Companies tap digital tools to hire grads, host interns3 min read . Updated: 29 May 2020, 02:35 PM IST
- Ford, Kraft Heinz among firms leaning on video and other tools to run entry-level and internship programs
The spring interview season, a rite of passage for college students and recent grads, has gone virtual. In the midst of coronavirus lockdowns, companies, including Ford Motor Co. and Kraft Heinz Co., are leaning on a host of digital tools to interview, vet and host internees and new hires.
Hiring executives say the shift to video chats to evaluate potential candidates can’t replace in-person connections. But the process may become more of a fixture after the pandemic subsides, they say, as a way to expand recruiting reach, cut travel costs and increase work-from-home flexibility.
“We all crave, obviously, some of that in-person touch and feel," said Lena Allison, the U.S. talent acquisition and onboarding lead at Ford, which is hosting more than 600 interns virtually this summer and preparing to conduct career fairs online later this year.
“But more and more we’ll be very comfortable with using digital technologies and we’ll make them part of our process versus an exception to our process."
For the time being, however, companies have no choice but to go completely virtual.
Kraft Heinz in April scrambled to virtualize in-person assessments scheduled to be held in Europe and Australia for about 175 graduates applying for the company’s entry-level trainee program. Traditionally, assessments required that candidates engage in group projects and participate in a final round of in-person interviews, said Pieter Schalkwijk, Kraft Heinz’s head of international talent acquisition.
To conduct those events virtually, the company initially tapped three video-conferencing tools: Microsoft Corp.’s Teams for opening remarks, Zoom Video Communications Inc. for group projects and HireVue Inc.’s service for interviews. Mr. Schalkwijk said his team recently consolidated all video activities on Microsoft Teams.
One challenge has been trying to evaluate how candidates collaborate on assessment day group projects via video calls, because the dynamics of taking initiative and interrupting are different from in-person interactions, Mr. Schalkwijk said.
But video does allow the company to get a sense of a person’s strengths and weaknesses, such as how creative they are in brainstorming sessions with their peers or how they problem-solve when encountering a challenge, he said.
“I think we need to see the results," Mr. Schalkwijk said about using technology to conduct hiring virtually. “But I do think it will change hiring in general for everyone."
Lauren Smith, a vice president in Gartner Inc.’s human resources practice, said companies had been increasingly conducting video interviews before the pandemic as a way to reduce hiring time, decrease costs and expand their candidate pool beyond traditional locations. She expects continued usage there, as well as in tools such as game-based assessments, chatbots that help with the application process and collaboration platforms that help new hires build their networks remotely.
“The practice of hiring virtually has moved from being a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’ for most organizations," she said.
Before, most new hires or interns were expected to physically appear in the office on the first day, even if most of the hiring process was digital.
American Family Insurance had selected many of its interns traditionally before the pandemic struck, with some in-person interviews. The interns chosen are now checking in virtually to work.
The Madison, Wis.-based company expects this year’s interns to make between two and four Zoom video calls per day to their managers and colleagues, up from one per week last summer and none the year before, according to Kristi Milbourn, the firm’s campus recruitment and university relations manager.
In addition to business meetings, the company also uses Zoom to host rotating coffee chats—where an intern in one department can connect with a business leader in another department—and virtual game sessions with activities such as scavenger hunts and Pictionary.
Katherine Krska, a 20-year-old marketing major at the University of Wisconsin Madison who is interning with American Family, said that although she would prefer working in an office with colleagues, the virtual experience has value.
“I know when I go back in the fall to school we’ll be adapting to, definitely, a hybrid environment of virtual learning and in-person learning," she said. “And this experience … really allows you to develop those interpersonal skills that it takes to work in an environment where you are working alone yet staying connected to so many people."