How to Hire Someone You’ve Never Met in Person

31 March 2020

As many companies face a rapid transition to working remotely, teams are learning how to collaborate, make decisions, deliver feedback, and remain connected at a personal level despite not being physically together.

As many companies face a rapid transition to working remotely, teams are learning how to collaborate, make decisions, deliver feedback, and remain connected at a personal level despite not being physically together.

And then there’s the challenge of hiring. It’s the most common and important question we’ve been getting from clients:  How do you successfully hire someone you’ve never met in person?

Companies will need to develop this skill as just waiting to hire might leave you flat-footed when the recovery comes. Also, no one knows how long this situation will last and some limitations are likely to be around for a while. So whether you are moving forward with strategic hires or pausing for the immediate term, it’s worth building this capability now.

It’s important to think through what gaps we’re trying to address for both sides in the relationship:

We’d like to share what creative approaches and best practices we’re seeing in the market with regard to both the psychology and process required to hire great people. This article focuses on the personal, cultural, and behavioral elements of the process as that’s where people feel the greatest gaps around not meeting in person.

Psychology & Expectations Setting Up Front 

Acknowledging concerns and trepidation up front are important to getting people on board and ready to execute the process you put in place. The hiring manager and team will want to know how they can get to know the candidate well enough to make a decision. The candidate will need to see a path to making this big decision in a new environment. When expectations aren’t addressed well upfront, we’re seeing that hiring managers can hesitate and waste time, and strong, interested prospects can withdraw.

Tactically, the first interview round may not change much as many companies start with phone or video screens already. In fact, by not having to get the person situated in your office physically (coffee, bathrooms, etc.), you will save valuable time that can be used to get to know them better.  For this first interview, we continue to recommend the “top grading” style interview methodologies – where you deeply probe their previous experience in precisely the areas that align with the objectives of the role.  

Tools & Techniques to Really Get to Know Candidates

Next, you’d typically be moving to in-person meetings onsite.  Having done thousands of zoom interviews over the past few years (and as a remote team ourselves), we believe you can assess a candidate’s skills almost as effectively virtually; however, you get only a fraction of the cultural, behavioral, and personality characteristics you would in person. Rather than just porting what you would normally do straight over to video, here are some ideas on how to get to know a candidate, assess fit, get your team comfortable with a hire, and ultimately get the candidate ready to join.  

1. Collaborate on the Process

For senior candidates, consider sharing your modified remote interview process so they can become comfortable with what’s coming, and see if they have ideas for interactions they think would help. For these candidates who will be managers themselves, you’ll get a sense of how they think about culture and communication. You’ll also have a live opportunity to see how they problem solve, think creatively and work with you in a real situation.

2. Leverage a Personality and Behavioral Assessment Tool

While in-person meetings, working sessions, and dinners certainly help with evaluating personal fit, people actually bring biases to all those interactions and are notoriously bad at assessing underlying behavioral traits in a consistent, relevant manner. Fortunately, there are sophisticated personality and behavioral assessment tools that don’t take long (10 minutes) and can provide actionable insights. Many companies use them today already and they can play an even larger role in a remote hire.

For example, RevelOne uses OAD, a leader in this space, whose assessment can help with topics like:

In a small percentage of cases, these assessments may flag a mismatch for the role, and you’ll be glad you caught it. Most of the time, however, they provide a roadmap for a more productive conversation focused on insights into the candidate’s working style and it’s empowering to have greater depth and nuance in your understanding of a new hire and how you’d assimilate them productively into the team and organization. It will also provide a more structured, consistent basis of comparison across individuals your team met only via Zoom.

3. Have the Manager & Candidate Talk about their Assessment Tool Profiles

An additional step you can try when using an assessment tool is having the hiring manager or other team members of the team discuss their own profiles with the candidate. Most assessment tools include insights on how different types of people communicate and work together and in a remote process.  It’s another way to add more depth to both sides getting to know each other. (Note: it’s worth syncing with your HR team as they may have guidelines and rules around what level of detail can be shared)

4. Doing a Case, Workshop, or Brainstorming Session with a Group Over Video

If you do a case or give “homework” in your interviewing process, then use a video call to talk through it or do a sample workshop or brainstorming session. You’ll see how the candidate interacts in a group setting and it allows multiple team members to interact with them as well. Make sure to structure the session to have interaction or group discussion. That could mean multiple team members asking follow up questions on the homework, or teeing up a few new example topics in the business for the group to explore together. For whiteboarding, there are several online tools to use, though you can also just keep it simple and work together in a shared Google Doc.

5. Giving a Brief Presentation Over Video

To see candidates communicate in a different form than an interview conversation, have them prepare 4-5 slides on a company-related topic or a public presentation/deck they have used in the past. If you want to get creative (and this fits with your culture), have them present on a completely “irrelevant” non-business topic that you or they select. You can see how they think in a different context and react to an offbeat assignment.

6. Blind Reference Checks 

Cold reference checks can be an even more important tool with candidates hired remotely, but they, of course, have to be done discreetly and only with trusted common connections for situations where a candidate is still employed by his/her current company.

7. Extra Zoom Calls to Fill in Gaps

Consider including a few additional peers or team members who normally might not have been in the interview loop. A few extra conversations are especially important near the end when trying to close candidates. Just be careful that people are clear on roles and expectations so you don’t end up with vetos or left turns late in the process. You can include extra calls with the hiring manager, founder, or key execs. Set the agenda based on open questions from the candidate and assign different topics to each team member to make sure you use the additional time to cover more ground.

8. Video Happy Hours with Candidate 

Since candidates can’t come by for lunch or happy hour, try it virtually on Zoom. It could be a 1:1 with the hiring manager over wine, beer, or tea at the end of the day to create a different vibe, or perhaps with a small group of team members. It’s working well for friends and family who have been adopting this and you can adapt to what fits with your culture.

9. Set the Stage for the Close

The above ideas are all meant to provide incremental engagement and fill in gaps relative to the usual in-person meetings. As you gather enough context to get to an offer with a strong candidate, you want to frame the close together as well. 

It’s good to acknowledge the situation, recap the steps you’ve taken, and ask them if they still have gaps or concerns and troubleshoot how to fill them together. At this stage, it’s nice to position it on a positive note: if this feels like it’s a strong fit for both sides and might be a no-brainer in “normal” times, let’s work together and do whatever we need to do to get comfortable and not miss this opportunity.

We’ll continue to add ideas as we see them and let us know if there’s any way we can help.


Also, check out our article How to Interview Marketers (who are often good at marketing themselves).


About RevelOne

RevelOne is a leading marketing advisory and recruiting firm.  We do 300+ searches a year in Marketing and Go-to-Market roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech.  For custom org design, role scoping, and retained search, contact us.

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