Hiring amid COVID-19 – SD Times

by Joseph K. Clark

The coronavirus has wholly altered our work from mask mandates to seeing coworkers and associates through video calls rather than in person. How we run a business is not exempt from this, as more and more companies transition from in-person workplaces to virtual formats. 

There are many benefits and disadvantages to this transformation, and one element of this change is the concept of a virtual interviewing and hiring process when onboarding new employees. The idea of interviews via video calls can seem daunting to both employers and employers alike, but the truth is that digital hiring is quickly becoming the new normal. 

Eric Riz, the founder of verified data platform Empty Cubicle, says that while seeking out and hiring employees online is not necessarily a new concept, the push for all companies to adopt this practice is more vital now than ever. “The expectations and the demands on the businesses have become much harder. Where organizations had a specific controlled process of how long it would take for an individual to get hired, that has now been modified,” explained Riz. This modification has been fast-tracked, with in-person interviewing and hiring not being an option over the last year and a half. 

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An interview process that may have taken two rounds in an in-person format could take three or even four while conducting interviews online because it is harder to get a solid read on candidates while viewing them through a screen. On top of this, some companies that may have favored a more old-fashioned approach to hiring have had to make this shift rather quickly, making it challenging to navigate this new hiring process.


Not knowing what to expect.

In the pre-pandemic world, employers and job seekers know what to expect in an interview. Dressing in business casual attire and expecting a firm handshake at the start of the discussion was a familiar approach to hiring, but today that is no longer the case. Not only do employers now have to be sure that the candidate being interviewed is suitable for the job, but they also have to ensure that the interviewee is the right person to function effectively through digital means. 

“An expectation that everyone knows and uses the technology appropriately, whether they’re using Teams or Hangouts or Zoom or anything else, it means that the hiring [expectation] on the employer’s side has been increased,” Riz said. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; employers expect to have to train new hires on the ins and outs of the business, but when they also have to go through how to use online platforms for everyday tasks effectively, the length of that training process can be extended, making that candidate less desirable. Finding a somewhat tech-savvy candidate plays a more critical role in hiring because businesses that use minimal tech to run their day-to-day operations are increasingly relying on it. 

Another aspect of online interviewing is verifying the candidate’s credentials. Before COVID, when interviews would take place in person, an employer could quickly tell that the interviewees’ answers were their own words and experiences. However, it is hard to tell what information they can access right in front of them when viewing someone through a screen. “As I’m sitting here in my home office, I have four screens in front of me, and you’re on one of them,” he began, looking at me through the computer monitor. “If I put you on another screen and I had a bunch of technical details on the screen in front of me… and I read somebody else’s resume… and it looks like I’ve got all of the answers… but the reality is I’m none of that, I’m just sort of a good talker.”

Verification a challenge

This is an essential aspect of the new normal that people may have glossed over verifying interviewee details. When interviewing via video call, employers run the risk of candidates telling them what they know they want to hear because they now have the option to look up answers to questions or reference somebody else’s experience during the interview. Before the pandemic, this was not a huge concern when interviewing took place in person. If, for any reason, the employer felt the interviewee may be lying on their resume, asking them a question relating to a topic they claim to be proficient in will clear up any confusion. Unfortunately, verifying this information in a digital setting is not easy. Employers today, particularly in technology, always have to consider when hiring a potential employee.

Another way that COVID-19 has redefined the way companies hire is the added option of prompted video interviews. This is when a hiring manager will take a video asking multiple interview questions — or, in the case of developers, to change some functionality in a code snippet in Java, as an example —  and then a candidate will have a set amount of time to finish the test, or think of an answer and record a video in response. Verifying the interviewee’s background becomes a problem as it is easier for the applicant to fabricate past professional experience. In an in-person interview, the interviewer can see that the applicant is not seeking answers. In pre-recorded interviews, it is challenging to tell genuine answers and the result of a Google search done before answering. This can lead to an underqualified candidate making it past the first round of the interview process, thus wasting company time with a second interview. 

According to Riz, this pre-recorded prompted interviewing also poses a different set of obstacles on the interviewee’s side, “I think that you’re testing people… the whole idea of an interview is to have a conversation and create a rapport.” Taking away the personalization of a live interview can make the candidate feel trapped and trigger something similar to a fight-or-flight response resulting in unnecessary panic, Riz said. 

The added time pressure this method of interviewing has can also cause the interviewee to speak too quickly out of fear that the allotted time will run out, leading to miscommunication. “If I’m the candidate… and their rapid-firing questions at me that I have to answer in a specific period, it changes the whole dynamic,” Riz explained. This shift in dynamic will inevitably affect the way questions are answered. Therefore, it has the power to alter the trajectory of an interview completely. Riz continues, “I’m being tested, which means I’m going to emotionally and psychologically respond differently… and you’re not going to get a true response that reflects the individual.” When interviewees feel this pressure, even the most well-prepared and qualified candidates may not answer to the best of their ability. 

