Successful Hiring in a Pandemic, Digital World

One New Hire’s Personal Journey

Photo by Ekatarina Bolovtsova via Pexels

The handshake ritual. The Face-to-Face (F2F) chemistry check. The sharing of a cup of coffee or lunch. The perception of presence — that is, how she/he “shows up.” The interviews with potential peers. Traditionally, those are all in-person data points in a constellation of other data points that have helped HR departments and hiring managers figure out whether a candidate has the right stuff.

Of course, those touchpoints also help the candidate assess whether the potential employer has the right stuff.

So, how does that selection process work in a pandemic world when companies and candidates do not have those in-person opportunities to provide guidance to their choices? (And BTW — all of those so-called reliable touchpoints are also potential sources of unconscious bias, but that’s a topic for another article…).

And after the initial multi-step matchmaking dance there are the other elements in an external hiring situation:

  • The onboarding and/or orientation
  • The functional training
  • The “nuts-and-bolts” training for how to use systems and processes, such as timesheets, expense reports, budgeting, proprietary software use, etc.

All of that stuff has had to occur digitally now for many companies that have traditionally done most or all of it in-person.

This is the brief story of how a colleague of mine experienced the end-to-end hiring process at a well-known multinational company in the midst of the pandemic lockdowns. It’s a good story with a good ending — 28 days between the initial contact by the recruiter to the offer of employment. That’s darn good velocity even prior to the pandemic pandemonium. And it’s instructive for what’s possible although it certainly isn’t the blueprint for all organizations. Because of course, it depends…

My colleague — let’s call her Mia — was contacted by a recruiter for an HR position in late June via LinkedIn. After that initial phone call, almost everything was conducted via video conference. There was a training skills demo and then three interviews involving the usual suspects: the hiring leader; a prospective colleague; a group HR VP; another functional manager.

Mia indicated to me that she was a little concerned that her “whole self” might not be adequately captured through the video experience, especially in the training demo. That’s a concern felt by many candidates, according to some recent articles on the topic that I’ve read. But apparently, she demonstrated good enough presence to advance in the process.

For the training demo, Mia was asked to present a portion of some training content she was familiar with. Fortunately, she had experience not only as a classroom facilitator but for the last 6 months had acquired proficiency for virtual facilitation. There were two people on the video call evaluating her performance.

After the video interviews, the job offer was presented via telephone — there is no reason for a video call to convey that sort of information. That showed that the hiring company appropriately adjusted the channel to fit the task. Phone calls, emails, and texts still have life in our video ubiquitous world.

Similarly, once Mia accepted the offer the start date and logistics conversations with the HR department were conducted by phone. A “welcome to the team!” congratulatory chat with her new leader was also video.

The regional HQ for Mia’s new company is located in another state and if this was 2019 the orientation would have been held on-site with other new hires. But this is 2020 so it was all virtual. About 30 new hires were part of that event and after introducing themselves to each other the cameras were turned off to limit distractions. Again, a smart and practical use of the technology.

Mia indicated the orientation was reasonably engaging, which can be a challenge since one of the prime objectives of an orientation is to provide information, much of it one-way. Some interactive and fun gaming was included in the orientation to keep things lively.

After orientation, Mia was then assigned to 12 hours of HR role and function onboarding, again conducted exclusively via video. There were only 6–8 people involved in this activity so cameras were up and running at all times as the number was more manageable and it was important to begin relationship building through this activity. That can be challenging without the F2F component.

Mia’s position will be Work From Home (WFH) at least for now as the regional HQ facility limits in-person work to those in the manufacturing process (this is in the food industry). (See my July article for a more in-depth perspective on WFH) She had been on board for several weeks when I spoke with her and she was very happy with how everything had been handled and is delighted with her new leader whom she has still never met in person.

The processes described here were driven by the COVID crisis. Companies and the people in them have had to rapidly pivot into a remote or virtual world these last 9 months. Once we are largely on the other side of this crisis (sometime in 2021?) will things return to mostly in-person interactions? Mia thinks not.

One of her roles is to conduct training and she believes — as many others do — that in a post-pandemic world a much higher percentage of training will be conducted virtually. Travel — even local travel — to training events consumes a great deal of time and money and in many cases, there is not much bang for the buck. However, there will also be a need for traditional in-person training and development, especially for mid and senior-level leaders and learning cohorts. So there will be a mix.

Regarding the front-end selection/hiring processes, companies such as Mia’s are discovering that there are real advantages to doing things virtually, not just because of the time/money issue but because there is so much more flexibility for matching calendars for interviews when travel is taken out of the equation. That was a factor in the speedy 28-day contact-to-offer timeline.

And from what I’ve read, many HR departments have discovered in these last few months that there is no noticeable difference in the quality of hires, their initial performance or 60-day turnover when comparing traditional in-person hiring practices to virtual and video practices. So, we can expect the pivot to video to become more permanent.

A few things need to be acknowledged. After all, as I said earlier “It depends…” First, this was one person getting hired by one company. It’s very possible there are other hiring situations in these last few months that hit some potholes in the road. Sometimes the technology falters. Sometimes the planning and organizing falters. But it ain’t rocket science…

Secondly, many companies have already been doing this long before The Rona made an appearance. They might have far-flung operations where in-person isn’t practical. Or it could be a high volume hiring situation (call center associates for an expansion, for instance) where all of the front-end interactions are done via phone or video.

Third, there are certain roles/jobs — especially in manufacturing — where physical dexterity, eye-hand coordination, or even physical strength are conditions of employment and need to be assessed in-person via mini-simulations, a work sampling, or various skills testing.

But overall, this is where the work world is headed. As some guy named Dylan once said, “The times they are a-changin.”

About the author: Mike Hoban is a leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics, sometimes in a whimsical way. He is actively working at becoming a world-class grandpa to his five young granddaughters. In addition to his 35+ years experience as a leader, consultant and business owner he has also published extensively in Fast Company and also wrote a business column for 12 years. Many of his recent commentaries — including several about leading during the COVID crisis — can be found on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-hoban-b5756b6/ He can also be reached at mjhoban99@gmail.com.

Mike Hoban is a West Michigan-based leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics.