Ben McCarthy, lead researcher and employment law writer at Croner-i, explores the best methods for conducting interviews remotely.
The coronavirus crisis continues to present numerous challenges for workplaces, not the least of which being implementing social distancing. As companies start to look ahead, some may be considering the best methods of recruiting new staff during this post-lockdown world.
Remote interviewing is when an interview process is carried out where at least one of the parties is away from the usual place of work. For example, a manager may conduct a video interview with a candidate for a role instead of inviting the candidate in for a face-to-face meeting. Although remote interviewing has been around for some time, it is arguably something that companies are more likely to consider in light of the coronavirus pandemic. During a remote interview, employers will need to facilitate a viable and reliable method of communication with the candidate in question. They will also need to carefully plan the process of conducting the interview, making sure to still provide a fair and open procedure. It is perfectly lawful to conduct an interview remotely, provided candidates are not unfairly disadvantaged and such an action does not lead to discrimination claims.
The two methods predominantly used to conduct a remote interview are phone and video calls. Many employers often conduct initial phone conversations before inviting staff into the office for a follow-up interview and may therefore consider making a phone call the main interview process. In contrast, video calls are where, using software such as Microsoft Teams or Skype, interviews are conducted using a webcam and microphone. With video calling technology continuously improving, we are now at a stage where such an arrangement can be as efficient as speaking to someone in a face-to-face meeting.
Preparing the appropriate technology
Before inviting any employee to be interviewed remotely, it is important that employers set up efficient, and easy to use, software. Not only can getting this wrong cause issues in their ability to fairly interview a candidate, it can also call into question the professional nature of the business to promising interviewees. When making video calls, it is highly advisable to use software that candidates are more likely to be able to easily access. For example, Microsoft Teams is available on internet browsers free of charge, while Skype can also be downloaded for free. Deliberately picking a more well-known piece of software is also likely to make the process run smoother.
It is important to regularly run tests with the software to make sure it is working. This should ideally be done before each round of interviewing. Remember that good internet connection is vital — if the interviewer intends to interview from home but has regular connectivity issues, it may be necessary to consider an alternative option.
If the intention is to conduct the interview via phone, employers should again make sure there are no connectivity issues. To give another example, a manager may struggle to get a good signal from their home, or from in the office, and may need to go elsewhere.
Planning for the interview
As with the normal interview process, it should be clearly specified who will be conducting the interview, alongside when and how it is to take place. It should also be made clear to the candidate if they are expected to do any preparation beforehand, such as preparing a presentation. If there is a wish for the candidate to dress in a certain way, this should also be specified. Clearly communicating these details will help to keep the candidate at ease.
Candidates will need to be sent instructions on how to download and utilise the correct software and contact the appropriate interviewer within it. It is important to remember that not all candidates may be familiar with the software chosen, or may struggle to use it. Employers should therefore keep in constant communication with all those who they wish to remotely interview and ask if there are any measures they can take to assist them, such as sending them further instructions for how to get the software working on a personal computer. If they struggle to get this set up, it may be that alternatives need to be considered, such as a phone call or face-to-face interview.
Managing the interview
At the commencement of the interview, the interviewer should make sure to remain professional, calm, and inviting, alongside clearly outlining how it is going to be structured. When conducting a video call, it may be that there is a delay between the parties speaking and hearing each other. To avoid missing what the candidate says, interviewers should try to pause for a few seconds after answering questions. This should be sufficient to combat any lag that may arise while also providing the candidate fair opportunity to think about the question they have been asked. During a video call, interviewers should address their questions directly to the camera. They should also avoid staring at themselves or the candidate unless the candidate is answering a question.
During a remote interview, there is the possibility that something may go wrong. For example, connectivity issues may end the call suddenly, or phone batteries may die. It is therefore crucial to have a backup plan in place if this situation arises. For example, if video calling is not working, both parties should have previously exchanged contact numbers so the interview can be done over the phone. Alternatively, the interview could be extended in order to provide a longer period of time to identify an issue and fix it.
If there are issues with connectivity that cannot be solved on the day, interviewers should reschedule the interview as soon as is reasonably possible, particularly if the issue is from the company. If the issue has arisen due to a problem with the candidate's phone or connectivity, interviewers should try to be as understanding as possible. Internet connection issues do not automatically mean that a candidate is not a good fit for the role.
Remote interviewing can be a very effective way of minimising contact between individuals while still allowing interviewing to take place. To this end, it is likely to be a popular option to plan for the interviewing process going forward. That said, employers must make sure that they carefully prepare for how they are going to approach this, and that this plan is not deviated from.
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