CPA INSIDER

Improve your remote hiring process during COVID-19

Looking for a new employee when you can’t meet in person involves more than just setting up video interviews.
By Erica Gellerman

The emergence of COVID-19 has changed many aspects of business, including hiring. With many office buildings closed and social-distancing measures in place, many CPA firms must figure out how to hire the best people through a remote hiring process. 

Creating a solid process to attract and hire the right people isn't as simple as scheduling a videoconference and asking your normal interview questions. From composing the job posting to choosing the technology to use, remote hiring will require changes. Follow these tips from hiring managers and experts who have created successful remote hiring processes:

Rethink your job posting. Your job posting is your first touchpoint with your future employees, so time and thought need to be put into it, especially when a majority of your hiring is happening remotely. Rather than recycling the old job posting that you've used for previous hires, approach it with a fresh eye. 

Melissa Smith, a remote-hiring consultant based in Georgia, suggests starting your job description with challenges you expect your new employee to address. For example, say you are writing a posting for a job that requires spending a significant amount of time on Excel. You might be reluctant to mention that fact because you fear it will put candidates off.

But it's better, Smith advised, to start the job description by transparently stating that you need someone who loves to spend most of their day in Excel. Putting the challenge first helps people self-identify with the role and you'll have a better chance of attracting the ideal candidate, she said.

Smith also suggested listing remote communication tools that your team uses in the job description. There can be a steep learning curve to get up to speed with project management and communication tools. If you can find someone who is already comfortable with your team tools, the onboarding process can be easier. 

Think beyond video interviews. Video interviews aren't the only type of technology that can be part of remote hiring. Using the right tools to stay organized and make the interview process more dynamic can make remote hiring easier.  

Zach Montroy, director of people operations at Summit CPA Group, a mostly virtual CPA firm headquartered in Fort Wayne, Ind., uses a number of tools to help improve the interview experience, including the HR software and applicant tracking system Breezy. One notable feature of Breezy is that it allows applicants to record and upload a video as part of the initial application process. 

"We request a lot of videos from people throughout the application process because we know they're going to be spending a lot of time on video with clients. These videos are like a little test to see how comfortable people we're interviewing are on camera and help us decide who we want to interview," said Montroy.

Montroy also uses the software to keep track of where each applicant is in the interview process and keep the notes on each applicant organized, which can be a challenge with a remote process. 

Software can also assist with reference checking. Jana Cinnamon, COO of Abdo, Eick & Meyers LLP, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, said that rather than calling references, her firm uses a reference checking system called SkillSurvey. This tool allows them to send email surveys to references to get the information they need to make an informed hiring decision. 

Cinnamon says that this tool has helped them get better information about a candidate than if they were checking references by phone. "We've found that people are far more willing to provide feedback through an online platform. We get much more robust feedback that's broken down into a report," she said. "If there are any red flags, we can use the interviews to really key in on those specific points."

Plan for the hiring process to take longer than usual. Montroy cautioned that hiring remotely takes a little longer and takes more planning than holding in-person interviews. "You can't have someone come in for a half-day of interviews," he said. "And you're not going to have your team all together in an office to collaborate. There's a lot of ease that we take for granted when we can do in-person interviews."

Give candidates the chance to get to know you. When potential employees come into the office for an in-person interview, they can learn a lot about the company culture just by meeting people and observing the office atmosphere. That doesn't happen as easily during a remote interview process. 

During the remote-hiring process, the interviewers are the only experience that candidates will have with the company. Leah Davis, CPA, president of AEM Workforce Solutions at Abdo, Eick & Meyers, recommended considering whether you're pulling the right people into the interview to help candidates get to know your company better. 

Try to have the candidate meet with someone who is already working in the position they are applying to, Davis suggested. During the interview, encourage candidates to ask questions such as "what can you tell me about this job?" or "what is a typical day like?" Bring them up yourself if the candidate doesn't.

According to Davis, the information these questions yield is "so critical to finding a good fit and establishing clear expectations about the job, both for the employee and the employer" that it's to both parties' benefit to discuss them before the interview process gets too far along.

Hiring remotely presents challenges, but it can also present opportunities. This period of increased remote working can give organizations a chance to think more deeply about hiring to create an improved process that can work both remotely and in person. 

Erica Gellerman is a freelance writer based in Hawaii. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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