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Never Look a Candidate in the Eye

by
Kevin Wheeler
Nov 12, 2013, 6:25 am ET

How much recruiting can be done virtually rather than face-to-face? Video interviewing, online simulations, talent communities, and the use of tools such as Twitter or Snapchat are heatedly debated for their value versus a face-to-face encounter. Is one way better than another?

What’s the real story? Can a recruiter effectively recruit top-quality people from entry level to mid and senior levels without any in-person interaction?

Branding

Brand is already primarily a virtual activity. Web sites, videos, and social media all are elements commonly used by firms of all sizes to create brand. Social media campaigns, YouTube videos, targeted emails, Tweets, job board postings and other media-related events all help to build the brand.

Search

Candidates are more likely to be found by direct online searches or from job board posts than they are from any in-person connection. Some may apply directly through the recruitment website. A handful might come from employee referrals.

For the few positions where good candidates are scarce, recruiters can dig into talent communities, specialized forums, or technical discussion groups on Facebook or LinkedIn. They can also develop more sophisticate search techniques or search a broader spectrum of potential people. It is rare that a candidate is found initially by a personal connection.

Screening & Assessment

Once candidates are found, the recruiter will need to screen and assess them in some fashion.

Again, a host of tools are available that make this a fairly straightforward task. Ask candidates to go through an online simulation or take an online personality or culture fit test. Many of these assessments have been turned into games or simulations that are engaging and reliable. Many also now have interfaces that are fun to use and have high completion rates, along with equally high correlations with job success and culture fit. In fact, most of these methods outperform any normal interview in terms of predicting job success.

Candidate Marketing

Now comes the task of getting your screened candidate to understand the job or position, meet the hiring manager, and find out if he or she is really going to be a good fit for the particular manager/job/location. Well-made videos that describe a day-in-the-life of a typical person doing a similar job or just a video about the company can be very convincing. Combine these with a video chat with the hiring manager using one of the many video platforms available helps the candidate and manager learn about each other and what’s expected.

If the manager and candidate are a match, then the final step is to simply send an offer, be available to answer questions, and help close the deal by phone or even email. Even most of onboarding can be done virtually with video, the web, and email. To close some senior candidates may require a phone call or two, but this is a small amount of the total time spent in recruiting.

So, it is definitely possible to recruit someone without ever seeing them in person. In fact, for most candidates a virtual experience is of greater value, provides more information, and is less stressful than our current processes.

So why do we insist on face-to-face interviews, often many of them, as well as location visits, and all the other inefficient practices that are seen as normal?

Perhaps our old habits, the fear of change, and the assumptions we have about candidates and hiring managers are to blame.

Habits

We are all creatures of habit. We go through our days on autopilot — driving to work with half our minds thinking about the day ahead and not on the road, going through our routines such as buying a coffee, greeting the security person, going to our office, checking our email, etc.

It’s all done because we always do it and it’s comfortable and easy. We call people up to screen them, schedule interviews, and do all the physical stuff because it’s what we have always done. It’s comfortable and easy. Whether it is efficient, or even the best way never enters our head.

Fear of Change

We are also afraid of change. We ask ourselves, “What if virtual recruiting doesn’t work that well? What will our boss say? What will fellow recruiters think? People may think I am lazy or stupid or a nerd. Candidates won’t like it.”

Hiring managers insist on face-to-face interviews, and so on. It is always easy to justify whatever it is that you have always done. New shoes always feel weird for a few days, as do haircuts and travel to a new city. It is frightening to change. We may use Twitter or even an occasional video interview and say to ourselves that we are using virtual tools and changing. But we are really just doing the same thing with a slight variation.

I love this quote from T.S. Eliot that sums up what I am saying eloquently:

Nothing pleases people more than to go on thinking what they have always thought, and at the same time imagine that they are thinking something new and daring: it combines the advantage of security and the delight of adventure.

Assumptions

And, we are full of assumptions. Many of them we don’t even know we have. For example, most recruiters I speak with believe that the interview is the most reliable way to choose quality candidates. It is a deeply held assumption that face-to-face interviews, when done by them, are accurate and predict success well.

Science consistently shows that most interviews are only slightly better at predicting success than a random choice of similar candidates would be, unless done by highly trained interviewers, with clearly developed criteria and questions, which are consistently delivered. This is rarely the case and takes a great deal of time to do well. Time pressures, the relationship with the candidate, personal prejudices about physical appearance, and other factors generally turn interviews into little more than chats.

