The virtual hiring experience: How to use personality data to make and keep the best hires

The future of work looks different than the model that dominated for generations, a transformation that saw a major acceleration in 2020. Solutions for identifying and developing talent "from a distance" have risen in importance.

We have fewer in-person touchpoints to guide us and inform our interactions with job candidates, with many organizations relying on virtual interviews for everyone from an entry-level frontline worker to management positions for a decentralized tech workforce. From there, ongoing regulations govern how we can undertake face-to-face training and development with new employees, with the need to maintain social distancing and limit the number of individuals in a single space. Given these new gaps, we need other sources of information to help us to get to know candidates and new hires, to choose the best fits and then set them up for success once they're on the payroll. Personality data can give us a head start.

When candidate selection means never setting foot in the same room

Not surprisingly, a late April 2020 survey by Gartner found that 86% of organizations were conducting interviews in virtual formats. Research from Handshake earlier that month showed the same result, with 89% of employers adopting or increasing their use of virtual interviews. As 2021 began, many public health officials continued to advise that organizations postpone returns to offices. That means everything in candidate selection — from resume review to final interview — is often limited to what can be ascertained through a screen

Virtual interview

This points to the growing need to bring more evidence-based solutions to candidate selection, to achieve a uniform process across candidates, and to lessen the impact of tech glitches. Using pre-hire assessments, and building from the insights they provide, can help provide a context-independent and consistent source of insights about a candidate.


Classic behavioral science meets the moment

The Big Five personality framework provides a streamlined route to immediately knowing more about a person, even without the benefit of spending time together. The five dimensions of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability can all inform decisions about whether an individual will really thrive in a role, and whether they will be a good fit for company culture.

Need someone who brings an enduring competitive spirit to meeting sales goals, and who has a laser focus on their independent accomplishments? That's likely someone who is low in the dimension of Agreeableness, characterized by self-sufficiency and a desire to get ahead. Looking for a booster of company morale, who can help build cohesive teams? You guessed it — that hire has high Agreeableness.


"Julia, I think we lost you there for a second..."

Once you identify your top candidates of interest, the need for standardized, data-driven interviews is vital. With companies across industries relying on virtual recruitment and candidate selection, a new slate of concerns arises that can contribute to bias against a candidate.

There is no sound during the video call

Some candidates have audio issues with their equipment that make their voices sound muffled. Others might have unstable internet connections that cause them to "freeze" periodically. Then consider those who are beset with poor lighting — either too much or too little. These variables provide an entire new set of factors that can bias an interviewer, despite in many cases being wholly irrelevant to the topic of discussion and to the job itself. As equity concerns have risen in prominence over the last year, it's worth reminding ourselves that not every job candidate has a quiet, dedicated space to conduct an interview, a laptop to access video conferencing software, or other tech like circle lights to achieve a clear image.


Onboarding, pandemic-style

Whether you're trying to onboard a work-from-home employee or integrate a new worker onsite within the limits of social distancing and other pandemic regulations, the way we manage new members of our workforce represents uncharted territory.

Let's first consider how to tackle this in a remote-first world, when the new hire will work from home for either the first several months or on a permanent basis. When professionals work from home day in and day out, their daily schedules are often more idiosyncratic and their work habits less supervised than ever before. That brings some advantages to the lone worker, some of unique importance during the pandemic (tending to school-aged children during prolonged school closures) and others more routine (tossing that load of laundry into the dryer).

For management, having every role player scattered to their own laptop locale means they're sacrificing visibility into the day to day productivity of their team members. For example, remote call center managers can't easily supervise the personal phone usage of employees. Also lost: the intangibles of side-by-side work, from the facial cues of an employee puzzling over a list of sanitation instructions to the "lightbulb" moment sparked by an impromptu discussion.

Teleworking and business teamwork remotely

While those deficits may pose little problem for an established employee whose baseline productivity is well understood and whose work ethic is informed by their history, virtual onboarding of new talent has no such foundation to rely on. Remote-only hires have zero social capital, no out-of-Zoom cues, and little opportunity for spontaneous interaction.

Next, consider a different scenario: the experience of pandemic-era onboarding within a high-volume workplace, whether a kitchen, sales floor, warehouse, or other setting. Leading employers often recognize the importance of fostering a unifying, supportive company culture and striving toward employee engagement. For example, the careers website for Target not only affirms that the talent pool should be inspired to "work somewhere you love," they suggest that their careers can "create relationships that will last a lifetime." Walgreens, meanwhile, while encouraging candidates to "add more care to your career," also invokes a "spirit of excitement and innovation" within the organization.

These engagement goals face fresh challenges: team-building events are considered to be risky, masks potentially impact non-verbal cues and hearing for some, and many formerly face-to-face exchanges are moved online. With limits on interactions, it may be more difficult to teach skills and procedures while cultivating trust and building loyalty. Therefore, how can employers of essential workers bring in new hires and provide them with meaningful guidance, mentorship, and camaraderie in the pandemic era? A need arises for robust solutions to new problems, and for this we can again turn to the tried and tested value of behavioral science.


Employee development starts pre-hire

An answer to achieving pandemic-era onboarding success lies in taking a holistic view of the employment lifecycle, from an individual's first inklings of brand awareness to the click of an "Apply" button to the first quarter on the job and beyond. That means that development tools should run across this landscape, carried through as the individual progresses. An assessment used for pre-hire selection guidance should never be a one-off, relegated to an archive and forgotten.

individual made of data-driven insights

Assessments deliver the most value when they are understood to be an investment in the person behind a fit score — not merely a candidate screen, but the first entry into a program of developing the individual. The interview, informed by this data, is itself a development tool. The data-driven questions you discuss should be thought of as Phase Zero of the employee's growth journey with your organization. When incorporated continuously into ongoing engagement tools, personality data and interview content can both deliver continuing value that lasts far beyond the application phase. Predictably then too, the onboarding phase builds from this and continues the development process. When the assessment and accompanying engagement tools are mobile-first and built for easy consumption, they are readily used by anyone, from the kitchen to the sales floor to the home office.

What about all the candidates who take an assessment but are not hired? With the takeaways provided to everyone who takes the time to complete an application, a savvy employer is in fact "developing" a passive talent pool — building goodwill, cultivating a bench, and promoting the employment brand. It's about investing in people and taking a long view, and an especially important investment for high-volume hiring when cultivating the passive talent pool.


Bringing a growth mindset to a change-intensive era

The rise of remote platforms for both hiring and employee development should be seen as an opportunity, just as the digital transformation was before it. Whether your organization uses these platforms for hiring, onboarding, business operations, or all of the above, the major shakeup triggered by the risk mitigation efforts of the pandemic provides an opportunity to take a fresh new look at old approaches. Unexpected change can provide a push into a new way of not simply getting things done, but of building new definitions of what's getting done.


Looking for tools to virtually attract, select, and engage your workforce? Check out Traitify.