In the age of COVID, masks, and social distancing it can be difficult to get a good read on people. It can be especially difficult when you are meeting someone the first time. I am constantly meeting people whose faces I never get to see. It seems like everyone that I meet looks like the next-door neighbor, Wilson, from the TV show “Home Improvement”. While this can hamper getting to know someone, it’s a significant challenge when trying to decide if a person is right for a job.
According to Albert Mehrabian’s book “Silent Messages” only 7% of communication is verbal, while we can attribute 55% to facial expressions. Think about the impact this has when trying to get a read on a masked candidate during an hour-long interview. They might say the right things, but how do you judge someone’s honesty, sincerity, commitment, sense of humor or cultural fit with your organization? You are likely seeing less than half of a candidate’s face which accounts for more than half of their overall communication. We all hope the pandemic ends soon so we can get back to life without masks. Until then, here are few tips to think about while interviewing that masked man or woman.
Tips for interviewing candidates while wearing a mask
1. Use video conferencing software to pre-screen candidates
I typically use video conferencing to prescreen candidates, just to determine if they should progress to an in-person interview. The in-person interview is when I would traditionally be watching for non-verbal cues. With masks hindering this during an on-site interview, consider using the video conference as a main part of your screening process. Ask the candidate to have the video conference in a well-lit location with a good internet connection. At the onset of the interview, ask them to make any necessary adjustments so you can see and read their facial expressions. Pay specific attention to their non-verbal cues during the video conference. This will probably be your best opportunity, so take full advantage.
2. Read candidate’s eyes during an in-person interview
Half of your candidate’s face may be covered during an on-site interview, but their eyes will still be visible. They say the eyes are the windows to a person’s souls. That’s probably a bit deeper than we need for an interview, but reading eyes is even more important in the mask era.
Psychologist World has a great article explaining some key things to look for. Pay attention to pupil dilation and the direction someone looks when answering a question. Looking to ones left is typically associated with trying to remember something. Looking to ones right is sometimes associated with creativity or deceit. I would not suggest discounting a candidate for glancing right when a question is posed, but be aware and perhaps have them qualify their answers. With concentrated effort you can gain a lot of insight. Additionally, there are many other body language triggers to watch for. Understanding body language: position of hand, arms, legs, feet, and posture can give you even more clues about your candidate (more info).
3. Rely on multiple interviewers for consensus opinion
During an on-site interview, use multiple interviewers to screen the candidate. You may have problems reading a specific individual, but a colleague may be able to connect with them. Schedule a series of interviews for the candidate with multiple people from your team. These can be scheduled during the same visit, but be sure all critical team members get a chance to meet the candidate. This will decrease the likelihood of missing a tell-tale sign the candidate is not the right fit. Discuss the strategy with other interviewers prior to the candidate coming in and then compile you notes shortly after the last interview concludes.
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