Onsite collaboration, also known as “co-location,” has always been a critical differentiator of WillowTree’s culture and project success. To accommodate for our team members’ health and safety during COVID-19, we had to quickly transition to virtual work. With a strong foundation of previous onsite collaboration, our teams adapted to virtual tools to maintain communication. But, when it comes to maintaining our hiring practice, the Talent Acquisition team knew the art of the interview would take extra care.
In this blog, I’ll share the ways in which we transitioned our hiring process to virtual while maintaining a positive experience for both our candidates and interviewers. By now, everyone is quite proficient in virtual meetings and has learned how to communicate with others virtually, but the art of interviewing takes so much more care.
How We Conduct Virtual Interviews
Virtual interviewing does not mean “relaxed” interviewing. Honestly, it takes more preparation and engagement than ever before. We’ve always relied on one-way video interviews and phone interviews in the first steps of the process -— those steps could continue as normal.
Our focus had to be on repurposing the final-day interview and recreating the in-person experience. Most of our on-site final interviews included interviewing in various time increments with the hiring manager, Talent Acquisition, the team within that discipline, and other cross-functional team members who would interact with the candidate often. When interviewing with the hiring manager it’s a two-way conversation and topics covered include our core values, career ambitions, leadership skills and qualifications, and an overview of the skillset. When interviewing with the Talent Acquisition team, the candidate is assessed on their alignment of our core values and are able to ask questions about the role and culture of WillowTree. As the candidate interviews with the team within the same discipline it’s usually a skill set driven interview evaluated through Q&A, role play, whiteboarding, or a hands-on activity of some sort. Team members from other disciplines are often included so we are evaluating the candidate from multiple perspectives. Lastly, the candidate has lunch with the team. During the lunch interview, there are no scripted interviewing questions and the candidate has the ability to learn about WillowTree, the role, our culture, and the team members more in depth.
So, what changes?
We had so many questions to think through, including:
- Which video platform should we use?
- How do we create a distraction-free interview?
- Can we even evaluate candidates accurately while virtual?
- Should the final interview follow the same process?
- How do we best train current team members on virtual interviewing?
- We have really awesome people and offices that candidates can no longer see in person. How does this affect our ability to sell the position?
Let’s dive into some of those questions and show you what we’ve done to quickly turn around a normal on-site interview process into a fully virtual one.
1. Which video platform did we use?
This section is an overview of which video platform we decided to use and not debating which video platform is the best overall. It worked out well for us to use Zoom as we already have a business license and our project teams are most often using Zoom to communicate with clients. Zoom offers several features to benefit the candidate experience such as waiting rooms, screen sharing, whiteboard functionalities, and virtual backgrounds. Zoom provides a good level of security (oh, leave the password separate and do not include it in the URL), easy user experience, and is universal for most technical environments.
We realized not everyone has had extensive experience with video conferencing, so we created several internal articles to highlight both general and Zoom-specific best practices. Thanks to our Program Management team (who are all experts within video conferencing given their frequent client meetings), we were able to add very valuable technical and presentation advice to candidates and our interview teams on how to best use Zoom for interviewing. We did a dry run final interview to test Zoom and understand all use case issues that could be brought up. We also send a Google Form to candidates prior to the final interview to best understand their experience level within Zoom. Zoom requires minimal setup from a candidate. We offer additional training and tips as needed. We ensure the technical setup is a stress free aspect of the interview process.
2. How do we create a distraction-free interview?
Instead of focusing on eliminating all distractions, create a shared understanding that distractions may happen while working from home, and that’s okay! Yes, we want to eliminate as many distractions as we can, but at the end of the day, candidates and interview teams are working in their most private areas: their homes. Instead of thinking of it as distracting, think of it as a candidate is giving you a glimpse into their real lives. Empathize with them and help them understand that when we preach “work-life blend” we want them to embrace being the raw version of themselves inside and outside of work. Just a few tips we provided to interview teams and to candidates were:
If you have a great Internet connection, use a solid colored Zoom Background. We created a WillowTree branded Zoom background as an optional solution for participants. We also offer photos of our empty office spaces for them to choose from to make things feel a little more personal. Setup your laptop to show a distraction-free background. Don’t have a mirror, inappropriate picture, room full of people, window with sunlight etc. behind you.
We recommend that candidates communicate with others in your home that this is an interview that’s important to your career, so you’d like some privacy and limited noise if possible.
Your phone should be on silent. No one wants to hear your phone ding or ring throughout your interview.
For WillowTree interviewers: if a distraction does happen, such as a child coming up to the screen, feel free to say “hi” rather than view this as a flaw in the candidate’s preparation. Help them feel comfortable — you are “in” their home, after all.
3. Can we even evaluate candidates accurately through virtual interviews?
For so long we’ve relied on final interviews to be onsite. Having the candidate interview in-person allows you to get a face-to-face connection with them and see how they communicate, interact, and present themselves with team members and hiring managers (in essence, stakeholders). An assumption was that we’d lose the ability to assess any of this (heck, are they even wearing pants??).
