Recruiting in times of Corona

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This article appeared on NZZ Jobs in Juli 2020:

If personal encounters are not possible or only possible at the very end and virtual encounters dominate over large parts of a recruitment process, then factors that tend to remain in the background in traditional interviews become relevant. Dealing with the camera has to be learned if you don’t want to unexpectedly suffer defeats. Therefore, there are a few aspects to consider.

Dr. Thomas A. Biland

In recent years, digitization has brought about substantial changes for companies, which are more far-reaching than the design of processes that are mapped and processed by IT. Rather, the transformation will often ultimately result in a changed business model. This in turn often means fundamental adjustments to the requirement profiles. The majority of today’s job profiles will no longer exist in this form in a few years. Either because they will simply cease to exist or because they will change substantially as a result of changing conditions.
As if this were not enough of a challenge, Corona has brought additional upheavals to the labour market, which will probably have an immediate impact: less travel and thus fewer personal meetings, more virtual forms of collaboration, adapted recruiting processes, etc. Even in companies that used to regard home office as a “no go”, it is now inevitably becoming socially acceptable. And lo and behold: it works and even leads to increased efficiency, as some of the useless “show and tell” meetings are eliminated and the focus is on work. At the same time, however, it also has undesirable side-effects when the home office means “working from the edge of the bed”, as the distraction of family and children is too great and the apartment too small. This is where companies are really challenged if they don’t want to let the home office degenerate into a stress catapult.

Especially in times when borders open and close even faster, filling vacancies becomes a challenge. From our own experience, two recent recruitment processes should be mentioned:

  • Company A places an order and a meeting with the group CEO is scheduled. However, he leaves the company immediately before the lockdown and the successor is literally stuck while we start the search for the local CEO. Nobody can travel and therefore the candidate presentations take place virtually.
  • Company B: The new manager is sought abroad, but neither we nor our client can travel, because we are stuck in Zurich. Here too, almost the entire process takes place virtually.

In both searches, the boundaries dissolve at the last moment, so that at least a personal meeting is possible. So the “gut feeling” can be satisfied.

In uncertain times, many candidates become even more cautious, they increasingly question the initial situation and want to know whether the company is healthy, how the business is developing in the environment and where the risks lie. True to the statement: “last in first out” or as one candidate aptly described it: “Of course, in such a situation I am not the cause of declining sales in the new location. Nevertheless, after 12 months I am identified with this situation and it becomes my problem”. Against such a background, strong candidates will think twice whether they would rather have “the bird in the hand or the dove on the roof”. This is where companies are called upon to speak up and answer questions with confidence and not simply dismiss critical candidate votes as a “lack of willingness to take risks”. This makes it even more important for HR and managers to win over candidates (not to persuade them!) and convince them. Simply assuming that the candidate alone has to convince the company of himself is not enough.

In virtual interviews, some aspects become important that would never have the same importance in a personal meeting. One reason for this is that in the dialogue we only see an excerpt and not the whole person. Thus, a candidate who appears calm and objective can suddenly appear “too calm”, because you haven’t seen how he or she supports what is being said with their hands. Or eye contact is missed. Which can be a mistake, however, because looking at the screen is not looking into the camera. And already a “prejudice” arises, which is difficult to correct. On the other hand, it can also be observed that the “Instagram generation” is much more relaxed about this virtual form of self-portrayal, and thus under certain circumstances awakens hopes which they then cannot keep in everyday life. The Swiss in particular are often weaker in communication and presentation than their Anglo-Saxon colleagues anyway. Virtual processes can reinforce this and require candidates to be particularly careful:

  • Environment: Choose an environment that looks professional. Beach life and house bar are not the right place, even if it can be chosen as a virtual template. Also the “view from above” on the iPad gives an impression – but not the one you are looking for. And the iPhone never looks professional.
  • Picture detail: Choose it so that it doesn’t exclude anything, but shows you as you are and look into the camera while talking!
  • Light: Make sure the room is well lit, that you are clear and easy to see, and that no shadows, bright backgrounds or blurriness sabotage a good conversation.
  • Sound: The microphone should pick you up clearly. If the person across the room has to listen hard to every sentence, you may lose important information. Or turn off your microphone while you are listening. Noise has a negative effect on the video.
  • Speech: Clarity in the way you speak is essential if content is not to be lost. In addition, it is important to let each other finish, otherwise this will create confusion.
  • Presence: Over-ear headphones may well shield the noise from the outside world, but whether they are right for a content-wise and visually high quality encounter is sometimes questionable. Your appearance as a whole should also look professional. And to answer e-mails on the side, you don’t usually see, but you quickly notice “that there’s something going on”.
  • Internet: Do not let unexpected technical problems upset you. Stay confident. In any case, make sure that the technical requirements are good and that you have tested them effectively in advance.

Recruiting processes that rely heavily on virtual processes run the risk of becoming a “beauty contest”. This is something that needs to be counteracted. This can be done through good preparation, video training and by paying attention to stumbling blocks. Especially the preparation is even more important.
Virtual recruiting processes run the risk of ending in a wrong choice, as factors come to the fore which do not deserve this importance or impressions are created which are not confirmed in reality. Not every impressive Hollywood star is as impressive in reality as he appears to us on the screen. This risk must be counteracted. For this, the candidate is just as much a challenge as the client, because the latter in particular must be aware of the possible stumbling blocks and therefore “question” candidates all the more. The headhunter, on the other hand, is particularly challenged by accompanying both sides in the interest of a long-term stable solution and actively intervening in case of “derailments” in the interest of the matter – for the benefit of both parties.

Dr. Thomas A. Biland is the founder and owner of Dr. Thomas A. Biland Executive Search, a boutique specializing in the international direct search of executives and specialists. He also owns da professionals ag, a leading personnel consultancy in the German-speaking world for 40 years, which focuses on the search for executives and specialists as well as executive assistants.

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