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Gaelle Blake Director of Permanent Appointments, Hays UK&I

As governments around the world slowly start to ease lockdown restrictions, for many leaders, focus is now firmly on how to return to growth when operating with backdrop of uncertainty and unease. This is a monumental challenge, but we can rise to it if we utilise our organisation’s most valuable asset – our people.

Post-COVID, people will be the key to driving your organisation’s growth

It’s your people and their uniquely human skills, that will play the most pivotal part in ensuring your organisation achieves the growth you’re aiming for, as our CEO Alistair Cox explains in his LinkedIn Influencer blog“Yes, your products, your services, your technology, your processes are important, of course they are. But, when it comes down to it, it’s your people, both current and future, that will really set your organisation apart in the next era of work.”

Of course, this crisis may likely mean that large elements of your existing business model need to change. New markets may need to be explored. Perhaps, entirely different product or services offerings will need to be developed, and at speed. As a result, your organisation, post-COVID, may be a very different one. It’s inevitable, then, that the roles and skills needed to help you deliver on these changes in a meaningful, effective and sustainable way, will need to be different too. This requires a different approach to hiring.

Hiring for the skills you need to drive growth, should be your priority now

As I’ve said, now is the time to plan for growth as we enter the next, very different, era of work. After all, it’s the actions you take and decisions to take now, that will set you up for success in the future. At the heart of this planning, should be people.

People are the beating heart of your organisation, and nothing will ever change that. So, spend some time mapping out which new roles will need to be created and which new skills you’ll need to help you realise your new vision for the future. This is a topic we’ve touched on in our guide A New Era of Work: What to Consider Today & Tomorrow.

Once you’ve understood what your immediate and future workforce requirements are likely to be, now is the time to start the process. After all, you have a golden window of opportunity right now from a hiring perspective, for a few reasons, as explained by our CEO:

  • The increase in remote and hybrid working, means that new talent pools could open up for you in different, now more accessible places, giving your organisation more access to the skills it needs
  • The pandemic has given many the opportunity to reflect on their working lives, re-evaluating how they contribute to the world via their work, and essentially, what they want to achieve in their chosen profession (or indeed, in an entirely different one)
  • Many will also have been thinking about how they’ve been treated by their current employer during this crisis, as well as the long-term career prospects available to them going forward – some deciding that now could be a good time to consider searching for a new opportunity, or at least could be more open to hearing about them

Think about how best to assess a candidate

Once you have defined the roles and skills you require for a new era of work, consider what type of assessment works best, in addition to reviewing their CV and/or portfolio.

I think it goes without saying that assessing candidates remotely, via email, video or phone call, is here to stay and has become more normalised during the pandemic. However, there are still a variety of options for how best to assess the specific skills needed for a role. For example, you might want to think about one or more of the below, and their corresponding considerations:

  • Technical test:

If a role requires a lot of technical skills, it might be worthwhile for candidates to take a test so you can assess these. You may want to consider providing a test in advance and giving candidates a set day and time to return their answers via email.

Alternatively, if the role requires working to very tight deadlines, you may want to provide a test during a virtual interview, giving them a shorter amount of time to complete it and therefore seeing how they respond under pressure. If you do set a test during a virtual interview, it is a good idea to mute microphones and turn off all cameras – on both the interviewer and candidate’s computers – as this may be off-putting or distracting.

  • Virtual presentation:

If a role requires regular presentations, consider asking your candidates to prepare a virtual presentation. This is also useful if securing stakeholder buy-in is key to the role and it is a good way to assess their knowledge and approach to a particular topic.

Provide them with a topic in advance (decide a suitable timeframe based upon what would be a realistic deadline in your organisation), as well as other relevant information, such as:

  1. What format the presentation should take and whether they should send it to you in advance
  2. How long the presentation should be
  3. How many people they will be presenting to
  4. What you will be ‘assessing’ them on (for example: content, use of data and the ability to persuade)
  5. Whether there will be a ‘question and answer’ session after their presentation

It is also important that everyone assessing a virtual presentation is ‘grading’ candidates according to the same criteria – so be sure to clarify with other interviewers ahead of time what they should look out for, and how to feedback their assessments to you.

  • Virtual panel or group interview:

If a role requires strong communication skills or working with multiple teams, a panel or group interview may well be worthwhile.

Of course, the number, roles and seniorities of other interviewers should reflect the job in question. You should clarify with candidates beforehand who will be interviewing and provide them with a bit of background about each person. You should also agree expectations with the other interviewers, such as:

  1. The order of interviewers: i.e. who will talk first
  2. How many questions each interviewer should ask, and on what topics
  3. The order of questions to be asked
  4. As before, what parameters they should assess candidates on, and how they should feedback their thoughts to you
  • Virtual one-to-one interview:

This is perhaps the most likely assessment to occur. Before a virtual one-to-one interview, you should of course ensure that the candidate is aware of your choice of video call technology. You should also ensure that you have a standardised set of questions ready to ask all candidates, and, as I go on to discuss below, that these questions accurately assess the skills needed today.

The interview questions you must ask to secure the best talent

Of course, most candidates will still be interviewed at some point as part of their assessment process. As with face-to-face interviews, asking the right questions of candidates during remote interviews is, of course, an incredibly important part of finding the right person for the role you’re hiring for.

