In the July issue of the Journal of Accountancy, Carrie Kruse, CPA, CGMA, the economic development administrator for the city of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote about how her organization improved its process for interviewing job candidates remotely. In this podcast episode, Kruse goes into detail about the types of questions asked and how the revamped process can be applied to future interviews.
Also, hear about news items related to the employee retention credit, cryptoasset reporting, and more.
What you’ll learn from this episode:
- The financial benefits of conducting job interviews remotely.
- How asking icebreaker questions of others on a virtual meeting, and not just the job candidate, made for better overall interviews.
- The value of creating and using a script for remote interviews.
- The facets of remote job interviews that Kruse believes can be useful in future interviews, including in-person ones.
- A summary of news related to the employee retention credit, IRS vehicle depreciation limits for 2021, and AICPA guidance related to the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and Restaurant Revitalization Fund.
Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:
To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato, a JofA senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.
Neil Amato: Welcome to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. I’m senior editor Neil Amato. Organizations continue to hire employees during the pandemic, but the way that hiring is done has changed dramatically in the past 18 months. On this episode, you’ll hear advice from a CPA leader on how to conduct a better remote job interview.
Also, stick around for updates on the employee retention credit, IRS vehicle depreciation limits, and more. That’s all coming up after this brief sponsor message.
Amato: Carrie Kruse was on the Journal of Accountancy podcast way back in spring of 2020, talking about what was then something new for her, which was working from home as economic development coordinator for Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines. Carrie is a CPA who holds the CGMA designation, and she has, like many finance leaders, had to adapt to so many changes since then. She’s back to talk more about an article she’s written for the Journal of Accountancy, with the title “Finding the Best Talent Using Remote Interviews.” Probably not something that she thought she was going to be writing about and talking so much about as 2020 started, but now, here we are. So, Carrie, welcome back to the podcast. Thanks for taking the time to be here.
Carrie Kruse: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Amato: Ideally, I’d say if you’re trying to hire someone, you really want to get to know them. That’s an important decision. It can be costly if you make the wrong hire. And getting to know someone, I guess it happens on a deeper level when you talk to someone in person. We’ve talked twice, both on Zoom, and while that’s great, it’s not quite the same as doing it in person. So, 2020 and beyond have shown us it may not always be possible to speak face-to-face, even for something as important as a job interview. So, first, what do you think are the benefits of conducting job interviews remotely?
Kruse: Yeah, definitely the ability to cast a broader net when you’re looking at attracting talent. You can cast a broader net, on a more national level for people that are considering applying for positions if they know it’s going to be a remote interview process. So we’ve seen that for both the quantity and the caliber of applications we’re getting.
Another benefit is the convenience. It’s far more convenient and cost-effective for not only the employer but also the applicant to be able to do the interviewing remotely versus having to maybe fly somebody in, pay for hotels, having to make a whole day or maybe two days, an overnight trip out of an interview. Being able to do that remotely has been a big convenience for both, I think, the employers and the applicants.
And the last thing I’ll mention is I think there’s a benefit to your organization if you show your applicants that you’re willing to do your interviews remotely. I think it helps applicants see that your organization is more nimble, that you’re more flexible .You’re willing and able to use technology to save time and money. And for an audience that’s wanting to attract accounting and finance talent, I think displaying a culture that embraces technology is appealing to those applicants.
Amato: Do you feel like you’re still missing something when doing a remote interview, compared to the old, in-person model?
Kruse: Oh, definitely. There’s a lot of aspects from the in-person interview that you just can’t get over a remote platform, even just the initial introductions. When an applicant walks in the room, and the confidence which they enter that room with, from the handshake to eye contact. Eye contact is really strange when you’re trying to do an interview remotely. For us, we do a lot of panel interviews, so there’s often a lot of people on the screen, and your camera may be at the top of the screen, so it can be a little bit distracting.
The other thing you’re really missing out on is body language. You don’t see much body language when you’re only getting from the neck up in a virtual interview. It’s really difficult to gain some of those insights you would normally gain from an in-person interview. And then on our side of the table, with in-person interviews, I think applicants, when they’re in person, they can get a much better feel for kind of your workplace culture, what your facilities are like, kind of being able to observe employees in the workplace. They kind of lose out on that when you’re having to attempt to feature that over the computer.
Amato: So, in that virtual setting, you mentioned that you might be missing, you know, the body language because it’s not the same. A head bob on the Zoom meeting is not the same as overall body language; you’re missing the chance to connect in a formal Q&A. How do you fill in those gaps in a virtual setting?
Kruse: We really focused a lot on the introduction part of our interview process. We really kind of took a deeper dive into what that introductory period looks like and tried to create a more welcoming atmosphere as somebody pops onto a screen and there’s a bunch of strangers they’ve never met, potentially, as part of the interview panel. So, we really spent a lot more time working on how we do that introduction part of the interview. How do we make it so that the applicants can get to know us, and we can get to know them on a little bit more of a personal level than you would in a standard interview that’s in-person with quick introductions and you jump into Q&A?
So, traditionally we had focused a lot of our questions on skill sets, what your workplace personality is, and so we did adjust a lot of our questions or we added questions to our process to really dive a little deeper into what their personality is like outside of work. What do they enjoy doing? And then tried to do the same on our side as well, so they can really get to know us, what our team is like to work with, and what our personalities are like. I think that kind of helped fill in the gaps, to show and feature our workplace culture and kind of highlight what we enjoy about working for the city of Des Moines.
Amato: I mentioned that article in the intro to the episode. In that article, you advocated for the preparation of a script for a job interview. I guess for you as the interviewers. Tell me why a script is helpful.
