On getting recruitment and selection right

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Recruiting during lockdown

Blog Post

Written by Sue Berry on 30th July 2020. Revised 27th October 2020.

10 min read

online Interviews sam-mcghee-4siwRamtFAk-unsplashOn 23rd March 2020 Boris Johnson announced lockdown across the UK. Many businesses closed their doors. Trading for many ceased. Staff were furloughed, or where possible worked from home. In late March and early April most business owners were treading water, assessing how they could continue. Marketing, sales and recruitment activity were all put on hold. As the weeks dragged on it became apparent for many that for survival some recruitment would need. Indeed, supermarkets and delivery companies had to very quickly recruit staff to manage the huge surge in demand. But what of other businesses?

Everything’s changed, but nothing’s changed

Face-to-face recruitment and selection is difficult at the moment. Other methods are needed if candidate ability is to be properly assessed.

We’re all online these days, and naturally there’s an assumption that recruitment and selection will now go that way too. However, the online process should be as robust as that pre-lockdown. There is, indeed, and opportunity to improve selection quality! Managers are still seeking the best person for the job; the person who matches the job requirements and is a fit with the environment, or culture, in which they will be working.

Sifting of CVs or application forms hasn’t changed. The criteria used for shortlisting hasn’t changed. In effect, that’s always been ‘electronic’. The number of applicants, however, might have changed.

Recently, The Guardian newspaper carried an article about a business advertising for an administrator, they expected about 30 applications, but they got over 1000. Handling large numbers of applications needs a robust system to check the applications against the selection criteria. Those criteria should be built from the job description and person specification, just as before.

A simple method is to have an excel spreadsheet that lists all the criteria to be tested for. Each criterion is allocated 1 point where the applicant meets the requirement. More sophisticated tools will use a multiplier to give additional points for more critical criteria. Then decide how many candidates will be invited to first interview, and select the top scoring candidates.

Remember that at this stage you can’t actually assess ability or competence. You are assessing each candidate’s claim – and you need evidence.

Going online

Now you need to decide how you’ll carry out the interviews and who will be involved. As with face-to-face interviews you want to avoid having too many people interviewing – can you imagine, as candidate, having to look at a squad of people on Zoom, all firing questions! We recommend no more than two interviewers. Have two people conduct the first interview and two different people conduct the second.

Treat the online interview as you would a face-to-face. Prepare yourself ahead of time. It’s an interview, so you should dress the part. Wear the same outfits you would if you were interviewing face-to-face. This preparation will help you to better focus on the task. Sounds crazy, but it works.

Make sure that you have a quiet space for the meeting. It would be very unprofessional to have a pet, or stray child appear behind you during the interview! Likewise, don’t use a customised background image; these tear when you move around, making the interviewee feel sea-sick. It’s just not very professional.

As in a face-to-face interview you need to have eye contact with the interviewee. This means you should look at your camera when you are chatting and asking questions. Consider how your camera is angled; try to have the camera at eye level so that you’re not hunched over looking down at a laptop screen. You will, of course, need to make notes so you will sometimes be looking away.

Remember that the initial contact you have during the video interview will determine how the candidate views your business. What image do you want to portray?

Using online tools

Over the past four months, everyone has become much more accustomed to working and communicating online. This means that it’s now very easy to use online tools to determine a candidate’s aptitude, skills, personality and the fit to your business culture. This idea of characterising what’s needed, and assessing against criteria developed from that is often referred to as optimising the person-environment (P-E) fit.

Defining the characteristics of the ideal candidate is an important first step – and is one that should have been used prior to lockdown too. Once you’ve defined the ideal profile for the job (visit Define the ideal employee for an online too to do this), you are then able to assess candidates.

Two levels of assessment are then available. By using a ‘light touch’ tool prior to first interview you can determine what probing questions to ask to determine candidate P-E fit. More in-depth tools can then be used prior to second interview.

It’s important to determine the interview questions to be used in the assessment of the candidates. Initial questions should be the same for all candidates, but dependent upon the answers given there may be a requirement to drill down and ask more specific questions.

As with face-to-face interviews the types of questions asked at first and second interview will differ. The first interview is a chance for both you, and the candidate, to determine if the relationship is one that the parties might want to enter in to. It is your chance to ‘sell’ the job and the benefits of joining your business. Likewise, the interviewee is trying to determine if they want to trust you with the next phase of their career.

