Hiring Digital Teams Remotely
by Marianne Kay
In March 2017, political analyst and professor of political science Robert Kelly was famously interrupted by his young children during his live BBC interview about South Korea. “BBC Dad,” as he came to be known, desperately tried to keep a straight face as his 4-year-old daughter entered the room, promptly followed by an excited 9-month-old baby and last but not least, their mother. It was an incredibly funny work-from-home moment that received endless messages of support and admiration from working parents around the world.
Fast-forward to now, and you won’t surprise anyone with children making their appearance in work conference calls. Those of us who are lucky enough to work from home during the pandemic are pretty used to all kinds of interruptions. Dogs barking, cats stepping on keyboards, children screaming, neighbors drilling, internet connectivity disappearing—over the last year, we’ve seen it all. But in the middle of the chaos, many companies are not just simply carrying on with business as usual—they are also hiring.
It’s a sad truth that a number of industries were badly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, but digital jobs continue to be in high demand. Some companies laid off staffers, but many others reviewed their priorities and started 2021 with an increased focus on their web presence and online sales. At the University of Leeds in the U.K., we recently hired a number of web developers remotely. Here is what we found while recruiting people we never had a chance to meet face-to-face.
ARRANGING AND ATTENDING INTERVIEWS
Online interviews are easier to organize than traditional meetings because there is no travel involved and there are no meeting rooms to book. With Glassdoor reporting that the average time to hire is almost a month (23 days), anything that makes this time frame shorter is welcome news.
In terms of no-shows, the University of Leeds didn’t see a change in comparison to our pre-COVID, office-based recruitment practices. The percentage of candidates who failed to attend the interview stayed the same, at about 10%, in line with the U.K.’s average figures as defined by CV-Library. In the spirit of supporting each other in the pandemic, we offered every candidate who didn’t turn up to an online interview a second chance, no questions asked.
We all know that most candidates—and quite a few hiring managers—are a little nervous at the start of the interview. Making eye contact—saying hi with your eyes—is known to put people at ease, but during online interviews, technology works against us and creates an impression that people aren’t looking at us when in fact they are. One simple trick to enhance the connection is to look up into the webcam every now and again to simulate eye contact.
Outlining the agenda for the interview up front is helpful for clarity, but it also serves as a useful quick test of internet connectivity. When I talk through the agenda, can we hear each other? Are our respective webcams showing our faces in full? Provided everything works as expected, we can proceed to the actual interview. In the University of Leeds’ case, the agenda consisted of four items, which are explored in detail in the following subsections. They are:
Overview of the role, the organization, and the team (5 minutes)
Technical test (15 minutes)
Up to eight interview questions and answers (30 minutes)
Questions from the candidate to the interview panel and next steps (5 minutes)
1. Overview of the Role, the Organization, and the Team
A good hiring manager should come across as passionate about the new role, the team, and the organization. The manager will explain why the job on offer is an exciting opportunity for prospective candidates and will highlight positive aspects in relation to:
- The role’s responsibilities
- Tools, methodologies, and processes
- Work ethic and team spirit
- Career progression and training opportunities
- Company values
- Employment benefits and support
In this introduction, candidates are likely to be looking for the following:
- Alignment of the role with their own career goals
- Modern, cutting-edge technologies, systems, and processes useful for their CVs
- Exciting (e.g., large-scale, complex, or ethical) projects
- Reassurance that remote-working policies provide sufficient opportunities to interact with other members of the team
2. Technical Test
Candidates are only suitable for the role if they are able to do the job. The best way to establish this for web developers is a technical test. Writing a good test takes a few attempts—those that are too easy or too difficult don’t reveal enough information about the candidates’ ability. When writing the test, it’s helpful to use current team members as guinea pigs to give it a dry run before putting it out at actual job interviews. Motivated, driven candidates enjoy tests that allow them to showcase their skills and talk candidly about their experience of completing the test.
3. Interview Questions and Answers
The interview panel should include a subject matter expert who can engage in detailed conversations about the role, skills, previous experience, and qualifications of the candidate. Most digital roles require a degree of interdisciplinary awareness of adjacent specialities too, so probing questions about the broader picture are also important. In addition to technical skills, soft skills to look out for in this time of crisis are:
- Emotional intelligence
- Proactive communication
4. Questions From the Candidate and Next Steps
Make sure candidates have an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. Organic questions about the role that flow naturally from the interview questions are a good sign. Good candidates are respectful of the time they’re taking at this point and will choose two or three questions to ask that directly reflect their interest in the role.
In terms of outlining the next steps, it’s useful to ask the candidate to provide references. I like to ask this question during the interview, rather than later in the process, because the tone and depth of the answer often give away how interested and prepared candidates are to accept the job. Despite asking the question during the interview, we would only investigate references once the successful candidates are seriously considered for the job, not before. Finally, it’s useful to mention when the decision will be made with regard to the outcome of the interview so no one is left hanging for any longer than needed.
Remote interviews can speed up the recruitment process because they are easier to organize. Technical issues and unexpected interruptions can happen on both sides, but a quick, matter-of-fact apology with the aim of resuming the call at your earliest opportunity is all that’s required. Ultimately, the ideal outcome of a job interview is to find a genuine fit, with both sides excited about working together on a common goal.