Pivoting to Virtual Hiring

By Karen Bertiger, Managing Director

Six months ago most organizations would have shunned the idea of a completely virtual hiring process. How can you assess a candidate’s culture fit without sitting across a table from them? How can you onboard a new employee without those essential impromptu hallway conversations and company immersion? At Herd Freed Hartz we have been assisting clients who have had to swiftly adapt to a virtual hiring model because their hiring needs haven’t eased even during a pandemic.

For the first few weeks, many clients put recruiting efforts on hold. But as time wore on and it became clear the pandemic wasn’t going to go away any time soon, companies were forced to create a workable “new normal.” As leaders in the executive search space, it was our responsibility to help our clients navigate a situation that had no precedence.

Fortunately, we were already experts at virtual hiring. Long gone are the days when “headhunters” traveled the globe interviewing candidates; the industry found that by using video conferences we saved our clients both time and money. But that solution evolved over a period of years; we were asking our clients to pivot to a completely unfamiliar – and for some uncomfortable – process on a dime.

Now that we are five months into the pandemic, we are starting to see the results of hires made entirely virtually and decided to check in with both the clients and the candidates to see how it was working out. What we learned was that, for the most part, companies have not only adapted to virtual hiring and onboarding processes but have been pleasantly surprised by the freedom and flexibility they provide. And thanks to some quick pivots by executive and human resources teams, the new employees haven’t missed a beat.

Across the board, companies credited a reliable video conferencing platform, like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, as the most critical tool for the virtual hiring process to be successful. In those first few weeks, most companies hadn’t had a chance to assess and select one for themselves, so as their search partner we hosted a platform for them so they wouldn’t lose time.

Takeaway: Find a reliable video conferencing platform that works for your organization, and be consistent with that platform.

Ron Howell, CEO of Washington Research Foundation, had launched a critical search with us for a Director of Grants right before the pandemic hit. This wasn’t a role that could be put on hold; the predecessor had announced her retirement, and the Washington Research Foundation’s grant awards were critical to entrepreneurs who were solving a wide range of medical and technical challenges, including eradicating diseases like COVID-19.

“I was worried we wouldn’t have enough time to socialize [with the candidates] and really determine EQ skills,” Howell said. “But ‘meeting’ our candidate over video conference multiple times alleviated that concern. In fact, any fears I had about hiring during the pandemic turned out to be unfounded. Herd Freed Hartz was invaluable in helping us figure out alternatives to traditional interviewing. They guided and advised us throughout a process nobody was familiar with and ultimately we couldn’t be happier with our new hire.”
Howell hired the Director without ever having met him in person.

Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to give virtual hiring a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised to find it’s really not that different, and you can still assess culture fit by leveraging a search firm’s expertise.

“COVID interviews are tricky,” says Lisa Edwards, Superintendent of Verdant Health, who herself was onboarded during the pandemic and is now conducting the hiring for her organization. “Don’t wait for COVID to go away before making hiring decisions but be aware of how priorities have changed for the workforce. Candidates want to know what safety measures are in place. Be prepared to discuss the company’s re-opening plan. What are the steps the company is taking to ensure health safety? Do you have a contact-tracing log? How often are surfaces cleaned, and what deep-cleaning is taking place?”

It’s also important to discuss upfront the company’s policy on working in the office. Is there the option to work 100% virtually? If so, what tools and resources will the company provide? If not, what safety measures are in place? Whether or not a company is open to providing employees with the option to work from home is a key differentiator when it comes to attracting talent right now.

Takeaway: Be prepared to address pandemic-related questions and concerns from candidates and to offer flexible solutions.

A $2b Seattle-based company that engaged Herd Freed Hartz on an executive search for a VP of Human Resources was on top of the virtual hiring experience immediately. “We’ve been hiring virtually this whole time,” says Allison [last name redacted for confidentiality], the candidate identified through Herd Freed Hartz who was hired virtually herself, and is now overseeing the virtual hiring process for the company. “The recruiting team has found that working remotely has allowed more flexibility because we’re not scheduling around physical space. We can meet people where they are, which is usually at home. We have a lot more scheduling freedom; we don’t have travel logistics, so we can access people’s time more easily. It’s gone well for us, and the transition has been pretty seamless.”

Takeaway: Virtual hiring can actually be faster and easier!

David Shoultz, now Director of Grants for the Washington Research Foundation, found himself going through multiple interview processes at the start of the pandemic. He brings the perspective of how different companies reacted to events. “WRF managed [the virtual process] much better than others did. The CEO did a great job of moderating the video conferences. Even when I had to give a presentation, it was just as easy, if not easier, to present over video.” In contrast, another company he was speaking with adopted a “wait and see” approach, delaying their search and ultimately taking them out of the running for Shoultz as a prospective employer.

