Dear Employers: Dos and Don’ts for Virtual Interviews

I’m chairing a search committee this semester, and in light of continued COVID conditions (as well as efficiency, of course), we’re conducting our campus interviews virtually.

The “campus visit” is an academic job market code word for a one or two day gauntlet of nonstop meetings, meals, and performing, with few breaks and constant pressure to be “on.” But as the visits are also an important getting-to-know you process for all involved, I wanted to be thoughtful in translating to a virtual environment. An environment which can be daunting and exhausting on a good day.

So I took to Twitter to ask folks who’ve experienced virtual interviews about the highs and lows.

In synthesizing the comments, I learned several important dos and don’ts for virtual interviews.

1. Don’t schedule meetings nonstop and back-to-back. While I think we all know back-to-back scheduling isn’t ideal, many of us are still doing it. And candidates are EXHAUSTED. The recommendations to solve this spanned from building in (and honoring!) breaks, limiting interview appointments to half a day, spreading meetings over several days, and encouraging shorter meetings.

2. Do build in breaks. Lots of breaks. And ensure that candidates actually get them. Several folks advised having a dedicated person who would jump into the end of meetings to ensure they ended on time, especially if they preceded a scheduled break.

virtual meeting on laptop with coffee cup in foreground
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

3. Do get creative with scheduling. When reading the feedback, I’ll admit it never occurred to me to spread the interview meetings out over several days. I was stuck in the traditional marathon campus visit mode… a mode only required because of the pressures of budgets, time and travel. Think about what needs to be a synchronous meeting. Our committee is considering asking candidates to submit a research talk video in advance of the campus visit, so the live time online can be spent on Q&A and interaction.

4. Don’t forget the itinerary. Candidates appreciate a clear itinerary, with meeting links and passcodes, in advance. Some folks preferred a dedicated meeting link to reduce confusion. Others mentioned that different links allowed them to distinguish between appointments more easily. Either way—be clear about the time and virtual place.

5. Do take time zones into account. Where possible, avoid the early morning for West Coasters and the late evening for East Coasters.

6. Do assign a guide. Several folks mentioned that they appreciated interviews where someone was dedicated to guiding them to appointments and introducing them to the people in the meeting, as would happen in a face-to-face visit.

7. Don’t forget accessibility. Consider ways to make the interview process more accessible for interviewees. Suggestions included: Posting interview questions in the chat so candidates could refer back to them; turning on auto-captioning; offering funds or reimbursement for childcare; offering funds or reimbursement for local hotel rental in cases where the candidate doesn’t have a quiet, private location or stable internet connection.

8. Do plan for tech trouble. Make sure that candidates have multiple ways to contact search committee members or organizers in case of technology troubles, including direct phone numbers and emails.

9. Don’t bother with awkward socials or meals. Eating on camera got a resounding no thanks from candidates. It’s awkward, and especially for mid-day meals, could better be used as a break time. Ditto for happy hour or socializing time. Awkward, awkward, awkward.

10. Do still provide food. If possible, send gift certificates for meals (Grub Hub, Door Dash, local restaurants) or arrange meal delivery. Kind gestures make a very positive impression.

11. Do encourage cameras-on for meetings. Candidates described feeling turned off when folks kept their cameras off , especially for teaching demonstrations. Nonverbal feedback, including smiling and head nodding was greatly appreciated.

12. Don’t forget the personal touches. Part of the interview process is getting to know each other and welcoming a potential new colleague. Consider including personal touches that showcase the organizational culture or city. We’re hoping to send gifts in advance of the interviews with school swag, information about the city, and unique treats from our region. We’re also plotting a campus tour video with commentary from our (hilarious) search committee.

What else would you add?

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