Hiring Without a Handshake—Get Virtual Interviewing Right


Every new hire is either an opportunity for success or a challenge to it. No recruit is neutral. If there are people on your team who don’t rock the boat, but never move it forward, that’s a drain on precious resources. Interviewing in a virtual environment adds a dimension to an already high stakes process.

Interviewers need to be ambassadors, psychologists, empaths, and detectives to accurately assess candidates in what is, typically, a short period of time. Even when recruitment includes multiple meetings with representatives from across the organization, missteps are common.

Remote work makes the world your oyster. You can cherry-pick talent from around the globe. But can you hire the right people when you’ve never shared a handshake or a conference table? The answer is yes; however – like all things in the virtual realm, the process must be more intentional. Once we’re able to gather safely, many organizations will return to in-person interviewing. Perfecting virtual techniques can strengthen your overall hiring program, especially if you’re recruiting remote teams.

Showcase Your Brand

When you are interviewing, your brand should shine. Don’t embarrass your organization or the applicant with technology that doesn’t run smoothly. Make sure that all interviewers have these resources:

  • Adequate internet bandwidth
  • Laptops or computers with sufficient processing power, excellent cameras, and microphones
  • The most recent version of the video software platform
  • Appropriate video backgrounds
  • Good lighting

Send candidates complete information on the technology they will need and clear instructions for accessing the platform, so they will be able to put their best foot forward.

In-person interviews provide a myriad of cues about culture. From the receptionist’s greeting to the interior design and even the expressions on people’s faces, a walk around the office conveys important information about who you are. Don’t change your style because the meeting is virtual. Keep culture top of mind and on display as much as possible. Make up for the missing office tour by taking time to describe your organization’s vision, values, and expectations for behavior. And, be sure to mention why working at your association is rewarding and what your team does to have fun.

Maximize Screen Time by Preparing Off Camera

Careful preparation adds depth to meetings on the flat screen.

The best way to impress an applicant with your organization and your management style is to conduct a productive interview. (And, you do need to impress. News travels quickly along the association grapevine. Like a bad review on Amazon, someone’s less-than-positive interview experience could impact your applicant pool.)

Careful preparation adds depth to meetings on the flat screen. It will also improve the chances for a match where the attraction is mutual. Trick questions and ambiguous feedback won’t reflect positively on you or your association. But getting to know the applicant well enough on paper so that you can take a personalized and probing approach to the meeting, demonstrates that you are serious about finding the right talent.

To ensure that the interview proceeds smoothly, circulate the agenda in advance. This may sound redundant. It’s a job interview; don’t we all know how that goes? Yes, but this extra polish sets the virtual stage. It also means that you won’t miss covering important information. Include the following details:

  • Participants’ names
  • A list of the topics with approximate timing for each.
  • How the questioning will occur i.e., will one person interview while the others listen, or will you take turns asking questions; if so, what will the order be. This is an effective way to avoid awkward interruptions or silences.
  • Information about the overall process, such as the timeline for interviewing, hiring, and onboarding.
  • The job description and background information about your organization

Balance Evaluating Hard and Soft Skills

Every interview strikes a balance between assessing the applicant’s skills and determining whether their attitudes, values, and behaviors will be a good fit for your organization. In an in-person interview, the emphasis tends to fall on skills because behavior is more easily observed. Since body language, facial expressions, and reactions are less obvious in a virtual setting, interviewers may want to take extra time to explore qualities of character like motivation, initiative, and adaptability.

Meg and Tim Ward, Co-Founders of Gravitate Solutions, have cultivated a productive work environment over years of careful interviewing. When we talked with them for our book, Association 4.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage, and Transformation, they described their process like this:

“Our interview process is rigorous,” says Meg. “We do phone screening followed by three waves of interviews with teammates from different cross-sections of the company. There are role-playing exercises, and the final activity is a cultural fit session. We look for candidates who are willing to be flexible and have the intellectual gravitas to dig into problems that we’re asked to solve every day. This process ensures that we hire the right people.”

In asking questions related to behavior, keep an open mind. Diversity is a catalyst for innovation. The goal is not to find someone who is like everyone else. Consider people who can expand your team’s perspectives and contribute new thinking, while supporting the group in working effectively together.

Identify Digital Enthusiasts

Associations can’t afford to hire employees who are not comfortable in the digital environment. Everyone doesn’t need to be a digital native, but each person you add to your team should be ready to use technology to improve their performance. Don’t assume that because an applicant seems comfortable with the virtual format, that they will enhance your organization’s digital competence. Ask questions that will reveal current skills, curiosity, and willingness to learn about new platforms and software.

Hire Talent for Association 4.0

.orgSource defines Association 4.0 as the skills needed to succeed in a marketplace dominated by technology. Sharon Rice, Managing Director Business Strategy explains the challenge like this:

“In the midst of a business world driven by invention, innovation, and profit, associations revolve around traditional interpretations of mission and service.  That more passive approach worked well in a slower environment. But it doesn’t serve associations or their members when matched against a technological revolution that is delivering knockout punches, blows that change, recreate or destroy business and professions with ease . . . This is a fascinating era. People around the globe can collaborate on projects. Virtual teams are on the rise, and they are the future of work. To effectively use the fantastic technology at our disposal, we need to create cultures of acceptance and adaptation.”

Finding the talent to navigate this changing environment is the responsibility of the current generation of association leaders. Whether your interviews are online or in person, seek out problem-solvers who relish seeing the world through fresh eyes. When every hire is an opportunity for growth and another chance to position your organization for success, the handshake easily transitions to a virtual high-five.


Position Your Organization For Success

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