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Hiring Great Candidates In A Remote World

Amy Stanton

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Hiring new employees over Zoom has been an adjustment.

For more than a decade, my public relations agency Stanton & Company has worked from an office. We are used to in-person conversations, client meetings, and interviews, and when it comes to hiring, I’ve always relied heavily on my intuition to tell me when someone is (or isn’t) a good fit. Especially in the communications industry, human chemistry and “people skills” are critical. Before the pandemic, I could not have imagined making a decision to hire someone without first spending quality (in-person) time with them.

This spring, just as the coronavirus was taking off across the US, the agency needed to bring on a couple of new team members. Multiple women on my team were pregnant and due to have their babies around the same time. In addition, since our business is largely focused on health and wellness, our clients and prospects were ramping up their PR efforts which meant more work for us!

For the first time ever, I didn’t have the luxury of inviting prospective employees to the office — I had shut our office down and the team was working remotely. And time was of the essence, so I couldn’t wait to see how things might unfold over the coming months.

Before you know it, the team and I were deep in Zoom interviews, and it’s amazing how much you can actually learn about someone through a digital experience. While no, I couldn’t rely on my typical in-person indicators (e.g., how someone treats people in the office, promptness, nervous habits during an interview, whether or not they bring a printed resume or materials to show, etc.), it turns out there are plenty of things to observe via Zoom! And, it’s an opportunity to rely even more heavily on intuition.

To date, I’ve hired a few key team members via Zoom and they’ve been fantastic additions to the team. It’s yet another example of adjusting to the ever-changing times and we’re learning along the way.

If, like me, you are still getting accustomed to hiring people remotely, here are a few lessons I’ve learned:

1. You have a much bigger talent pool now than ever before — if you’re willing to embrace work from home.

Layoffs and furloughs aside, there are some very big benefits to hiring remote workers.

While I certainly look forward to having the team back in the office here in Los Angeles, the coronavirus pandemic has shown that geography does not need to get in the way of hiring talented people. For example, one of my new team members lives in South Carolina. In the past, I would never have considered hiring a key team member outside of the LA area because showing up in the office and engaging with the team in-person has always been a key ingredient to our team’s success. But when there’s a pandemic, all bets are off.

Let’s be honest, none of us have any clue how long we’ll be working from home. I remain hopeful that in coming weeks, as our LA COVID numbers are decreasing, we can safely return to the office. That said, some companies, like Twitter and Square, have pledged to work remotely forever, while the Prime Minister of Barbados has started offering up incentives (a year-long visa) for people to stay and work remotely in the Caribbean (sounds great to me!). Regardless, as business owners, we need to embrace this uncertain world and adjust accordingly.

2. You had an in-person interview process. Now you need a Zoom interview process.

The same way you would want to gauge how a prospective hire conducts his or herself during a group interview, you also want to facilitate those group interactions remotely.

Since so much of our working lives now consist of video calls, it’s important to see how someone handles his or herself within that environment. You’ll want to organize group interviews in addition to your own 1:1 interviews, so that you can see how various team members get along with the person you’re interviewing, and allow the candidate the opportunity to ask his or her own questions, socialize, etc. These are all things that would happen in an office environment, so finding ways to recreate those experiences digitally is key.

In addition, it’s important to find ways to understand a candidate’s work ethic, motivation, organization, and self-sufficiency — whether that’s asking for work samples, giving an applicant an assignment to complete, or just paying extra close attention to the way he or she communicates throughout the interview process. For example, if the candidate takes a day or two to respond to your emails, or frequently send responses with typos, then you can assume those same habits and behaviors will remain (and be amplified) if you bring them onto the team.

And finally, just because we’re remote doesn’t mean etiquette goes out the window. There is a lot to be said for someone who shows up to a Zoom interview well dressed, groomed, not looking like they just rolled out of bed in their sweatpants. These things still matter and are a signal the person you’re talking to truly cares about the opportunity.

3. You want to hire for the present, with an awareness of the future.

In “the old days,” hiring someone who lived in a different state or city came with risk.

Most companies would pay to relocate that person and invest a significant amount of time, energy, and resources into getting them up to speed. Sometimes, it would work out, and the person would stay with the company for years — and other times, things wouldn’t work out, and the company would have to cut its losses and try again.

Hiring remotely is different. Especially if you are looking for someone part-time, or to freelance for your business, both parties have very little to lose. The company isn’t asking the employee to uproot his or her entire life, and the employee isn’t asking the company to make a big financial investment. Instead, both parties share a similar vision and see an opportunity to work together, and if all goes well, that’s great. And if not, no harm done.

Once we’re all back in the office, I look forward to having people physically working together again. But having other team members working remotely will be just fine as well. We’re used to it at this point!

So, to plan for that type of future, think about what that transition and “new culture” will look like a year or two from now — and how you can make hiring decisions today that will be effective and efficient for the company down the road.

4. You’ll want to establish new job expectations and requirements for remote employees.

This is true for both new hires as well as current team members.

When you hire someone in an office setting, you give them clear expectations: the team will be working from around 9am to 6pm, they should have their laptop with them at home at night, they should be checking their phone in case a client reaches out after hours, etc. These expectations are clear at the outset, and both parties need to be on the same page.

Working remotely should be no different.

For example, one of the necessities for an effective work-from-home environment is secure and stable WiFi. It’s frustrating to be on a Zoom team meeting, or worse, a client meeting, if someone’s connection is going in and out, garbling their audio and video. In the digital age, this is unprofessional and so the expectation is, if you’re going to work remotely, you need to have a strong and secure internet connection. The same goes for work habits and using remote tools like Slack, and maintaining a well-lit, professional at-home workspace. For example, without “office hours,” now the expectation is that they’re constantly checking Slack and email — in fact, working from home makes this even more important than ever and employees might find themselves working at all times since there’s less of a separation between home and office life (I’m certainly experiencing that.)

We’re all learning and adjusting accordingly as we experience this new world. Since there’s a big element of trust when it comes to working remotely, it’s important to be transparent about these expectations from the get-go. And as always, it comes back to good communication.

Amy Stanton is the founder and CEO of Stanton & Company and co-author of "The Feminine Revolution."

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