Home / Recruitment guidance during COVID-19 lockdown and social distancing

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Despite social distancing and isolation during this emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic, you are strongly advised to continue with recruitment and not delay. Delaying recruitment can lose valuable scarce talent to other employers, causing staff issues which may lengthen and worsen the legacy impacts of the coronavirus on our staff, children and young people and their families.

For newly qualified teachers, a lack of opportunity may see them choosing alternative professional career paths, leaving the teaching profession. To balance safety, consider what you can convert to remote assessment and induction processes such as Skype interviews and induction meetings, online learning, webinars etc.

Remote interviewing

You should consider the following to be able to recruit successfully during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is strongly recommended that you use Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom or something similar to carry out remote interviews.

These are secure platforms that allow for both audio and visual communication alongside multi-user dial in to enable panel members to take part.

It is recommended to use video functionality on these platforms; this is important so that you can build a rapport with your candidate, which helps with your decision making further down the line.

Send full details of the interview to the candidate, well ahead of time.

This should cover some important information, such as:

Interview specifics

  • The date / time / end of the interview.
  • Any presentation / scenario provided and the job description.
  • Interviewer name and other panel members (if applicable).
  • Advise the candidate to treat it like a normal interview, i.e. smart dress code.
  • Supply contact information so they can reach you if needed.
  • Ensure they will be online and away from any interruptions (as far as possible).

You should also put your candidate at ease. We know that everyone is juggling complex situations at the moment, including child care, isolation, remote working and many other things. Some tips are:

  • We understand entirely if a connection drops out. Don’t worry, just calmly re-connect and if this continues to fail telephone we can easily rearrange a session if required.
  • Don’t worry if a small child or family pet invites themselves into the interview, calmly deal with the interruption and carry on with the interview.
  • If you don’t hear a question or the odd word, which can happen due to a connection delay, please ask for the question to be repeated.
  • These can and may happen with the panel, it is part of life right now!
  • Remember to plan to build rapport with your candidate, they are deciding if they want to work for you too!

Interviewing requires real concentration and active listening as they are quite intense. Ensure that your timetable and the number of questions are realistic (as a guide plan for four to five minutes per interview question). You should also plan in short and regular breaks. These can be used as a buffer if there is a delay or overrun and a much needed comfort break!

Six interviews per day is probably comfortable for most.

Skype / Microsoft Teams / Zoom interviews

  • Once interviews times are confirmed with candidates you will send them and any of your panel members a meeting request from your account and recommend that your candidates download and test that the platform being used works on their system in advance of the interview.
  • It is good practice to offer your candidate a trial run prior to the interview day, to ensure that candidates feel supported and confident to use the technical platform, perhaps a team colleague could do this as an opportunity to have an informal chat with a team colleague as a positive welcome to the team too.

Other items to consider

  • You will call them and also return call if there is a drop in connection or any other technical issues.
  • Have a back-up plan such as calling their mobile / land line should technical issues continue (have alternative numbers ready).

Prior to any interview, make sure you are able to test everything is working from your side.

You could do this with a colleague or friend shortly before, but remember not to adjust your setup in any way after the test. Here are some things you should consider:

  • Check the position of your webcam, including height and distance. Do not have this too high, or low - or too close, too far away.
  • Test the microphone and speaker volume is suitable.
  • Check for any lag / delay - poor picture quality (if this happens regularly, you may want to consider turning off any other device that is connected to your wi-fi, such as other mobile phones, other laptops, apps etc.)
  • Ensure the setup looks professional from the candidate perspective.
  • Make sure the room will be free from interruptions and put your mobile on 'do not disturb' or 'airplane mode' for the duration of each interview.
  • Are your interview questions written, printed or online? Consider how you are going to retain eye contact and engagement with your candidate alongside making notes and reading interview questions.

Be sure to give the candidate your full attention; ensuring they are comfortable and building rapport. Interviewing, evening remotely, is still a two-way process and the candidate will be observing and judging you as much as you are with them.

