Adapting Your Executive Interview Process: The New Best Practices

How the best companies incorporate phone, video and safe in-person interviews to engage, assess and recruit top talent.

COVID has upended the world and the way business is done. As of this writing, most businesses are limiting person-to-person meetings whenever possible and people around the world have mastered various video platforms, WebEx, Zoom, Google Meet, and Teams being the most common new meeting rooms.


Many have been forced to master the video chat and “socially distanced” business meetings. At first this seemed awkward and ineffective, but over time new methods and standards have evolved that let us get much more accomplished through virtual means.


The bottom line is that a well-planned virtual process is more effective and cost efficient than the traditional approach to executive search. By moving all but the key meetings online, the cost and time of travel is drastically limited. Candidates from across the globe can be met back-to-back for the cost of a monthly subscription. However, that efficiency is met with skepticism by clients who are well aware of the risks of making a bad hire and have a deep and comfortable trust in the in-person meeting.


Naturally, COVID has made virtual recruitment a necessity. We have worked closely with our clients to adapt the search and interview process to fully assess candidates without losing or alienating anyone that has been impacted directly by the pandemic. While the specifics always vary based on the requirements of the position and company, below are the best practices we have seen and recommended for our clients.


Is This the New Normal?

Currently COVID vaccines are being administered to a growing segment of the population in North America and around the world. Researchers expect this to slow the virus to help businesses everywhere return to more normal operations.


New variants are threatening to keep virtual business operations necessary for at least the next few months and possibly years, and it’s prudent to expect that COVID will be with us in some form forever.


Executive Search efforts have developed some very effective virtual strategies that can serve exceptionally well in the months ahead. These are the same methods we us to help our clients to locate and effectively interview leaders - all while maintaining strong safety standards.


Start with the phone.

Start with a simple phone screen, followed by a detailed career history interview. Yes, this information can be found virtually, but it is a necessary to hear the candidate narrate their story. Active candidates frequently pay for resume/profile writing services, and a phone conversation is a fast way to verify their information.


The great benefit of the phone is the ability to access files and take detailed, consistent notes for each interview. Video and in-person interviews require eye-contact for direct engagement which makes detailed note taking a difficult premise.


The phone has been the recruiter’s primary tool for good reason. Start your process with a phone call, and do your leg work, freeing up the next steps for deeper engagement.


Learn more with video.

The quality of videos today is excellent. It lets you see the candidate in action, get a sense of their style, and understand their various abilities. It also quickly reveals how adapted the candidate is to working with video presentation as a new business standard.


The first goal of the video is to assess personal traits and communication style. It is a great avenue for behavioral interviewing. Assess how a person processes a question – some start talking and find their way to an answer while others quietly think before answering; some use storytelling and others use facts and logic. Answers are often binary- they are right or wrong, but how a person arrives at answer is often telling. This is particularly true as the conversation shifts to more complex topics, like strategic leadership, where answers are more nuanced and revealing.


Just be careful not to judge a book too much by its cover. Be empathetic to a candidate’s situation and recognize that there are some things that are simply out of their control. Focus on general presentation and professionalism. Ultimately, this is an executive that will represent your company and how they present themselves in an interview is important. With rare exception, things like bad lighting, sloppy surroundings, and physical appearance (hair, clothing) should have been addressed before an executive-level interview.


The companies with the most successful results include multiple video interviews, typically with two people from different functions or levels on each interview. That allows for optimal assessment, coverage of questions, and note taking while giving the candidate multiple functional perspectives and a firsthand view into the culture and communication style between colleagues.


Safe Face-to-Face.

Finally, it is time for the face-to-face meeting. By now you have spent multiple hours with your top candidates and the goal is to have an in-person interview with only the final candidate. We have had clients use the face-to-face meetings to share confidential financial information, present a verbal offer, or just as a final “gut check”.


Before moving forward with an in-person meeting, it is useful to ask your self this question:

“What am I learning by meeting this candidate in person that I do not already know?”

Yes, the in-person is valuable, especially for an executive you are entrusting to lead your company. However, we are living through a pandemic, and a candidate should never feel that the offer is contingent on meeting face-to-face. Every individual’s personal circumstances are different, some may be at high-risk for COVID, so do not make assumptions and be as transparent as possible. You do not want to lose a game changing candidate because of a misunderstanding related to meeting in person.


Our view of executive search is simple: we facilitate a decision-making process between a company and an individual. COVID may have changed the paradigm, but nonetheless most clients and candidates have a hard time making such a significant decision without looking each other in the eye.


The safety standards are now well known. Most of us have gradually become comfortable safely working with others during the age of COVID. As a reminder:

  • Weather permitting, meet outdoors. (One of our client’s executed their final interview via a walk in the park!)

  • Observe the 6-10 feet of distance rule.

  • Wear face covering.

  • Provide hand sanitizer.

  • Elbow bump instead of shaking hands.

Our strategy of structured phone interviews, multiple detailed video conferences, and safe in-person visit is being used by many of our clients. They have successfully adapted their processes to meet the realities of COVID. Clients are relying far less on traditional in-person interviews and finding success through more virtual means. This is a healthy reminder there is always a way to make things work and sometimes that way might just be better, at least in part. Continue to stay safe everyone and please contact us if you would like advice or support interviewing safely.