Our Talent Acquisition team took the additional measures to conduct mock role plays of all final interviews with current interview team members to assess what does or does not work and make sure we were still getting the full breadth of information needed to make a decision on a candidate. Part of these mock interviews included doing mock virtual whiteboarding, role plays, and presentations. We helped hiring managers realize that in the “real world” our team members are constantly interacting cross-site with other team members and virtually with clients. In reality, virtual interviewing is not much different from the normal interactions that they’re used to. Let’s embrace the technology at our disposal and move forward with virtual interviews.
4. Should the final interview follow the same process?
For every discipline, we evaluated what stages were appropriate to keep or discard when transitioning to a virtual final interview. We unanimously agreed to switch our 1-hour lunch interview to a 30-minute “Get to Know Us” session. There is no script to this interview and is, rather, a great time for the candidate to ask any questions to the hands-on team members about the role, culture, team, etc. We also added a 30-minute 1:1 Talent Acquisition interview at the beginning of the day. This time is split between running through the agenda, doing a technical/video test, and asking some behavioral questions related to our Core Values. It is a soft interview to get the candidate comfortable and set up for success throughout the day.
Most other stages remained the same for all final interviews with slight tweaks. It’s really important to be patient and add in a few extra minutes for introductions. Every person in the video interview should introduce themselves, share their role at the organization, and indicate their role within the interview itself. We also added in breaks throughout the interview day depending on the length of the interview and schedules of those involved. We understand Zoom fatigue is real and that our interviews are longer than most -— we really want to hire the best talent and expose the candidate to as many team members as possible. Candidates are more than welcome to ask for a 5 minute break in between interviews, as long as they communicate it to the interview team. Allowing these breaks shows we truly do care about their well-being. Just because they took some time off of their current job doesn’t mean that their life and family at home stops also.
5. How do we best train current team members on virtual interviewing?
I’ve touched on this a bit throughout the previous sections; however, let’s dive in a bit deeper. We have a great interview team at WillowTree, and we keep them busy. All interview team members must go through formal training with the Talent Acquisition team and spend a lot of time shadowing before jumping standalone into each stage. In addition, our interview team members have participated in at least one focused training to help them be more aware of various types of biases within interviewing.
We treated virtual interviewing as if it was an even higher level of interviewing. We prepared a very lengthy best practices document compiled of anything and everything you could think of in regards to virtual meetings such as: placement of camera, posture, dual monitor setup, muting when not talking, screen sharing, virtual backgrounds, signing off a zoom call, etc. We boiled this down to a one (okay maybe two) page infographic that was practical for all levels of experience of virtual meetings. We received a lot of positive feedback and appreciation from candidates and from interview team members for the detail and advice provided.
We had most interview team members also do a dry run of the interview process so they could learn the flow and learn how to interact differently. The dry runs warranted great feedback from the interview team that we were able to incorporate into our current versions of the final interviews. It’s amazing how if you spend the extra time preparing interview teams, they own their role in it much more.
6. We have really awesome people and offices that candidates can no longer see in person. How does this affect our ability to sell the position?
This was probably definitely our biggest concern. Our people are the most important part of WillowTree. We can negotiate salary, skills, hours, etc. but one thing that we can’t negotiate is our culture. A candidate will see that culture exemplified onsite—whether you know it or not, they’re looking for it.
We are proud of our culture at WillowTree and take candidates on extended tours to really showcase our culture instilled in our teams. The extended tours allow us to really showcase our amazing (and award-winning) office spaces. Our offices were architected to support our Core Values. We built a place where people are happy to work and a place of inclusion; there’s literally a type of space available for everyone’s working preference, from private booths, couches, and bleachers to a library, standup desks, and open cafè-inspired areas. It’s a thrill to show off our rooftop workspace, wellness studios, game rooms, nap pods, and soon even our new 85,000 square foot renovated HQ office. So… all that’s out the door now? The candidate just gets to see our lovely faces on Zoom and determine if they want to work with us?
We weren’t willing to wave the white flag that quickly. Our team put together a presentation highlighting all the best parts about working at WillowTree, like our culture (I promise, no stock photos of randomly smiling people were used) and our office space (disclaimer: the nap pods are not a trick, our CEO claims naps really do help you increase productivity… so there you go!). Our team members are the reason we win culture and industry awards, so we’re proud to include those.
We include some of the local attractions and amenities of our cities, as well, since we have a lot of prospective global talent that’s not familiar with our areas. Think of if you’re moving to a new city, what things do you want to know? Oh yeah, we also have established relationships with local realtors and relocation firms to help the candidates out with understanding questions about local housing, rentals, schools, shopping, parks, you name it!
Bonus section: How can we advance virtual interviewing in the future?
We are constantly evaluating our processes to give the best candidate experience. Currently up for discussion are virtual tours and “day in the life” videos from team members. We are redesigning our careers page to allow remote candidates to feel more engaged and aware of our future openings, culture, offerings, cities, amenities and benefits. We’re not sure if we’ll continue the virtual interview process once we’re back on-site, but we are taking an iterative approach with the whole process. At the end of the day, hiring great, diverse talent coupled with candidate experience are our top priorities. Keeping an adaptable and highly trained interviewing team is key.
Need help with your virtual interviewing? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be glad to provide a few insights!