Virtual Selection Interviews

The number of staff around the globe working from home has increased each day as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Restrictions on travel and social distancing regulations have combined to force recruiters and managers to conduct a greater proportion of their selection interviews online.

Much of the content of an online interview will mirror an “in person” interview but the use of video changes a great deal. Preparation remains a key to success …

Your research

Your preliminary research before the online interview remains as important as ever. Check the role profile or job description carefully to determine whether a competency based or behavioural event interview is likely. Find out about the organisation, the reason for the vacancy arising, whether you will be expected to work remotely, how the job will be different as a result of current global conditions, who the interview panelists will be and prepare some scenario-based answers to questions using the STAR method, if appropriate.

The STAR interview question response method allows you to provide concrete examples or proof that you possess the experience and skills for the job at hand. 

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Using this approach, you first set the scene, outlining the situation. Then you describe your task or purpose. Thirdly, you outline the action you took, what you actually did. Finally, you highlight the result.

This answer framework is particularly helpful in responding to competency-focused questions, which typically start out with phrases such as, “Describe a time when…” and “Share an example of a situation where….”

Your space

You will want your personal space, the background to your interview, to be clean, uncluttered and business like. A plain neutral wall is good and a background of appropriate shelved books can be helpful in certain circumstances. Zoom allows you to combine lighting, a green screen and an artificial background and that may be useful if applying for certain, more creative, roles. Select clothing that does not feature checks or stripes and that contrasts with your background colour scheme.

Check and recheck your camera positioning. A laptop with built in camera can produce an unflattering angle that is best avoided in a selection interview. A separate, stable camera, with integral microphone, positioned at eye level generally works much better.

You will not be offered a tea or coffee during a virtual interview so should always anticipate the need for a sip of water and have a glass (not a bottle) of water on your desk. A short, stable glass is better than a tall, thin one as a taller glass can be knocked over far too easily. Keep fluids away from computers, microphones and cameras.

The most natural looking interviewees use an off-screen microphone. This may be part of your camera set up and is to be preferred to a headset. If you must use a headset ensure that the integral microphone does not transmit your breathing as this can be very off putting.

Managing your opportunity

With video interviews you can grab the opportunity to position notes in front of you, beyond the camera, and on the wall. Your interviewer does not need to know they are there if you arrange your space effectively.

You are likely to have the opportunity to practice your engagement with the camera before your interview.

You will want to become comfortable looking directly at the camera and to avoid speaking to your notes or to anything else in your room. Looking away, briefly, as you think about your response to a question is natural and engaging but your gaze should thoughtfully return to the camera as you talk. Good eye contact, through the camera “window” remains as important as ever.

Try to speak “through the camera” to the other human being. Allow your facial expression to complement and underline the meaning you are seeking to convey. The hint of a smile can soften your expression and is very engaging.

Always make eye contact with your interviewer when they are speaking to you.

In your enthusiasm to engage try to avoid “over talking”. Get into a conversational pattern by allowing your interviewer to talk first: they invited you to the meeting and will want to set it up for you. If you hold back initially, you should find a natural pattern of listening and responding develops between you.

Check that you have set your microphone volume to a pleasant audible level and that you are not broadcasting breathing noises. These can be of putting and slightly sinister and may arise if a headset is poorly positioned.

To ensure that your interview opportunity isn’t wasted, disconnect any device that does not need to be online throughout the period of the interview. This will stop them ringing or buzzing during the meeting and maximise the bandwidth you will be needing for the video interview. Turn off any pop ups you normally have running in the background on your computer for the same reason.

Let other people in your house know what you are doing when you are being interviewed, ask them to answer the door to callers and respond to the telephone calls that will, almost certainly, come in during your meeting.

Turn off or remove any telephone that you have in your space before starting the interview.

Close the door of your space but only after you have put an appropriate sign on the outside of the door!

Work out, in advance, how you will respond to a power cut.

Arrival time

You should practice arriving on time for a call beforehand. Clearly, you don’t want to be late but, online, you may not want to be overly early either. It is not uncommon for an interviewer to use their personal online meeting room for all their interviews. Whilst this isn’t particularly good practice on their part, you do not want to crash into another candidate’s interview, so be very careful about “arriving” early.

Set up a couple of test meetings, with a friend, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the technology, to work out how long the connection and arrival process takes. Use your experience to gauge your arrival arrangements.

Prepare for dialogue

Too often candidates make little valuable use of the interview opportunity to ask their own questions. Your research should equip you with pertinent questions that demonstrate engaged, intelligent interest in the organisation and the role itself. Don’t be afraid to ask about the organisation’s hiring timeline and whether the role will be located remotely until the pandemic has passed – or forever.

Aim to express your questions so that they convey real interest in the role. You can underline your interest and engagement in the process by gently leaning forward in your chair at times during the conversation. Avoid over doing this as it can come across as aggressive.

Tools For Talent Assessment

Moon_FotorResearch indicates that the most reliable approaches to the assessment of people use a variety of methods to learn about competences and potential derailers. When you use a range of complementary methods to assess leadership potential (for example), you are  better placed to come to some working hypotheses about potential, how to target development and concerning placement decisions.

