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Finding the One: will old interview habits die hard?

Interview practices are changing to include in person and virtual interviews. Angus Farr of the ICAEW Business Board discusses how these changes will continue in a post-COVID world.

March 2021

Businesses have had to make some big changes to how they recruit and select over the last year. But which should we keep, and which should we let go of? 

As we approach the end of lockdown, all organisations are naturally looking forward to what they’ll do post-COVID. 

Many are also starting to look back and think about what practices, whether introduced by choice or necessity, have actually worked well, and might continue to drive improvement.

At a recent institute event, there was an employer panel discussion around recruiting, and it was interesting to see a divergence between some who intended to revert to ‘in-person in-room’ interviews and those who would stick with an online format.

I can see pros and cons to both positions. 

In the ‘in-person’ corner, the big advantage is that we pick up so much about a person from their non-verbal communication.

If we are recruiting accountants whose jobs require them to establish rapport and build relationships with stakeholders, then an interview is almost an ‘in-tray’ test of this, quite apart from all the usual information it gives us. 

We shouldn’t forget that selection is a two-way process, and the very best candidates will want to get a good feel not only of what they’ll be doing, but where and with whom.
On the other hand, we’ve come a long way in a year and so many organisations are much more positive about home working, so potential employees may be less ‘tied’ to a particular office or even geographic location in the future. 

Online interviews can allow the selection net to be thrown more widely and assess candidates who would have been excluded before.

The technology also permits more people to assess a candidate, whether in real-time (an online panel interview), or afterwards (the asynchronous interview). And the more people involved, generally, the better and fairer the decision.

More subtly, organisations that shout loudly about how technology-enabled they are need to be careful that this message isn’t undermined by a scepticism of, or ignorance about, the opportunities it can give them in their HR practices.

We could go even further of course and question the relevance of an interview in the first place.

Research suggests that interviews are a fairly blunt instrument and are not nearly as useful in predicting job performance as we like to think.

Let’s also bear in mind the risk of discrimination and bias in the interview and other selection methods.

Vincenzo Leporiere’s great article from 2019 – ‘Would you blind recruit your next accountant?’ – posed some interesting challenges.

Personally, I think there is a place for both interview formats.

Online interviews give organisations a much wider initial pool of candidates to select from, especially if they are willing and able to embrace remote working. By the same token, this helps candidates by giving them a greater choice of potential employers.

Second interviews done ‘in-person’ can then give both parties a more in-depth opportunity to assess what’s on offer.

Importantly though, employers shouldn’t be putting all their eggs in the interview basket.

Work sample exercises, groupwork and even presentations can all provide useful information about candidates’ ability to the job on offer. Many of these methods lend themselves very well to online delivery.

Overall then, I reckon a positive legacy of Covid will be accelerating the incorporation of technology into organisations’ selection methods. But there’s still room for the personal touch as long as we’re careful that this informs rather than determines our decision.