Ten months into the pandemic and it has literally upended many of the ways we get work done, including how we recruit and hire people.  One of the biggest changes I’ve noted is how colleges and universities quickly switched their in-person interview processes to virtual. Last month, while moderating a webinar for the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC) on virtual interviewing, I learned some helpful tips and thought they were worth sharing.

The webinar featured four higher education leaders who talked about their experience with virtual interviews. They shared the benefits and challenges of virtual interviews, along with some good advice that they’ve learned along the way. Panelists included:

  • Nikki Duncan, Recruitment Manager, University of Houston
  • Ellen Heffernan, President, Spelman Johnson (executive search firm)
  • Hilda Ladner, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Pima Community College
  • Randy Westhoff, Associate VP for Academic Affairs, Bemidji State University

Here’s what we discussed:

THE GOOD

Virtual interviews save both time and money. Gone are the in-person multi-day interviews with campus tours, lunches or dinners with candidates, and open forums to host and organize. Flying candidates to visit the campus has been put on hold and travel expenses for searches have been saved. Even better, virtual interviews create opportunities for greater access and inclusion and remove barriers for those who may not have time or availability to travel for in-person interviews. Virtual interviews also allow for greater participation of the campus community to attend interviews or open forums or view recordings at their convenience. With increasing reliance on technology for online learning and virtual meetings, interviewers are able to assess a candidate’s skillset immediately.

THE BAD

While online meeting platforms are a great option, they don’t allow you to have that sense of in-person networking and connection that an on-campus interview provides. Candidates from out-of-state are not able to get a true sense of the community that they are considering moving to, which can be a challenge for colleges and universities to recruit faculty and staff to more remote locations. There is also a learning curve for search committees, hiring managers, and candidates when going virtual, so it requires patience, prep, and education of everyone involved in the virtual interviews. This takes quite a lot of time on the part of human resources and talent acquisition staff.

THE BEST PRACTICES

Panelists shared great strategies for ensuring that virtual interviews were successful and offered the following advice:

  • Get Organized – make sure to document the workflow as you adapt your in-person processes to virtual. Communicate, communicate, communicate to all stakeholders in the process. Use consistent tools and templates. Check technology in advance of interviews and hold practice sessions for those interviewers and candidates that need it.
  • Be Creative – look for ways to address the challenges that virtual interviews present, such as lack of connection to people and the campus environment. Ideas include: create a recorded virtual campus tour for candidates through your marketing and communications department, student project, or get help from your local chamber of commerce or a PR firm. To substitute for in-person lunches with a candidate, have a meal delivered to the candidate through Uber Eats, Door Dash or other delivery service and set a time to meet with them online for a more casual connection. If eating a meal in front of a screen seems overwhelming, set up an informal coffee hour for the same effect. Most of all, encourage interviewers and candidates to have fun and show their personality during virtual interviews. It helps to build the relationship.
  • Demonstrate Flexibility – understand that during the pandemic people are working from home and may have children at home with them who might interrupt. If a child or pet does wander into the room during the interview, say hello and allow for a pause so that the candidate can attend to their needs and get back to the interview. Have a back-up plan in case of technology glitches. If the audio or webcam isn’t working, make sure to have a phone number that the candidate and interviewers can call.
  • Show Grace  – remember that we are all adapting to virtual interviews and working remotely and need to be gentle with each other.

For more information on conducting virtual interviews, HERC members can access guides, tools, and templates on HERC’s Virtual Recruitment Toolkit.

Anita Rios

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