February 8, 2021

🎞Virtual Recruitment & Hiring
Cindy Caruso Aquila, HR Executive

Cindy Caruso Aquila is the Global Head of Human Resources for Global Holdings Management Group, an international alliance of real estate asset management and investment advisory companies. She has extensive experience with virtual recruitment & hiring. Watch the video interview here.

The following is an abridged version of the video interview.

Since recruiting senior talent virtually, do you pay more attention to a candidate's online presence than you did previously?

We are looking at the online presence, but spending a bit more time on the reputation, recommendations and references that we're getting, because it's so much harder to do due diligence around people who have been in disparate environments for so long. We're really looking to see who knows and has firsthand experience with someone's work and not just looking at what is sometimes a very curated professional image.

Alignment with company culture is critical when hiring executives and senior leaders. What do you look for when evaluating candidates in this area and has that changed when recruiting them virtually?

It has a bit. I find that when we're recruiting candidates virtually, we tend to look more for creativity and innovation because of the current environment. You're having to find new ways of staying connected to people, teams, colleagues, vendors and clients and you can't rely on the same tried and true methods (having meetings on site, in person lunches etc.). As a result, people need new ways of connecting with others, communicating, keeping people informed, getting buy-in for changes…

When you're looking at a candidate, what do you look for, if you're looking for someone who's creative or innovative?

I'm asking them how they're handling this crisis. The best proof is how they're doing it in their current jobs. What are the things that they're doing to keep in touch with people? To recruit their own talent? To keep projects on track? To manage crises and issues as they come? How are they dealing with this crisis in their workplace and what are they changing about the way that they're managing people, assessing performance etc.? This gives me a sense of whether they're simply doing the same thing that they were always doing, just in a virtual way, or if they're coming up with new ideas.

Then, I'm also asking questions about what is something that they never thought they would be doing that they are now? What is the thing that they didn't think would work that ended up working? What's the most off-the-wall thing that they tried that didn't work and why didn't it work and what circumstances might it have worked?

What impact does virtual recruitment & hiring have on departments and teams when a new hire is either managing people or being managed by somebody they’ve never met in person -- both from the company's perspective and the candidate’s?

I have personal experience at that because I started with Global Holdings during the pandemic. My first interviews were on video because we started the process in March. Some of the interviews probably would have been on video anyway (meeting with team members in Europe), but others, like the first round meetings and all the meetings with my hiring manager, the CEO of the firm, were virtual when they would never would have been in a different environment. So, I had a chance to experience what that was like from a candidate perspective, which has informed how we deal with it now, from a hiring perspective.

When we recently hired some senior talent, we went about it in a way that we wouldn't have in the past. First, we did things like get market maps from search firms, where they weren't meeting with the individuals, but they were helping us scan the environment for the kind of skills that we're looking for. Even without a specific role in mind, we had an idea of a role, and [the market map insights] gave us an idea of what direction to take with a senior job.

Prior to this, we would have narrowed a direction down before involving a search partner during the course of interactions and meetings, coffees with people etc. Now, we’ve brought a search partner in early to help us where an informal process might have gotten us to in the beginning.

Once we got to know who was out there, we picked the people we wanted to start highlighting and getting to know. We reached out to them to start having casual video chats, networking, getting to know them, thinking about what our talent needs are in the future -- the proverbial cup of coffee by Zoom via a warm introduction from a search firm. This helps us to decide where do we want to have in-person meetings and where don't we.

Both in my own process when I joined Global Holdings and in the processes that we've done since then, at some point we do move to in-person meetings. We do almost the entire process virtually, but it's important to still have that interaction because one day, we're all going to be back together. There is a certain amount of chemistry or energy that people convey in person and video doesn't do full justice to. It's in the best interest of the candidate and employer to ensure that you both have had a chance to see what you're signing up for before you accept it.

