By: Howard Fischer, CEO

While much of the country remains in some state of lockdown, many business leaders are turning their attention to a post-coronavirus world and lessons learned.

One of the lessons learned during the pandemic has been that the executive recruitment process can go on despite the limitations of social distancing. With greater reliance on video conferencing, and a few other techniques, companies can leverage a virtual process to complement an in-person process. This discovery can significantly reduce the travel costs and time of the typical executive search process.

While I don’t think virtual interviewing will ever replace in-person interviews entirely, three steps have emerged that can help companies achieve the best possible outcomes, while saving time and significant expense.

1. Repurpose Video Conferencing

Before the outbreak, hiring executives typically met a candidate at least two to four times in person and arranged for several peer executives, and perhaps subordinates, to do the same.

Video conferencing was primarily used as a preliminary screening tool to determine if the candidate was worth meeting in person. Now, video conferencing, if used as frequently as in-person interviews (two to four times), can effectively mimic the in-person experience. In fact, some of our clients are already hiring candidates based solely on video interviews.

To find success, hiring managers should prepare for video meetings with the same diligence used for in-person meetings, involve the same peer and subordinate groups, and expect the same level of professionalism.

If done properly, the interview can demonstrate a candidate’s personality, qualifications, track record, values, and leadership style, the same as an in-person interview.

Video conferencing can also be leveraged to uncover what a candidate is like in a social setting. Hosting a virtual lunch or happy hour with the candidate and their potential team can help illuminate a candidate’s personality and cultural fit.

Although unlikely to ever replace the in-person meeting entirely, video conferencing can significantly reduce the time, travel, and expense of multiple in-person meetings. Instead of three or four in-person interviews, try two or three video meetings paired with one or two in-person meetings.

2. Build Confidence with Reference Audits and Work Samples

An in-depth reference audit, such as Howard Fischer Associates’ comprehensive 360-degree reference audit, provides deep insight into a candidate’s true personality and working style by drawing on feedback from managers, peers, and subordinates. These are collected from previous employers going back 10 to 15 years, depending on the candidate’s employment history.

Using perspectives from actual bosses, peers, and subordinates who have a lengthy work history with the candidate, the reference audit typically provides more useful information about the candidate’s experience, strengths, and developmental areas than an in-person interview.

Many senior executives receive and retain written performance appraisals, which include strengths and, more importantly, areas for improvement or development. These appraisals, which go back over several years, provide valuable insight not usually attainable by an in-person interview. With this background, a company can make more informed decisions about whether to hire the candidate and how best to ensure his or her success after the hire.

Work samples, such as business plans, speeches, written recommendations to solve various challenges, also provide valuable information about a candidate’s true abilities. While you can ask for samples from previous positions to demonstrate talent and understanding, a hypothetical or actual current scenario can provide better insight into what a candidate is truly capable of on their own. For C-level positions, this may involve asking them to explain how they would approach a major business challenge, such as disruptive competition from new competitors and existing competitors in their marketplace.

3. Gain Insights with Psychometric Assessments

Psychometric assessments can further support hiring decisions. These assessments should be custom designed to focus on the areas of special interest for the position and the company’s culture.

Assessments often reveal candidate dimensions that can be hard to uncover in an in-person meeting, even if you are a great interviewer. These dimensions include a candidate’s motivations, style under pressure, collaboration behaviors, energy levels, and change management style, to name a few.

These scientifically validated assessments provide insights into what makes a candidate tick, areas of developmental need, and the type of role and organization to which he or she is best suited. By revealing candidate behaviors, skills, and competencies, psychometric assessments can help managers hire for cultural fit and leadership style.

New Paradigms for Hiring Senior Executives

Before the coronavirus, executive search professionals and hiring managers would never have considered extending an offer to a candidate without first meeting him or her in person. Nor would they have considered reducing the number of in-person meetings in favor of more video meetings. But this outbreak has changed how we live, work, and play in ways that we did not anticipate nor could have imagined.

The silver lining here is that new approaches to interviewing and assessing candidates may improve decision-making and lead to outcomes as good as, if not better than, the traditional in-person meeting as the core of the interview process.

Some forward-looking firms and their leadership teams may choose to extend offers without having met the candidate, or they may just reduce the number of in-person meetings throughout the hiring process. Taking that risk, but mitigating it by employing the tactics we discussed, may provide a competitive advantage to those bold enough to act.

Let me know how you feel about this topic and your thoughts about how to mitigate the risk of not meeting a hire in person.


Howard Fischer, CEO

Howard consults with CEOs, boards of directors, and senior executives nationwide to help them identify, evaluate, and attract senior executives and board members. He was the founding president of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) – Philadelphia Chapter, and he has written numerous articles on executive and outside director search.