Vaccine requirements

A new issue facing employers a year and a half into the pandemic is the question of vaccines, especially while hiring new employees. While a company may not require a vaccine to be employed, it can undoubtedly restrict who can and cannot enter the workplace. “Organizations are going to be able to say, ‘I’m sorry, but people who have or haven’t had ABC [vaccine] can’t come on-site because we can’t risk it,'” Eric Riz, founder of the verified data platform Empty Cubicle, stated. “As a business owner, you must look out for your people.” This becomes a factor in the hiring process because employers now struggle with the added layer. If the most qualified candidate opted not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, is hiring them and placing them in a remote setting while most other employees are in the office worth it? This also becomes an awkward new aspect of the interview process that has to be addressed. An employer bringing up the topic of vaccines in an interview may derail what could have been a positive conversation beforehand. 

The topic of vaccines affects potential employees as well. It has the power to limit the job prospects of those who chose not to get vaccinated, depending on whether or not they are comfortable with or even offered the option of working remotely. Ultimately, the employer decides whether or not they want to allow unvaccinated employees into the office.   

The issue of vaccines rolling out in many places has also caused the number of people applying for jobs to increase back up to a manageable level. Joe Militello, chief people officer at PagerDuty, said that the number of people applying for jobs had risen dramatically over the last six months since the vaccines were introduced. “I would say the vaccinations are playing a huge part in it because that’s reducing COVID rates in many parts of the world,” Militello said. 

However, because vaccines are not accessible everywhere and there are still those who will opt not to get them, the fight for hiring managers is far from over. The effects of the pandemic will likely still be seen in the interviewing and hiring process for the foreseeable future. On top of vaccinations, Militello also attributed the recent spike in job applicants to the fact that resignations have been rising consistently and that job seekers are looking for a change in their daily lives. Whatever the reason, the workforce is seeing an upward trend that will hopefully continue in the coming months. 

Riz also spoke about the technical process of onboarding new employees, both before and after the coronavirus pandemic. He said the hiring baseline remains the same while the process has been altered. “There’s a whole life cycle and process behind hiring, and while that’s been disrupted, it hasn’t changed from a technical level,” he said.

This is to say that everything that went into seeking out and interviewing new prospective employees hasn’t changed much at its core. Before and after COVID, the deeper level of the hiring process involves setting up a new employee with a desk, the correct software, and the knowledge needed to thrive within the company. Employers still deal with those same struggles, albeit differently and to another degree amid the pandemic

Amid all the chaos surrounding interviewing and hiring under today’s circumstances, Riz’s main advice to job seekers today is to take a very well-thought-out approach to the job hunt. “I would say right now… assess and analyze your situation and perspective much more and try to create a plan or path for yourself not with hard goals but with soft goals that can be modified based on the world’s conditions,” is his advice.  

Cultivating Culture in a remote workforce

One of the most critical yet overlooked aspects of hiring for remote work due to the pandemic is the issue of company unity and morale. According to Joe Militello, chief people officer at PagerDuty, it is undoubtedly challenging to cultivate employee loyalty while operating in a remote format. He said, “That sense of belonging… it’s one thing to think, ‘Yeah, I can operate independently because I have access to technology and am a responsible human being.’ Still, it’s also about that emotional connection to the company.” This connection can be difficult to manifest in a setting where all employees are not working together. This also affects the way an interviewee may feel about the company in the first place. 

When most interviews took place in an in-person setting, when the applicant entered the workspace, they could feel the energy of the people around them. Often, they could tell based on feeling alone if the environment was a good fit. With this no longer being an option in most workplaces, it can be nearly impossible to gauge the loyalty of current employees unless the applicant were to reach out to a team member personally. Not having this team spirit and shared camaraderie among employees can be difficult for employers and prospective candidates. 

Employers can struggle to create employee loyalty, and job candidates can find their issues in terms of feeling out about the environment and people they will be working with if hired for the position. “They can do the job, but in six months, if they don’t identify with the company and don’t feel like they belong there, they’re going to leave,” Militello said. According to Militello, employers now have to work even harder to ensure that the work environment is positive and fosters employee connection, whether that happens remotely or otherwise.

Shannon Hogue, global head of solutions engineering at Karat, pointed out that eliminating geographic constraints with remote hiring gives potential employees greater freedom. She believes that candidates interviewing and working remotely can go through many more job postings than what would have been available in a company requiring reporting to an office. This allows them to choose the one that speaks to them the most and is not limited by the company’s locations. 

“Work is hard; startups are hard; tech is tough especially for… under-represented communities. It’s a tough place to be, so if you don’t believe in the mission, you don’t truly believe that you’re making a difference… it’s straightforward to move on to the next thing,” She explained. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic and the shift towards remote hiring and working, doors have opened for job applicants to find positions that mean more to them because of the absence of a geographic requirement. She added, “If you want to retain folks, you must ensure they believe in your mission.” This may be the key to developing employee loyalty in a small working world. When an employee works for a company they love in a position that makes them feel fulfilled, the issue of turnover and loyalty can become obsolete. 

This is one of the most positive impacts of the pandemic on hiring and interviewing for both job seekers and employers. Hogue continued, “Do I think that they are going to get uncomfortable with having a lot of options? Not! The more options, the better. It means that we will start seeing the best diversity in thought and talent with the best companies.” Here, she explained why this new universal remote hiring benefits both sides of the spectrum. Employers are gaining more diverse and informed points of view to enrich their companies, while employees are getting the opportunity to gain a more filled-out perspective of the job options and companies available to the nation and even worldwide. She said that access to these different companies and cultures provides access to a diversity pipeline relatively new to the hiring world.

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