Leonard Mahlangu, Tech Recruitment Consultant at Investec, believes that building a human connection with candidates is important for a ‘high-touch’ hiring approach. In light of COVID-19, the team had to move their recruitment process online, and this meant they had to figure out how to keep human connection a priority through a completely virtual interaction.
This is a summary of our conversation with Leonard about his team’s experience, and the four key lessons he’s learned about tech hiring in a remote-first world.
You can watch the video here, or at the end of this blog post!
Tip #1: Lead by being vulnerable
Leonard’s goal when interviewing candidates is to connect with them as human beings, and understand who they are as a person. However, interviews – in person or online – can be scary for candidates, and building connection by ‘opening up’ isn’t always easy for every candidate to do. In those cases, Leonard says that he tries to lead the way by being the first to volunteer information. He explains:
“As much as people like to talk about themselves, there is always a little reluctance, especially when meeting a stranger. This is especially difficult on a video call without the same social cues. From what I’ve seen, the best way to overcome that with a candidate, is to start by sharing things about yourself.”
By being the first to volunteer vulnerability, Leonard lets candidates know that it’s a safe space, and that it’s okay to let their guards down. This enables him to have a more relaxed, open, and one-to-one conversation with candidates, and build a better connection with them right from the start. “Before just ‘firing away’, I say, ‘Let’s connect on a human level’,” he explains. “I start by saying something like, ‘These are trying times under lockdown, and we all have our own challenges… What are some of your challenges?’ Connecting on that human level first makes it much easier to just have a conversation as two normal people.”
Pro-tip: Find common ground quickly, and front-load that at the start of the conversation. As a parent, Leonard often asks whether candidates have any children themselves. This creates an easy way for him to build a connection with candidates and relate to them. It not only helps him understand them better, and find out more about who they are, but it also helps candidates find those things out about Leonard.
Tip #2: Seek the unique social cues in video calls
On a video call, Leonard misses out on a lot of the body language and facial expressions he’d normally notice during an in-person coffee. He would use these cues to gauge how comfortable a candidate is, and adjust his approach accordingly: “Now, though, I miss out on a lot of those important social cues, and don’t really get to feel the same energy from this individual.” However, Leonard has realised that video calls offer other useful insights:
Video calls offer a unique opportunity to pick up on other cues, ones which he can’t access face-to-face in the office.
To do this effectively, Leonard uses cues like someone’s Zoom background, the room they’re in, and what goes on around them as opportunities for more personal, more casual conversation that build connection and trust.
“Having a dog jump onto someone’s lap mid-call lets us show our ‘humanness’ — and I started looking for those things and using them as springboards for conversation. It tells you a lot about someone, things like whether they have a background, or where they’re sitting.”
Leonard recalls an experience he had with a candidate: “I had my cupboard open behind me, and they said, ‘I’m so envious of how neatly packed your cupboard is’. I told them that it reminded me of my dad, and that gave them a glimpse into who I am, one which we might not have experienced over a coffee at the office.”
Tip #3: Let candidates meet other team members – but let them know in advance who’ll be joining the call
Letting candidates meet the members of the broader team is a big part of Leonard’s team’s high-touch approach to hiring, and it’s been important for him to keep that up online. This is because he’s found it helpful for candidates to not only meet the people that they might work with, but also to meet people from other departments so that they can get an idea of the culture.
However, Leonard says that opening meeting opportunities up online can make the video call easily feel more like a formal interview than a casual ‘meet-the-team’. To reduce anxiety, and make it easier for candidates to connect with others from the company, Leonard opts for maximum transparency by letting candidates know who they’ll talk to prior to any video calls. After all, the team knows about a candidate prior to the interview, so Leonard says it’s only fair that candidates get the same opportunity.
“I give them that information beforehand — who and where do these other people fit in, and why I’d like them to meet these people specifically — so candidates can research them in their own time. It creates common ground if there are any common interests.”
Tip #4: Have a debrief call with every single candidate
Irrespective of whether or not a candidate is successful, Leonard’s team schedules a debrief call with them to ask how their experience was interviewing online, and to give them feedback from his team. There are two main things this achieves:
1. Debrief calls show candidates that you care: “It certainly further solidifies that they weren’t just a number,” Leonard explains. “This was a person, a human being who went through our process, and we want to understand what it was like for them, and share what it was like for us too.” In Leonard’s opinion, candidates are people, they’re your customers, they’re your cheerleaders, and they’re the people who use your platform — so he treats all interviews as a chance to learn, while building good relationships, regardless of whether someone gets hired or not.
2. Debrief calls let you know if your process is set up well: This is a new environment for Leonard and his team, and remote hiring is not something they’ve had much experience with before, so feedback from people who go through what they’ve set up is the only way to know if it’s working:
“It’s important to make sure they experienced the process like you thought they would. There’s intent versus impact at play: You’ve got all the good intentions, right, but what if it lands differently? Just asking candidates lets you figure that out really quickly.”