Finding a job in a pandemic

ah, the online interview

Change is something that I’ve always been pretty comfortable with, in fact, I get worried when things seem to be just ticking along nicely. The pandemic saw to it that things were to change drastically and finally, after a few tough years of business I found myself in need of a new role. I’ve been working in the Human Resources field for many years, but what I was to see and experience as a candidate was simply shocking. Although, there is a happy ending.

Let me share a story. Many years ago I had a wonderful conversation with a candidate who I thought might be suitable for a role in Ireland. She was based in the UK, had an amazing education and her experience was almost written for the role I was recruiting. Back then I worked in an agency and whilst I had a good basic salary, I was rewarded for the placements that I made. I quickly learned that there were a lot of people doing the same thing, but for me, the more I worked with my candidates, built relationships and trained them to put their experience on show the more successful I was and the more business I gained. People it seemed, liked to be treated like people. This one lady was a perfect fit for the role but something in the tone of her voice told me that this was not the right role for her. In my debrief post interview, she told me that “there was just something about the interviewer”. She wasn’t sure. Rather than try and convince her I agreed that if the match wasn’t right then this was not the role for her. She was the only candidate I had for the role which left me in a sticky situation with the client but it was better than to try and force the issue with a candidate who would not have been happy in role. Several months later the phone rang and my candidate had found a role in a company where she would need to build a team. Together we built a number of teams all requiring specialists in their field but more importantly, people who could work together.

It takes no time at all to be humble and human to another human but unfortunately and I don’t know if this is pandemic related, but my latest experience of being a candidate was not good. Lets start with the application process. I must have sent hundreds of applications. I didn’t take a machine gun approach, no I targeted the companies and roles that I thought would match my experience and expectations. This was done over a period of time, so that when I did hear back I was able to remember my application and the reasons I had chosen that company. I need not have worried, on one occasion 8 weeks after an application I got an email asking me to do a test to see if I was “suitable” for the company.

I am lucky to have worked with some incredible people and I can feel how annoyed my previous Head of Talent would have been with a “service” like this. We prided ourselves with the way in which we spoke to our candidates and regularly got feedback that despite us feeling they were unsuitable, they very much appreciated the time we took to explain our decision making processes.

In a strange departure, because people were home based, interviews were speedily arranged over the last few months. However, interviewing online is a very different experience. It would be an interesting study to see how the art of interviewing has changed since the world changed to being remote. What I found was that the structure, the professionalism of a lot of meetings has changed. I’ve been interviewed by people sitting in their garden sheds, construction settings and even one person who was in their car. All on video. Perhaps this feeling of de-individualisation leads to a more relaxed interviewer, in any case, specifically in online meetings, I’ve been asked questions that would never be asked in a face to face meeting. In one interview, I was taken through a series of questions that were “asked of every candidate”, which to a point were fine, then, the questions changed to my life outside of work and were in areas that had no relation to the role at all. Put simply, completely illegal questions. So what do you do? This was a role for a VP of People, had I just answered the question would I be showing that I didn’t know the law… but call them out and I risked throwing the interview. In the end I agreed to answer but did signpost that these were questions that were not directly related to the role.

Now we come to the feedback. I can again see my Head of Talent going mental at the thought of candidates (at all levels) being rejected by email. The company in the story above sent me a 2 line email telling me that I was “overqualified”. Again, a legally difficult situation, however, I didn’t push it as I was not going to work for a company that rejected candidates via email. For the record, you can’t just say someone is “over qualified”, you have to give the reasoning behind the decision.

I am happy to say that not all experiences were bad, I’ve met some companies doing amazing things and with huge futures ahead of them. Exceptional companies knew the value of a People Team and even if they didn’t know exactly what a People Team could do, they were willing to listen and open to learning. I say this as some of the companies I spoke to were keen to build a team but didn’t have experience in this area. I tend to work in the tech start up world so this is not unusual.

To anyone looking to hire, don’t forget the person in the process. I interviewed a candidate about 8 months ago who was highly experienced, just not the market experience we needed. Unfortunately, was desperate. This came across in his interview style and he tried to close me at the end of the interview causing my fellow interviewer and I to become rather uneasy. The following day when I rang to debrief him, he was gutted to have not secured the role and I decided to try and help him. I illustrated that the market knowledge we were looking for was very important and although he had enough knowledge to get to interview stage, 2 other candidates had more relevant experience. We talked about his closing style and this was something that he had been told to do by a recruiter. This was not a sales role and he felt the approach not fitting with his personal style, but had a baby on the way and needed a job. We talked about different ways to close interviews and he went on his way. 2 weeks later he emailed me a note to say he had secured a new role and to thank me for taking the time to speak with him.

I am a firm believer in following your gut. On one Friday afternoon I had a call from a lady who told me about a company that were looking for a someone with my background. She took the time to build the relationship and to help me understand the situation and the process. Over the course of a few weeks I met people who were “normal”. Normal is the new good in my book. We had meetings and then in person meetings and it was fun. We shared war stories and really got to know each other. Feedback post interviews was swift and meaningful. I’ll share more later but it was easy to say “Yes”. Future is looking bright!

2 comments

  1. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing. Really interesting. If I find myself on the job market again, be good to pick your brains.

  2. Oh yeah, your gut is really psychic in some ways. I remember taking on a job even though my gut was screaming at me not to, and that ended up being the worst assignment I’ve ever taken. Anyway, thanks for this post!

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