This will not be too different to a regular interview, so try to keep structure throughout and if possible, have a copy of their application to hand, or ensure you re-read it before the call.

You may want to write down, or highlight any additional comments / question that you may have, such as gaps in employment, qualifying references, reasons for leaving / moving and motivations etc.

You will have your list of questions ready, ensure these can be accommodated in the time given. We have seen that remote interviews tend to move a little quicker, so if it finishes early than planned, try not to be too concerned.

It may help to have your questions written or printed if possible. This will stop you having to split your screen, therefore minimising your view of the candidate. Where possible, please avoid taking notes via your laptop as you are interviewing. Also, try to avoid writing lots of notes on paper. This is take your eye contact away from the candidate and not give a good impression. You are recommended to make notes, but balance this with eye contact and candidate rapport.

To start, simply introduce yourself, briefly discuss the role and allow them the opportunity to talk through their application for a few minutes. This will help make the candidate feel more comfortable, engaged and ready to perform to their best. Make sure that you advise each candidate it is okay for them to ask to repeat any question, due to mute / un-mute or technical glitches / audio issues.

Throughout the interview make sure you are paying full attention to how the candidate is presenting themselves and how well they communicate. Try not to be distracted by the fact this is a remote interview, retain eye contact.

Tips

  1. Wait a few additional seconds for a response before speaking as this accommodates the time the interviewee needs to think of a response and compensates for any lag time or delays in the signal.
  2. Remember if you do mute your microphone when not speaking, be very mindful that this needs to go back on once you start again.

Allow the candidate to ask any questions at the end of the interview, and advise of next steps.

Post interview

Once the interview has finished and whilst fresh in your mind, you can make an informed decision based on their answers. You can then score and decide if you would be happy to appoint, or follow up with second interview.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about recruiting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

No. As far as possible, schools should aim to keep the recruitment process business as usual.

Other schools will continue to recruit during this period and could easily secure the talent we seek ahead of you. We do not want to delay the recruitment of staff to create heightened challenges in the future. It is important that candidates are kept informed about the progress of their application and are informed of any delays. Keeping any candidates engaged is extremely important given scarcity of the recruitment market and in light of recruitment challenges.

Instead of enabling in-person visits to the school, which is likely to be viewed as non-essential, consider virtual tours of the school.

This can be done in two ways, either you could record a tour of the school and either publish this with your advert or send to interested parties or you could arrange a meeting session using video conferencing and in real time conduct a virtual tour of the school. The real time option is more realistic and engaging, but the recording enables you to practice and potentially save time and can be used multiple times.

We know that the labour market and talent is scarce, therefore during periods of social distancing (lockdown) or restricted movement we would strongly advise that interviews are conducted remotely for instance using Skype, Microsoft Teams or Zoom and where possible not cancelled.

Other schools will continue to recruit during this period and could easily secure the talent you seek ahead of you. Delaying the recruitment of staff may create heightened challenges in the future.

In the event that you have no choice but to cancel / re-arrange the interviews we recommend that both a written note is sent and a telephone call to all shortlisted candidates to re-enforce that you are excited about what they have to offer the role. For example:

"It is with regret that we need to reschedule due to the health and wellbeing of pupils, parents, staff and general public in response to the coronavirus and we will endeavour to reschedule as soon as possible."

We recommend that you keep in touch with applicants at least weekly to keep them up to date regarding your plans.

It is envisaged that it will be rare when an interview / assessment cannot be conducted remotely, however most prefer an in-person interview.

Here is some advice to help you decide what is the most appropriate solution for your school:

Remote meetings conducted using technology has become the norm for all, everyone being more familiar, more confident using tech platforms. The health and safety of your existing and future staff is paramount to you, and currently all work that can be done at home should be done at home, which includes interviewing.

There are online resources, guides and video tutorials that can help you with your first remote interview. As whilst remote interviewing maybe be new to you, many schools are doing this successfully.

