Virtual selection: How difficult is it for recruiters to study a candidate’s body language?

July 12, 2020 6:00 AM

The conventional job interview is a thing of the past now with virtual hiring taking its place. But in a world where recruiters meet interviewees only on screen, how difficult is it for them to study a candidate’s body language, considered crucial for the process?

Indian young business woman student teacher tutor wear wireless headset video conference calling on laptop computer talk by webcam learn teach in online chat, distance webinar online teaching concept.

By Reya Mehrotra

Social distancing, quarantine and isolation norms have made it almost impossible for work life to return to its pre-Covid glory days. Gone are the days of chai breaks, gossip sessions and team lunches. Now, employees are hunched over their laptops and computers, sitting on their couches at home, their pets keeping them company.

There’s another key area of our work life that has seen a massive change: interviews. Just like every other sphere, the recruitment process, too, has gone online with virtual job interviews taking over traditional face-to-face meetings. Looking sharp and speaking with purpose are not the only things a candidate needs now to ace an interview. What’s equally important is to have a good internet connection and pin-drop silence at home.

But what about the recruiters? In-person interviews allow hiring managers to astutely gauge a candidate’s abilities and capabilities, many times by just observing their mannerisms. But in a world where they meet the interviewee only on screen, how difficult is it for them to study and observe a candidate’s body language and other related factors, considered crucial in the decision-making process? For some, it’s not much of a hurdle. “Adjudging body language and confidence is, to a large extent, dependent on the interviewer’s abilities. While, yes, the format can enhance or take away from the reading, it will not be entirely correct to say that body language and confidence can’t be assessed through virtual interviews,” says Roshni Wadhwa, director, human resources, L’Oréal India.

The personal care company is making use of chatbots to make the hiring process smoother and more transparent. It recently rolled out its first ‘conversational platform’ called MYA as the first step of recruitment. MYA is a chatbot that helps sift through numerous applications by asking candidates factual questions to see if they can technically join the company. The candidates, too, can ask MYA anything they want about the company. This eliminates the need for paperwork and technical questions later. “We have made great hiring decisions for overseas candidates relying completely on the virtual process. The only visible limitation is for roles where the candidate’s sensorial skills need to be assessed,” asserts Wadhwa.

American multinational financial services corporation Mastercard, too, recently hired interns through virtual interviews, which it finds faster and more flexible. “Virtual technology has always been in use to facilitate remote discussions between hiring managers and candidates. While face-to-face interviews are more personal and favourable in many cases, the virtual process of recruitment is faster, flexible and allows reach to a wider pool of talent in less time,” says Priti Singh, senior vice-president, human resources, south Asia, Mastercard. “Just like Covid-19 has changed every aspect of business, it has also paved the way for wider prevalence of virtual hiring techniques and processes. We adopted virtual hiring to keep the processes moving while adhering to social distancing norms for everyone’s safety and well-being. Recently, our batch of summer interns for 2020 joined us virtually,” Singh adds.

Himanshu Seth, head, human resources, Gradeup, India’s largest exam preparation ed-tech platform based in Noida, feels that in virtual interviews, candidates make an extra effort to be more cautious and this gives the interviewer an opportunity to evaluate some of the aspects that they might have missed in a physical interview. “One should, however, be flexible in their approach… for some, face-to-face interviews might work and, for others, a virtual interview might work,” says Seth.

And with a plethora of conferencing facilities available today, many offering high-quality video, it is not really difficult to judge a candidate’s personality traits, say recruiters. “We have been using online coding tests and taking interviews via video conferencing with virtual whiteboards for testing problem-solving ability,” says Vikram Pawar, co-founder and CEO, TechChefs Software, a Bengaluru-based software engineering startup, which has hired 23 candidates virtually in the past eight weeks.

Overcoming challenges

Even with all the ease and cost-effectiveness, however, there are some challenges. Poor internet connectivity, disturbances and background noises on the candidate’s side can often spoil the experience, explains Rajeev Saraf, founder, Lepton Software, a Gurugram-based company involved in location analytics, map data and geospatial consulting.

There are other challenges as well. “Communication and clarity are also a challenge. That being said, one can still tell the majority of the factors by being on a video with interviewees,” maintains Rohan Raj Barua, co-founder, ExMyB (Expand My Business), a Gurugram-based B2B services aggregator platform.

Virtual interviews, however, should be conducted with the same standard of evaluation as in-person interviews, advise hiring managers. “If conducted with the same standard of evaluation (as in-person interviews), virtual interviews can prove just as effective. We have not faced specific challenges with respect to assessments via online platforms, in spite of multiple interactions. We also leverage psychometric and other tools where required,” explains Gaurav Bahadur, senior director, human resources (India and south Asia), Sanofi, a French multinational pharmaceutical company based in Paris.

Interestingly, many campus placement drives have gone online too. Jamia Millia Islamia university, for one, has already launched its second round of placements online for the class of 2020. Several Delhi University colleges have followed suit.

The way ahead

Barua of ExMyB feels hiring in the future will have both types of processes: virtual and physical. Agrees Lepton Software’s Saraf: “We don’t think that future hiring would be completely virtual, as face-to-face meetings before hiring are crucial. It’s like buying/renting a house without paying a visit,” he says.

Hiring managers, however, do see more influx of technology in the recruitment process, with the race to automation picking up in an unanticipated way and more tools being leveraged. “Hitherto unthought-of areas like walk-in drives and campus hiring will also become virtual, but there will be a balance of online and offline hiring. Our hiring is basis both functional skills required and leadership practices, both of which can be measured through behavioural event interviewing, which has no correlation to either virtual or in-person hiring,” says Sumek Gopal, vice-president (recruitment), Optum Global Solutions, a US-based health services and innovation company.

As we move more towards virtual hiring, there will, however, be a need to upskill hiring managers to make sure the process is seamless and fair. “We will need to equip them with sharper tools and processes to secure the quality of interviewing process,” says Wadhwa of L’Oréal India.

There’s one thing, though, that all recruiters agree on: there’s nothing like a face-to-face interview to truly ascertain a candidate’s abilities. “In-person interviews provide an edge in assessing vital non-verbal cues, creating a superior environment to connect with the interviewer. Also, they help candidates get a sneak peek into the organisation and its vibe,” says Wadhwa.

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