Having met somebody creates the foundation that you're going to build on. It's going to take longer to build that foundation over the course of beginning months right now. The assimilation process usually involved being in the office five days a week. Now you're assimilating, you might not see that hiring manager again live for weeks or months. Or, you might come in one day a week, but it's like a dance as you're trying to get to know somebody, demonstrate what you're capable of, be a good listener and yet come up with the creative solutions and balance that out in what feels like a once a week interaction -- even if you're having video chats and checking in with email during the other days of the week.

What would you do if you're hiring someone who lives far away right now? Would you fly them in for their final interview still?

That would be a bit more challenging because of the environment that we're in. Would you want to ask somebody to get on a plane and put themselves or their family at risk? I think we might do something like have an interaction with somebody we trusted in the marketplace, so it depends on where. If we had a close business colleague or an office in a different location, we could ask someone to have an in-person meeting and see what they think from an interpersonal perspective.

Onboarding virtually is obviously very different from doing that in person. What are some of the new approaches that you've taken and things that you've had to change in that process?

We’ve started with more interpersonal by video. Encouraging people to use the video option frequently -- perhaps as your only method of communication in the beginning -- when onboarding, is critically important.

People don't know what you look like, they don't have a sense of your body language, communications or facial expressions. That's such an important part of communication, particularly when you're new. You're asking questions, you want to be engaged and transmit your excitement about the opportunity and yet, your desire to learn. People respond to that when they see you in person and you're giving yourself a short shrift if you don't have that kind of visual interaction with people on the onboarding process.

Otherwise you're just a faceless name on the phone and somebody will give you their five or ten minutes, but then they will have a hard time remembering exactly who you were the next time they talk with you.

What about offer negotiation? How this has changed when hiring senior level talent?

It's interesting because when we're extending an offer in an environment like this, we're extending an offer with some things that are unknown and won't be known for the future. In a pre-pandemic world, you might know: this is how we work from home; this is our approach to it; this is our policy; this is how we'll work together; this is what our vacation plans are like; this is where our office location is. You make decisions based on what the commute is and everything else. Those kinds of questions are moved for now and we're not sure how they're going to come back.

Some candidates might say, "Oh I don't want to commute to..." [fill in the blank], Brooklyn, if they're in Jersey or Westchester. In an environment like this, "Well, how often do I have to be in Brooklyn? Now I wouldn't be in Brooklyn at all, but in the future, will I only have to be there two days a week? Or three days a week?" Now that's something that somebody might be willing to do. That has created some questions out there that candidates want to hear addressed up front and that might push an employer to start thinking about before they're ready.

Chances are employers haven't yet decided what their post-pandemic office environment is going to look like or how often are they going to ask people to come to the office. Because we don't know what the timing is, companies are loathed to put a stake in the ground and say this is what it's going to look like and that complicates the offer process. It's not just about the money, but about the full package that people are thinking about now. They recognize that an environment like this one where, a difficult business environment, there's a lot of other factors that are going to be driving success and, frankly, job satisfaction.

If the company determines that a job can be done remotely long term, are people asking for other things during an offer that they wouldn't before?

What we've had is people wanting to lock in the remote work in certain ways, like, "I'd like to ensure that I am able to work remotely one month every summer because that's when I go to my..." [fill in the blank], Hamptons house, beach house etc. People want to lock in flexibility through the offer so that even when we return to something that looks more normal, they know they're going to have flexibility, whether it's working from home on Fridays, working from their beach house or second home for the entire summer, or taking an extra week every month that's for remote work. So, it's not an additional vacation time, but it's actually the ability not to have to show to the office, because now people have seen what they can accommodate and accomplish in an environment like that.

Cindy Caruso Aquila Virtual Recruitment HiringCindy Caruso Aquila is the Global Head of Human Resources for Global Holdings Management Group, an international alliance of real estate asset management and investment advisory companies. She has extensive experience with virtual recruitment & hiring. Watch the video interview here.

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