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After a year of Zoom job interviews, has recruitment changed forever?

‘I don’t think we will ever revert back to having the first round interview in the office’

Nothing beats that personal conversation, walking through reception and having a chat. Photograph: iStock

Nothing beats that personal conversation, walking through reception and having a chat. Photograph: iStock

 

Pandemic restrictions ruled out face-to-face job interviews for long periods, forcing organisations to adapt to online recruitment processes and many may never go back to the old methods.

But things aren’t all that different, according to Niamh O’Brien, head of talent management at BDO Eaton Square. “The process hasn’t really changed. The difference is you are not sitting in a room with the person. The interview is still the same, even if it’s on a video call. Some clients may still want a face-to-face interview. It used to be face-to-face for the first and second rounds, now the first is virtual. Other than that, it is very similar.”

There are, however, benefits from an in-person interview. “Nothing beats that personal conversation, walking through reception and having a chat. I don’t think we will ever revert back to having the first round [interview] in the office.”

The move to online formats was already happening before the pandemic hit. “The recruitment process was heading that way and the last 12 months has expedited that,” says Sonya Boyce who leads the Mazars HR consulting and organisational development service. “Organisations have adapted to that reality. The great majority of the recruitment process can be done remotely. Very good systems are available to help employers manage that. Those application management and candidate management systems were already there prior to Covid.”

And the switch was worked well, by and large. “There was some scepticism about virtual interviews, and it did present challenges. But interviews conducted over Zoom and Teams have added different dimensions.”

It places new requirements on candidates, however. “The level of preparation on the candidate’s part is about double that required for a face-to-face interview,” Boyce notes. “People are more comfortable in the traditional interview format. In a virtual interview they have to have a very clear message. What are the key points you want to get across? When you see people who interview well virtually, they tend to be very well prepared. They leave very little to chance.”

The interview isn’t the only aspect of recruitment to have changed, according to University College Dublin’s Career Network senior manager Cathy Savage. “Just as we’ve had to adapt to new ways of delivering education, so our employment partners are overcoming stunning challenges in their business and pivoting and adapting fast,” she notes.

“Gone are the open days and office visits, replaced with the ubiquitous Zooms, Facetimes, Skypes and WebExs. That’s more significant than you’d think. Walking the floor of a potential employer matters. There’s a reason firms put effort into graduate recruitment, employer brands and milk rounds; they are under pressure to hire the best. And to some extent the best get to pick and choose.

“So those open days and meetings and tours made a huge difference,” Savage continues. “They created familiarity. But employers have done a brilliant job with video conferencing, video tours, social media and online interaction. Visits are now video tours, chats are emails and panel interviews are conference calls. It’s not ideal. It’s clunky. But it works.”

Technology is also being employed for candidate selection. “Many leading employers are using technology to assist them in the screening of candidates,” she adds. “For example, in addition to submitting a CV or online application, students are now asked to pre-record answers to questions as part of the screening process.”

This has its pros and cons. “The pros are it is an efficient, accessible and quick way to recruit,” says Savage. “The cons? For those who are unprepared and who have not honed their presentation skills effectively it can hobble them at an early stage in the recruitment process. Not necessarily because they wouldn’t be able to navigate the role but because they aren’t able to navigate the medium. On the positive side though, virtual recruitment has provided those graduating from Irish institutions with access to a global market which was much more challenging pre-Covid. Our students can compete against peers within Europe and globally to access a wide variety of jobs from the comfort of their homes, where before even attending the interview might have meant investing in a plane ticket while their competitors just had to jump in a taxi. Levelling the playing field like that makes a huge difference.”

It has brought other benefits as well, according to Boyce. “Paper-based application systems have now largely gone. That has definitely been a pro. Electronic application and candidate management systems are more efficient and accurate. It has been easier to get interview panels together because there is no travel involved. There will be a swing back to a hybrid model with the virtual process supplemented by a final in-person interview.”

KPMG head of resourcing Paul Vance agrees. “You can’t change human nature and I think most people would agree that both the candidate and employer get the best feel for each other and the role if at some stage they can meet in person; hopefully that will be the case in the near future.”

There has been some speculation that as well as using virtual processes to facilitate the recruitment of overseas candidates, organisations might also allow these candidates to work from their home countries after they are hired. This is not as straightforward or attractive as it first appears, however.

“There is still a hesitancy around overseas recruitment,” O’Brien points out. “There is a lack of clarity around the tax implications of non-resident employees. Having employees based overseas may result in a firm inadvertently creating a tax presence in another jurisdiction. It’s a very complex issue. We are seeing organisations reverse out of it and are encouraging their non-national employees to come back to Ireland.”

Savage believes this speculation is natural. “People are asking if Covid will create a situation where the domestic office becomes the ‘hub’ for people who return to their home countries. Like people from rural Ireland are now thinking, ‘maybe I can go back to Roscommon or Tipp and still work in Dublin?’ People from around Europe and the world may be thinking, ‘maybe I can be at home but work through Dublin?’ It’ll be interesting to see what big employers do to facilitate or resist that happening. We’re hearing anecdotal reports of discussions with Irish-based employers who are now considering the longer-term legal and tax implications of their staff working overseas; it was fine when it was a pandemic response, but the long-term implications from a taxation, legal and employer-responsibility perspective are far from clear.”

People may not want to continue working remotely in any case. “The predominant feedback we are receiving from our graduates from the business subject area is that they want to be in an office,” Savage adds. “They do not want a life of pyjamas and zooming. But in the office does not mean the nine to five, Monday to Friday rat race. People want to work with other people. They want a place of work. They want some separation between work and home. But more and more, they want it on their terms.”