We make other assumptions as well. We assume candidates prefer physical interaction, yet numerous interviews and studies show that many candidates prefer the objectivity of a virtual process. We believe that seeing, smelling, and touching the workplace helps candidates make decisions when it may actually obscure or enhance things that lead to an unhappy employee later on. Videos and the ability to interact with incumbent employees are often more objective and effective. We assume that people do not like to take assessment tests, which may have been partially true when the tests were long and tedious, but the newer ones are shorter and fun. Many are games or involve engaging videos.  And most are far less stressful than an interview.

We assume hiring managers will oppose a virtual process, but most of them are unaware of how a candidate was sourced or screened. They are also more than likely open to video chats and other virtual ways of communicating with candidates as many hiring managers are traveling, busy or have difficulty finding quality time for a face-to-face engagement. We assume senior level candidates, especially, want an in-person discussion or interview, yet there is no objective evidence to support this. In my conversations with senior executives, most say they would welcome a faster and more useful recruiting experience.

There are very few good reasons to not use a virtual recruitment process. Virtual recruitment can save time, is more objective and accurate, acceptable to candidates, and should increase the quality of hire.

By simplifying your recruiting process you free up time for recruiters to do more valuable things. They can interact with candidates on forums and in chats. They can develop better workforce planning scenarios and spend more time with the business learning what they need and what needs are emerging. Reactive recruiting is wasteful and unnecessary; proactive planning and candidate engagement add value and improve the quality of your hires.

The real question is are you ready for this and willing to change?

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. David Sarnowski

    Kevin, you raise some great questions and make some really solid points here. The T.S. Eliot is one of my favorites. I am struck by how often the question of technology in recruiting devolves into all or nothing. “We don’t want to use anything virtual, we want the personal touch,” to “We don’t want to talk to candidates… that’s too slow.”

    I know that is not where you are headed with this, but your points reminded me of that.

    Thanks for posing the question!

  2. Jeanne Lambert

    I enjoyed your article and 100% agree. I have been a successful “Virtual Recruiter”, closing in on 7-years. The flexiblity that it provides for both the candidate and myself is paramount in accelerating the entire interview process. “Time kills all deals”, and any prolonged interview processes due to scheduling issues of both parties, will likely disengage a potential candidate and provide more time for other opportunities to present themselves.

    Jeanne Lambert
    Executive & Direct Hire Recruiter
    Spherion/Madison, WI

  3. David Sarnowski

    @Jeanne, good to see the Wisconsin contingent is up and at them this morning. Have you seen candidates push back when you presented them with the virtual process or have they been keen to jump in?

    David Sarnowski
    Customer Experience Manager
    HarQen/Milwaukee, WI

  4. Jeanne Lambert

    David S.:

    There hasn’t been any push back at all. The last phase of the process should ultimately lead to an on-site visit; prior to an offer. This appeases any concern of either party.

    Jeanne

    Jeanne Lambert
    Executive & Direct Hire Recruiter
    Spherion/Madison, WI

  5. Fletcher Wimbush

    I also conduct all my interviews virtually still just use old fashioned phone. If the candidate is really qualified then they meet my clients. This allows me to work with people all over the country as well.

    The virtual meeting and assessments allow me to objectively assess a candidate quickly and effectively. Scheduling is far easier and no one has ever rejected or complained about doing 60 minute phone interviews.

    Ultimately it has created far greater results than when I used to do all in person interviews.

    A hybrid of virtual and in person interviewing works the best.

    Fletcher
    TheHireTalent.com

  6. Britni Salazar

    I really enjoyed the points you raised, Kevin. I definitely believe there is an overall shift in the recruiting process toward digital and it’s only a matter of time before more companies start focusing their sites on these tools. Video interviews – both live and pre-recorded – offer insight into the candidate that cannot necessarily be detected on a traditional resume. Also, as @Jeanne pointed out, the convenience digital interviews provide for both the candidate and the recruiter is a total selling point. While the in-person interview will never be replaced, by incorporating a more digital process into recruiting, I really do believe companies can begin to find better talent faster.

  7. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Kevin. Very insightful and thorough.
    A question to everyone:
    What aspect(s) of recruiting or interviewing absolutely require(s) F2F (as opposed to real-time broadband video) to effectively accomplish, and why do you believe this is the case(s)?

