But it’s not just about getting through the day-to-day workload. Organisations still need to recruit, and some have programmes where they need to take in a new cohort annually such as graduate recruitment and medical schools.
Fortunately, the capacity for using digital methods in selection and assessment – particularly in the initial sifting stages – has increased greatly over the past ten years, allowing recruitment and selection to continue online.
But will the virtual/remote practices that have been forced upon us in the short term continue to flourish post COVID-19? Or will we revert to face to face models when able?
What can be done virtually?
The short answer is a reasonable amount. It is quite accepted, by both employer and candidate, for psychometric testing and situational judgment tests (SJTs) to be carried out online. Engaging formats of psychometric tests, known as gamified assessments, have become more popular in recent years, especially for graduate recruitment.
And, more recently, asynchronous interviews - where candidates record short (two minute) answers to pre-determined questions for subsequent assessment – have grown in use.
But, given recent social distancing restrictions, we are now seeing this demand for online methods extended to later selection procedures. These include synchronous interviews (conducted in real time), simulations, assessment centres and so on.
So, what are the benefits of virtual recruitment and assessment tools?
Accessibility. Virtual tools enable candidates who may not have had the resources to travel to an assessment day or centre to participate more easily in the initial stages of the process and perhaps get a feel for the role and organisation. This gives organisations a wider pool of potential talent as candidates from all over the world can be included in testing at minimal cost to both parties.
Significantly reduces cost for both the candidates and the organisation. From room hire to admin, travel costs and even the price of a new outfit.
Time. No travelling for candidates and less organisation and admin time for employers – no more paperwork to sort through at the end of an assessment centre. Digital assessments make gathering data much easier and quicker.
Environment. We have already seen short term benefits world-wide in terms of air quality since COVID-19 forced many of us to abandon our cars and travel less.
The coronavirus crisis has forced us all to embrace technology where we may have previously shied away from it. And this extends to recruitment and selection. Certainly, it seems unlikely (and even undesirable) that things will revert to pre-coronavirus days. But we do need to be mindful that it’s not as easy as simply moving your face to face selection and assessment methods online. There are several considerations to take into account.
Research suggests that an applicant’s perception of an organisation is significantly predicted by how useful and easy to use they perceive the online recruitment and assessment tool to be. Unintuitive and complicated systems, or unexpected technological challenges, can reflect badly of potential employers with candidates.
Studies show that candidates perceive online asynchronous interviews as a fair method of selection when used within an extensive selection process where face-to-face interaction can be expected later on in the process.
So, an acceptable part of a wider process but perhaps not yet a replacement for face-to-face in the eyes of candidates? Or will candidates’ perceptions have changed after experiencing COVID lockdown?
Applicants might be more accepting of online assessment tools when they more closely mimic tasks/processes expected of them in their job. For example, if they would be emailed material to complete, rather than have that discussed face-to-face, then they may find online assessment more realistic and therefore acceptable.
In addition, it is crucial that selection methods are fair to all candidates. And this means considering a number of factors.
Firstly, do all candidates have guaranteed access to the necessary level of technology for the required amount of time? Do they have access to a quiet space for the expected period? This is particularly an issue for some right now with multiple home workers/learners in one household.
This leads on to digital familiarity. Is the tool intuitive/easy to use? Is there a required level of technological competence? Are candidates confident in using the technology? If taking this approach, be sure to allow all involved time to practice with the technology they will be using.
Impact of technology – it would be important to take into account potential pitfalls of online assessment such as internet lag, camera and microphone issues and delays.
This would be particularly relevant if body language and soft skills were something under assessment as there could be no guarantee that all candidates would have the same experience. The question is, can you adequately and fairly assess the skills required on the job remotely?
Back to the future
The coronavirus crisis has increased the use of virtual assessment tools as it has placed candidate appetite and employer need in total alignment.
It is likely that the move towards incorporating more virtual elements into recruitment and assessment will continue as restrictions ease.
To do otherwise would seem like a backwards step. But it is vital that organisations understand that what works in crisis is not necessarily fit for purpose in ‘peacetime’ – it’s not as simple as taking face to face recruitment tools and plopping them online.
Professor Fiona Patterson is a leading expert in the field of assessment, selection and innovation in organisations and joint founding director of Work Psychology Group