Normally, interviews take place in offices. My interview for Mondrem took place in January, and I met Mike, Mondrem’s Director, and Lucy, Mondrem’s Client Projects Lead, in the Mondrem office. We shook hands, before sitting around a table with notepads and glasses of water. Although we didn’t know it, our physical meeting would soon become a rarity.
A pandemic would grip the world, tearing through the fabric of normality. This pandemic and the subsequent social distancing policy would render face-to-face interviews impossible.
But that did not mark an end to recruitment for Mondrem. Since then we have employed several new members of staff.
So, I spoke to Mike and Lucy about virtual recruitment to find out if pixels on a computer screen can really match the traditional, face-to-face interview.
“We used Microsoft Teams,” Mike told me. “It was much like any other meeting because we’re all used to using Teams, so it didn’t feel odd or awkward because that’s what we do all the time.”
At Mondrem, we are natives of the Microsoft Office ecosystem. We’re tech savvy and meet virtually every day.
But even though we are Teams people at Mondrem, not everyone is fluent in Teams. Mike spoke about the importance of reassuring the interviewees.
“We knew that it was important to be reassuring. So, we didn’t start the interview with the interview, we started with a relaxed conversation and I told a Dad joke or two.” Mike laughs before revealing: “We even said that the technology may fail, but we told the candidates not to worry about it. We were super relaxed with them.”
“One of the candidates was a Welsh speaker, so we introduced ourselves in Welsh.”
Mike then spoke about the practicalities involved with virtual recruitment.
“It worked really efficiently; we weren’t worried about travelling. We’re used to being Teams people. The practicalities were very simple.
“As an interviewer, there’s something quite nice about being able to see both the face of your co-interviewer and the face of the interviewee. You could see how everyone was reacting to everything and it was good to be able to see your own face. I think there’s an advantage to it.”
We shared a laugh over the mildly amusing incongruity of wearing a suit to sit in your bedroom. But quite often, a bedroom is the only private space in the house.
“People are a bit restricted at the moment so there were some interesting choices of venue. Interviewing from student halls, from someone’s bed, because that was the only quiet place in the house, somebody’s cat joined us, they didn’t know the cat was in the room and it joined us.”
But despite a cat making a surprise cameo and the incongruity of suits and bedsheets, Mike stressed that virtual interviews avoided awkwardness.
“An interview isn’t a particularly tactile experience. A virtual interview reduces the awkwardness.”
Despite the feeling of being screen drunk after hours of interviewing and the odd technical hitch, Mike was enthusiastic about the advantages of virtual recruitment.
And Lucy, Mike’s co-interviewer, felt the same.
“It was very, very efficient, which was great,” Lucy said. “It gives you a bit of confidence that the interviewee can use technology. It’s almost like a mini technical test.”
Lucy was quick to stress the importance of interviewee comfort.
“As a company we’ve got that experience of being able to put people at ease. I like to think I’m an open, chatty person who can listen intently while also being light-hearted. We are genuinely interested in what other people have to offer. It was as much them interviewing us as it was us interviewing them.
“I’ve done hundreds of interviews in my career and as an employer, you want to like the interviewee and you want to find the right fit for your company. You’ve read their CV and you have high hopes. All you want them to do is display what you already know. You’ve seen them on paper, and you want to like them; you want to work with them.”
This nurturing attitude is important. It’s about enabling the candidate to be their very best.
“You don’t want to catch them out, you want to give them every opportunity to show you just how good they are.”
But some things are difficult to express over video.
“A virtual interview does put extra pressure on the interviewee because it’s harder to get who you are across on a computer. It’s a moving photograph of yourself and it’s hard to translate charisma over video.
“There are things that are impossible to gauge.
“If you’re interviewing for a role that is people-facing, I imagine that would be difficult to do remotely.”
There’s also the question of privacy.
“I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse for the interviewee to be in their home environment. It must feel intrusive with some strangers coming into your house, asking you questions about yourself. I would not like this as the interviewee in my own safe space. I imagine that’s quite a difficult thing to get over.”
Although Lucy does add: “Some people would find it easier to be separated by a screen.”
Like many things, it’s a matter of preference. Some people prefer privacy, while others prefer the comfort of their home surroundings.
A virtual interview takes away that awkward moment shared between interviewee and interviewer when the interviewer starts scribbling notes down on paper: “When your interviewing somebody on a screen, you can write something down at the side and they don’t really notice.”
Listening to both Mike and Lucy, it is evident that the quirks of technology are impressive. Even if there are some inconveniences, Lucy effusively embraces the virtual process.
“It did do the job and I think we got a good response from the people that we talked to. It did what we needed to do, and it did it really well.
“It wasn’t that different to the standard process. I think I would offer to do either – we’ll do what suits you. We definitely got everything we needed, and I like to think the interviewees had an enjoyable experience too.”
Next week we’ll be sharing the experience of virtual recruitment from the perspective of the two Mondrem Nurture interns who sat on other side of the computer screen– Ellie-kay Dawe and Lewis Smith.