“WRF was the exception to my experiences interviewing during the pandemic,” says Shoultz. “Most companies were really struggling with the technology and the comfort level of hiring and onboarding virtually. I got to see how multiple companies reacted to and coped with uncertainty. It was a very interesting insight I may not have seen in more normal circumstances.”

Takeaway: This is a candidate’s chance to see how the organization handles itself, and treats its employees, under pressure.

We are living through history right now, and history has shown times of strife breed opportunity for creativity and innovation. While there will be an adjustment period as companies pivot to virtual hiring, the results we are seeing have been just as successful as hires made before the pandemic began, with a few fringe benefits to boot.

Virtual Onboarding

by Karen Bertiger, Managing Director

At Herd Freed Hartz our involvement doesn’t end when the candidate accepts the position. The successful onboarding of the employee into the organization will have a lasting impact on that employee’s long-term viability. Part of our responsibility is to help our clients set up new hires for success, but how does that work in an entirely, or mostly, virtual world?

We checked in with a few of our clients’ hires to get the candidate’s perspective on their onboarding experience. Allison [last name redacted for confidentiality], who was placed by Herd Freed Hartz with a $2b healthcare corporation in Seattle, was pleased and excited by how smoothly her onboarding experience was at her new company.

The team pivoted quickly by providing each employee and new hire with a “home office.” Allison simply arranged a time to visit the building and remained in her car while the equipment – “even an office chair!” – was loaded into the back. Since those early days of the pandemic’s onset, the team continues to iterate the onboarding process to ensure a seamless transition for new employees.

“New hires meet each other on the Teams platform,” explains Allison, “and we’ve developed online interactive activities providing presentations and tools new employees can use to interact with each other.”

Takeaway: Be prepared to provide tools and resources to new employees to do their job remotely, and rethink how your onboarding process can be translated into the virtual world.

One of the most important aspects of onboarding is introducing the employee to the individuals and teams they’ll need to know. It’s easy for employees to forget about the new person if they aren’t sitting in the next cubicle. An onboarding schedule of virtual “meet-and-greets” is key to ensuring the new employee makes meaningful connections in the first few weeks.

“Everybody was so wonderful,” says Allison. “I was given a schedule of formal meetings as part of my onboarding, but there were also people just reaching out to me, welcoming me and offering assistance.”

Takeaway: Bump up internal communications to ensure everyone is aware of the new hire and create a virtually welcoming environment beyond the more formal introductions.

Lisa Edwards, who was placed by Herd Freed Hartz at Verdant Health at the beginning of the pandemic, had a slightly different onboarding experience because some of her roles required a physical presence in the office. “My onboarding was half virtual, half physical,” she says. “For the pieces that required me to be physically in the office, we limited those too short segments, using social distancing guidelines and masks.”

Employees at Verdant have the option of signing up for a time at the office, which allows the company to limit the number of people in the building and perform deep cleaning between and during shifts. WRF has adopted a similar policy, providing employees a choice of some office time, or no office time, and again requiring them to sign up in advance to ensure only a few employees are in the space at a time. The important thing is to ensure employees are not penalized or negatively impacted if they choose to remain entirely virtual.

”There is a layer of unease and uncertainty all of us in the workforce are facing every day,” says Edwards. “There is always the risk of exposure. Everyone is doing their best to maintain professionalism, but with this underlying tension.”

Takeaway: Be prepared to meet each employee where they are most comfortable and do not penalize employees who choose to remain virtual.

In each of these examples, the key differentiator lies with those employers who were able to pivot and adapt quickly, treated employees with compassion, and provided flexibility to their workforce. Those that did were still able to pursue those key hires that kept their businesses moving. And so far, we aren’t seeing any negative impact on either the employer or the new hires who adapted to virtual hiring.

Create an Excellent Candidate Experience

By Karen Bertiger / Special to The Seattle Times Jobs (published in June 2016)

It’s no secret that today’s talent market is highly competitive, but perks and sign-on bonuses aren’t the only way to attract top talent. Creating a positive interview experience can strongly influence a candidate’s interest, as well as create a long-lasting impact on your overall employment brand.

According to a LinkedIn poll, more than 80 percent of candidates expressed that a negative interview experience can change their minds about a role; likewise, more than 80 percent also said that a positive experience could change their mind the other way.

But it’s not just the candidate you want who matters; everybody has a network with whom they may share their experience. Employer review sites like Glassdoor.com are becoming an influential resource for career decisions. More than 60 percent of candidates who have a positive interview experience will not only actively encourage others to apply, but 39 percent of them would be more likely to purchase that company’s product or service. Meanwhile, a third of those who had a negative experience will publicly share that experience as well, according to the Talent Board’s Candidate Experience Awards survey.