The main types of tool available are:

Simulations: Where people are asked to work together or alone on the resolution of challenges that relate to the known demands of the future role. Simulations can include simple “in box” exercises where people have to assess email/mail and make a succession of decisions about how they will prioritise their time, delegate responsibility and deal with risks. There are more complex and extended simulations which evolve over a period and may attempt to replicate the challenge of a particular role or a team in the organisation.

360 Degree or Multi-Rater Assessments: These provide comparisons of an individual’s self perception with the perceptions of their behaviour that are held by “significant others” – invariably including the individual’s manager(s); their peers; their team members and possibly people they supply services to/partner with or have contractual relationships with. Results are provided on an anonymous basis. These assessments are normally conducted on-line.

360 (or 180) Degree Interviews: These are standardised interviews that may be undertaken by the individual or their coach or mentor and which provide data not dissimilar to the on-line multi-rater assessments but are usually conducted face to face or, sometimes, “virtually” using the telephone/Skype, etc.

Personality Inventories: These provide objective measurements of underlying personality characteristics – usually based on a self report basis. Access to these tools (and often to the more sophisticated and reliable forms of simulation) is usually restricted to those who have been thoroughly trained in their use.

Cognitive Ability Tests: These measure intelligence – a component part of some competencies.

Behavioural Event Interviews: Though strongly associated with job selection these can also be used to investigate how a person’s work experience relates to future role requirements.

Development Centres: Typically residential events where a number of the methods above are used to gather information that is then discussed in considerable detail with the individual in a feedback meeting or meetings.

Performance Assessments: Manager’s assessments of performance are useful particularly where a number of years of assessment data exists and that data has been “moderated” (or calibrated) to ensure that the ratings given by different managers carry the same value.

Need advice about assessment? Contact √itas Consult.

Talent Assessment

The objective of a talent assessment process is to reach a conclusion about each potential member of the talent pool in the following terms. Are they:

  • Ready Now for their next role
  • Will they be Ready Soon for their next role, typically meaning in two/three years
  • Will they be Ready in the Future, typically in around five years time
  • A Key Contributor – someone whom the organisation would find great difficulty replacing if they resigned
  • A person that should be included in the pool for Developmental purposes

(The words in italics are usually employed as the category heading in talent pools).

Notice that this approach sorts on the basis of time to readiness. However, the mere passing of time does not necessarily result in any person becoming better qualified for a given target role! More focused approaches to accelerating talent development have, therefore, begun to consider the critical experiences and learning support services that need to be made available to people in the talent pool.

Critical experiences

Art_FotorThe critical experiences may be particular postings, secondments or job moves that are known to be highly correlated with success in a given, future role. These experiences might be broadly defined (“living and working in a francophone country”) and be quite specific (“has managed a revenue account and grown income by a factor of x over a period of y”). Where this approach is taken the emphasis on “time to readiness” is often progressively overtaken and more attention is paid to “paving the way” to a given, future role (or roles) with suitable experiences.

Learning support services

It is well known that two people can experience what appears to be the same occurrence and one will learn a tremendous amount from the experience whilst another very little. It is also evident that people learn in different ways and may be more or less active, pragmatic, and reflective or articulate about what they have learnt. Given this variety of approaches to learning it not surprising that a range of learning support services are now used to accelerate development. These services include mentoring, coaching, good management practices, journaling, action learning (for groups in a talent pool), assignments and so on.

Assessment for what?

Assessment serves three fundamental purposes in talent and succession management:

  • It helps to confirm potential by indicating what kind of talent has been nominated into the pool.
  • It helps target development by allowing you to understand the relationship between individual capabilities and business objectives. This enables you to select highly targeted development solutions for each individual and for them to be captured in a motivational (leadership) development plan.
  • It helps in making placement decisions. This facilitates the selection of just the right experiences, job challenges and assignments and in providing the most appropriate support to the individual.

Need advice about any aspect of talent and succession management? Contact √itas Consult.

The Risks of Not Managing Talent

Bronze Face_FotorThe unwanted loss of even one leader can be costly, given that 46% of replacements fail within 18 months (according to a study by Leadership IQ) and, among senior ranks, the cost of this failure to the organisation can exceed twenty times salary.

Imagine that cost being multiplied by your annual churn rate for managers. The truth is that managing this risk is complex – for it isn’t technical skills that result in new hires failing – it’s most commonly down to poor interpersonal skills.

Coach-ability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament – sometimes still collectively referred to as “character” – are much more predictive of a new hire’s success or failure than technical competence. Understanding technical competence remains a popular subject amongst interviewers simply because it’s easy to assess – yet it doesn’t contribute significantly to reducing the critical leadership appointment risk. So do some selection interviewing methods (e.g., behavioural, chronological, case study, etc.) reduce the risks of new hire failures?

Apparently not, according to the Leadership IQ study. No significant difference in failure rates was found across a range of different interviewing approaches. However, 812 managers experienced significantly more hiring success than their peers. What differentiated their job interviewing approach was their emphasis on interpersonal and motivational issues and their willingness to back their insights. Those managers that asked about and looked/listened for evidence of candidates coach-ability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament, saw vast improvements in their hiring success rates.


The three-year study by Leadership IQ, a global leadership training and research company, compiled these results after studying 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private, business and healthcare organizations. Collectively these managers hired more than 20,000 employees during the study period.