Hiring and Onboarding Employees Virtually During COVID-19: A Guide

by Victoria Mckee

Amid the social distancing and shutdowns due to the COVID-19, the majority of industries have to move their operations to virtual in such a short time. Hiring managers were faced with either holding off on new, essential appointments or hiring and onboarding employees virtually. That’s right; we’re talking from initial interviews to the onboarding process.

We’ve witnessed recruitment processes become delayed or furloughed as time passes in hopes of going back to normal. However, the vital process continues to face postponement after postponement not only because of the pandemic but because of the apprehension hiring managers have regarding the remote hiring and onboarding of employees.

That’s understandable, as we all want to have physical meetings with applicants and new hires to build rapport, since the body language, and get more of a sense of energy the person brings. After all, new hires are crucial to the impact an organization makes!

That said, hiring managers cannot postpone the recruitment process forever. Through adequate planning, coordination, and following the best practices, these processes can be adapted to the new remote workstyle, just like everything else in other tasks and responsibilities.

So, read on for our guide on hiring and onboarding employees virtually.

Hiring and Onboarding Employees Virtually: Build a Strong Virtual Hiring Process

Typically, there are five stages of the virtual hiring process. These are what we recommend that hiring managers follow: 

The First Interview: This part involves narrowing down the list of candidates, identifying strong applicants to move forward in the process. You can use virtual tools for a more efficient process.

Individual Interview: You have already identified vital individuals or team members who would like to get to know the candidates better. Arrange a 20-30 minute 1-on-1 interview where the team member will probe for specific competencies, capturing the result in a central location to talk about later.

Panel Interview: This is a more in-depth interview with the final candidates. The panel interview will help understand the applicants’ behaviors in varying circumstances. Furthermore, you get to ask in-depth questions about the applicants’ motivators, how they would do at jobs, and see how they would fit in the team.

Psychometric Assessment: These assessments will add a lot of value as you review your candidates in the final stage. Psychometric assessments will help objectively assess all candidates’ behaviors and motivations, providing insight into how and why they’ll carry out the roles they applied for. Make sure you carefully plan virtual assessments so you can select the best applicants for the final step.

Virtual Onboarding: We’ll talk about the onboarding practices in the following sections. Like the interview process, this is a crucial process you must conduct efficiently for new hires to feel at ease and transition to their new roles.

Hiring and Onboarding Employees Virtually 

Hiring and Onboarding Employees Virtually: Get the Most Out of Virtual Interviews

When you conduct phone or video interviews excellently, you can rule out any weaker candidates, piecing together a better picture of who you’ll interview in the subsequent processes.

Besides the means of communication, there isn’t much difference when preparing for virtual interviews. However, it’s crucial to determine:

  • The assessment needs for the specific job position, such as a panel, 1-on-1 interviews, assignments, written presentation or assessments, and the like.
  • The technology used and if you’ll need IT support.
  • How interviewers at various stages should avoid asking the same questions and how to share their assessment results efficiently.
  • The interviewers must probe the priority areas and competencies, which hiring managers should assign in advance.
  • How interviewers will communicate the process, the technology to use, and other required information candidates must know about.

With that in mind, here are a few tips that can help you prepare for virtual interviews as a hiring manager, regardless of what step you’re in the recruitment process:


Have Objectives

You need to plan ahead and think about what you should hear from applicants for them to move forward to the next stage. That means prioritizing crucial job responsibilities and weighing the candidate’s capabilities and suitability. Creating objectives will also help you ask questions during the first interview.

Hiring and Onboarding Employees Virtually

Proper Interview Questions and a Structure

The best kinds of virtual interviews are conversational and dynamic. It must give the interviewer and applicant the flexibility to explore if the job and organization are a great fit.

That means you should have a planned structure, which will reduce any awkwardness or lapses in the interview. It will also help the candidate feel more at ease while ensuring you receive all the information you require.

It’s recommended to have 5-10 questions in advance, depending on the position level and the interview process. It might help to have relevant questions to get a sense of applicants’ remote working experiences and how they will adapt to any changes and challenges.


Prepare the Means of Communication

To help make the process smoother for both you and the candidate, you must have clear communication on how the interview’s logistics will go. Make sure that the candidate is aware of the start and expected end time of the interview, considering the different time zones, if any. It’s also recommended to share contact details and lead the exchange, calling the candidate rather than the other way around.

Connect with the candidates ahead to ensure that they have access to the virtual interview platform and know how to use it. Also, have a backup plan if the technology (like the internet) fails on the day itself.


Ready the Environment

Where you’ll conduct the interview makes a significant difference. Interview in a quiet room where you know you won’t be disturbed, with adequate lighting. Prepare your setup (like your background) if you’ll conduct a video interview.

However, we understand that it’s not always possible to avoid disturbances, with family and work-life not integrated into the remote work setup. In numerous ways, managing any unexpected intrusions in an interview can give insight into how a candidate can deal with unforeseen events and pressure. That said, be forgiving of any glitches or disruptions since we’re all still adapting, and some things can be inevitable.


Put Your Candidates at Ease

Hiring and Onboarding Employees Virtually

Virtual interviews, whether through phone or video, may not only be awkward for you, but the applicant, too! It can also feel stressful, with or without the pandemic.

