How to Hire Without Meeting Face-to-Face

For many leaders, the most anticipated part of the recruiting process is the face-to-face interview stage. By then, we’ve studied the candidate’s resume, we know their work experience, and we’ve likely talked to them on the phone. But until we meet them in-person for an interview, it’s tough to know for sure if they’re “the one.” 

The problem is, nowadays, meeting a candidate in real life isn’t a guarantee. Over the past few months, companies have shifted to fully-virtual interviewing due to Covid-19. Even after offices reopen, hiring more full-time remote workers will be the new reality at many of our organizations. As leaders and hiring managers, we have to not only get comfortable with hiring people we’ve never met face-to-face, but we have to get good at it. And fast. 

I still hear people say “I’ll do remote interviewing, but not for executive roles,” or “I’ll do everything but the final round remotely.” The truth is, if you expect leaders to manage teams remotely and your customers to buy your product online, you have to get great at hiring the best person for the job, period, and doing it fully remotely at every level. 

If you’re new to hiring fully remotely, here are three ways to set yourself up for success.

1. Always be recruiting.

If you’re only actively recruiting when you have a role open on your team, you’re doing it wrong. Leaders should constantly be networking with, and nurturing, great talent, particularly because depending on employee referrals can have detrimental effects on your organization’s representation of under-represented talent.

Even if you don’t have the opportunity to hire someone tomorrow, you can always be building a deep bench of talent to reach out to whenever you’re ready to post a job description. More importantly, you’ll have a much better sense of their strengths and weaknesses if you’ve gotten to know them outside of a 30-minute interview. 

Set up virtual coffee chats with promising candidates from time-to-time, invite them to panels to share insights with your team, or ask for their insights on an area of growth you’re working through with your team. The need to meet them face-to-face will be significantly less important if you’ve been building a relationship with them over time and getting a glimpse into how they work.

2. Make interviewing your competitive advantage.

Even though hiring is one of the most important jobs a leader has, we rarely dedicate enough time to doing it well. According to Gartner, 20 percent of hires are considered “regretted decisions.” Making a bad hire is costly, and I’d argue it often comes down to the interviewer, not the candidate. Interviewing is a skill, and like any skill, you need to work at it.

Being able to screen candidates for the skills and attributes you need within a 30- or 60-minute interview, virtually or in-person, comes down to the questions you ask and how you ask them. For example, “tell me about a time you failed” and “how do you handle failure?” sound like the same question. In reality, the former is much more specific and allows you to venture deeply into how the person thinks and acts, versus dealing in hypotheticals. 

The best hiring managers I know are unphased by whether an interview is virtual or in-person because they know that what matters most in an interview (skills, attributes, and potential) can be identified from anywhere with the right discipline and approach. 

3. Challenge your biases.

I often hear leaders say it’s harder to assess a candidate for “culture fit” over Zoom than it is in-person. If this sounds familiar, I’d urge you to ditch the idea of “culture fit” altogether. “Fit” implies sameness; it suggests you’re looking for someone who looks, acts, and thinks like you.

At my company, we look for people who are “culture adds”– candidates who will make us better by bringing new, additive perspectives to the table. When you reframe it that way, interviewing becomes more about potential than personality. In a virtual interview setting where small talk and rapport-building are less organic, that shift is critical. 

With 59 percent of people preferring to continue to work remotely as much as possible even after offices reopen, companies need to rethink their systems from remote-friendly to remote-first. That includes re-designing hiring processes so that you’re not missing out on remote talent who can help your company grow better by bringing diverse thinking to the table. 

Are we ready for it? Maybe not yet, but by shifting hiring behaviors to nurture talent, invest in interviewing, and eliminate biases, I think leaders will have the opportunity to build strong, distributed teams. No handshakes required.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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