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Interviewing remotely? Eight ways to bring your employer brand to life

By Gaelle Blake, Director, Hays Permanent Appointments, UK and Ireland

Conducting job interviews remotely is set to become commonplace as we enter the next era of work. But how can you replicate that ‘feeling’ candidates get for your organisation when they interview with you in-person, if they are just staring into a screen, devoid of the sensory overload they would experience during a face-to-face interview? How can a potential employee truly get an understanding of what it really would be like to work for your organisation, if they won’t be physically setting foot in your offices and meeting your people?

To help answer these important questions, I will share my thoughts on how to sell your employer brand when interviewing remotely or in a hybrid world. But, before we dive in, let’s look at what exactly we mean by the term ‘employer brand’ and how yours might need to change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is your employer brand?

In his book The Employer Brand Handbook: Volume 1, keynote speaker James Ellis defines employer branding as communicating “the aggregated perceptions and feeling of all individuals about what they think it must be like to work at your company, based on all related experiences, information and touchpoints.” A carefully constructed, strong employer brand will help your organisation not only attract the right talent, but also keep that talent engaged and motivated to help you achieve your goals in the long-term. It is sometimes described as ‘the face your company presents to the world.’

Your corporate brand is different from your employer brand on a number of levels. The most notable, of course, being the audiences you’re trying to reach and engage with. As explained in this Glassdoor article, the audience for your corporate brand are the customers of your products and services. Whereas the audience for your employer brand are your current and future employees.

Has your employer brand been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Due to the coronavirus crisis, many organisations are operating in a new, increasingly complex reality - difficult decisions have been made and are still to be made. Now more than ever before, organisations are being held to account over how they make and execute those decisions – some are doing this well, and others not so well.

Ultimately, it will be how leaders and their organisations have responded, and continue to respond, to the pandemic, that will have a profound impact on people’s propensity to want to come and work for you, and stay working for you.

As our CEO, Alistair Cox explains, “All eyes have been firmly focused on how employers have treated their employees during this time. Many have made mistakes, and I’m sure most would consider doing things differently if they could roll back the clock, but, whether you like it or not, your actions as an employer throughout this pandemic will be remembered by employees for a long, long time to come.”

Undoubtedly, this kind of scrutiny will impact the employer brand of organisations the world over, so it’s unlikely yours will emerge unscathed or unchanged. Therefore, changes to your strategy will likely need to be made. Many employer branding experts even predict there will be a ‘seismic’ shift in how organisations present themselves to potential employees as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How your employer value proposition (EVP) may need to change due to the coronavirus crisis

So, take some time to assess how your overall employer brand, and your employer value proposition (i.e. the value your employees gain from working at your organisation rather than for a competitor – described as ‘the face your company shows its employees’) have both fared during the crisis so far.

Consider which changes you will need to implement to really resonate with your current and future people in the next era of work – a world which will look very different from before. After all, it’s those people that will be absolutely key to your organisation’s recovery post-crisis, so it’s important that your communication with each and every one of them, current and future, and across every touchpoint, is on point.

Key to understanding how the elements of your employer brand strategy might need to change, is recognising that the pandemic will have left many people – your current and future people included – with different attitudes to work. For example, the crisis may have left many questioning their ‘why’, meaning your organisational purpose may become a more important part of your employer brand strategy going forward.

Some will now place more emphasis on their own self-care and wellbeing, recognising the importance of flexibility and balance in their lives – which again, should be emphasised in your approach. Or perhaps you need to review your benefits packages to ensure they are more relevant to what people want today and tomorrow – for example mental and financial wellbeing initiatives may become more important in the next era of work. But across all of this, you must ensure you have a razor-sharp focus on how you’re living your values externally and internally, and all actions and decisions you make from here on out should be consistent with those.

Importantly, set up focus groups to talk to your existing employees about their perceptions and opinions – they will often be the richest source of insight as they can reflect on their ‘lived experience’ of your company culture and EVP.

I’m not saying here that your entire employer brand strategy will need a complete overhaul in the wake of COVID-19, but it’s very likely that certain elements of your EVP (the tangible and intangible rewards you offer employees), may need to be further brought to the fore or developed as we progress through each stage of the pandemic. You may also need to tailor your EVP to appeal to different groups of individuals – after all, we’re all different and will seek different things from our employers and our work.

Will the way you communicate your employer brand need to change, too?

Once you’ve determined how the core elements of your employer brand strategy and EVP need to change, it’s then time to review how this will be executed and communicated to the audiences you’re looking to reach. Post-COVID, this may require a change in approach too, for example:

  • Review your digital communication channels: According to research, as a result of lockdown, 45 per cent said they were spending longer on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, 44 per cent said they were spending more time on social media, whilst 12 per cent said they were listening to more podcasts. Do you need to tailor your communication tools to adapt to these content consumption habits?
  • Ramp up your social media advocacy programmes and build communities: Now might also be the time to really invest in your employee social media advocacy programme, as authenticity and trust will be high on the agenda for potential new employees when assessing your organisation. So, empower your people to tell your organisation’s story and share it with their social networks. They are your biggest advocates and they always will be. In addition, throughout the pandemic we’ve seen organisations, communities and people really come together – should you take the same approach with your employer brand strategy, potentially by focusing on building alumni communities?
  • Emphasise different values dependent on the stage of the crisis: As Cox explains, “… take a considered approach depending on what stage of the crisis your business is currently grappling with. For instance, as many are in the early stages of easing lockdown restrictions, now might be a good time to ‘dial up’ any of your organisational values around compassion and kindness, as explained by employer brand experts, Penna.” You may also need to consider your tone of voice to ensure it is sensitive to the situation in each market.
  • Optimise your job descriptions: Now is the ideal time to revise your job descriptions, reviewing the language and tone of voice used, and emphasising your values and purpose as an organisation, as well as your commitment to lifelong learning and personal development. Talk directly to the candidate, focusing on what they as a professional can get out of this opportunity. It could also be a good idea to consider producing video versions of your job descriptions, which we’ve seen some great success with at Hays.

How to bring your employer brand to life during a remote job interview

Now we’ve established why and how your employer brand strategy may need to change in light of the coronavirus crisis, I’m going to now explore how you can bring your newly-refreshed employer brand to life when interviewing remotely.

This is a difficult challenge to overcome. After all, when conducting face-to-face interviews, the candidate immediately gets a feel for your employer brand by simply setting foot in one of your offices, by experiencing the sights and sounds of your carefully crafted working environment, by interacting with your people and so on. But this sensory experience isn’t as easy to replicate when interviewing remotely.

So, here are a few techniques you could use to try to help your candidates really get a feel for why they should want to work for your organisation:

  1. Conduct virtual office tours: Just as you would when interviewing face-to-face, it’s a great idea to record an office tour ahead of time and send it to your candidates, or conduct it live (if you’re able to be in the office of course) during the interview. This may also be a great opportunity for you to highlight how your organisation is changing the environment to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your employees, whilst adhering to social distancing measures.
  2. Record short introductory videos: Encourage your hiring managers and interviewers to record and send short introductory videos to the candidates before the remote interview. Use this as an opportunity to provide some insight into why they are hiring for the role and the impact it will have on helping the organisation realise its wider organisational purpose. It also adds more of a ‘personal touch’ which will be lacking when conducting interviews virtually.
  3. Provide virtual access to the senior leadership team: Ordinarily, if a candidate was interviewing face-to-face, they may have the opportunity to meet different members of the senior leadership team, even if just in passing. To help replicate this, consider sending video clips or links to articles in which these senior leaders have been featured.
  4. Run virtual coffee intros with your wider team: Similarly, during a person-to-person interview, you may provide the opportunity for the candidate to meet the wider team if appropriate. This is a great opportunity for the candidate to assess team culture and get a better feel for the organisation. It’s important that this opportunity isn’t forfeited just because you’re running the interview process remotely. Instead, you could consider inviting your wider team to join towards the end of the interview, or even set up virtual ‘coffee intros’ separately.
  5. Incorporate ‘small talk’ into the interview: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a hugely challenging time. Coupled with feeling unsure or nervous about having a remote interview, something they likely won’t have too much experience of, the candidate may be feeling uneasy. So, take this opportunity to demonstrate any values you have around kindness and compassion by beginning the interview by asking how the candidate is, and if they have any concerns about the format of the remote interview before you begin. Encourage the candidate to ask questions throughout and do all you can to put them at ease.
  6. Ask different interview questions: As I’ve touched on, people have been irreversibly changed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Not only that, but what you’re looking for from a talent perspective may have also changed. So consider whether the questions you’re asking in your remote job interviews need to change too. For example, as hybrid working will become more common, it may be a good idea for you to ask: “Do you prefer to work independently or as part of a team?” You may also want to tailor your questions to assess the candidate’s soft skills, such as adaptability and communication which will become more important in the next era of work.
  7. Send sample products or merchandise to applicants: Ahead of the interview, you could consider sending a small package of branded merchandise or examples of your products to the candidate. If you’re a service business, think about sending videos or testimonials from your customers to really bring what you do to life for the candidate.
  8. Seek feedback on the remote interview process: Consider sending surveys to candidates so that they can feed back on their remote interview experience – the more data you have, the better you will be able to refine your approach going forward.

Your organisation will need to evolve as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But so too, will how you position your organisation in the eyes of your current and potential people, and what you offer them. Increasingly, the opportunities and tools you’ll have available to you in the next era of work to communicate this will be virtual or remote. So, I hope this advice has helped you better understand how you can bring your employer brand to life when interviewing remotely in order to attract the right talent to help your organisation thrive in the next era of work.

For additional resources on topics including onboarding remotely, managing hybrid or flexible teams and undertaking virtual interviews as we move forward, visit our Inspire Me in the New Era of Work hub.

About the author

Gaelle joined Hays in 1999 and in her time with the business she has led dedicated teams providing expert recruitment services for a wide range of sectors and professions, with a particular focus on construction and property. In 2018 she was appointed the Director for Permanent Recruitment, working across Hays UK and Ireland to improve business performance, drive best practice and shape Hays’ value proposition to both clients and candidates.

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