Your goal is to ensure that every candidate who has a touchpoint with your organization not only feels they were treated professionally but leaves the experience a new fan of your company.

Here are a few simple steps you can take that will make an immediate impact on your candidates’ experience.

Hook them early with a job description that “wows” and an easy application process.
Job descriptions should outline the exciting possibilities of the company and its role. They should clearly state the qualifications and goals for the position, followed by a straightforward submission process. Send an automated confirmation so the candidate knows his or her application was received. Often, résumé submissions fall into a “black hole” within recruiting departments; by providing a response, you will differentiate yourself and add a touch that shows appreciation for the candidate’s effort.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.
This is the No. 1 mistake hiring managers and recruiters make when it comes to the candidate experience. Make it a goal to reply to every applicant within 48 hours, either to schedule a first interview, request additional information or respectfully decline with an email template. Throughout your interview process, keep every candidate informed on the next steps and timing.

Outline your hiring process, so the candidate can focus on the interview and not logistics.
When inviting a candidate in for an interview, provide clear directions both to the office and upon arrival, and details describing the structure of the interview, e.g., how long should they expect to be there? Whom will they meet? Will there be a white-boarding session or other skill assessment tests? Providing candidates with the proper information to prepare for the interview will make the candidate feel more confident and at ease, which leads to a more “real” interaction. When the interview is over, be sure to let the applicant know when you plan to follow up with next steps — and then do it.

Respectfully decline.
It’s much easier to focus on creating a good experience for the candidate you hope to hire. But how do you guarantee that the candidates you decline will still leave the process with a positive impression of you and your company? Respectfully declining a candidate is a task most of us would rather avoid, so it’s not surprising that one of the top complaints of the interview process is never being officially “closed out.” By sending a quick, professional note letting the candidate know he or she will not be moving forward in the process, you will actually make a much more positive impression than if you avoid delivering the bad news. If the candidate advanced through multiple interviews, take the time to deliver the news by phone.

Timely communication is even more important when it comes to the candidate you do want. There’s a good chance your top choice will receive multiple offers from your competitors. The candidate will consider a number of factors when deciding which offer to take, but many hiring managers don’t realize that one of those factors is the experience the candidate had throughout the interview process. Did he or she receive clear, professional communication? Was the interview process well-organized? These are indicators of how he or she will be treated once in the job.

Most of these steps can be automated and will take just a few minutes, or even seconds, of your time. And yet, so many companies miss these opportunities to create a long-lasting, positive employer reputation in this competitive marketplace. By treating every candidate with professionalism and respect, you will have a competitive advantage over a less-conscientious competitor.

Karen Bertiger advises companies throughout the Puget Sound area as an executive search consultant with the Seattle-based firm Herd Freed Hartz, Inc.

Last update of the article: 06/05/2020.

Hook job candidates with your “company sizzle”

5 Common Sense Tips for Crafting a Beneficial Candidate Experience

When you really get down to it, recruitment and hiring is about building your business; creating opportunities for your company to achieve its full potential. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the hiring process contains another, hidden opportunity to grow and develop your company’s image and brand. Whether or not you actually hire them, prospective candidates leave the application process with an impression of your company based on the experience they had. According to a survey by Kelly Services UK, 70% of applicants would talk about a negative experience with family and friends and 31% would go public. But more than that, the way that you hire and onboard prospects really reflects how your organization is run, both inside and out. As such, it’s important that team members start off on the right foot when they are brought on, and that those who aren’t leave with the best possible feeling. Here are five common sense tips for crafting a better, more beneficial candidate experience.

1. Turn Candidate Experience Into a Company Policy

We touched on it before, but this point can’t be over-emphasized. Pooling company-wide support into creating a positive recruitment experience might seem like overkill, but it really goes a long way. Make sure team members politely greet candidates when they come in for an interview, and designate a few current team members to make themselves available for candidate questions. These may seem like insignificant things, but in reality, the benefits of a positive candidate experience reverberate far beyond the recruitment process. Virgin Media found that new business could be acquired through the recruitment process for one tenth the cost of traditional marketing channels, for example. Take every opportunity you can to be great, even in recruiting.

2. Create a Stellar Job Description

A job description is the earliest point of contact in the recruitment process. Before your recruitment team can even respond to the résumés flying in, candidates have formed an impression of your company’s brand and identity through the job description you posted. A good description will wow candidates and generate excitement about your company the open position.