    Cheers,

    Keith “Here’s My Only Comment for the Week” Halperin
    keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

  8. Gordon Alderson

    Thanks Kevin for a very helpful article.
    I find that using a virtual process to gather a brief from a range of stakeholders is also very helpful. This can include international subject specialists and the Final Decision Maker. Without going face-to-face they can complete the briefing process on-line inside 30 minutes and be sent the combined view as to the Top Attributes to be found in exemplary candidates.
    The certainty delivered by this virtual briefing accelerates sourcing and selection processes that follow.
    The various virtual selection processes you describe in your article are better focused.
    A recent client was a successful candidate 3 years ago. He insisted that the same process be used to recruit someone to take the same job in which he started. The vacancy was due to his promotion.
    Cheers
    Gordon Alderson
    Alpha Omega Consulting
    Australia

  9. John Gronberg

    You bring up some interesting points, but I take a bit of contention with this assertion:

    “So, it is definitely possible to recruit someone without ever seeing them in person. In fact, for most candidates a virtual experience is of greater value, provides more information, and is less stressful than our current processes.”

    Could you provide some relevant research that backs this up? Do candidates really enjoy completely remote recruiting processes? I am skeptical of this, and I would personally never accept a job in which I hadn’t met the team face-to-face. I struggle to see how a purely virtual experience would be ‘of greater value’ than one that included virtual and in-person interaction.

    If anything, I should support these statements as I am building tools for web-based interviewing, but nonetheless, I’d like to see stronger, research-based support for this kind of assertion.

  10. Peter Macdonald

    Virtual recruiting maybe, virtual hiring not so sure. I would never hire someone I hadn’t met. Wouldn’t marry someone I hadn’t met either. If I’m going to spend 8 hours everyday with someone then a personal meeting is essential. The difficulty in “un-hiring” is too great to take the chance. Although interviews may not statistically look great on paper, replace the word “interview” with “talk” to someone face to face and I’m sure the odds go up. Although I utilise and value psychometrics and other methodologies I would never rely on them as the only tool. As for video interviews most of us are not movie stars and celebrities skilled in play acting for the camera. Many people including myself find those scenarios embarrassing, contrived, and unreal, I don’t even know where to look – do I stare continuously at the camera or at the picture on the wall behind me? etc etc so on that presumption I could be unemployable!

  11. Jacob Madsen

    How on earth a learned and highly regarded person like you Kevin that I for much of what you say hold in high esteem can purely look at this from one side/aspect is a puzzle to me.

    ‘ In fact, for most candidates a virtual experience is of greater value’ – hmmm who says so, what is the evidence behind this?
    Perhaps and in respect to video interview as an element of process but as a whole, – I have my very serious doubts.

    An old saying goes ‘people buy from people’ and as much as a process can be automated and much may be done virtually, what about the candidate experience? – the single element that I see being completely absent here, and the element that ultimately makes all stand or fall. The article you write is purely focused on the employer/agency side of things and sure a lot can be done to cut out the human interaction. However ask yourself and for that matter majority of candidates what they would feel about a ‘virtual process’ rather than a ‘live’ and I will put my head on the block that 90% would prefer there to be some real F2F interaction. This is about so much more and deeper than the process itself, but as much about what one as a candidate pick up throughout the ‘journey’ It is about the ‘atmosphere’ about the greeting from the receptionist through to the small talk and the before and and after interview hiring manager interaction, – in short it is about whether one as a candidate get the impression and the ‘feel’ for whether a place is one where someone would like to work. As much as there may advocacy for attempting to streamline and automate, we human beings hold elements and structures that mean that we need to see, hear and sense whether something is right or not for us to feel convinced, comfortable and willing to either give up what we have and/or make compromises to set up in order to take a job.
    That requires an element beyond what can make the process simpler, smarter and more efficient, and is the reason why we have so many elements in our lives that we could cut out but that we do not as they are part of ‘the game’ and the culture of being human beings.
    I see this as being similar to trying to make to people meet and like each other (fall in love) without the element of courtship, and I wonder where and how that may ever be possible.
    I for one would never ever consider a role or working for a company without at least 1 perhaps 2 personal interactions.
    This may look good on paper and in theory, I wonder who will sign up up to in reality.

  12. David Sarnowski

    @Jacob I think you raise some great questions, but let me throw one back to you. How would a candidate feel with a virtual interaction versus no interaction? I don’t mean that to sound snarky at all, I am just posing a follow up.

    I think Kevin’s article is good in that it stretches us to think.

