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BUSINESS

8 tips for conducting an excellent remote interview

As companies scramble to fill a record number of job openings remotely, the internet is awash in tips for candidates seeking to stand out from the crowd while confined to a Zoom box.

But what about the employers on the other end of the connection? For them, “cracking the code” on remote interviewing is just as critical. Bad hiring decisions cost money and drain morale. Without the multitude of data points available only in person — the feel of a handshake, the way the energy in a room changes when a candidate walks in — employers need to develop new strategies for gauging whether someone is a good fit.

Remote interviewing is here to stay, as the pandemic and its evolving offshoot, the Great Resignation, continue to reshape the modern workplace. Here are some tips for employers seeking to master the medium in order to identify top talent from a distance.

Focus on emotional intelligence.

We frequently base hiring decisions on skills and intelligence — or our perception of a candidate’s IQ. But emotional intelligence, or EQ, is often more critical to success in the workplace. At a time of enormous uncertainty, when workplaces are announcing grand reopening plans one day and abruptly reversing them the next, EQ is arguably more important than ever. EQ determines a person’s ability to relate to others, roll with the punches, navigate difficult situations with grace, and “read the room” (which is especially difficult when it’s a Zoom room).

When conducting a virtual interview, it can be tempting to give up on the EQ aspect since it seems like a quality that’s best assessed in person. But this can lead to poor decision making. When honing your interview questions, consider what each one might tell you about a person’s EQ. Here are some of my favorites:

  • If you were starting a company tomorrow, what would be its top three values?
  • Tell me about a workplace conflict you were involved in, either with your peers or someone else in the company. How did you manage that conflict, and were you able to resolve it?
  • If you’ve previously reported to multiple supervisors at the same time, how did you get to know each person’s preferences and juggle conflicting priorities?
  • Tell me about a time when you received feedback on your performance and you disagreed with the feedback. How did you handle the situation?
  • What inspires you?

Lean into the intimacy of the screen.

There’s a great deal of hand-wringing over all that’s lost when screens intermediate our interactions. But there is a certain intimacy that screens can actually facilitate. During a remote interview, the interviewer and interviewee are sitting inches from one another’s faces. The screen creates a sense of psychological safety that may allow people to open up more than they might in person. Employers can lean into this phenomenon to draw candidates out more quickly. One client, the head of school at a premier independent school, told me that at the outset of a remote interview, “I immediately go to the interviewee’s story — where they’re from, their family, what makes them tick.”

Get real about the challenges of the pandemic.

Classic interview question: “What’s your greatest flaw?” Classic answer: “I work too hard!” The current predicament offers an opportunity to get beyond this familiar posturing. We’ve all faced an enormous set of challenges over the past year and a half, and it’s possible to learn a great deal about someone by exploring how they’ve navigated the turbulence of the pandemic. Ask a question like, “What was the greatest challenge you faced during Covid, and how did you overcome it?” Then look for signs that the answer you’re getting is authentic: Does the candidate pause to think about the question, taking a moment to reflect? Does the expression on their face align with the tone of their voice?

Notice reactions to distractions.

It can happen to any of us: The doorbell rings, a dog barks, a child cries out, or an emergency phone call comes in during a remote interview. If this happens, consider it an opportunity to glimpse another side of the candidate. Did they get flustered and lose focus? Did they handle the disruption gracefully, as you’d want them to in front of a client or colleague? If no such distraction arises during the interview, consider asking: “While working remotely, can you remember a time when something unexpected or distracting came up? What was it, and how did you respond?” Or, put more bluntly: “Tell me about your worst Zoom nightmare. What happened, and how did you respond?”

Banish back-to-backs.

Technically, it’s possible to cram in back-to-back interviews without leaving your chair. A client of mine — a senior partner in an employment law firm, who has conducted many interviews — advises against it. “You need 10 minutes or so between each interview to get up, move a bit, and capture thoughts and impressions,” she says. “There are fewer differentiating factors that will trigger your memory in a video format, so write up your notes and impressions immediately.”

Broaden your pool (and add some outliers to the mix).

Remote interviewing lowers the stakes of a bad interview. Why not take advantage of the medium to throw some unconventional candidates into the mix? Maybe it’s an applicant with roots in a completely different field, who’s lacking in the traditional prerequisites but submitted a cover letter that crackled with energy. Maybe it’s a high-potential candidate who lives in another state or country. Maybe it’s even a candidate you identified through TikTok Resumes.

Set your candidates up for success.

One client recently completed a successful job hunt that culminated in multiple offers. The company she chose distinguished itself in several ways, including its interview process. Each time she interviewed with someone, she received a detailed schedule with links to their bio. “What was most impressive is that before the interview, they sent me a ‘how to prepare for a virtual interview’ sheet,” she told me. “This included guidance on changing your Zoom background and how to troubleshoot. It really gave me the sense that they wanted me to do well and that they were rooting for me. Now that I’m in the company, I understand that they send this out to every single candidate in order to create a more equitable process and give everyone a leg up.”

Don’t forget that you’re interviewing, too.

As the above anecdote illustrates, the most outstanding candidates are bound to receive multiple offers these days. The way you, the interviewer, present yourself — how you dress, what appears in your background, and your own cadence, tone, and choice of interview questions — will determine how your prospective employees view your organization. So while those tips for acing an online interview may be aimed at the record number of job seekers out there, they’re increasingly relevant for those who are extending the offers.

Today’s job hunters aren’t just looking to boost their salaries. They’re also seeking flexibility, well-being, and a workplace culture that aligns with their own values and sensibilities. Interviews that delve into these topics can give both parties valuable information about whether a prospective employee is likely to feel fulfilled and engaged at a particular organization. We can absolutely have these conversations “face to face,” even when we’re not in the same physical room.

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