Remote Interviewing Candidates

The ongoing global pandemic has thrown the labor market into disarray. Dramatic unemployment, dramatic increases in hiring, a massive shift towards remote work, and an increase in remote hiring have all thrown historic trends out the window.

Companies right now are exercising due caution. Many have made the shift to remote work and, six months in, have gotten over the initial hurdles. Business is returning for many sectors, and with the holidays ramping up, many companies are looking to surge their hiring for the season.

Yet with no available cure for the pandemic and a focus on remote work in many areas, a lot of candidate screening needs to be done remotely. The traditional series of in-person interviews is not safe, and even with precautions in place, many well-qualified candidates are turned off by the prospect.

How can your company screen candidates remotely, to hire without putting yourselves or your candidates at risk? Here are five methods you can use.

1. Resume/CV Analysis

One of the oldest methods available to HR is the resume analysis. A resume is meant to be a tailored document that showcases the relevant skills, experiences, and work histories for the role the applicant is applying for. An unfortunate reality, though, is that the average resume only gets around six seconds of attention before being discarded.

Resume Review

When you can’t talk to a candidate in person, it’s worthwhile to spend a little more time looking at their resumes first. What should you look for?

  • Length. The length of a good resume should never be more than two pages. A single page is often not quite enough space, especially for upper-level or technical positions, while anything longer means the applicant isn’t thinking about what is relevant to their chosen role.
  • Design. A resume should be well-planned and well-laid out to present information in a logical, self-contained manner. If it’s scattered and poorly organized, it reflects poorly upon the candidate. Exotic formats, designs, and shapes for a resume aren’t necessarily beneficial, and should only be considered relevant for creative design positions.
  • Language. Appropriate use of language is important. Make sure the candidate isn’t disparaging of their past employers. Make sure they have a firm grasp on the technical aspects of the language and aren’t making obvious grammar and spelling mistakes. Don’t worry about simple language, though; unless the position requires compelling use of language, it’s not necessarily reflective of the applicant’s skills.
  • Experience. Your ideal candidates should have job experience relevant to the role they’re applying for (unless it’s an entry-level position). Entry-level jobs mean you should look more into skills and education, though relevant work experience can be valuable if it exists. For example, if you’re hiring a project manager, you want your candidate to have some kind of project management experience. If you’re hiring a retail cashier, their experience isn’t relevant.
  • Tailoring. How well-tailored to the role is the resume? Do they include skills, experience, and accolades only relevant to other industries or other positions? This can be a sign that the candidate is just sending the same resume out to every position they come across, and they aren’t thinking specifically about your company or about the role to see where they fit in.
  • Cover letter. If you want, you can ask for a cover letter along with your applications. You can then filter candidates by how well they follow directions with whether or not they include one, and how it fits with their application. A cover letter can also give you some idea of the candidate’s personality and cultural fit with your office.

Now, there are some drawbacks to using resume filtering as a screening method.

It’s time-consuming. Going through resumes manually is tedious, especially when you have thousands of them on your plate. It’s no wonder that so many are discarded right away, for superficial problems.

Authentic Organizations says:

“Studies show that we correctly assess someone’s correct personality traits only 20% of the time, and even then we can get only a few kinds of traits close to right.”

Personal biases, even judging the gender and name of an applicant from their resume, are a huge systemic issue. Anonymizing resumes is an important part of impartial judgment.

It’s not necessarily representative. There are hundreds of services available online for users to get their resumes polished up for submission, and that means the resumes you get aren’t reflective of the skills of the individual, but the skills of the people helping them format it. A well-organized resume could come from a highly disorganized person and you’d have no way to know.

A good modern applicant tracking system can handle a lot of cursory reviews of resumes, as well as resume anonymizing, but they can’t necessarily filter you down to the single best candidate. You’ll need to spend time and judgment on resumes no matter how you handle the process.

2. Reference Interviews

Ask anyone if they can ever recall having their references contacted as part of a job application, and you’re likely to get a resounding no. It’s surprisingly rare for companies to reach out and contact references for their candidates. Yet, in a time when it’s increasingly difficult to get a feel for a candidate through standard interviews, contacting references can be a valuable tool.

Calling References

The truth is, references are commonly checked, but it’s not common for those references to then mention that fact to the candidate. According to The Balance Careers, 92% of employers conduct background checks that include talking with references. The higher level the position, the more likely they are to contact at least three references.

When interviewing references, you want to get a feel for who you’re talking to and what their relationship is with the candidate. It’s very different interviewing a former boss and interviewing a childhood friend. Who the candidate chooses as references can be telling as well.

