As you might have noticed, we just went through a hiring process or two here at COCo! We had to think hard both about how to do them well, and especially about how to adapt them to happen virtually.
We know we’re not alone in thinking through the difficulties of a hiring process; in fact we get a lot of questions about what our practices are in this area. We also know a lot of you are adjusting to hiring virtually! We’re sharing our most recent interview practices and would love to learn about yours. Drop a comment to let us know what your hiring process looks like!
Table of Contents
Knowing What You Want
Hopefully, your organization already has clear job descriptions for the roles you are looking to fill. Before even posting the position, take the time to look through that job description and think about what a person would need to be able to do to play that role – and the other key characteristics you require for a person on your team. What does your organization need? How can a new team member fulfill these needs? For example, at COCo, we really need to confirm how applicants apply their skills in a collaborative (and horizontal) context.
That list of skills and qualifications will help guide the kind of questions you ask during:
- The application process
- In an interview
- From references
It’s helpful to identify what you’re testing for during an interview. Try to establish what you can learn from a candidate beyond the information they’ve already shared in their application and CV.
At COCo, we have altered our hiring process so that instead of a cover letter, we ask candidates to answer a series of questions. This helps us get specific information we need, rather than the more general things candidates tend to share in a cover letter.
More questions to consider before an interview:
- Why are you interviewing this specific candidate?
- Why and how do you believe they can contribute to your daily processes and long term vision?
- Are you giving them an opportunity to show you those things?
Adapting to a Virtual Hiring Process
Adapting interviews to new virtual environments often means bringing them into people’s homes. This also means adapting the resources we would normally provide in-person.
Here are some considerations from our latest virtual interviews:
- Giving candidates clear information about technology. We let candidates know which virtual platform their interviews would be hosted on and shared tips on how best to use them.
- Giving candidates time to spend in the virtual space before the interview begins. We gave them 15 minutes ahead to review questions in a breakout room.
- Creating a comfortable environment. We invited candidates to set themselves up with a pen and paper, a glass of water or tea, perhaps some snacks, a fidget toy – what we would have loved to provide were we doing in-person interviews.
- Focusing on what matters. We assured candidates that the realities of the spaces from which they logged into our interview would not impact how we considered their candidacy.
We’ve included an example email in an attached PDF if you want to see what that looked like in practice.
Respecting Candidates in Interviews
You’ve specified why you selected a candidate and what their interview can teach you. When we do interviews, we try to honour our organization’s capacity throughout a hiring process (which are very demanding) while also creating conditions that respect a candidate’s time, labour and limitations.
Here at COCo we asked ourselves what a hiring process that is more considerate of candidates might look like and worked with the following guidelines:
- Can we send the questions, or themes of the questions, to candidates beforehand to allow them to prepare?
- Does the candidate have at least 72 hours to prepare with these questions or themes in hand before the interview? This allows them to be familiar with the questions without over-preparing.
- Are you clearly communicating your expectations and response time to minimize the candidate’s stress? We share, for example, when the interview process will end and when they can expect to hear back.
- Are you making sure interviews are long enough to learn about the candidate and short enough that you can all leave the process energized? 1.5 hours seems to be our sweet spot.
- Are you offering to share the labour of time-keeping so the candidate can focus on their responses without having to manage interview logistics? For example, we give candidates an estimated answer time per question, and offer to tell them when they are going over time on a question.
- Are you translating all questions to make sure the candidate properly understands?
Effective Interview Strategies
Now that you’ve established the form of your interview, you might ask yourself what kinds of questions will put the candidate’s experience in action. Anyone can say how great they are or that they’ve done X Y Z. What will encourage someone to share how they’ve done X Y Z?
Here are some tips we followed during recent interviews:
- What do you consider as evidence of the skills you’re seeking? How can the candidate demonstrate them in realistic simulations?
- Don’t ask about future ideals. Ask them to describe past behaviours, which are better indicators for future behaviours.
- Seeing is believing. Ask them to show, rather than explain. Carve out time in the interview for role play and simulations.
- Keep your simulations realistic. If they wouldn’t do it on the job, they shouldn’t have to do it during the interview.
- We learn by doing. Think of your own experience at your organization and your on-the-job learning process. Think of the knowledge and skills you arrived with as well as what you acquired along the way. Make sure to reflect this in your questions.
Asking References the Right Questions
Once you’ve interviewed a candidate, references can help you confirm the information they’ve shared and map out the labour involved in their onboarding process. Questions for references should be specific and distinct from those asked in applications and interviews.
Since the process of contacting references can be demanding for candidates and their references, we only check our first and second choices and don’t ask people to provide references until we’ve narrowed our selection. This minimizes how many times people are asking their references to make themselves available.
Before Contacting References…
Here are some questions to consider before contacting references:
- Where are our areas of concern?
- What specific information would make us confident in our decision?
- What past work experiences can help us understand whether this candidate would be a good fit?
- How much time do references need to reflect on our questions before the interview in order to give detailed answers? We’ve found that sharing questions ahead of time leads to deeper insights.
Tips for Your Reference Call
Here are some tips to keep in mind during the reference interview:
- In-depth conversations take time. We like to map out 30-60 minutes for reference interviews in order to get to the root of who a candidate is, how they work and how they connect with colleagues.
- Specificity is key. We like to ask candidate-specific questions so references can provide detailed examples of their working relationships with potential team members. For example, when in doubt about a candidate’s ability in a specific area, we make sure to ask a direct question about that.
- Staying one step ahead. We keep a candidate’s eventual onboarding process in mind. This means creating space for references to address concerns about a candidate’s integration into the organization. This also means asking about a candidate’s learning needs and how they would best be supported in joining a new team.
- Synergy matters. We value our horizontal structure and need evidence that a potential team member has collaborative skills. Reference interviews allow us to understand how the candidate has shared responsibilities and provided support in previous work environments, including about their collaboration and conflict styles, for example.
For us, reference checks are the most common place for a hiring process to get delayed. We always ask for an alternate reference or alternate communication channels in case someone is not responding.
Other Hiring Process Resources
Obviously this overview of COCo’s hiring process includes some direction on making your hiring more inclusive and accessible. We will also be publishing a resource shortly on some key anti-oppressive strategies in hiring that we employ, so look out for that!
In the meantime, check out this other resource on our hiring process.
You can find more HR tools in our Toolbox.
External Hiring Process Resources
We also really liked this external resource on the Job Profile of a Community Organizer by the Community Learning Partnership, particularly pages 6-7, which identify the ideal tasks and skills of a community organizer.