Some of the methods and ideas being used are:

  • Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft teams as visual platforms to meet candidates informally and complete structured interviews to formally assess candidates.
  • Requesting copies of most recent teaching assessment in current school, or placement feedback (if NQT) - providing a more detailed picture of past performance.
  • Requesting references early in the process to provide a full picture.
  • Arranging virtual zoom tours of the school to prospective applicants.

Task / assessment ideas being practiced are:

  • Ask candidates to prepare a presentation:
    • Outlining a lesson plan, curriculum planning or marking task based on teaching standards.
    • Demonstrate their approach to promoting the school / MATs ethos and values.
    • Evidencing their ability to deliver against priorities: "Please identify two key priorities - one for children’s emotional and mental help - for each area please tell us the priority, the rationale and what steps you would take to address this priority.".
    • Deliver a practical session: deliver a lesson, assembly or act of worship to the panel (as if the panel were students) or deliver a leadership briefing to the panel (as if the panel were staff).
  • Complete a short lesson with a small group of students using Google Virtual Classroom, MS Teams or Webinar related technology, it is possible to observe a lesson.
  • Panel Interviews: Hold panel interviews with other staff members or partners to assess themes / topics, wider skills and knowledge, such as leadership, curriculum, continuous professional development, teaching and learning.

For additional assurance, if you are recruiting NQTs ask to see their last two lesson assessments and for teachers their last teaching assessment.

If you are considering social distancing interviews, you should to be aware that candidates are following government advice, limiting any unnecessary travel and anything that may put themselves and their family at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has left many people in financial, psychological and personal distress and these are still uncertain times. Our primary concern must be ensuring that they and others are safe and supported, and the request for a social distancing interview which requires them to travel, may be seen as intrusive or insensitive. Schools are advised to prevent all non-essential visitors to schools, interviewee’s may be viewed as none essential visitors as interviews can be held remotely.

A wish to move to a more familiar form of interview is natural and completely understandable. It could be that you are new to remote interviewing or sceptical in its use. Perhaps it is the technical skills required to setup and facilitate your interviews, or you require further training which you don’t have time for. Your school may be open, and may have been throughout the lockdown period and therefore it seems strange not to interview in-person; the successful candidate would be working in school if appointed.

If you are unsure, perhaps a sensible approach would be to complete at least a first stage assessment using remote methods to maximise safety for all. Having conducted the remote assessment you may be confident to appoint the candidate or you may wish to complete a second in-person assessment, with only those you deem to be appointable.

If your schools assessment is that your interview cannot be completed remotely and you favour socially distanced interviewing it is essential that you consider the following:

  • Firstly, you have provided the candidate with options, that they are comfortable and okay to proceed (people will not want to work for a school that doesn’t put their and pupils health and safety first).
  • A full individual risk assessment should be complete in advance of interview so that you can ensure that you have assessed the personal risk to the individual and their household and that you have put in place the necessary protections. You may need to consider the local COVID-19 infection rate in your locality and the locality of the candidate if they are out of area to aid your risk assessment. The assessment may also need to take into account the ability to avoid using public transport or use if unavoidable use during quiet periods by adjusting interview times.
  • You have adapted your school to meet the Government's safe workplace standards and is COVID-19 secure.
  • You need to secure the safety of your visitor (interviewee), staff and pupils. You will need to consider such things as:
    • Hand washing facilities on arrival and leaving the interview plus ensuring alcohol based hand sanitiser is available.
    • Room and equipment cleaning before and after each interview meeting.
    • Availability of a large room to allow over 2m social distancing at all times and with ventilation.
    • Toilet facilities.
    • Floor / wall signage to maintain social distancing.
    • Site induction may be required to observe strict health and safety provision and supervision throughout the visit will be required.
  • Interviews must be short, prevent shaking hands and not sitting directly opposite a candidate.
  • Make sure that the candidate and all panel members (panel members for health and safety reasons be limited to two or absolute maximum three people) are displaying no COVID-19 symptoms.