Ask the right questions when interviewing references. Whenever possible, go into detail about how the candidate performed at their previous job, why they left the company, and how their previous role relates to the open position. Ask if they encountered problems with the candidate, and how those problems were resolved. Ask how the candidate responded to feedback when it was given.  If the reference is a former boss, ask if they would hire the candidate again. All of this can give you a good insight into the candidate’s ability to perform in their role.

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3. Online Skills Testing

If you’re filtering your candidates based solely on their resumes, you might be missing out on skilled candidates with talent that wasn’t necessarily represented well in their resume. References may be biased in their analysis. Neither gives you a hands-on look at how the candidate performs in their given role. To that end, we turn to more modern technology: online skills testing.

Online Skill Testing

Skills tests are practical tests that challenge the candidate to perform tasks relevant to their intended role, and allow you to grade them based on that performance. For example, a developer role might have a coding skills test that challenges the candidate to complete a handful of coding tasks, so you can see how they work.

Some companies that provide skills tests include:

These skills tests do have some drawbacks. For one thing, most skills tests are focused on technical roles, like development and coding. Other positions, like managerial roles, HR, sales, and support, are harder to test for in a codified environment. Additionally, a skills testing platform will cost money, which adds to the overall expense of recruiting. Setting up this system and integrating it into your hiring process can be a hassle, so it’s not always right for everyone and every role.

4. Paid Trial Projects

Another option you can use is to hire candidates part-time or as a contract worker to start. Paying a candidate for a project where you can see everything from how they work with your team to how they complete their objectives gives you an excellent idea of how they can work within your organization.

This isn’t a great screening option for roles where you have hundreds or thousands of applicants to sort through. You won’t be paying each and every one of them for a test project. Instead, it works in conjunction with other kinds of screening. Once you’ve narrowed your field down to the top five or so candidates, you can pay them for work and see how they fit.

Contract Deal

Trial periods are a good option to give potential employees a chance to prove themselves in a real environment. Some candidates may balk at the idea of working for a month with no guarantee of ongoing employment, but others will take the chance to show their skills and work with your team to impress you.

Depending on the situation, you may need to be flexible with a trial project. For example, if a candidate is waiting for a job offer before leaving their current job, they can’t very well work for you for eight hours a day without their current employer punishing them. Make your projects task-oriented, not time-based, so they can be completed outside of your regular business hours. You should also strive to make the task meaningful, rather than busywork that will have no impact on your company.

If you’re hesitant to bring on what is essentially a short-term contractor for security reasons, you may consider setting up an NDA for these trial periods. You don’t need to throw open your doors and let every candidate access your internal network just for the application process, after all.

Make sure you’re compensating your candidates for the time and work they put in. Paid work is always more enticing than unpaid labor, which turns off many of the best candidates. Otherwise, it’s just an internship, and unpaid internships can have a whole host of their own problems.

5. Online Research

A traditional background check can tell you a lot about a candidate. A resume can give you an idea of their relevant skills. Speaking with their references can help you understand their work ethic and their history. Interviews can give you an impression of how they act on a good day. There’s just one problem.

All of this is chosen and presented by the candidate. Obviously, they’re going to put their best foot forward. The thing is, nobody is at their best every single day. Some people look better on paper than they are in reality, and some people are extremely disingenuous. It’s always a good idea to look for warning signs of a candidate who is more – and less – than they appear.

Identify Candidates

One option modern employers have is to look up the candidate online. In this age of blogs, social media profiles, and public comments, everyone leaves a trail. Modern trends indicate that 90% of employers look up applicant social media profiles and activity as part of the hiring process, and 54% of employers have eliminated a candidate based on their activity.

So, look them up. You have their name and enough information from their resume to differentiate them from other people with the same name. Google their name and see what comes up. Check out Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other public activity.

What should you look for? Any warning sign that might turn you off. Inappropriate photos, posting about drug or alcohol abuse, discrimination or racism, slander, bad-mouthing your company (or a previous company); there are many reasons you might consider. Some companies have even rejected candidates because their screen name was inappropriate. You’re free to make the decision based on anything you want, so long as it’s not a protected part of their demographics.

Regardless of how you choose to screen your employees remotely, you need to pick candidates with the right mixture of skills, experience, and personality to work as part of your team. Getting the right hires is more important than ever, and wading through the sea of underqualified applicants always takes time. It’s better to spend than time than to deal with turnover.

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