Chairing a search committee has always been a delicate balance that calls for skill and sensitivity. As Chair, you will help to set the tone, manage group dynamics, ensure a safe space to deliberate, and encourage equitable participation. Now, in our physically distanced world, you must learn to chair virtually.
Here are a few tips to help optimize your virtual interview experience for candidates and your committee.
In a virtual environment it is more important than ever for committee members to understand process and roles. You cannot rely on body language or facial expression to help guide the proceedings. Invest time in advance of the interview to clarify each step of the process with committee members, from who will facilitate introductions and ask questions to how committee members can ask clarifying questions or make comments.
It is particularly important to establish guidelines for how the chat function of the video conferencing platform should be used. Ensure that the chat box is either not visible to candidates or is not used for commenting on candidates and as an added measure to ensure confidentiality, clear the chat history following each interview. Many committees also take the extra measure of ensuring a unique meeting link is created for each candidate to avoid any potential overlap.
Consider the candidate’s experience.
Allow time to have each committee member introduce themselves or incorporate a committee introduction into the process at the start of the interview. If there are time considerations, a meeting or interview facilitator may introduce all committee members. This will provide the candidate with time to acclimate to the virtual environment. Remind committee members that their appearance and visual background provide cues to the candidates and should be managed with this in mind. Share the interview format, timing, roles and process with candidates in advance so they know what to expect. All committee members should be reminded to conduct themselves as they would in an in-person interview – don’t leave the room without excusing yourself and don’t multi-task. If a distraction occurs, the committee member should turn their video off so as not to interrupt the interview.
Plan for technology issues.
Test the technology with candidates and committee members before interviews, both for connectivity and familiarization with your virtual venue. Take this opportunity to adjust camera angles, lighting and audio to create a positive first impression for everyone involved. Plan in advance how you will respond if a candidate or any of the committee members lose connectivity and under what circumstances you would suspend the interview and re-schedule. It doesn’t hurt to have tech support on standby to help resolve technical issues.
Leverage virtual interviews to mitigate bias.
There are several benefits of using virtual meeting technologies. Virtual interviews can easily be recorded, with the right disclosures and permissions of candidates, to allow committee members to review them as they assess candidates. This approach supports more objective evaluation and mitigates some of the impacts of group dynamics on assessment. Another advantage is the flexibility created in scheduling when travelling isn’t required. You might use this flexibility to have committee members assess candidates independently before debriefing as a group. This can mitigate some of the group dynamic biases that influence assessment in traditional face-to-face interviews. Additionally, without candidate travel and committee catering there are cost savings that could create the opportunity to interview more candidates and more opportunities for considering non-traditional candidates.
Ensure all voices are heard.
As Chair in a virtual interview you play a key role in ensuring that all voices are heard, and that the discussion is effective. The shift to a virtual format gives reason to consider a deliberate and strategic approach to managing communication among the committee members in advance of the interviews. Take time before the candidate is invited to personally check in with each committee member and build rapport create as well as test technology. Pay attention to allowing for all voices to be heard and have a plan for how you will invite voices into the discussion. Having a speaker list or having a member of the search team monitor who is raising their hand or has posted a question in the chat box can ensure that no one gets missed. Consider scheduling breaks and debriefs between interviews to give committee members the opportunity to discuss and seek clarity.
With a growing number of virtual meetings, comfort with technology and the appreciation of its benefits has increased dramatically. As we are learning in this new virtual world, we have an opportunity to identify advantages that virtual interviewing offers and to bring these insights forward to enhance our traditional practices in the future.
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