Kruse: In the past, when we met in person and had panel interviews in person, it’s so much more natural. When you’re doing introductions, you simply go around the table. But when you’re virtual and on a screen, there’s not a natural table for you to pass it on to the next person to do those introductions. So, without having a script or a good way to transition from one person to the next, especially if you have a team of people doing the interview, it can come off really clunky and unorganized. So that’s what we found, as we were working to improve our process and wanted to continue to fill positions as needed and do those remotely, we developed a script, and we’ve continued to work on that and improve on it over time. But really, it helps give your interview team much better synergy and makes you look much more professional and collaborative and helps you facilitate the whole interview process remotely.
Amato: I guess perhaps related to that desire to fill in the gaps with the difference between an in-person interview and a remote interview, you advocate for changing up the type of questions. Tell us more about that.
Kruse: We’ve strategically tried to change those to help fill some of those gaps that we talked about and help us make the best hiring decisions. In our interview questions in person, previously, they were mostly focused on skill sets, workplace personality, how an applicant approaches their work, but if you’re interviewing remotely and potentially wanting to onboard the best talent that you’re interviewing, by changing your questions to dig a little deeper into their personalities and what they enjoy outside of work, it helps you to get to know them better on a personal level.
We do those questions in an icebreaker format. We’ll have a few people from our team answer the questions. We’ll turn it over to the applicant to answer, and then the rest of our team will go.
And it works both ways. It helps the applicant get to know the team a little bit better, see our own personalities and how well we work together, as well as us getting to know them on a more personal level.
The other thing that’s helpful is when you transition into onboarding, you have a little more knowledge on their personality, things they like, things you might have in common, by doing more of these personality icebreaker-type questions, which helps you bond better as a team, helps you onboard them. I just find it incredibly helpful building those work relationships, especially as you’re onboarding new people and you might not have a lot of face time with them in this remote environment.
Amato: Well, I feel like I could learn a lot from you and your icebreaker questions. Because my icebreaker question before we started this recording was “What did you have for lunch?” So I need to work on that. Would you give an example of what some of those icebreaker questions are, that you might go around the room of your people, the so-called room, and then turn to the interviewee?
Kruse: Yeah, the one that we used, a really simple one that brought out a lot of surprises, is just “Tell us about a new hobby you’ve picked up recently.” I even learned things about my own teammates that are doing new things. We don’t see each other as often, since we’re still working remote. It was just kind of fun and made the conversation more natural. Another one was, “If you could become an expert in anything and choose any profession you wanted, what would it be?”
So it was interesting to dive in and kind of see a little more of their personalities that don’t necessarily relate specifically to the job or the skill sets that you’re looking for but help in getting to know that person more on an individual level.
Amato: I think it’s important, when you think about it — when you’re having other people get asked and have to answer questions before the person who’s being interviewed has to do it, that really puts them at ease.
Kruse: Yeah, we thought that was really important. You’re already really nervous coming into an interview, so we wanted to know how they think on their toes, but not necessarily put them right on the spot. So, as we frame it up in the introduction, we do tell them, “We’re going to do a little icebreaker. Don’t worry. We’ll have some other team members go first, and give you a minute to collect your thoughts, and then we’ll turn it over to you.” We frame it up that way to put them at ease.
Amato: Yeah, there’s really no wrong answer to what new hobby do you have. I wouldn’t think. I wouldn’t hope.
Kruse: No, I don’t think so. We learn some interesting things about people, though.
Amato: This whole concept of honing the interview process — I feel like the job interview process really hadn’t changed much for many years. It just depended on how deep you went. You either talked to one person, or eight people if you did the all-day thing, but the questions were, to me, kind of the same. So, what have you learned from having to do these remotely that maybe you can apply back to in-person interviews, if there’s a time that those become more regular again?
Kruse: I think we would carry forward a lot of what we’ve learned about doing remote interviews and how we’ve adjusted our interview process, into that in-person interview process if we get back to that. I think our focus on trying to make that early part of the interview experience more welcoming, getting to know each other a little bit better, on a more personal level, from everyone on the interview team to the applicant, I think those are all things that have improved the interview process. We feel really confident about the people that we’re extending offers to.
One other thing that we did during the remote interview process that I don’t think we paid much attention to when we were doing them in person was that we really tried to feature what our workplace culture is and what it’s like to work in our organization, and why we love working for our organization. And so it was something we focused on in our introductions for each person on the team. Not only did we tell a little bit about ourselves, our history working with the organization, but also we shared our favorite thing about working for our organization. I think it was something that made a job opportunity very appealing and attractive to the candidates. It was something we heard a lot of compliments on, after the interview process, so those are definitely things we want to continue to do, in either format.
Amato: Carrie, this has been great. Great knowledge to pass along. Thank you very much.
Kruse: Thank you for having me.
Amato: In other news, several items of interest related to the employee retention credit in the Journal of Accountancy. First, the IRS issued new guidance that provides a safe harbor for calculating gross receipts for employers that received money from other coronavirus relief programs, such as the PPP. The IRS also issued guidance that clarifies the application of the credit to “recovery startup businesses” and the treatment of wages paid to majority owners and their spouses.
Also, the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by the Senate, would end the employee retention credit on Sept. 30. The bill has several other tax implications and would increase broker reporting on cryptoasset transfers. Alistair Nevius has more in an article dated Aug 10.
Also, the AICPA has issued guidance for how not-for-profits and private businesses can account for Shuttered Venue Operators Grants and Restaurant Revitalization Fund grants. Those grants can pose accounting challenges for practitioners.
And finally, the IRS has issued inflation-adjusted updates for car and truck depreciation limits for vehicles placed into service in 2021. You can find Paul Bonner’s article on that topic, along with the other news mentioned, in the show notes for this episode or by visiting journalofaccountancy.com.
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