Interviewing Etiquette for HR Professionals in the Age of COVID

2020 has certainly been a year of transformation for HR protocols, and the talent acquisition process is no exception. We have all been relegated to the confines of our remote offices and expected to adapt to the virtual world of recruiting.   

So, let’s start by agreeing on the exhaustion we’ve all suffered from the daily, back-to-back meetings involving hours of screen time. Zoom fatigue has entered our collective lexicon as a psychological “thing” to be endured. Now consider the additional toll virtual meetings has taken on job candidates, the effects of which may be akin to the Zoombie Apocalypse. 

HR has definitely been under duress on multiple fronts; interpreting the rollout of pandemic-related legislation, dealing with employee relations surrounding COVID, and then there’s the usual day-to-day business of deliverables surrounding recruiting, compensation, benefits, etc.

We are almost one year into the pandemic and have become adept at using the technology of virtual meetings but may still have some learnings when it comes to the user experience. Consider the dynamics of virtual interviews and find ways to optimize the use of this new recruiting tool. Focus on attracting top talent and promote your organization as a respectful workplace by following these protocols.

Marielle Leon, Author at Glassdoor, shared best practices at the onset of the pandemic, “Be prepared. To ensure that a virtual interview has all the formality—even gravity— of an in-person interview. It’s important to avoid the temptation to let an interview be as casual as a phone screen might be”, How to Conduct a Virtual Interview, March 9, 2020.

The virtual world is here to stay. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused our recruiting team to rethink our entire interview process. We’ve explored new avenues to promote our job openings, including social media, and have recently hosted virtual career fairs allowing us to attract broader ranges of qualified applicants. In addition to being COVID friendly, virtual career fairs are more convenient for all involved” said Mike Lichtfuss, chief people officer at ITS ConGlobal, North America’s leading operator of intermodal, finished vehicle and depot service terminals, with operations in the US, Mexico, and Costa Rico, located in Darien, IL.

Consider these additional best practices and enhance the interview experience for both you and the job candidate.

 Professionalism is Still an Expectation in a Work from Home Setting  

Job seekers are expected to put their best face forward. And you should, too. Candidates are counseled to prep their “at home” studios, test their audio/visual and appear professionally, with no distractions. While this can be a challenge when personal and business lives collide, all should make their best efforts to conduct an interview free of background “noise.”

As HR professionals, make every effort to schedule virtual meetings when family members may not be demanding attention. Understanding the business/casual nature of today’s work world does not relieve you from upholding your end of the bargain. Present yourselves at the virtual meeting free of distraction, giving candidates the benefit of your full attention.  

Activate the Video Setting to Optimize the Communication Exchange

HR and Interviewing Managers have, at times, appeared on screen via a display of their name only, with no explanation given to candidates as to why the video setting was disabled. This may simply be the result of limited bandwidth. While totally understandable, consider sharing this fact with a candidate.

One option might be to postpone the interview until the technical glitches are resolved. Offering no explanation may diminish a candidate’s ability to communicate their value when facing a blank screen, rather than expressing themselves to a person. 

Let’s level the playing field and show our faces to each other.  

Limit the Number of Interviews to a Reasonable Amount  

The pre-COVID number of interviews typically included a phone screen, followed by a face-to-face with HR, then an invitation to meet with the Hiring Manager. Previous rounds of elimination could include a fourth interview with either team members or fellow employees with whom there would be significant interface.

There appears to be a new trend with the number of interviews needed, with up to 5 or 6 meetings becoming more of the norm. This new threshold set could be attributed simply to the convenience afforded with virtual meetings. After all, there is no travel required on the candidate’s part, it’s easy to schedule interviewers and logistics are fairly minimal for set up and execution of the call.  

