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Remote Hiring in the “Corona Times”

Remote
Hiring

22 December, 2020

Danjue Li
Danjue Li

Director of Engineering at Google

Danjue Li, Senior Director of Senior Director of Product Software and Incubation Engineering at Equinix, explains how the transition to remote work caused by Covid-19 impacted their hiring process and the pros and cons of online hiring.

Problem

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic had a profound impact on how we do our jobs, and hiring was not left unaffected by it. The new circumstances necessitated that the interview should be done through video conferencing tools and a new person would be hired and join the team without meeting a single person in-person. Obviously, a human touch could hardly be replaced, but online hiring also has its own benefits, including expanding the talent pool.

Online hiring brought in some new challenges:

  • How we would create a candidate pipeline;
  • How we would identify candidates that we would like to bring to the interview;
  • How we would evaluate a candidate remotely;
  • How we would close the deal.

Actions taken

Creating a candidate pipeline

This new reality caused by Covid-19 helped us expand our candidate pipeline. With everyone working remotely now, we could level set the playing field. Silicon Valley has always been a highly competitive market, and finding top talent was never easy. Since everyone is working online, we are not limited anymore by location. For my team, we are currently considering people within three hours time zone difference, which practically means the whole US and Canada.

We also rely more on social networks like LinkedIn because due to Covid-19, all the opportunities are now circulated online, and our Talent Acquisition team is leveraging LinkedIn heavily. However, we should well calibrate what we are looking for and what candidates we identified over LinkedIn could offer. Before Covid-19, our Talent Acquisition team had a local team that would organize mining sessions. We would look at the pipeline and job descriptions together and select potential hires. Now, Talent Acquisition people would populate folders with suitable candidates and share them with hiring managers. Hiring managers would then by themselves make the selection based on the current needs.

Organizing and scheduling the interviews

Online interviewing allows the hiring team to become more flexible in terms of how they would schedule interview sessions. An initial phone screen is followed by a Zoom technical interview and the coding exercise is now online and more interactive. Then four to five people would proceed with evaluating different aspects of a candidate. Previously, since the process was taking place in-person, a candidate would have to come for the entire day, which is exhausting from a candidate’s perspective. The main benefit of online interviewing is that it is much more flexible and easier for both sides. We need 30-45 minutes per session and can stretch it out throughout the week instead of squeezing everything in a single day.

Each person on the interview panel should be clearly instructed which areas they should evaluate and how that would be different from an in-person evaluation. Also, since the interview is being conducted in stages, if any red flags appear at an earlier stage, people conducting the interview could stop or pause all subsequent sessions without any inconveniences or awkwardness. Whereas before, when a person would arrive for an onsite interview, they would most likely go through the whole interview even if red flags had been identified during the first sessions. Also, remote hiring allows us to schedule only a couple of initial sessions, and once we would establish that we have a good initial assessment, we could add more sessions. The whole process is more adaptive and time-saving.

Evaluating online

In the end, we would do a cut-off evaluation to assess if a person is the right culture fit. The main challenge is how to develop questions that would help us gather this information solely through online interaction. Much of body language is now obscured, and what could be easily captured in person would be easily misinterpreted online. However, you are not expected to notice everything at once; when we design the questions, we want to unearth as much as they can in this limiting context. Also, we have to train people and provide them with tools to replace in-person interaction and help them with evaluation.

Lessons learned

  • Be flexible when hiring. Be flexible in terms of geographies, time zones, skills, etc. Ensure to check beforehand if expanding your pipeline to include candidates from different states, or even countries would comply with the company’s policies.
  • Your team’s hiring strategy should align with the overall company’s strategy. Some companies are hiring remotely but only as a temporary option and expect people to relocate after Covid-19. Others will support more remote work in the future and would consider permanently remote positions. Some leading tech companies already announced that they would stay remote post-Covid-19, which may be followed across the industry.
  • Also, if working remotely is a temporary option, you should bear in mind that some relocations would require work visas. This is a problem that could be easily overlooked at the moment but very difficult to deal with later.

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