Focus Your Online Job Interviews on What Matters; Your Candidates’ Skills

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, the government has offered stringent guidelines designed to mitigate the spread of the virus, and employers are allowing their employees to work from home when possible. We don’t know what consequences this pandemic will have on our economy yet, but we know businesses still need to hire new employees with the right skills, and there will likely be a surge of candidates entering the job market in the next few months. During these challenging times, the hiring process may start to look different as employers transition from in-person interviews to virtual interviews. 

If this is the first time your company is carrying out online interviews, here are a few tips to help focus your job interviews on the skills your company needs to thrive:

The right technology makes a big difference

This may look like a no-brainer, but you can’t evaluate a candidate correctly if you are not able to communicate with them. Whether your businesses uses Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, or other video conferencing platforms make sure that you know the technology well. Understanding the technology will allow you to troubleshoot, if necessary, but you will also have a better idea of the platform’s capacity. For example, Teams and Slack have different capabilities than Zoom, are you looking to only have access to video conferencing? Or would you like to collaborate with your candidates? Depending on how you answer these questions, the platform you need might vary. Using technology you’re comfortable with is crucial to making a good impression, and remember your candidates are evaluating you as well during the interview process. 

Target one skill for each question 

Each question you ask candidates should target a single skill listed on the job posting. By aligning each question to a skill, candidates can articulate their relevant experiences with clarity. For example, if you are screening for problem-solving skills, you can ask something like, “when have you experienced an unexpected problem during a project? How did you react?” Avoid asking questions such as “How are you a good fit for this job?” this asks candidates to relate their entire professional development to all the skills needed for the job. That’s too much information to answer in a single question and to evaluate fairly.

Incorporate situational questions

These questions should be framed to reveal how candidates have used the skill in the past to inform how they would respond to situations with your company. Most behavioral questions look at skill usage in the past, asking the candidate to talk about their previous experience. In addition to understanding how candidates have used and developed their skills previously, it’s important to understand how their skills apply in the context of your position. So, follow up and prompt the candidate to respond to situations they will experience on your job. For example, if you want to ask a candidate about their conflict resolution skills a situational question would be:

“Describe a time in which conflict arose between members of a team you were managing. How did you handle this situation? In this position, you will be managing teams that work on different pieces of a larger project. What strategies did you learn previously that you will use to resolve conflict between teams?”

Be inclusive to diverse experience

Skills can be gained through many different experiences and your interview questions should be open to understanding the level of skill of the candidate regardless of their background. This can be accomplished by including open-ended questions that invite candidates to talk about how they used the competency you’re looking for in any situation. Coordination, for instance, can be gained through volunteer experience, and conflict resolution can be gained through managing conflict in personal relationships. An example question for judgment and decision-making could be something like “Describe a time in which you had to decide between two or more possible choices that would have a significant impact on the outcome. How did you land on a final decision?”

Ask the same questions to all candidates

In order to fairly compare candidates, they must all be asked the same questions. Follow up questions may be different to understand better each applicant’s specific experience but be sure that the first one or two questions for a specific skill are the same for each candidate.

Design a technical scenario

When it comes to understanding skills—especially “hard skills” a.k.a occupational competencies, such as computer skills— interview questions will provide no clarity on the candidate’s skill level. So, having a demonstration of ability is crucial for measuring skill levels during the selection process. That’s why we recommend incorporating a technical scenario into your virtual interview. These scenarios can be designed to meet the specific tasks employees will complete on the job. An example of a technical scenario is asking a candidate applying for a communication role, to submit or produce writing samples related to the style and topic they will be writing on the job or asking a call center applicant to role play with an upset customer to demonstrate their conflict resolution.

If you are interested in designing a technical scenario for your candidates, follow these steps:

  1. Choose an occupational skill or a “soft skill” a.k.a foundational skill crucial to the performance of employees.


  1. Identify how this competency is used on the job.


  1. Design a task for applicants to complete that replicates the situation from question two.

Be careful when picking assessments or developing a scenario for applicants, and ensure you are not adding restrictions to the application that are not part of the job. Issues of disability and cultural appropriateness can arise when these are not designed to replicate the job as closely as possible. The closer the assessment to the skills used on the job, the more likely you’ll avoid any issues!

Want to learn more? Visit our employer page at Here, you can find tools and resources that can help facilitate your hiring process, and you can sign up for our SHRM-certified Skillful Talent Series Trainings.