likely to be compromised by the coronavirus, you may want to reconsider their necessity, or the possibility of conducting them further down the line.

As well as conducting a structured and comprehensive interview, you should ensure that the entire recruitment funnel is well defined. Consider for instance how many interviews you plan to conduct, e.g. one for a trainee position or two for a management role. The process following the interview should be made clear, including further interviews and timescales where possible.

One important aspect to consider in relation to COVID-19 is onboarding. It’s entirely possible that you may still be working from home or in a diminished capacity when bringing new staff onboard. You will have to consider who is responsible for integrating the new employee into the business, and ensure that the process goes smoothly, with clear lines of communication.

These should be made clear to candidates, and the process for doing them should be clearly outlined in advance.

Get in touch

Hiring the right people can be challenging at the best of times, and the coronavirus pandemic has only amplified this. The last thing many businesses need is a new hire leaving after six months, wasting your investment and jeopardising your recovery from the coronavirus lockdown.

If you would like any additional guidance on recruiting staff online during this period, Loch Associates can help. Our HR Advise Me service can provide a managed recruitment process from start to finish, taking on any or all of the steps needed to help you find and recruit new staff. For more information, please get in touch with us today.