“One thing I often challenge my business leaders with when they are deciding whether or not to add an additional interviewer to a roster: if “Person X” ended up being the only dissenter after the process was complete, would you (hiring manager) change your mind about your decision to move forward with that candidate? If not, then “Person X” may not be a true value add.” said Cora Lewallen, global HR operations leader, Home Chef, a meal delivery service that provides a box of pre-portioned fresh ingredients directly to consumers that are ready to cook, located in Chicago, IL.

Perhaps the rationale for the increased number of interviews reflects some overcompensating for the limited opportunity to read body language in a virtual vs. face-to-face encounter. Are multiple sets of eyes now needed to make an assessment?

Non-verbal cues come in the form of gestures, posture, tone of voice and, of course eye contact. Concentrate on the smaller “frame” provided with the virtual meeting as the candidate’s face will provide the greatest indicator of character. William Shakespeare once said, “the eyes are windows to your soul.” Do a job seeker’s facial expressions complement or contradict their words? Pay close attention to eye contact as it may help determine a candidate as trustworthy, a good listener, and can convey sincerity and integrity.

Candidate Scorecards May Serve as a Proxy for Multiple Interviews

If you are still a bit queasy about missing the benefit of an on-site interview and feel the need to gain consensus with a wider group of “raters”, consider the use of a candidate scorecard to tally the results and share with those unable to attend the interview.  

A scorecard can be easily designed in-house, taking inventory of job requirements, desired attributes or experience, along with a rating of all candidates, indicating their degree of fit vis-a vis level of education, compensation desired vs. budgeted compensation, technical skills, leadership potential, etc. The scorecard can be simple, or more complex with the addition of weighting the selection criteria.

For a more significant investment, consider these providers that specialize in interviewing software. According to Capterra, software review provider, the top five vendors selected on the basis of features and user ratings are: VidCruiter, Spark Hire, Avature Video, myInterview and Breezy, with offerings including: interviewing management, feedback management, and self-service portals, just to name a few.

Become more efficient with these tools and techniques and eliminate the need for multiple interviews.

Communicate a “No Thank You” to Candidates in a Thoughtful Way

Job seekers appreciate a timely response, or for that matter, a response to the results of an interview, even if the decision to hire is a “no.” Some HR practitioners have used the virtual meeting as a venue to deliver that message, which might be an acceptable method if executed properly.  

Imagine a job seeker who is anxiously awaiting the next step and receives an invitation to a follow up Zoom, with no further explanation other than HR wants to meet with them. An offer in the wings, perhaps? No, a meeting recently brought to my attention was approximately three-minutes in duration with the sole purpose of informing the candidate he was no longer in the running as he was “not a good fit.”     

This practice could represent an anomaly, but before it becomes a trend, think carefully about how to deliver the message. If using this medium, it would be wise to set expectations for the candidate simply by indicating in the meeting descriptor “Interview Feedback” and schedule the time, limiting it to a brief meeting of 15 minutes. With this type of venue, be aware of the possibility of inadvertently sharing inappropriate feedback. Sticking to conventional written documentation may be a safer route to avoid legal trouble and avert a potentially bad PR situation.

Be Good Ambassadors for your Company as a Respectful Workplace

Many job seekers are well-schooled in conducting research about their next potential employer. They will be looking for how your company’s value statement aligns with your behavior. Observations will be made about the culture as well as an organization’s ability to make timely decisions. Candidates have social media at their disposal to share a negative experience; and may be especially motivated if they were not chosen for the position.  

A highly interactive, engaged user experience is the right way to conduct an interview and will spare you the online repudiation happening on sites like Glassdoor. Do not let your company fall victim to a public flogging! 

The pandemic has thrust our world into a tailspin and forced us to physically separate from each other. Let’s optimize the technology tools available, continue to treat individuals with empathy and respect, and preserve human connections.


  • Barbara Schultz

    Career Coach/Founder

    The Career Stager

    Career Coach and founder of The Career Stager. Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) through National Resume Writers' Association. Named Mid-Career Job Search Expert by Job-Hunt, a highly acclaimed career website with 1.5 + million readers. I help job seekers put their best face forward.