Please be aware that you are trusting candidates' have followed government advice strictly, however it is possible that people can be asymptomatic.

You should consider and discuss with the candidates all of your safety measures and precautions. You should be conscious of how you are presenting as an employer and the potential risks you may be imposing, which could be removed with remote interviews and assessments. Transparency here will help create a trustful relationship with your candidates.

There are some real positives being experienced from remote interviews and assessments. Here is some feedback from headteachers and candidates:

"We have supported several schools using remote interview methods, from delivering lessons, assembly or panel interviews, which has enabled Headteachers to really 'get to know their candidates' and make appointments with confidence."

"The schools that have recruited during COVID-19 have had an advantage as the number of applicants was high, and the field of candidates was particularly strong."

Most people believe that there is no replacement for the feel of an individual that you get in a face to face interview, and when we are hiring education practitioners there is no better way for them to shine, than to see them interact with our children.

However, post COVID-19, schools could certainly reduce time and workload by using Skype (or similar) for first stage interviews for example - to help narrow / reduce the field. This could also potentially increase the number of candidates (especially passive) applying for positions as they would be more likely to attend an interview that would take 45 minutes as opposed to a whole day assessment at first stage.

We have experienced virtually no withdrawals, therefore the convenience of remote assessment helps keep busy and scarce talent in the process. We have also seen an increase in engagement when using virtual tours of the school at application stage. Feedback from school leaders and candidates have been positive and they would highly recommend remote recruitment methods to others.

It remains vital that people who are unsuitable to work with children are deterred and identified during this time.

Schools should continue to follow the guidance and obtain the checks set out in Keeping Children Safe in Education, particularly part 3. With regards to ID and qualifications you should ask your candidates to have their documentation with them during the Skype interview. We recommend that they hold up the photo ID so that you can as far as possible check that this represents a true likeness (This presents an opportunity to do a screen print that you can save to compare against).

Following interview, you will ask the candidate to take a photo of themselves alongside their photo ID (selfie style!) and a photo of each document (all relevant pages including photo pages and front covers), and email these to you urgently. On receipt check that these are legible.

When recruiting, schools must continue to adhere to the legal requirements regarding pre-appointment checks but some temporary changes have been made to help you perform checks safely.

DBS checks: Please note that the following temporary changes have been made to the DBS standard and enhanced ID checking guidance. ID documents to be viewed over video link and scanned images to be used in advance of the DBS check being submitted. The applicant will be required to present the original versions of these documents when they first attend their employment or volunteering role (the change came into effect from 19 March 2020)

Right to work in the UK: As of 30 March 2020, the following temporary changes have been outlined by. Checks can now be carried out over video calls and job applicants and existing workers can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals. Employers should use the Employer Checking Service if a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted documents

Digital checks are available online for certain individuals. They include non-EU (or EEA) nationals holding biometric residence permits or cards and EU citizens who have been granted settled status, pre-settled status or temporary leave to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme. Checks can be made via the GOV.UK 'View a job applicant's right to work details' web page.

You are advised to honour the start dates agreed with new starters and when you are negotiating a start date where possible not seek to have significant delays, you run the risk of losing scare talent and creating staff issues that could be avoided.

You have a commitment to your new starters to continue with the employment process. Schools should try to induct their new starter as they would normally, albeit thinking how this would be delivered understand the circumstances. You should consider what the induction might include if there is a requirement to work remotely and might include things like e-learning and introduction meetings via video conferencing with existing team members, collection / delivery of IT equipment etc. Coaching can take place by using Skype’s screen share functionality to aid with remote staff development. New starters will understand that you are dealing with exceptional circumstances, and glad that you are taking their health and safety together with their employment and career with you seriously.

Find out how to advertise your teaching vacancies for maximum results.

Find out how to shortlist and interview effectively.

Use this timetable to manage your recruitment process effectively.

Learn about onboarding techniques to help your new teacher settle in.

Learn about the importance of safeguarding in your recruitment process.

Contact us for help with your recruitment process.