Because of that, pressure can bring out a bit of their nerves. And because it can be difficult to read body language in a virtual environment, interviewers can misread those nerves.

It’s essential to allow the candidate the chance to shine by beginning the interview with friendly conversation and ease-in questions. Leave the tricky questions in the later stages and not the first ones, so you give candidates the chance to settle into the environment.

During the virtual interview, candidates won’t have the experience of touring the physical office space. You can try to find ways to offer candidates a virtual tour of the office instead!

Creatively convey the organization’s culture for your candidate’s benefit. If candidates have to relocate soon, you can also give the city a virtual experience.

As a hiring manager, it’s best to collate a detailed information pack for your candidates, which adds to the virtual experience. It will also fill in the blanks for candidates.

Organizations usually have this information available, but you may want to coordinate with local tourist offices, schools, or real estate agents to receive more information to make the virtual experience as detailed as possible.


What Do We Miss from Virtual Interviews?

Virtual interviews have many benefits.

For starters, you can quickly eliminate candidates who don’t meet the position’s requirements, which spares them the time and expense for physical interviews. Furthermore, virtual interviews challenge hiring managers to create a more efficient interview process, which involves taking time to know the candidates before choosing the most suitable one.

However, hiring managers still have their fair share of struggles with going virtual. We are unable to see the following:

  • Social cues
  • The candidate’s attitude and energy
  • How candidates react to the working environment
  • A candidate’s ability to connect and build genuine rapport

All of the things we miss would factor into the crucial final hiring decision. If we don’t see those vital factors, it can negatively affect the organization. Here are some tips to follow so you can counteract such issues:

  • Conduct interviews through video conference than just a phone call. Even from a screen, you’ll be able to see the candidate’s reactions and facial expressions to get a clearer picture of the candidate. By the time you’re in the last stage, you will have built a good rapport with the final candidates.
  • Make time for conversation. Sure, it’s easy to jump straight into the interview itself, but you must build rapport. It takes a bit of effort, but it’s possible to make the process easier.
  • Capture interview feedback independently and centrally. Interviewers should discuss and review candidates as a group, identifying any recurring themes from the different stages and interviews.

As you can see, virtual interviews might even help hiring managers create a more comprehensive, careful, and deliberate hiring and onboarding process compared to what was done before. Today, there’s more consideration, preparation, and planning involved.


Onboarding Virtually

Now that you’re more familiar with the hiring process let’s head to onboarding. A successful onboarding process is vital, as it can improve employee retention and productivity levels right from the start.

Organizations with a structured and supportive onboarding process can experience around 50% more productivity from their new hires and are more likely to have better employee retention rates after three years.

Here are the ways to help bring your new hires up to speed within their first weeks and months of remote work:

  • Determine and communicate with your new employee the logistics of his role location, along with important information about the organization, his department, and his team.
  • Ensure that your new employee is appropriately set up for remote work, which can mean checking in with a checklist of necessary software and technology required to connect with teams. Also, make sure that the employee has the space and setup needed before work begins.
  • If needed, ask the employee if they can liaise with the IT department when requiring assistance. Provide the new employee with relevant IT manuals and instructions on setting up the company email, group messaging tools, phone applications, video conferencing software, and the like.
  • Find out if your new employee has experience with the technology their team uses, along with the experience with working with a team remotely. New employees might need further training and support ahead of time, as well as flexibility and accommodation around working hours if the new employee is juggling work and family.
  • Help get the new employee updated with the company culture, which is challenging when done remotely. What you can do is to send a welcome package with a welcome letter and branded merchandise. You can also have virtual team meetings during the first few weeks, along with 1-on-1 chats.
  • Don’t forget about the HR paperwork, which can be time-consuming when done remotely. Fortunately, there are helpful online tools to help with printing, signing, and scanning important documents.


During the Onboarding Process

Once the new employee is on board, follow these tips:

  • Make sure that the managers are clear about their goals and expectations so new employees won’t have to wait until their manager goes online to learn and know what to do. Managers should have a task calendar with short and long-term goals to share with the new employee. 1-on-1 meetings are also essential to discuss the current projects, their progress and to flag and resolve any issues.
  • It’s challenging to train new remote employees if there’s limited real-time communication. You can try offering virtual interactive training videos and courses, following up with the new hire if they have any questions.
  • Schedule regular calls for the first few weeks. You can even have a designated person to call the new employee if you don’t have the time to. Doing so will help you identify any difficulties your new employee faces.
  • Help the new employee build relationships by providing a document mapping out the organizational structure. Follow this up with individual and team meetings so the new employee can put faces to the names. Furthermore, encourage team members to chat with the new employee about their roles and how to help, which begins the building of working relationships.
  • New remote employees can still feel siloed or isolated, which is why you must put in thoughtful communication throughout the onboarding process and beyond.


Wrapping It Up

Traditionally, we used only to hire new employees after face-to-face meetings. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic and recent HR trends, the circumstances are now calling for us to adapt and respond to the challenges we currently face. Through careful planning, the proper tools, and setup, along with consideration for the organization’s specific needs and circumstances, end-to-end online recruitment will show success.

Hopefully, this article on hiring and onboarding employees virtually helped you out! Keep this information in mind as you successfully interview, hire, and go through the onboarding process with applicants and new employees. Good luck!

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