How do you hire the best candidate online?

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As we start to come out of what will hopefully be the final lockdown, optimism in the in-house legal recruitment market abounds. Hiring strategies within financial services are likely to get back on track meaning competition for the best candidates is strong, but interviews are likely to be virtual for some time yet, and for many will form a permanent part of the recruitment process. So if you’re looking to hire for your team, how do you choose and secure the best candidate online?

Before interviewing

  • It’s easy to leave everything to the last minute online. We’re used to going straight from one thing to next when sat in front of computer, dealing with what is in front of us. Be fair to the candidate and read the CV thoroughly beforehand. Flitting back and forth, trying to understand the geography and asking questions that are already answered on paper means the interview becomes stilted and leaves it difficult for the candidate to perform to their best ability.
  • Have the CV printed out or on another screen close at hand, so that you don’t need to swap between the candidate and their CV. But don’t read it during the interview as the candidate will notice you are not properly engaged.
  • Recruiting online is harder, so use your recruitment agent as a consultant, asking for their advice. We know the candidates and can often predict who will get the job – and it isn’t always obvious from the CV. Ask if they have done a screening interview, ask who has performed well in previous interviews, and if someone doesn’t look so good on paper is there is another reason they have put them forward?

Opportunity to diversify

  • When you are deciding who to interview, consider how video interviews and potential longer term flexible working could open your pool of applicants. Those with disabilities, those with childcare requirements, those based in other locations and others requiring flexible or adjusted working.
  • Ask your consultant to provide a diverse and varied shortlist and make the most of a wider talent pool than you may have had previously.

Avoid back-to-back interviews

  • If you were in the office you would need to allow time for getting the candidate settled, and doing the same online avoids you getting interview fatigue. We all know how exhausting coming off one video call and going straight into next can be.
  • Whilst it is good to be in interview mode and to be able to compare, there is also a danger that interviews seem to roll into one and you don’t get chance to properly assimilate your thoughts. It is useful to have time to write up notes in between, and properly compare as you go along. You are more likely to enjoy the meetings too rather than it becoming a chore.
  • This can really affect the outcome and make you confident about your decision. It doesn’t need to be long – just enough time for a loo/coffee break and to reset yourself.

Interview process

  • Think about your interview process. Many of our clients are doing shorter interviews and also less interviews. The whole process has become more succinct but you should potentially be doing more.
  • Group interviews don’t work so well online so split them up. If there is more than one interviewer, plan exactly who is going to cover what. You don’t want to be seen jostling for the big picture speaker view or cutting the other person off.
  • Remember Zoom and other platforms only allow one to speak at a time and conversation is much more stilted so organise and split your questions beforehand.
  • Not coming to an office means candidates are likely to meet less people. Factor in a meet the team interview where a candidate you are likely to offer spends 10 minutes or so with each team member. Your team will appreciate it too!
  • Consider a telephone interview. Not all interviews need to be via video and whilst video gives you something that telephone calls don’t, if you are happy with what you have seen on video you may find that a telephone call can be a lot more comfortable for both.


  • Send out the link in plenty of time and provide a mobile number in case the link fails.
  • Arrive on time, not late and not early. Often we encourage candidates to log on early, check the link actually works etc., if they arrive 10 minutes just to test the technology it could be awkward if you’re already there, and candidates won’t expect you to be first.
  • Don’t battle on if the tech isn’t working, rearrange if you need to.
  • Allow enough time – often online interviews are more succinct and will take less time, but don’t rely on it as connection issues quickly eat up interview time.

Taking notes

  • If taking notes or typing during the interview, explain this to the interviewee first. They won’t necessarily be able to see what you are doing and it can be very unsettling if the person they are speaking to is consistently looking somewhere else.

Allow time for small talk

  • In normal circumstances there would be opportunity for small talk at the beginning or end of an interview, walking to and from the interview room but it is all too easy to just cut someone off on a video call. Don’t underestimate the benefits of small talk – introduce it into your online interviews too.
  • Read the interests section on their CV, ask about what they like to do outside work and discuss anything you might have in common such as sports, university, family etc. It will put them at ease and make sure you get the best out of the candidate. This in turn will help you evaluate whether you can work with this person and whether they are good cultural fit for the company.

Be forgiving for nerves, but don’t give the benefit of the doubt.

  • You may have conducted lots of online interviews, but for many interviewees this could be their first. And they are tricky when you haven’t done them before! Keeping eye contact for one is so much more difficult on screen, especially when you are put on the spot, so allow for this.
  • If they seem too nervous, ask the agents opinion. Experienced recruiters are often following these candidates for years and may well have met them face to face pre lockdown.
  • If the nerves disrupt the flow of the interview, think about how this will fit with their role within your organisation in the long term. In some positions it won’t matter, but with many businesses introducing more home working post pandemic, they maybe required to do video calls with senior management. Or is it a job where they won’t be required to be fully visible?
  • Don’t let things creep through that wouldn’t get through face to face. If you have any doubts, probe further, add an extra interview, ask the recruitment agent their thoughts – the candidate is likely to have been more honest with them and your agent won’t want you to take on someone who won’t work out.
  • If you remain unsure, what about offering a fixed term contract?

Give some extra time to the sell

  • The working environment is evident when you enter a company’s office and the candidate can usually get a feel for the culture as soon as they enter the building. The candidate will not get the same feel looking around your spare room on a webcam and you need to be able to explain the environment to differentiate your company from your competitors.
  • Describe the office and workstations, the management and the team. Describe the culture and tell them what you expect new working arrangements to be like when people return to the office. Explain why you like working there – everyone wants to work for an enthusiastic and passionate boss! Allow them to meet other members of the team virtually.
  • Even if you are not sure about a candidate, word soon gets out that you are hiring and you need to be creating a great impression of your company as an employer – so the sell is not wasted.
  • Lawyers will be concerned about how Covid19 might have affected your business. Be prepared to tell them why you are in a strong position to weather the storm and committed to hiring with the long term in mind.
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