3. Make the Application Process as Simple as Possible

Making the application process simple and straightforward is very simple way of improving candidate experience. Your recruitment process will be thorough in order to on-board the best talent available, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a labyrinth for applicants with various hoops to jump through. Format should never supercede substance; if applicants are having trouble adhering to the specification s within your application process, there’s something wrong. If the application process is simple and legible, applicants can focus on only including relevant information and bringing their A-game to the interview. Some businesses even pepper the process with tips, advice, or guidelines on how to successfully complete applications.

4. Think About how You’d Like to Be Interviewed

Another example of common sense thinking: a little respect can go a long way. Think of the golden rule and simply treat your applicants like you’d want to be treated. When it comes to recruiting, a good first step is to set up an automated email response to all applications. Every candidate should be in the loop at every turn of the application process. When it’s time to decline, do so respectfully with a professional note or a phone call. This step is particularly important if the candidate had multiple interviews. In general, it’s best to imagine that you’re interviewing a friend. Imbue the candidate’s experience with all the respect you know they deserve.

5. Remember, Onboarding is Part of the Candidate Experience

Onboarding is the final step in the recruitment process. Don’t leave new hires hanging. Just as you’ve done in the application process, give them all the resources, tools and information they need to be successful in their new position, and then share that success with your company.

Providing a more positive candidate experience is a practice taking the business world by storm. It doesn’t just feel good to treat people better; the ROI on making significant, systemic changes to your recruitment process is measurable and, frankly, too good to ignore.

We at Herd Freed Hartz understand the importance and the challenge of hiring top talent. There are so many executive recruiters in Seattle, but we have proven ourselves time and again to be the most successful at bringing to hire the right top executive talent from around the country.

If you’re on the hunt for top executive talent, contact us today.

For the Candidate: 7 Tips to Shine in the Eyes of Your Recruiter

Looking for a new job is full of challenges all of which can be distilled to one essential struggle: making yourself stand out to recruiters. Even the most technically qualified candidate still has to impress a recruiter who is likely already inundated with nearly identical resumes. Keep reading for seven tips to help catch the eye of executive recruiters.

1. Do Your Homework and Be Prepared

Winging it might work out for a weddings toast (it might not), but it certainly won’t for a job interview. You already know that your resume and cover letter need to be tailored to the position you’re applying to. Your interview performance is no different. Show recruiters that you understand the company and its history. Recruiters are likelier to hire someone who shows they’re not just interested in a job, but a career.

2. Show Off Your Personality

You are more than just a resume. The best recruiters seriously consider personality when hiring, so let yours shine. In part, this means relaxing during your interview, showing enthusiasm and talking about your ideas, successes, and goals. It also means providing links to your portfolios and social media profiles. Be upfront with all the information recruitment teams are looking for. It should go without saying that you should clean up your social media profiles before sharing them with recruiters.

3. Project a Can-Do Attitude

All the qualifications in the world mean nothing with a bad attitude. In your cover letter, in your correspondence, and in your interview, project positivity and enthusiasm for the position and company you’re applying to. Attitudes are contagious and a healthy dose of passion and drive can trump experience when recruiters are comparing candidates.

4. Have a Real Conversation: Don’t Use Your Resume and Cover Letter as a Script

If you’re in an interview, there’s no need to list off bullet points from your resume and cover letter, your recruiter has already read both them. That’s why you’re there! Hand-in-hand with showing off your personality, sharing a real conversation shows off your dynamism and dimensionality.

5. Ask Questions Beyond Salary and Benefit Details

Prove to your recruiter that you’re not interested in a job, but the job that they’re hiring for. Certainly be prepared to discuss salary and benefits (remember, do your homework!), but focusing too narrowly on those topics will suggest to a recruiter that your interest in the position is solely monetary. Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the company and the position you’re applying to. Recruiters want to hire someone interested in the company and deliverables and you’ll gain a better sense whether the position is a good fit for you.

6. Show What You Can Offer the Company in Terms of Actual Work and Deliverables

Recruiters will want to know in measurable terms what you can offer the company. Answer the question before it’s asked. This can mean identifying a problem or need the company may have and outlining how you might resolve the problem or satisfy the need. Similarly, you can provide an example of the work you might do if hired: outline a marketing strategy; design a landing page; write a press release.

7. Focus on Accomplishments Rather than Skills

Job listings call for desired skills and characteristics. As a result, recruiters tend to see scores of similar looking resumes that simply list relevant skills. A great way to make you and your resume stand out is to describe measurable accomplishments made possible by your possession of those skills. How many people did you manage? How many clients did you serve? How much did you save or earn for the company? Precise information will make you stand out and give recruiters a much more precise sense of your capabilities.

Paper qualifications can only take an applicant so far on their own merit. If you have the experience, give yourself the edge and use these tips to shine in the eyes of recruiters.

If you’re searching for executive talent, contact us today.