I was recently involved in a high-level job search at my company — to replace myself.
After 12 years as founder and CEO, I had decided to move to chairman of the board and hand the operational reins over to a successor. Then, Covid-19 happened. The prospect of finding and vetting a new CEO — without ever meeting them in person — was daunting, to say the least.
Businesses everywhere are being tested these days, in so many ways. Those fortunate enough to be hiring have had to adapt to a virtual recruiting process on the fly. This comes with its share of challenges. Assessing candidates via Zoom isn’t always easy. Interactions tend to be stiff and formal, with less of the small talk and social interaction that often helps “fill out” a resume.
But in the course of our hunt for a new CEO, I’ve seen how these very limitations can also open up new possibilities and even lead to a better final result. For others wrestling with virtual hiring, here are three unexpected upsides to keep in mind and how to leverage them:
Virtual hiring puts less emphasis on cultural fit … and that’s a good thing
The startup world has done a 180-degree turn on the subject of cultural fit in the last decade. Not long ago, it was commonplace to hear of “culture” as the secret sauce behind team unity and company success. Resumes mattered less in some cases than a job candidate’s personality and ability to mesh with existing cultural norms. Some leaders went so far as to advocate a “beer-and-barbecue test” for new applicants — if they meshed in a social setting, they were sure to contribute in a professional one.
But focusing on culture has significant downsides. It can lead companies to overlook qualified candidates who don’t fit a given mold. Worse, it can create an exclusionary atmosphere, where only people who look or act a certain way fit in. At its worst, a fixation on “culture” can present a serious obstacle to diversity and inclusion.
Virtual hiring is an opportunity for businesses to consciously de-emphasize the role of culture. In-person meet-and-greets and social events — from lunches to drinks after work — are removed from the equation. Of course, personality and viewpoints shine through in video interviews. But, there’s significantly less emphasis put on the “feel” or “vibe” you get from a candidate. Instead, you’re left to focus on what really matters, which brings me to the next point.
Virtual hiring pushes you to systematize and standardize the interview process
Structured job interviews aren’t new. The idea here is to limit the impact of personal bias by giving each job candidate the exact same set of questions, in the same order, with responses graded against a standardized scoring system. The advantage is that candidates can be compared on an apple-to-apple basis, with fewer human errors and inconsistencies to muddy the analysis. Studies have shown this approach to be twice as effective at predicting job performance.
Structured interviews were commonplace before COVID-19, but this approach is especially well suited to the virtual hiring environment. With everything taking place through a screen, there’s consistency and control over the interview process. Social and situational variables can largely be minimized or eliminated. Each candidate is just another talking head on your screen. Interactions are limited to scheduled meetings, with little or no time for small talk or extraneous impressions to be formed. By combining these conditions with a standard question set, businesses can create an exceptionally consistent interview process where bias, errors and random chance are minimized.
Virtual hiring enables you to reach more people and widen your net
Efficiency is another significant upside of the virtual hiring process. Vetting candidates for leadership roles is normally a time-intensive process. Serious candidates are typically brought into the office for day-long meetings with multiple departments and team members, complete with long lunches or dinners, or even rounds of golf or activities like cycling or hiking.
All of this takes an exceptional amount of time, especially for executives with already packed schedules. The result is that only a very small pool of candidates gets “seriously considered.” Those who end up being seen are often the conservative or safe choices, though not necessarily the best ones.
Virtual hiring eliminates the travel and social elements of this process, resulting in huge efficiency gains. In our virtual CEO search, for example, I was able to engage in depth with dozens of candidates, rather than just a handful. Ultimately, companies can use virtual hiring to cast a wider net and assess more candidates, which almost always leads to better results.