    I talk to a lot of people who say they value a “high touch” process, but will dismiss 75% of candidates without ever giving them the chance to utter a word. They flip over the resume for a second and move on. A lot of times without the courtesy of sending an email to the candidates they dismiss. They don’t do this because they are bad people, they do it because they do not have the resources (time, staff or technology) to do something different.

    I truly believe the best solution is one that combines both elements. Use virtual tools to give more candidates more opportunities to engage and stand out. Use virtual tools to connect with people who are geographically disparate. Use in-person engagements to finalize decisions on both sides.

  13. Kevin Wheeler

    Thanks for your comment, Jacob. We all have personal preferences and biases, but many candidates I have spoken with have no problem with a virtual process and, in fact, may prefer it to the time consuming and often unfruitful traditional process. Several of the commenters above agree and they are practitioners who do virtual recruiting regularly. Hundreds of people are hired virtually every year and never meet their hiring manager or visit the corporate site or meet a recruiter. And, they are productive and happy employees. There is no one best way and I urge you to think out-of-the box a bit.

  14. Jacob Madsen

    Thank you for response Kevin. Discussions and arguments are only really valid if backed up by stats and evidence why as such anything not quantified stand with little true value unless backed up. As such and until data can be produced, I remain skeptical as to how many ‘thousands’ that actually like and favour a faceless process. I am all for thinking alternatively and outside the box, a faceless recruitment process does to me go near the opposite way of ehancing brand, EVP and candidate experience.

    @David, in answer to your question back at me. Do you by what you say imply that due to a faceless and non personal interaction that the candidate experience will become better and that this will cut down on the abysmal status of what candidates see every day? If so I think you are wrong as those two subjects are not necessarily related. Numerous discussions across more forums than I can remember show that candidate experience is about mind-set and will and not being indifferent than anything else. A virtual set up does not automatically lead to a better candidate experience, that p u r e l y come from a talent acquisition lead or partner than cares and understand than nothing (even if no fancy ATS or other system) and even for 000′s of candidates stand in the way for giving candidates a proper and professional experience, simply a question of ‘where there is a will there is a way’

  15. Darren Morris

    I support Kevin’s view that “There is no one best way and I urge you to think out-of-the box a bit.” For many organisations or individuals we have recruited remotely for years whilst at the same time recruiting in local markets and data from these models in regions such as Asia are delivering great outcomes. New tools and technology are changing the ways we recruit not the passion, ethics and values.

    I believe that technology is and will profoundly impact recruiting in the virtual and face to face worlds. A great example of this from @willstanley at this week #sosuau he talked about using google glass to meet a candidate record video or even set up a live google hangout with a candidate and a hiring manager(s) (the attendees seeing the world through the eyes o the interviewer hearing the conversation and adding to it through Glass in real time. How can you not be excited about the possibilities for the future

  16. Todd Raphael

    We’ve hired 2-3 people sight unseen — and I just can’t figure out why not. One person who worked for ERE for years and wrote many articles on this site – I didn’t meet her in person until many months after she started. Again, not a problem. As for the candidate experience and whether they enjoyed that and all – I just don’t think meeting in person or not was the main factor. It seems to me that all the things that make a successful or unsuccessful experience — letting people know throughout the process where the process is at, for example — don’t depend on face-to-face meetings.

  17. Brian Kevin Johnston

    Love This Article… F2F Is Ideal And More Personal, However Let’s Speed Things Up, And Solve Problems, And Serve As Many People As We Can (While We Can)… Life And Your Time Is Way To Precious To Waste On An OLD SKOOL, Sloppy Process…

  18. Kevin Wheeler

    A few of you have asked for stats, research or data to support my arguments. Fair enough, if we were talking about a well-defined, simple process. Virtual recruiting has numerous elements and is not practiced the same by everyone. Definitions vary. Results vary. My thesis is that online tools and practices can be used to recruit (not that they HAVE to be used) successfully. Many above have testified to that as have those I have spoken with. It is always easy to not do something by hiding behind a statement like “where’s the data” while others move forward and actual try to do it.

    Our assumptions that people prefer face-to-face, etc. remind me of the assumptions that were made that no one would want a tablet computing device or that no one would want a computer in their living room. I can remember colleagues telling me that no one would use email for personal communication. History is littered with similar examples of people who cannot imagine the future and do not challenge their own often flawed assumptions.

    I simply urge you to be open and experiment. See for yourself if I am right and then let me know.

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