• Estimated read time: 7 mins
  • Date posted:25/03/2020
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As cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to soar, many life science organisations are wondering how their hiring process will be impacted. Hiring managers are under pressure to fill business-critical roles, but as lockdowns, travel bans and remote working become widespread, where does that leave your hiring strategy? In light of the coronavirus pandemic, hiring managers are facing some tough decisions:

  • Which roles should I prioritise and which roles can wait?
  • How can I assess candidates while minimising transmission?
  • Are face-to-face interviews and on-site visits out of the equation?

We are living in unprecedented times, and old, established ways of doing things are having to change to prevent the transmission of coronavirus. Your hiring and interview strategy is no exception. The answers to these three question will depend upon:

  • Role remit: Prioritise business-critical roles. But bear-in-mind that, what was business-critical yesterday might no longer be the case today. Be flexible.
  • Location: Conurbations, countries and entire continents are in a state of lockdown, with restrictions on international movement. Hire locally.
  • Workplace policies: What guidance has the company issued on hiring? Have you and your colleagues been asked to work-from-home? Think community.

No organisation, nor individual, is exempt. We’re all in this together. For life science organisations, whose mission is to improve and save lives, hiring strategies must adapt to ensure product ships and new treatments and devices come to fruition.

Here are some tips for how life science hiring managers can adapt their hiring and interview strategy to continue to secure business-critical hires during the coronavirus:

Taking your interview process online

Whether working from home or the office, substituting face-to-face interviews with telephone or video interviews will prevent your hiring process grinding to a standstill. It will also ensure that all parties can abide by social distancing rules, as travel and face-to-face contact is avoided, thereby preventing transmission of coronavirus.

Google recently took this approach, suspending all face-to-face interviews and assessing candidates via Google Hangouts, which enables text, voice, or video chat.

Here’s how to pandemic-proof your interview process in the life sciences:

1) Conduct initial telephone interviews

Telephone interviews have become the go-to method for first-round interviews. This type of interview allows an employer to screen candidates to ensure:

  • Candidates meet the minimum requirements of the role.
  • Candidates meet the preferred qualifications of the role – for example, whether they have experience in the desired area.
  • Candidates are brought into the opportunity – for example, they display enthusiasm for the role and a desire to work for your company.

Typically lasting 30-minutes, telephone interviews save time and expense for both the hiring manager and interviewee; negating the need for a face-to-face interview.

Traditionally, candidates successful at telephone interview are invited for a face-to-face interview, but we suggest supplementing those with video interviews under most circumstances. If you’re a seasoned video interview pro, there is no reason why you could not conduct video interviews from the outset, but as we’ll discuss below, video interviews require more preparation for both interviewer and interviewee. For this reason, we recommend the telephone for first-round interviews.

Here are five tips for telephone interview success:

  • Prepare interview questions and scoring criteria: Know what questions you’ll ask, in what order, and what constitutes a good response.
  • Choose a quiet, distraction-free location: If you’re working at the office, book out a meeting room. If you’re working from home, relocate to a quiet spot. Ensure that you have adequate reception if calling the candidate via your mobile.
  • Avoid multitasking: Don’t be tempted to undertake other activities like reading emails or tidying your desk. Listen intently to what your interviewee has to say.
  • Record the conversation: Focus on interviewees, not note-taking; you can replay the recording later to help make an informed decision. Notify candidates you are recording the call, and ensure you comply with local call recording laws.
  • Keep it professional: Just because you can’t see the candidate does not make the telephone interview any less formal. Conduct yourself in a telephone interview as you would in any other face-to-face interview.
2) Replace face-to-face interviews with video interviews

As discussed previously, successful candidates who make it through to the next round of interviews would traditionally be invited to a face-to-face interview. However, with travel restrictions and social isolation efforts in place to slow the spread of coronavirus, meeting face-to-face should be avoided where possible, or reserved for final interviews.

RELATED: Increase quality-of-hire by partnering with a reputable boutique executive search firm

Find out more

This is where video interviews come in. Video interviews are a fantastic substitute to traditional, face-to-face interviews and more intimate than telephone interviews. Similar in scope, but generally lasting longer than telephone interviews (30-90 mins) video interviews can lead to a more natural conversation and rapport between the hiring manager and interviewee. What’s more, visual clues, absent from telephone interviews, are abundant, allowing the hiring manager to pick up on subtleties in body language.

