The future of hiring

From using chatbots to virtual interviews, pandemic has altered the way firms recruit

Walking into a chilly room for a job interview armed with paper files and a brand new blazer might soon become a thing of the past, given the way the Covid-19 pandemic is changing how the hiring process is conducted.

Virtual interviews or hybrid processes with a mixture of online and physical interactions are the future, experts said.

But this means that both interviewers and job seekers have to adjust to the challenges brought about by the shift of communications to the online medium.

A report by LinkedIn on the future of recruiting in the Asia-Pacific found that nearly 80 per cent of talent professionals in the region agreed that virtual recruiting will continue post-Covid-19, and 72 per cent say virtual recruiting will become the new standard.

The survey also found that 68 per cent of Singaporean head-hunters thought virtual recruiting would be very important in the future.

FastJobs Singapore general manager Lim Huishan noted that companies are doing a hybrid mode of recruiting, which could involve video screenings as part of the first round of interviews at job fairs, but physical meetings might still continue for subsequent rounds.

"This basically reduces the amount of face-to-face interactions to just the most necessary," she noted.

ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo agreed that some firms are using this hybrid mode of hiring, but it could also take a longer time due to the pandemic.

"The hiring process is slower, mainly because hiring managers are more selective as they want to ensure they hire the right candidate," she said.

"Furthermore, some interviewers may be working on alternate shifts in the office, so candidates may need to go through more rounds of interviews to meet different people in the company."

Even the onboarding process has gone online, Ms Teo added, as some companies send the required work set-up to the new hire's home by courier.

But with phase three of Singapore's reopening, companies might explore the option of having the new hire come to the office for a day to settle the onboarding procedures and then work from home.

"Teams with new members joining need to be more understanding during the initial months as the new hire will need more time to onboard and become familiar with the organisation and work processes," Ms Teo said.

"They need to understand that the process might take longer as they are not meeting in person often and be helpful when approached."

Talentvis deputy regional managing director Christine Sheng estimated that some 70 per cent of interviews are now conducted online through Web conferencing platforms like Zoom, with in-person interactions reserved for the final stages of the interview.

This can be a boon in shortening the interview process, as travelling time can be cut down, she added.

As for onboarding, most of Talentvis' clients conduct a shortened version of their original training process, such as cutting five days of physical onboarding to three.

Ms Sheng added that there were instances of people who did their onboarding online, but it affected their relationships with their new colleagues.

Still, it seems that online processes are here to stay, already becoming so common that some firms have started creating technology to aid the process.

For instance, software company impress.ai created artificial intelligence-powered chatbots that interview, engage and shortlist candidates at scale. It has about 50 clients across multiple sectors, from finance to education.

The chatbots present technical questions specific to the role and conduct competency assessments to help human resource teams select the right candidate.

Submitted resumes can be analysed within three seconds and candidates are guided to the next stage of the process where they will answer questions based on the job requirements.

Mr Sudhanshu Ahuja, chief executive and co-founder of impress.ai, said: "Enterprises have also started to prioritise investments in human resource technology to support functions such as recruitment, onboarding, coaching, performance management, engagement, analytics and workforce management."

He added that recruiters are adopting an integrated approach, with additional in-person interviews to better evaluate the candidate.

But virtual hiring also carries with it a host of challenges. Mr Ahuja noted that virtual channels may reduce the fidelity of information exchanged between two parties, when visual cues such as body language and eye contact are missed during the conversation.

Ms Sheng added that job seekers have to be ready for on-screen interviews or phone calls. "The tone of voice has to be clear when answering interview questions and job seekers have to ensure that they are well groomed even though they may be at home," she said.


How to ace a virtual interview

Here are some useful pointers, according to a LinkedIn guide

• Test the set-up beforehand. Ensure you have a stable Internet connection, a quiet environment and an earpiece so that the interviewers can hear you clearly. Job seekers must be comfortable with using technology, especially work-related software such as Zoom, Microsoft Office applications and other similar programmes. Find out how to handle technical issues ahead of time as well.

• Prepare the backdrop. A plain wall probably will not go wrong, but having pale-coloured walls as the backdrop when you are wearing a light shirt might make you look washed out. Try not to have a cluttered backdrop and avoid anything that could be polarising. Ensure the background does not say something about you that might not work to your advantage.

• Be well groomed although you are at home. Dress in an office shirt and jacket as if you are going for an interview in person. Solid colours, rather than patterns, could also come across better on video. If white makes you look too pale, go for colours such as emerald green, mustard yellow, sapphire blue, plum and reds that are not too bright.

• Physical interviews rely a lot on body language and other cues such as facial expressions and eye contact. Practise your virtual interview with a friend to get feedback on how your body language is conveyed digitally. You can also record yourself first to evaluate how you look and sound, and then fine-tune your skills from there. Your tone of voice should also be clear when answering questions.

• Pay attention to your movements. Keep a nice balance between fidgeting a lot and staying too still. Practise looking at the Web camera and not at the screen, or you might appear to be looking downwards.

Sue-Ann Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2021, with the headline 'The future of hiring'. Subscribe