At the peak of the pandemic, virtual interviews were not just convenient, they were the only way to continue the hiring process in a world where face-to-face conversations were out of the question. But almost two years later, a lot has changed. Many of the in-person interactions we’ve missed have begun to return: concerts, sporting events, conferences, and on-site interviews. Hiring leaders plan to incorporate a mix of virtual and in-person interviews moving forward. But what’s the right mix? As Head of Recruiting at Envoy, it's mine and my team's job to provide the best possible experience for candidates. Being on camera for interviews is far different than being around my team and feeding off their energy. I’m a people person, so I thrive in a collaborative environment. I love having a company where I adore the people I work with. That’s why the virtual world can get lonely. All too often, one video call blurs into another. Even the line between video calls and real-life begins to get fuzzy. Rather than arriving fresh-faced and full of creative ideas, we click “Join call” mid-yawn and hope no one notices. I'm thrilled that in-person interviews are making a comeback, but there's still a time and a place for virtual calls too. I'll break down the challenges and benefits of both remote and in-person interviews, and let you in on what I think is the right mix to get the best talent on your team.
Challenges of “virtual on-site” interviews
Shifting from in-person to virtual interviewing comes with a whole slew of obstacles. Video conferencing software was not designed for interviewing. Let’s take a look at common challenges from each side of the screen.
- Interviews interrupted by work-related requests: In actual in-person interviews, top candidates are unlikely to be distracted by work notifications popping up on their phones. But it’s different in the virtual on-site world. A top candidate can be deep in conversation with a potential future employer, then get pinged by their current boss with an urgent request. Even if the ping goes temporarily unanswered, it throws off the rhythm of an otherwise solid interview.
- No-shows and last-minute cancellations: People don’t have to plan their whole day around a virtual interview. Sometimes candidates don’t even take official time off. With such a low time and effort commitment, candidates sometimes agree to a final round interview that they then cancel last minute. In general, candidates are more likely to plan and prioritize in-person interviews versus virtual ones.
- Candidate pool limited by accessibility: Video interviews can be a barrier to entry for less tech-savvy candidates. Some people may not have access to video conferencing software, but unless they need it for the job, it should not disqualify them.
- Overlooked red flags: With virtual interviews, candidates risk missing major deal-breakers that would have been obvious in person. For example, they have no way of knowing how diverse the work environment is outside the small pool in their interview panel. They can walk away from a three-hour conversation with no idea what the company culture is really like.
- Limited conversational flow: It can be a good sign when an interview runs over its scheduled time frame. For in-person scenarios, the next person in the interview panel might patiently wait outside the room. In the virtual world, over-time etiquette is less defined. Rather than winding to a natural end, there’s pressure to wrap quickly when a third person enters the virtual meeting room.
- Virtual interview fatigue: The same way one Zoom call can blur into the next, so can multiple virtual interviews. Candidates interviewing for several companies at once are more likely to forget exactly what they thought about each. On the flip side, it’s also harder for the candidate to make an impactful first impression via video–especially if they’re just one of many Zoom interviews this decision-maker has that day.
Benefits of interviewing in the workplace
- Culture fit: While the job description for a role may be the same across several companies, the experience of working in one team or company versus another can be vastly different. For candidates, gauging the culture of the work environment and peers is critical. For hiring managers, retaining employees means determining who’s a good fit for the team. If the connection isn’t mutual, chances are it won’t last.
- Accurate skill evaluation: There are advantages to assessing both hard and soft skills in-person as opposed to virtually. For example, an in-person technical skill test can help represent the candidate’s performance under pressure. Body language plays a huge role in interpersonal skills, which are crucial for client-facing or senior leadership positions.
So what's the right mix given those challenges and benefits? I think virtual interviews are a great option for earlier stage interviews. I prefer talking to candidates remotely for the initial screening conversations. Then, when there's a good match, it's best to have final leadership conversations on-site, especially when you hope to move towards the offer. This way you can sell them not only on the opportunity but get them excited about the fun working environment.
Tips for nailing the on-site candidate experience
First impressions are always the most important, so it's crucial you get them right. Your workplace can be a powerful way to showcase your company culture to top candidates. Once they see the environment, it brings back those in office memories that are nostalgic to what we've missed in the last 2 years. Here are a few tips for creating a workplace experience that wows candidates:
- Establish a great brand your recruiters can brag about! "Have you seen our billboards?", "Did you see our digital ad on Bart?", or "Did you hear our slot during the last podcast you listened to?" These are all ways to not only get your potential candidates excited about your company, but really show them that your company is putting in the work to market the organization as not only a great place to work, but one they can be proud of.
- Take care of tedious steps in advance. How do you create a great first impression while upholding security and compliance protocols? By handling what you can before the actual interview with seamless visitor management software. Have candidates sign NDAs, upload health documents, or view safety videos ahead of time, so they’re all set by the time they walk through the door.
- Make it easy for candidates to get where they need to go. There’s nothing worse than a candidate getting lost on the way to an interview. Customize their welcome email to include tips on where to park, how early to arrive, or what they should expect onsite.
- Greet every candidate promptly. The candidate experience starts way before they walk in the door, but if they’re left waiting in your lobby that can impact the experience. Find a tool that automatically notifies the interview team when the candidate arrives, saving you time and hassle from chasing down your teammates to go greet them.
- Entice them with an office tour. Before or after the interview, take candidates on a little walk and talk through the office. This is a great time to really let your office culture shine. Call out fun amenities and make casual introductions to people as you pass by.
I'm proud that Envoy's recruiting team consistently receives positive feedback from candidates about their interview experience. That's because we put in the work to create a great experience from the first touch with the recruiter, to screening calls, to final round interviews. Virtual or in-person, every step is crucial. And to seal the deal, if you have a great workplace, flaunt it.