On Our Minds

Working with so many organizations across multiple issue areas gives us a unique view into what’s happening in the social sector. This is where we share our insights and ruminations.
Man with computer conducting virtual interview
Can I hire someone I haven’t met in person?

By Imani Doyle (she/her/hers)

It’s no secret that the novel coronavirus pandemic has caused quite a dramatic shift in the way we live and work. The reality that many people are confined to working remotely for the foreseeable future raises questions for hiring managers about how to reliably move job interviews forward, especially when the opportunity to meet candidates in person isn’t an option. We’ve written tips for conducting virtual interviews, but what happens when you have to make the actual decision about whom to hire? Should you pause the process until you can meet the candidates in person, or should you move forward with filling the role—even though you’re only meeting them virtually? And if the latter, how can you feel confident you’re making the right decision?

Why it’s important to keep going

Shifting to virtual interviews might make you think twice about engaging in this at all. But there are a number of reasons it’s important, if possible, to continue the hiring process through the pandemic—or whenever in-person interviews aren’t an option: 

  • It’s pragmatic. For many organizations and candidates, the timeline for what a “post-coronavirus” life looks like remains unclear. The situation could change within a month, or a matter of months. If the open position in question needs to be filled by a certain date—for grant purposes, academic schedules, or other timing reasons—pausing the interview process indefinitely may hurt your overall progress in the long run. 
  • It’s accessible. Conducting virtual interviews can offer people with physical or financial constraints the opportunity to interview for positions that were previously inaccessible to them because of the travel involved, or for other reasons. 
  • It’s flexible. All too often, hiring managers struggle to find an interview time that’s convenient for everyone involved, or to book available office space to conduct the interview. Similarly, candidates often have difficulty finding time to take off from their current work to attend an interview in person. Holding virtual interviews reduces these logistical challenges, allowing for more people to interview and for organizations to interview more quickly.
  • It contributes to the greater good. By keeping the hiring process going, you’re not only helping your organization progress, you’re doing your part to keep our economy going. The more business-as-usual we can all create at times like these, the better off our sectors, communities, and even the global economy will be, now and once the pandemic is over. 

How to move forward without the in-person meeting

  • Set—and share—expectations. Take time with your internal team to set up an interview process that clarifies all roles and responsibilities during this time of ultra-remote working. Start by outlining the core competencies and skills required of the role. Then determine who will facilitate the conversation and manage timing, who will ask which questions, who will take notes, and how you will handle any technical difficulties. Creating an interview guide with all of this information will give interviewers a shared goal and make sharing these expectations with everyone—including the candidate—much easier.
  • Accommodate when you can. As more people shift to working from home, changes in logistics (such as child care or an overcrowded WiFi connection) can impact people’s schedules. If you have the flexibility to work outside of normal business hours in order to move an interview along, you may be making things easier on everyone involved.
  • Be transparent about your hiring timeline. While it remains unclear how long the pandemic will impact the working world, it’s important to have a clear idea of your hiring timeline—and to communicate that with candidates. Understanding that your timing may have to change, try to share when you need the role filled early on in the discussion. Without that transparency, you run the risk of progressing far with a candidate only to find out that your timeline doesn’t match theirs.
  • Give candidates as much face time with your organization as possible. It might mean setting up multiple video calls, but having candidates speak with several team members will ultimately help you figure out if they demonstrate the skills and values of your organization. It also gives the candidate a better sense of the team and your organization’s personality. If you have a virtual tour of the office available, share it with candidates as well.
  • Go deep with application materials. In addition to having multiple conversations with the candidate, ask the candidate to share multiple references across a range of organizations and relationships. The more people you reach that can speak to working with the candidate in person, the better you’ll understand how they operate as a colleague, peer, and/or supervisor. Similarly, provide candidates with readings and thought exercises to present and discuss with your team. This will also help you get a sense of how they approach work independently and within a group. 
  • Over communicate with your team. It’s crucial that everyone involved in the hiring decision process be on the same page. (This is true even when in-person meetings are possible.) In addition to completing whatever form or rubric your organization uses to evaluate candidates, set up a phone or video call for your team to go through everyone’s responses. This gives you a chance to talk things out and clarify any outstanding questions. And don’t shy away from having more than one team debrief if you feel it’s necessary.

A final thought

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in the absence of in-person meetings is that some people come across more naturally in person. So if your team is committed to moving the hiring process forward, it is crucial that you all are mindful of “virtual bias.” Not every candidate has the same comfort level with—or means to conduct—virtual interviews. As you’re debriefing with team members, ask each other questions to help avoid that bias. Did someone not like the actual content of the candidate’s response, or did they think the candidate was a bit awkward on video? Did the candidate not seem prepared to answer questions, or was it the technical difficulties that interrupted the flow of the conversation? Being mindful of these biases—and making an effort to mitigate them—creates a more equitable and cultivating search process for the company and candidate.