Conduct video interviews using video conference tools like Skype, Slack and Google Hangouts. Many of these tools allow group-calls, meaning panel-style interviews can also be orchestrated via video. And because no members of the hiring party, nor the candidate, need to travel or meet face-to-face, there is no risk of spreading coronavirus. Here are five tips for video interview success:

  • Choose a quiet, well-lit location: If you’re in the office, book out a meeting room. If working remotely, find a quiet area of your house or apartment. Ideally, the room will have natural light from a window, with a blind to diffuse harsh sunlight. Failing that, light your setup with desk lamps.
  • Pay attention to your background: Setup your equipment (mobile, tablet or laptop/desktop with a webcam) and pay attention to the background. Does it look cluttered or distracting? A plain, simple background such as a white wall is ideal. That or an office backdrop. Some video conferencing tools allow you to artificially blur the background to minimise distractions. Check if yours can.
  • Get familiar with the technology: Before you call the candidate, make sure to check that your camera and microphone are working, you have sufficient battery and good Wifi signal. You should also know how to use the video conferencing software. Whichever package you choose, consider upgrading to a premium plan; you don’t want to risk being interrupted by time restrictions or adverts.
  • Record the conversation: Focus on interviewees, not note-taking; you can share the recording with other hiring stakeholders to reach a collective decision. Notify candidates you are recording the video, and ensure you comply with local laws.
  • Look the part: The candidate can see you, at least from your chest upwards, so make sure your dress as you would do during traditional face-to-face interviews.

When face-to-face interviews can’t be avoided

If you are located in parts of the world currently not subject to travel restrictions or lockdowns, your hiring process might not be impacted to a great extent. However, with coronavirus spreading rapidly, and its method of transmission still subject to debate, everyone should be doing what they can to mitigate person-to-person transmission. Here are some questions to ask before proceeding with face-to-face interviews:

  • Do you need to conduct face-to-face interviews? In these unprecedented times, substitute face-to-face interviews with telephone or video interviews.
  • Is it possible to conduct face-to-face interviews? With countries around the world initiating travel bans, restrictions and lockdowns, your candidates may not even be able to attend interviews. Additionally, be aware that some candidates may be self-isolating – it’s not fair to give them an ultimatum to attend if they’re doing their part to stem the transmission of the coronavirus.

If you’re still giving face-to-face interviews the green light, here are six steps you can take to protect both you and your candidates from catching and spreading coronavirus:

  • Face-to-face interviews are final-stage interviews: You should be deciding between two or three sure-fire choices, not narrowing down a shortlist of seven.
  • Short and concise: Only ask questions that will help you decide which candidate to appoint. You don’t want to risk prolonging the interview unnecessarily, which can increase the chance of transmission.
  • Interviews should be one-to-one: Avoid panel interviews for final stage interviews. One-on-one interviews will help to minimise the risk of transmission.
  • Conduct virtual site tours: Rather than giving candidates a tour of the site or workplace in person, conduct a virtual tour using video. You could either pre-record the video or conduct it live using a video-call app on your mobile.
  • Avoid contact: Handshaking should be avoided at all costs. Instead, greet candidates with a friendly smile or a bow. Ensure you maintain at least two metres distance at all times to prevent person-to-person transmission of coronavirus. Be sure that your interview room setup can facilitate this.
  • Keep it clean: You should have an alcohol-based hand sanitiser available at the building’s reception and in the interview room and use this on entry and exit.

If you’re not facing a lock-down and travel restrictions, but you’re still unsure about whether to cancel face-to-face interviews altogether in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, ask yourself whether you would want to take the risk as a candidate to travel and attend a job interview. If the answer is no, then you owe it to your candidates to safeguard them at all times during the hiring process.

Securing the deal

The process of extending a job offer during the coronavirus pandemic remains unchanged. There should be no reason to meet the successful candidate in person. Deliver a verbal offer by telephone or video call and send the offer letter and/or contract via email or in the post for the candidate to sign and return. Alternatively, E-signature tools like DocuSign allow the online signing of job offers without the hassle of candidates having to print, sign, scan and send back job offers/contracts.

Onboarding remotely

Effective onboarding requires careful forethought and execution. Onboarding new hires in a remote capacity, when you, the team, and stakeholders might also be working remotely, throws up extra challenges. Having spent time accessing, interviewing and winning over your new hire, don’t throw it away by delivering a below-par onboarding experience.

The goal of onboarding is to help your new hire acclimatise to the inner workings of your company and get up to speed quickly, so they can have an impact sooner. We’ve written an article which discusses best practices for onboarding remote employees, borrowing tips from businesses and teams that operate remotely as a matter of course.

Conclusion

While this is only a guideline of what hiring managers should do during this pandemic, as the world slows down and remote working and travel restrictions are implemented, having a back-up plan to enable you to secure business-critical life science hires is crucial.

Here at Fraser Dove, we are seeing our clients readily and rapidly adopt online interview processes. They are making hiring decisions based on telephone and video-interviews alone, and candidates are fully brought into the process. Site visits, once the norm, are now being conducted via mobile devices using video calling apps. If anything, the move to an online hiring process has given our clients increased freedom and flexibility to qualify and secure high-impact life science talent.


For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers in the life science industry…

* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.