Virtual recruitment – a year on

Written by: Karishma Vakta-Smith is an assistant consultant at Solace
Published on: 25 Mar 2021

As the anniversary of the first fateful UK- wide lockdown (23 March 2020) passes us, it is good to take a look back at the eventful year we have had in the world of interim recruitment. It may feel like a futile exercise, as we hopefully look forward to relative normalcy from this summer onwards, but with data collected by a LinkedIn survey late last year indicating that a high number of professionals believe virtual recruitment will remain par-for-the-course post-COVID, it is a good time to look back and ponder over lessons learnt.

The survey stated that virtual recruiting was here to stay. It based these findings on more than 1,500 talent professionals and in-depth interviews with talent leaders across the world. With businesses having had to create end-to-end virtual recruiting processes for the first time ever, 81% of talent professionals surveyed agreed that virtual recruiting will continue post-COVID and 70% said that virtual recruiting will in fact become the new standard. 

Through our own conversations with senior level interim managers who have been a part of several virtual recruitment processes in the past year, we know that many of the obvious pros of the virtual manner of operations still remain 12 months on. For example, cost benefits to both organisations as well as candidates, time saving opportunities for all involved and – not least of all – the larger environmental benefits of carrying out these processes remotely, thereby easing the carbon footprint involved in using both private and public transport.

However, despite these clear advantages, at Solace we have noticed a worrying trend emerging in the world of virtual interim recruitment, relating to the time spent preparing for and interviewing candidates. Over the past 12 months, experiences of ‘screen fatigue’ have been well-documented; whereas we might once have attended three or four meetings in a day in various settings and locations, many professionals are now squeezing upwards of nine or ten virtual meetings into a packed day.

While those stolen minutes between meetings may have been a physical necessity to get from one meeting room to the next, we probably didn’t appreciate at the time that those moments gave us a chance to take a breath and reset (maybe even grab a coffee). Perhaps more critically, those moments also offered a chance to say hello to people we rushed past in the corridor.

Although in some instances this increased productivity could be seen as a positive change, I think it is important to ensure that we don’t lose the richness and quality of interactions, which are perhaps more carefully thought out and unrushed in more formal settings. Over recent months we have seen a small but noticeable decline in the time being allocated to the recruitment of senior interim roles. Increasingly we are seeing 30-minute interview slots rather than 1 hour or even 1.5 hours and preparation on the client and candidate side, in some cases, is less well thought out.

Among the interim managers we consulted on this subject, longer interviews were considered the norm pre-COVID and considered ideal in length. It was felt that shorter interviews of 30-45 minutes could often feel insufficient because once the client had finished explaining the job at hand and talking through the brief 30 minutes had easily passed without leaving any additional time to discuss in great depth the candidate’s offer and skills.

In pre-COVID times it was common for a full day or half day to be blocked out for interviews. It was also common to see interim candidates spending hours travelling to and from interviews and even sometimes staying overnight to give the process the time and attention they felt it was due. They would often visit the local area and get a feel for the place, particularly if they were interviewing for a growth/regen role. With all this in mind, if they were then allotted only 30 minutes to meet the client, it is likely they would have felt quite short-changed. Without these practicalities in play, it might be tempting to focus on quantity and not quality with regards to interviews. We understand that the field of candidates reaching interview stage is widening in some instances and while it can be tempting to meet a broader range of candidates for a shorter period of time each, there are some clear draw backs to this approach.

From our experience of having assisted clients through end-to-end virtual recruitment processes, we do believe it to be crucial to not lumber the process with too many elements such as testing alongside multiple rounds of interviewing, as that can alienate candidates and create malcontent among applicants for interim roles. This said, it has never been more important to give the process adequate time and consideration. There is a balance to be struck as we move beyond the current crisis context.

In the current climate, hirers of interim managers would benefit from spending additional time setting out unambiguous parameters for interims, being very clear in the deliverables and expectations of them (as far as they can be during a time of so much uncertainty) and laying out all aspects of the job at hand, warts and all. This helps in ensuring that interims are not faced with unexpected issues when starting a new role, often remotely, that they may not have prepared for.

When starting an interim role where there is an element of virtual leadership involved, the more detailed the recruitment and induction process the better. The culture of an organisation is incredibly difficult to pick up in a virtual setting and yet understanding cultural issues are a critical element of a successful executive interim hire. Inadequate focus on issues like this during the recruitment process can lead to an interim hire ultimately failing, which is not an outcome candidates or hirers want in any scenario.

In an ideal world, a recruitment process would inculcate the best that both the traditional and post-COVID manner of doing things has to offer, thereby providing organisations as well as candidates with choice. While there are innumerous benefits, both to candidates and clients, of the virtual recruitment process, it behoves all to stay aware of its pitfalls and come up with best practice solutions to avoid them. Ultimately, the cost of a failed interim recruitment process at the executive level is punitive to hiring organisations and cannot be taken lightly. 

Karishma Vakta-Smith is an assistant consultant at Solace