Interview exp lockdown
Charlie Johnson
Friday, July 3, 2020
7 min read

Graduate job interview experiences in lockdown

Committing to a new company without meeting your new team face to face, seeing the office and checking the vibe is really difficult, especially if you’ve only met 1 or 2 people there on a video call. Hiring in lockdown comes with its challenges (beyond trying to arrange an interview on Google Hangout).

Video interviews were already being implemented in many recruitment processes before the coronavirus arrived; though they were usually reserved for the early stages only, with the opportunities for applicants to scope out the offices, size up their desks and meet the wider team available in later interview rounds. 

How can you maintain a great candidate experience when interviewing remotely?

With face-to-face office meetings still being restricted, the impact of this lack of in-person interaction can’t go overlooked. Joining a new company is a big decision and, irrespective of the fact that there are fewer graduate job opportunities available than ever before, job seekers are being extra-analytical (and cautious) when deciding whether or not a company is right for them.

Candidates are expecting awkwardness

One thing that really left a good impression on Abby Welsted, who interviewed for a placement year opportunity with a tech-focused accounting firm, was that the first stage was more casual and focused on getting to know each other. “It showed me that the company is interested in finding the right fit and is people-focused and made worry less about the slight lag on our call,” she added.

The interviewer really taking the time to introduce themselves and maybe share slightly more personal things (within reason) about themselves can help the process feel more real and the interviewer feel like an actual person instead of a screen. It certainly helps that everyone has had similar shared experiences of a global pandemic to discuss, so ice-breakers are relatively easy.

Prepare for poor connectivity and outline what the process would be if the Wi-Fi drops. Have a conversation at the start of the meeting about what would happen in that scenario. 

Allocate a bit more time to interviews so that candidates don't feel the rush to say everything they want to say in 15 minutes. To mitigate this, ensure that slots are at least 30 minutes, even if you end up finishing earlier.

Talk candidates through the process

Being prepared when interviewing remotely is key - interviews that were well organised, with a clear structure of what they wanted to talk about, seemed more relaxed, even when the questions became tougher. Make sure the interviewees understand the recruiting cycle and let them know when they should hear back from you, communication is key to feeling valued and maintains that positive candidate experience, even if the outcome is a rejection.

James landed a job with a startup operating in his field of studies, materials science. Having interviewed for several companies during lockdown, he felt that most of them lacked preparation and weren’t as thorough or well-structured as in previous days – which gave an adverse impression of the business.

“It was clear with several companies I interviewed with that they were improvising the interview process on-the-fly, as they weren't able to do the usual assessment centre days. Sometimes the requirements were unclear, and I would get quite far in the process, going through several personality tests, a chat with the founder, only to be rejected based after a technical test. With the job I landed, it was a case of an ideal role for someone of my background coming up, so the interview process here was more of a getting-to-know each other and discussing the role.”

All in all, James quite enjoyed interviewing during lockdown, noting that “interviewing from my bedroom was vastly more convenient than having to travel back and forth to companies for multiple rounds of interviews!”

Bring in team members to add extra company context

It sounds relatively straightforward but make sure you have more than one interview and with different members of the team. Candidates who impressed in their first interview and were immediately offered the job, were often hesitant to accept as they didn’t know enough about the team they’d be working with, especially if that interview was only with one person. Applicants who had two interviews were able to ask more questions, meet more team members and get a better feel for the culture and working environment. 

Interviewers could describe the office, how they’ve stayed connected whilst working remotely or point job seekers to their Instagram or Linkedin company pages where (hopefully!) there are pictures of the team in situ.

Get creative with your tasks

Online supervised tasks, with the interviewer watching the candidate’s shared screen, were surprisingly well received. 

Aspiring junior software developer, Annika Chauhan, enjoyed the experience and the pressure. 

“My interview included learning a concept from scratch in a few days beforehand and then producing a feature in an existing codebase to demo my skills (on a video call with them whilst they watched my screen) - I think this was an incredible way to test a junior for a role, though it feels like a lot of pressure for the interviewee. They were more than happy to see my notes and how I googled because they wanted to see how I approached a problem. This is fantastic for those hiring at the entry level, because they got to see the thought process, how quickly I learn and how I behave under pressure to see if I fit their business and its needs.”

How can you bring new joiners up-to-speed quickly?

In terms of best practice post-hire, the most positive feedback came from new joiners whose first few weeks were very structured, best implemented through the scheduling of lots of meetings booked in the diary. Whilst shadowing and watching others from home will continue to be difficult, learning (and generally being brought up to speed) was best enhanced when new team members were brought in on as many online meetings as possible. 

Ade, who joined a retail technology startup, concurred. He added, “I know a lot of employers are saying that training is tough remotely, but it really isn't as I've been fully inducted remotely and so have some of my friends. It just requires a little extra planning, patience and better utilisation of technologies like live shares or calls. Obviously everything seems a little bit challenging remotely, but we should all learn to get used to it - this seems like it's going to be the new normal for the rest of the year at least, and even in the long run businesses will save so much money by not paying for offices that I think more companies will become more remote”

Graduate recruitment companies help candidates to feel prepared

Good news for graduate recruiters – grads have really felt the benefit of their recruiter being involved to make sure that they were prepared for each stage of the process and, as one interviewee added, “regarding keeping safe and distanced during the final interview which happened to be face-to-face.

My interviewers helped to make the situation feel as normal as possible, and BrighterBox helped with this as well, telling me what to expect and using their expertise to coach me through the unfamiliar process.”

So that's it! Of course, everyone's interview experiences will differ, but there are certainly plenty of practical things that interviewers can keep in mind to enhance the candidate experience. If you need any help or just want to chat things through, drop us a line!

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