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When You Can’t Meet In-Person: 4 Tips for Hiring via Video in an Era of Social Distancing

Posted by Lauren Kendall on March 26, 2020
Originally published on LinkedIn by Paul Manning (Managing Director at The Bowdoin Group) and Sean Walker (Partner at The Bowdoin Group).

Many executives we’ve been speaking with are reevaluating their interview process to make it all happen via technology. As a result (and perhaps not surprisingly), we’ve heard a lot of trepidation.  People are saying things like “How can I hire someone I’ve never met in-person?”

In these unprecedented times, if you have a hire that is urgent and critical, waiting until this is all behind us will delay your hire.  If you’re just setting out or in the middle of hiring an executive or strategic-level role, transitioning your process online and getting through as much as you can via video is the smart move.

Video interviewing will allow you to either:

  1. Move candidates all the way through the funnel so that when we are able to get back to in-person interaction, you know your top candidates; or 
  2. Enable you and your candidate to make the mutual decision to move forward with the hire in this era of social distancing.

If you didn’t think it was possible to move almost the entire hiring process over to video, now’s your chance to embrace it with open arms.

Afraid that you’re not going to really get to know someone if it’s not in-person?

Before the COVID-19 era, we were already relying heavily on video for many executive searches.  Executive teams and Board members are often traveling, so we use video to keep the process moving.

This was the case for the President of Platforms role at Mayo Clinic.  Due to timing and scheduling constraints, our team didn’t have the opportunity to meet all the key stakeholders or candidates in person until the final round of interviews, so everything was done virtually.  

Sean remembers, “When I walked into the conference room for one of our last meetings and finally got to meet the team and candidates in person, a world-renowned physician hugged me like we had known each other for years.  Another poked fun at me for wearing a tie since I had never worn one on video.” Spending countless hours on video, understanding the wants and needs of the hiring team as well as the candidates interviewing, was just as effective as having that interaction in person.

What we’ve learned is that even over video, a certain level of intimacy can be reached if done thoughtfully and with intention.  It is possible to still achieve that trusted relationship, so that once you do meet face-to-face, you’ll feel like you have already “met.”

Our recommendations for shifting your hiring process to video:

The good news is that globally, most organizations had some kind of video conferencing solution prior to COVID-19, so most companies are not starting from scratch, but we’ll admit that video interviewing does take some getting used to.

Here are our tips for video interviewing:

1. Get comfortable with being on camera. Start using video for every internal team call you have.  Don’t be afraid to toggle away from your own video on-screen so that it feels like a 1:1 interaction versus having a mirror right next to your candidate’s face.  

2. Outline exactly how the virtual interview process will go.  Just like an in-person hiring process, you’ll want to ensure the entire team knows the new, virtual interview process.  Here is our 3-round process for video interviewing executive candidates: 

3. Extend your interviews.  Build in an extra 15 minutes with candidates to allow for time to get to know each other.  Ask questions that you would ask if you were in person. Identify all the stakeholders typically involved in the interview process and ask them to meet with your candidate over video (i.e., other execs on your team, board members, investors, etc.).  When testing cultural fit, it’s important for both you and the candidate to have as many data points as is feasible.   

4. Be flexible and realistic.  WFH realities are a real thing.  So are technology issues. While professionalism is a key part of every executive interaction, understand that this interaction may not be the same as you would have in person—kids may be talking in the background, the doorbell may ring, the call may drop.  That’s real life these days—don’t hold it against your candidates.

We can assure you, video interviewing done right will allow you to pick up on all the right attributes that you need to evaluate for your critical hire.  Once the situation improves (hopefully sooner rather than later), you’ll be able to make a decision quickly as a result of the work you do to move the process forward now.  

One positive byproduct of this era of social distancing is that companies will be encouraged to incorporate more technology into their hiring processes going forward.  We anticipate that they’ll realize just how much faster the process can move if candidates don’t have to be in person for every discussion. In any case, this time of great change will undoubtedly have a lasting effect on hiring.

Have questions about video interviewing? Reach out to us and we’d be happy to help give you some additional advice: or