ETL's Michelle Hartin on hiring during a pandemic

19 November 2020 4 min. read

2020 has been the year of uncertainty and this has made it difficult for businesses to plan ahead, which includes growing their team. Michelle Hartin, Director of Operations at ETL, explores how to mitigate the challenges posed by Covid-19 in relation to recruitment strategies and suggests how businesses can overcome the fear of hiring new people without ever meeting them in person.

Rely on your behaviour to reflect company culture

One purpose of an interview is to instil what the company is like and this holds true even though, if successful, the candidate may find themselves sitting at the same home workspace as they did in their previous employment. Behaviours and company culture are not on view to the candidate as they were in a traditional office environment, so you must rely on your own behaviour to reflect these values.

Due to its direct correlation with Covid-19, the science and healthcare sectors have been very active throughout the pandemic. By default, those businesses directly connected to supporting those industries have needed to quickly develop new resource plans to meet the current challenges. ETL [a healthcare consultancy] is no different, we have seen a surge in enquiries and tenders from NHS Trusts and research institutes looking to develop their estate appropriately to cope with the diverse and immediate need to change.

Michelle Hartin, Director of Operations, ETL

At ETL, we have made several new appointments across our teams, at varying grades but including a new Executive, Managing Director. It has meant we have needed to adapt our recruitment and onboarding and it hasn’t been without its challenges.

It is human nature that we feel more comfortable hiring face-to-face. This allows for a sense of body language including responses to the simplest tasks, like shaking someone’s hand. The interview process has changed; we are more reliant on other metrics to find employees that will be the right fit for the business and teams we have nurtured over the last seven years. 

A good tip is to do several, shorter interviews with candidates and ask more people from the business to meet an individual before offering them a post. This provides a broader perspective and really allows candidates to get a feel for the team they are joining. They don’t all need to be formal interviews, a 15-minute virtual coffee catch-up with someone in a similar position to the one somebody is applying for can be really helpful. 

Plan, plan and plan

Staging and planning is crucial in any interview. If you undertake the interview with a colleague agree what the tone should be like and who will say what, this prevents people talking over each other. 

Preparing before a video interview helps to set areas that you need to cover however this must be balanced without sounded too scripted. A scripted interview can stop those natural moments where someone has a creative answer, and the interview might flow into a different direction. It can be more difficult to spot these cues over a call. To overcome this, try to talk for about 30% of the time and not to overdo it with formal questions, let the interview take its own pace. Don’t be worried by periods of silence as these gaps allow for thinking time.

Finally, think about adopting company backgrounds to eliminate anything that might be distracting at home! 

Make use of visuals

Include a few PowerPoint slides, without overdoing it and being too wordy, as candidates will take in information differently. You can also think about asking the candidate to bring a slide or two along as this is a great way to see what their presentation skills are like. 

Relating to the first point about company culture – visual techniques can be a better way to embed your brand values and personality through emphasising key words. 

Do not disturb

Turn off your phone and emails - it may seem obvious, but it is often forgotten in remote working scenarios. Being connected at all times and looking at a screen for an interview means you might see emails coming in – you owe it to the candidate to make them the centre of the conversation and to project energy into the interview. In the office interviews often take place in a separate quiet room so these interruptions were not as frequent.

Whilst we’re on this point – learn to use the mute button to block out background noise from your home. Also, let others in the house know you are doing an interview, although there is nothing like the cat walking in front of the camera to create a good icebreaker!

Following up shouldn’t stop with new recruits

Catchups with new recruits are more important than ever in the onboarding and induction process. Arrange meetings over the first month with different people in the team, not just the first week, and make sure they feel included. 

With the majority of people working from home it can be difficult to get to know each other. Social sessions like a weekly quiz, or a virtual lunch catch up can make this easier and less forced. Those little interactions in the office kitchen or over desks are no longer happening so we must make time to create these bonds in other ways. 

The level of onboarding will vary depending on who the person is. It should be clear though, that you are open and available should they need to contact a member of the team. It can also be helpful to broadcast their arrival on email and an update in any newsletters.