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5 Tips for Evaluating, Interviewing & On-Boarding in a Virtual World

March 12th, 2021 – Kim Daly – It has been just over one year since COVID-19 changed how we do business, transplanting us from board rooms to Zoom rooms. While much of the world begins returning to some semblance of pre-pandemic life, the workplace as we knew it may be changed forever. Many employees are choosing to continue working from home while employers are considering hybrid work weeks and downsizing their office footprint. The remote office, it appears, is not going away any time soon.

This new and perhaps everlasting environment begs the question, how does an employer best evaluate, interview and onboard senior-level executives in this new environment? How do we mimic the in-person best-practices we came to rely on and adapt them to a virtual world? While we are starting to see some final rounds of interviews take place in-person utilizing social distancing procedures, most of the steps before and after are remaining virtual, and with good results.

The crisis mode we’ve been forced to operate in is ending and the economy is stabilizing. Executive searches nationwide are increasing, and candidates are ready to answer the call. With preparation, organization and a solid internet connection, the process of finding your next senior executive can go smoothly and efficiently. Most importantly, it can yield you the ideal long-term candidate whose leadership and vision are in line with the current lifecycle of your organization. Consider these five tips:

Don’t rely on paperwork. A resume and cover letter are just the start. Do a thorough job of referencing and pre-screening candidates early on to get the best story you can, including whether your position is the next logical step for this individual. Get a sense for whether they are passionate about leadership or just a subject matter expert. Gauge their level of relationship capital. Stay focused on the five most pertinent skill areas for any executive, including results, strategic vision, leadership, integrity, P&L/budgetary management, and communication/relationship management.

Digging deeper means putting a greater emphasis on social media screening and informal referencing than ever before. The latter, involving the investigation of character, ability, intelligence from those in our proprietary network, can be tricky, but a good search firm can assist with the process. Use the data points you uncover as potential areas to probe, making for more successful and fulfilling interview rounds. Remember, ultimately, every leader does not have to have it all. They must have a preponderance of it all and they need to be able to lead it all, while any gaps they have need to be ably and mightily filled by one of their direct reports.

Design a well-thought-out interview process. Make it inclusive and involve each of the stakeholders who surround or impact this person’s success. From team members and direct reports to the full board of directors, each stakeholder should take some responsibility in evaluating candidates for the skills, abilities, attributes, competencies, and characteristics that the position requires. Script it when necessary and seek to understand a candidate’s points of curiosity as well as why they made the chronological moves they have made thus far in their career. Be sure to combine both behavioral and practical elements into the process, allowing you a birds-eye view into exactly how a candidate will show up as a leader in your organization.

Take copious notes. Clients underestimate that many great business ideas come from candidates you decline to move forward with. Be attentive, be a sponge and listen for ideas that can help you better lead and manage change in your organization.

Take onboarding seriously. Design it as strategically as you do your interview process and structure and plan for on-boarding to last an entire year, not just the classic “First 90 days.” Ensure new executives are participating in senior leadership meetings to better understand protocol and preparedness expectations. Establish goals after the first 90 days of watching and listening to determine how a new leader will be assessed for future raises, bonuses, and cost of living increases. Review and digest your strategic plan at intervals to determine how your new hire is performing against it. In short, stratify your onboarding process. How an executive is onboarded directly correlates to how they feel about the promises made to them during the recruitment process, and a poorly executed onboarding process diminishes and effectively reduces candidate tenure.

When conducting your interview process, please remember you are giving a candidate a snapshot of who you are as an organization. Even in a virtual world, with every interview process you are branding your organization. This includes providing insight into how you operate, conduct meetings, and make decisions. The candidate is always watching and forming an opinion. You are continuously exposing the inner workings of your organization and ultimately want to put forth an honest image that will attract the right individual to your organization.

Screening, interviewing, and onboarding at the executive level is a lengthy and challenging process. However, with intention and strategy, the right leadership for your organization can be found and successfully onboarded even without a tangible board room. As leaders, we must remind ourselves that with chaos and change comes opportunity. Organizations and leaders that master COVID-19, as well as virtual interviewing and on-boarding processes will attract, recruit, and retain the best talent available in the marketplace, delivering consistent ROI for many years to come.

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