Hiring Employees Sight Unseen

By Lin Grensing-Pophal August 9, 2019

​As the economy becomes more global, dispersed and mobile, it's not uncommon for potential employees to find themselves interviewing with organizations where they never actually have a face-to-face interview—and may never interact beyond a series of phone calls.

In a connected world, finding and hiring top talent is no longer limited by proximity or the coordination of increasingly busy schedules. Employers are finding that hiring employees sight unseen can provide a host of benefits for certain roles.

The Gig World

The world of freelancing, which has become known as the "gig economy," is one obvious arena in which hiring—or contracting with—gig workers sight unseen is common, said Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at Remote.co and FlexJobs. Remote.co surveyed more than 100 companies with remote workers and found that "the vast majority use phone interviews—more so than video interviews—for hiring," she said. 

When hiring for gig or remote roles, foregoing traditional interviews can make good sense, said Ira S. Wolfe, president of recruiting firm Success Performance Solutions in Wind Gap, Pa. "The success of hiring sight unseen depends on the role," said Wolfe, who regularly contracts with gig workers like web developers and virtual assistants without the benefit of face-to-face interviews. In fact, he said: "For a recent web project, I never spoke with the developer. All communication was via messaging."

But, while this practice has long been standard when working with contractors or freelancers, how prevalent is it when hiring fulltime staff members?

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Employing Independent Contractors]

Hiring for Traditional Roles

According to a Wall Street Journal article: "Eager employers trying to lure workers in the tightest job market since 1969 are hiring some candidates sight unseen, at times after one phone interview."

In many cases, the consideration of whether interviews should be conducted face-to-face, via video or teleconferencing, or without any visual interaction at all, can be made based on very practical considerations, Wolfe suggested.

"If physical on-site interaction with employees or customers is required on the job, then a face-to-face interview is recommended," he said. But if the job will be conducted virtually, then a video or phone interview offers an excellent assessment of how the candidate will conduct work.

Use videoconferencing to approximate the face-to-face experience. This can offer the ability to evaluate nonverbal cues and get a sense of the candidates' personalities and interpersonal interactions. Videos can also be recorded and shared with others participating in the selection process, easing the burden of attempting to coordinate conflicting schedules.

But video isn't necessarily a must-have, either. When roles will be entirely remote and face-to-face or even voice-to-voice interactions won't be part of the job, then e-mail, texting and online messaging can be valid and valuable ways to make assessments of candidates' skills and proficiencies for a job.

Potential Drawbacks

Even when those being hired will have little, if any, interaction with others, though, there can be some potential drawbacks to remote interviews.

"One downside is the ease with which an interviewer can be distracted by an e-mail or chat message, or any number of things happening around them," Reynolds said. "Some people also miss the body language aspect of interviewing."

Other drawbacks might relate to the technology itself. Technical problems, sound quality and other challenges can diminish the value of the interview and, potentially, show candidates in a negative light.

There also is a risk that candidates may find a virtual recruiting and onboarding process undesirable, said Denise Leaser, SHRM-SCP, president of GreatBizTools, an HR management company in Los Angeles. She points to research from job site Monster that indicated that "70 percent of candidates will turn down a job if they are turned off by their first impression of the company." That means, she said, that "remote hiring puts even more pressure on companies to be engaged and provide a great experience throughout the candidate and onboarding processes."

Benefits and Best Practices

In a world where unconscious bias proliferates, and companies are increasingly concerned about ensuring hiring practices that are as free from bias as possible, remote hiring can represent some key benefits.

"Not interviewing a candidate face-to-face can reduce unconscious bias because you are only focusing on job-related competencies," Leaser said. Employers "can increase your workforce diversity and increase your chances of finding the best candidate."

Another benefit is saving time and money.

Dan Bailey, co-founder and president of MyRoofingPal, an online marketplace that connects people with local roofers, said that the company grew so fast that he and his partner were spending a combined 35 hours a week interviewing job candidates, which caused them to neglect other important elements of the business. Using video interviews has resulted in significant time saving, he said.

"Where it was previously taking us 35 hours per week to interview candidates, it now only takes three." That's a significant savings for organizations of any size.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.



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