Second interview questions should focus only on the job requirements. They should allow the interviewers to gather all the data needed to determine which candidate will excel.

Don’t ask crass questions like, “what are you passionate about’, or, “where do you see yourself in five years”, unless these tell you something specific about how they will perform in the job. Always use the criteria.

It’s still possible to ask scenario-based questions or have the candidate give presentations, when interviewing online. Where a candidate is required to produce a report to bring along to the interview, ask them to email it to you before the interview. The candidate can then give a presentation, referring to the document as they would in a face-to-face meeting. Similarly, if it’s important to see the candidate use visual presentation methods (such as PowerPoint), this too can be done online. Most of the video conferencing tools have the ability to share screens allowing the candidate to manage their presentation.

There is a wide selection of video conferencing tools to choose from, with some having free basic plans. Some examples are GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype and WhatsAppp. Just be aware not all tools will allow the sharing of screens. Choose the tool according to your needs.

So, to conclude discussion about online interviewing, there is no reason why a robust interview process can’t be conducted solely online. Just as before, it’s about criteria and evidence.

Post-lock down jobs

The news is currently full of stories about firms making redundancies. This means that there is a much larger candidate pool to choose from. This has both benefits and challenges. As discussed earlier, applicant numbers are up and each application requires the same robust consideration. A pre-developed set of criteria that can be applied to the CV as a filter makes it easier to objectively assess the applications. And it’s defendable if challenged. Throwing the applications on the floor and picking out ten to interview is not!

A methodical, evidence-seeking process is essential.

Socially distanced recruitment

As business returns to the ‘new normal’ there will be an opportunity to conduct interviews face-to-face. Remember that some candidates may be apprehensive about this. Interviewing with several interviewers brings greater risk to all involved. Wearing masks and keeping two metres apart may be possible, if a bit weird for all; but travel to and from the interview may heighten risks unacceptably for all.

Unless there is a specific requirement to conduct face-to-face interviews, online meetings are likely to be more effective. They are in any case, more in keeping with the way that many businesses will function in the future with many employees working remotely.

New ways of working

The UK lockdown caused many businesses to cease trading while others implemented strict social distancing and used PPE (personal protective equipment) in order to maintain essential services. For many, the new normal will be remote working. This brings challenges for both the employee and the manager.

Home working requires the manager to be more trusting of their team. It’s easy in an office to see if someone is active when there is ‘a bum on a seat’. It’s not easy to see if the person is active when they work from home. Being ‘active’ and being efficient and getting the job done are two differing things. The manager has to trust that the employee will engage in activities that achieve outcomes. We have written more on this subject in our blog A manager’s guide to homeworking.

The manager has a responsibility to ensure that remote workers feel that they are part of a team. The use of regular online team meetings will help here. One-to-one meetings are also important – these can be more formal work meetings or a catch-up over coffee – self-provided of course. With a little bit of thought it’s not that difficult to replicate the chat around the coffee machine. It’s the role of the manager to ensure the wellbeing of the whole team.


The recruitment process does not end when the offer’s made. The person has to be brought onboard through an induction programme to help them understand the business culture and expected behaviours. And they may need to acquire additional knowledge and skills.

Remote onboarding needs some planning. Video calls will need to be planned allowing the new employee to ‘meet’ their colleagues. Calls will need to be programmed in to provide training and to give information from all those who have knowledge to share. The induction programme is just like the face-to-face version – but online. And presentations can be recorded for later recall by the new hire. An induction plan with scheduled meetings should be developed in exactly the same way as before lockdown. Nothing has changed – other than the delivery method.

The manager should also ensure that their new team member has the correct equipment and setup to work remotely. As before lockdown, a home working risk assessment should be conducted. The worker should have all the equipment they need to work efficiently and comfortably. Physical wellbeing and mental being are equally important and the effects of isolation must be countered.

Two-way (online) street

Fundamentally in the recruitment process, you and the candidate are both buying and selling.

The business needs to woo the candidates, but also conduct a robust selection process that ensures the best matched candidate is offered the job.

Everything has changed, but nothing has changed!