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Job Interviews Zoom Without Leaving The House

Michael Cousineau

Welcome to the new world of hiring, pandemic-style.

A North Carolina woman interviewed for a job as a certified nurse midwife at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, toured the hospital campus, landed the position and bought a house without setting foot in New Hampshire.

What’s Working

A New York doctor sat for eight hours decked out in a suit at home doing virtual interviews after the pandemic scuttled in-person meetings for a job at a clinic in Lyme.

“I would stay in the same spot and join a different video conference link. There was a lot of time devoted to sorting out the tech issues,” Dr. David Levine said by phone from Albany, N.Y. “It was weird and surreal but not super difficult.”

D-H reported 28 medical doctors and associate providers who accepted job offers since the pandemic hit “never set foot on the D-H campus or met in-person” during the virtual interview process, according to Sarah Currier, its workforce development director.

As many Granite State companies continue to hire new workers amid record unemployment, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted most face-to-face job interviewing to video chats.

Even for supermarket baggers and cashiers?

“Yes, all positions,” said Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom.

Employers and staffing agency officials interviewed said that video interviews offer sufficient insight into whether job seekers will be good fits in their organizations.

“It’s amazing to see how much you can learn about someone’s personality just based on their video screen,” said Shannon Herrmann, senior recruiting manager at Alexander Technology Group in Bedford, a technology staffing agency. “We have seen many New Hampshire companies embrace the remote workforce and on-board new hires with no expectation to come into the office.”

People willing to interview remotely show they are flexible and adaptable, said D-H’s Currier.

“We’re building a workforce that is comfortable with change: change-comfortable, change-ready or change-willing because health care is changing so much,” Currier said by phone. “They’re saying, ‘I’m open-minded to new processes,’ and that’s certainly a value we appreciate and look for.”

Levine — D-H’s first 100% virtual interviewee who accepted a job offer — prefers in-person interviews. “It’s nicer to be able to see people and see the physical space you’re going to be occupying,” he said.

Levine, 28, whose wife, Linda Gao, starts a fellowship at Dartmouth-Hitchcock next month, admitted to staging his computer room for a better look, opening the blinds and putting a family photo and a vase with flowers within camera-range.

At one funny point, “they couldn’t tell whether the video was screwed up or I had long hair,” said Levine, who still hadn’t cut his locks more than two months later.

Fidelity’s growth

At Fidelity Investments in Merrimack, video interviews already were a best practice started before COVID-19, and they will continue. The financial services company has hired more than 400 people in New Hampshire since March.

“Once hired, it’s likely the new employee will not need to go to the workplace at this time. In fact, we currently have well over 90% of our employees working remotely,” said Jamie Hallinan, regional center head of stock plan services and New Hampshire regional leader.

Fidelity’s remote on-boarding process includes shipping of laptops and equipment, an introduction of company benefits and remote access to its technology services for setup and questions. Employees, however, are expected to return eventually to their offices.

Alexis Dunphy found herself among those hired this month.

The pandemic had caused the Raymond thirty-something to think more about a new career after she was idled from her job as a hair stylist.

“It’s a sign: It’s time to start looking and go for it,” Dunphy said by phone.

She joined Fidelity Investments as a customer relationship advocate answering customer service calls. She works remotely now, but she expects to shift later to an office setting in Merrimack.

The interview process included filming herself answering questions, followed by phone and Zoom interviews. She was offered the job three days later.

“I’ve already made friends, so it’s kind of weird but speaks to our time and our world,” Dunphy said.

Through video and email communications with co-workers, “we feel very connected to everybody,” Dunphy said.

Hannaford estimates it has hired more than 800 people for its 36 New Hampshire stores since mid-March. It is using more phone, Skype and Microsoft Teams meetings, which has chat and video options. Any in-person interviews require face masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing.

“We also have been reaching out to businesses affected by COVID-19 restrictions to see if any of their employees would like to work for us temporarily until their businesses reopen,” Blom said.

Both furloughed and laid-off workers from elsewhere have been applying for jobs, he said.

Virtual job-hunting

Virtual group events also have grown more popular among job seekers stuck at home.

The New Hampshire Tech Alliance plans to host the first in a series of virtual job fairs in late July, but not everybody is looking to hire.

“Some of our members have expressed concern about prospect and client pipelines in a year and some have put temporary holds on hiring to see how this plays out,” said Julie Demers, the alliance’s executive director.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s physician recruitment team attended seven virtual career fairs and conferences between April 1 and May 20. D-H recruiters talked to between 40 and 80 attendees over the course of a fair, or “far more than we could talk to if we sent one recruiter to a career fair ‘in real life,’ ” Currier said in an email.

“About 10% of these job fair conversations were immediately shared with departments for next-round interviews, and many others were identified as having potential for future openings,” Currier said. “We found this method of outreach to be very productive and engaging for the candidates.”

D-H has used virtual interviews in recent months to hire workers from 17 states, including California and Texas, as well as Canada and Sweden, Currier said.

At Hypertherm in Hanover, hiring officials went from a hybrid format of virtual and on-site interviewing to 100% virtual. The company created help guides for both its hiring teams and candidates.

“These guides shared suggestions on how to interview and connect virtually to create a positive experience,” said Carolyn Stone, who leads the talent acquisition and experience team.

“If done right, a virtual interview experience is very close to an in-person interview,” she said.

Hypertherm, which manufactures plasma-cutting and water-jet cutting equipment, employs nearly 1,100 in New Hampshire and has hired 14 workers since mid-March.

In mid-June, it resumed on-site interviews in New Hampshire but plans to use a mixture of both formats going forward.

“On-site interviews, especially as you get to the final stages of the hiring process, are important as they allow the candidate to experience our culture first-hand and meet the people they would potentially work with,” Stone said.

Virtual interviews presented plenty of memorable moments, but nothing that made anyone more hireable, she said.

“There were many unplanned cameo appearances (my household members included) bringing more levity to what you would usually experience during an interview,” Stone said by email. “As everyone was navigating through this unprecedented experience together, it seemed to increase empathy and create a greater human connection and appreciation from both the interviewer and candidate.”

What’s Working, a series exploring solutions for New Hampshire’s workforce needs, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by Eversource, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire College & University Council, Northeast Delta Dental and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education.

Contact reporter Michael Cousineau at mcousineau@unionleader.com. To read stories in the series, visit unionleader.com/whatsworking.