But, you’re now hiring in a different world, for a different world. That means, it’s important to consider whether, the questions you’re asking during job interviews going forward, need to be changed too.

Five interview questions to ask candidates as we enter the next era of work

So, below I’ve outlined five interview questions to consider asking candidates, as you assess whether they have the right skills to help your organisation not only survive, but thrive in the next era of work:

1. “Do you prefer to work independently or as part of a team?”

It is becoming increasingly likely that a hybrid way of working will become more common post-pandemic. By ‘hybrid’ we mean: part of a team will work from the office, and the other part will work from home. This will be an entirely new way of functioning for many organisations. So, when interviewing, it’s important to assess where the candidate would prefer to spend most of their time, and in which setting they might deliver the most value to your business.

For many hiring managers, “Do you prefer to work independently or as part of a team?” was a common interview question pre-COVID, but the answer given in the post-COVID world, suddenly has far more meaning and importance as we enter the next era of work.

2. “How do you work productively remotely, ensuring your motivation remains high?”

As Alistair Cox explores in his blog, post-pandemic, remote working will no longer be seen as a ‘perk’. From now on, candidates will demand a higher level of flexibility, meaning they are afforded the autonomy by their employer to work remotely – whether that be from their homes, or somewhere else.

During the pandemic, most managers have been pleased with the levels of productivity within their ‘suddenly remote’ teams. Most will attest to the fact that much of this has been down to giving their people the freedom to form their own new habits and schedules, helping them to work in a way that they find personally most effective.

So, going forward into the next era of work, where remote working will become the norm, and pressure on your team to perform will be at an all-time high, it’s extremely important that you hire candidates who are productive, engaged and motivated whilst working remotely. For more advice on how to interview a candidate who will be working remotely full time, you may find this blog by my colleague David Brown, CEO of Hays US, helpful.

3. “How do you practice lifelong learning and continuous upskilling?”

The pandemic has emphasised the need for organisations to ensure their people are agile, adaptable and have the skills necessary to adapt to the challenges and opportunities that have come with the sudden transition to remote working, but also that are on the horizon as we enter into the next era of work.

Of course, employees need to play their part delivering personalised and digitalised training and ultimately embedding a culture of lifelong learning into their organisations. But, it’s important, too, that employees are committed to their own learning – that continuous upskilling becomes a habit and something they enjoy and get fulfilment out of.

So, ask this question of your candidates to understand if they are committed to their own lifelong learning and if so, how they practice it. You could even ask them what new skills they’ve recently learnt independently, and how they went about learning them.

4. “Tell me about a time you’ve failed”

There are many unknowns as we look to the future. Organisations are quickly changing direction, seeking out new markets and potentially new customers. All this change and uncertainty means that there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way as you start to re-align both your business and your people.

Some things will go well, others won’t. And that’s ok, we are all learning as we go along here. As Alistair Cox says, “There is no instruction manual that we can refer to, no business school text, no management guru, to reassure us that we’re making the right decisions or that we are headed in the right direction. We can compare notes with others, but none of us have ever dealt with this before, so we are writing the playbook each day and each day brings a new issue to deal with.”

To be successful in the future, the next era of work will demand an increased aptitude for learning, which we’ve already discussed, but also, a sense of being comfortable with being uncomfortable – with being out of one’s comfort zone.

So, by asking your interviews to explain a time they’ve failed, you’ll be able to assess if they really do feel comfortable with failure. If, in fact, they see it as an opportunity for growth and learning, tackling unknowns or challenges with a mindset of growth.

5. “How do you inject an element of creativity into your work?”

As digital transformation and automation is set to accelerate even further post-pandemic, it will be our innately human skills that will hold the highest value and drive the biggest impact. In fact, we recently surveyed over 16,000 professionals and employers in the UK, and according to the findings of our Market Insights Report, nearly half (48%) of employers say the ability to problem solve is the soft skill most needed in their organisation, and a quarter (25%) want creativity.

All roles, now more so than ever, will demand an element of creativity, innovative thinking and problem solving. So, asking candidates how they inject creativity into their work will become increasingly important. For example, that could be by brainstorming with a colleague, listening to a podcast, or even going for a walk to ‘disconnect’, allowing the mind to relax and giving it the freedom and space to think creatively or find solutions more quickly.

These are just a few examples of the types of interview questions that I believe hiring managers should be asking candidates as we transition into the next era of work. Of course, I haven’t covered all bases here. You may, for example, want to find out more about a candidate’s communication style – particularly when working on complex projects across dispersed, hybrid teams. Or, perhaps you’re keen to understand whether they are already competent in using the specific tools that have kept your business going over the past couple of months, for example, Zoom, Teams, Skype, Hangouts or Slack.

Your business has changed as a result of the pandemic and so have your people – both current and future. So, it’s important the questions you ask when interviewing reflect that. After all, if you don’t ask the right questions, you won’t hire the right people to really help set your organisation apart in the next era of work.


Gaelle Blake began working for Hays in 1999, joining our construction and property Division in London Victoria. Since then she has held a variety of consulting and operational management roles across a variety of sectors, including setting up the Hays Career Transitions business in 2009. In 2018, Gaelle was appointed as UK&I Director for Permanent Appointments. Prior to joining Hays, Gaelle studied at both the Universities of Warwick and Bath, gaining an BA (Hons) and then an MSc in Management.



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