From video interviews to blind recruitment

How the Corona virus shakes up the headhunting world.

“Are you still kissing your partner? Of course! Are you still shaking hands with your candidates? Of course, not!”

Since March 2020 recruitment has quickly turned to video interviews and home offices. Is it possible to hire a manager without meeting him/her, without a handshake? I am Austrian. Austria has a huge culture of shaking hands. In normal office life, you shake hands with your colleagues every day! Twice! Coming and going! You also shake hands with family members and friends. It all seems so distant now.

In recruitment the handshake is a major tool of judging and evaluating somebody. Is the handshake firm or soft? Is it wet or dry? How long, how intense? Is there eye contact during the handshake? It is a vital part of the crucial first impression.

My wrong hiring decision

Pandemic time, no handshakes anymore! Can you recruit managers without a handshake, just with a video interview? Yes, but you miss this important element. One year before Corona I hired a student for a project just through a video interview, because there was time pressure. He was perfect on the video. On the first working day we shook hands and literally there was a shock. Alarm bells were ringing in my ears. His handshake was super soft, virtually not existing. I would not have hired him, but it was too late, he already had been hired. So, we went along, gave it a try and started our cooperation, until it eventually failed and we had to separate rather soon. It had been a wrong hiring decision.

Handshake is one key element of personal interviews, but there are several others. Eye contact is another one. Where is the eye contact in a video interview? Are you looking at the other face or are you looking into the camera? By definition this cannot be an authentic eye contact, because the camera is in a different place. Body language is the next missing item. Movement of hands, legs, the way somebody is sitting? It is all gone! There is just the face. What about the personal “aura”, when somebody enters the meeting room. Is this a leader, whom you want to follow? Not much evidence in the video interview. In senior recruitment the major focus is on all these personal chemistry elements. The hiring decision is about mutual trust. The goal is to make an optimal match between company culture, a future colleague and his/her future boss.

Change your job – work in the kitchen instead of the living room

Can headhunters still recruit successfully with all these handicaps around? Yes, because the experience of thousands of interviews still is a huge asset, but it is clear that the risk of misjudgment has increased during Corona times. It is also obvious that more responsibility has shifted to the hiring manager, who will finally meet the candidate in person. However, even this does not happen always nowadays. There are many cases when somebody is hired from the kitchen into the living room, from home office to home office by video interview alone. A good headhunting friend told me that he recently assisted in the following scenario. A CFO candidate was in the final interview round with several board members. A video interview was scheduled, but for some reason the video did not work. So it turned into a normal telephone interview. The CFO was hired. Nobody saw anybody. A blind recruitment! Certainly an extreme example. It will be funny when they will finally meet one day in person, “Oh, you are our CFO!”

Well, these are the compromises we have to live with now. Most likely some people are hired now, who would not have passed a normal personal interview process. On the positive side, there is also less personal discrimination involved. Arguments like, “Did you notice the shoes, the watch, the finger nails, the smell…?” do not count anymore. The current pandemic is teaching us the benefits of technology, but it is also showing us its limits. Recruitment of senior managers remains a people business despite all technology involved. Managers, who will lead, motivate and inspire teams need a personality that one can feel and trust…in person.

By Klemens Wersonig – INAC Austria

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