How To Interview Online

How To Interview Online

Anyone who has spent time with us as a candidate or client will know we believe any hire to be 50% culture, 50% capabilities. That we see shared (or conflicting) values, beliefs, mindset and behaviours to be as much of an indication of how a person will fit into a team, contribute, and thrive as their technical ability to perform a specific role does. Which is why we visit all our clients in the flesh before taking on briefs. And why our partner-led model sees those leading our briefs conduct all their interviews themselves.

But, we also believe it is entirely possible to interview, and be interviewed, online and still get a great sense of who people are and how you may work together. In fact, some of the bigger organisations we have worked with purposely conduct the majority of their interviews online even if a face-to-face meet is possible, in order to ensure parity across sessions and given much of their day-to-day business is conducted this way.

The main difference between meeting in person and meeting online lies in the nuance, and how you go about creating connection and an environment all feel comfortable in and in which personalities can shine through.

And as with most things, success comes down to preparation, timing and paying attention to the small things – which are never that small at all.

Preparing for an Online Interview

In the same way face-to-face interview processes are built to create a journey, and an impression, over time, so should virtual processes be. Which is why we would suggest using different media and different length conversations for different stages – just as you may hold the initial chemistry meeting in an informal setting like a coffee shop before a more formal panel session or presentation. Think about what the purpose of the meeting is – whichever side of the process you are on - and therefore how you should act, dress and behave.

It’s also why we’d say set up a call first: it’s harder to engage with people initially online if you have never met so we would start the conversation with a phone call which is more natural to most people and avoids any issues with technology, where to look etc. We’d make this brief and use it as a way to build chemistry and rapport. Given what we said above about culture, this provides both sides with a good opportunity to see if there could be a team fit.

Because it’s harder to get to know someone online, when non-verbal communication is at best cut short, and at worst, frozen for seconds at a time, we would suggest more, shorter interviews than a standard process, and to intersperse video with phone. Not being able to see each other allows people to be more candid: it’s the same principle as sitting side-by-side in a meeting as opposed to opposite each other and removes the parent / child dynamic – which is why cars and trains are such good places to have hard conversations, so alternate video and phone calls could work well.

When you get to video interviewing, the biggest barrier, and often cause of nerves, is the technology so we would look to remove that hurdle as early as possible:

  • If there is a chance to ask the candidate what their preferred technology is and use it, do, as it will put them at ease and make them more natural – likewise if that’s you, and you have one that works best for you, why not say?
  • If not or the client has a system you need to use, test it first by having a practice between the candidate and someone at the client organisation the day before to ensure the audio and visual work and that there isn’t a firewall issue
  • Have a back-up plan in the meeting invite: who will call who after how long if it isn’t working and with relevant phone numbers shared (you will need approval from both sides for GDPR purposes!)

Bizarrely, the current lockdowns means that in a number of cases more people are able to be present in interviews than might have been the case previously due to logistics and diaries. Technology is brilliant for this and you can have many people ‘in the room’ as well as conducting presentations online via screen share as if you would in a meeting. If you know what you are doing. Again, a good panel interview comes down to prep and ensuring all know the rules of engagement.

  • As before, it’s worth testing the ability to present live before the meeting and ensuring you are sharing only what you want to and not your full screen
  • If you have more than two of you in the meeting, it’s important to have consistency of all having video on, or not, otherwise it is hard to engage
  • Without getting too formal, it’s also good to have two lead participants when there are a number in attendance: the candidate and a main interviewer who can chair the meeting and be most likely to respond to give a smoother flow and ensure it starts well
  • If there are a number of you, it’s worth getting people to mute their audio if they are not speaking or someone is presenting, although this can be a bit clunky. Likewise, if the connection gets sticky, all switch to audio once you’ve met each other
  • Getting people who wish to speak next to raise a finger is a great way to ensure all know who is going to say something next and feels relatively natural relatively quickly

Timing for Online Interviews

  • Think about what time you ask people to meet, and what else might be going on in their house at that time – the traditional early and late slots may be a lot harder when there are different age groups in the vicinity
  • Join the call early – most technology will keep those not hosting the session in the lobby until its ready to start, but better to sit there alone than have everyone arriving late as they realise they haven’t downloaded the right app
  • Set expectations at the start of the call: it’s harder to end video meetings as the natural cues we might use in a normal setting don’t work so it’s best if you can agree a suggested time length, what you might wish to cover and acknowledge that there may be technical blips upfront. As well as allowing proper time for questions
  • If you are working with a headhunter they should be well versed in video interviewing and able to coach both the interviewer and interviewee on technique: generally you need to wait an extra beat before answering the person speaking to ensure they have finished - and two if the anyone in the interview is not speaking their native language

Don't Forget ...

  • Ensure the face of the person you are speaking with is positioned directly below the camera on your screen so you can look them in the eye
  • Think about the environment and what’s behind you – dress the room appropriately and brand the tech if you can. A number of platforms let you blur the background
  • Don’t use notes or prompts that you wouldn’t in a face-to-face interview as this can be seen - and reading breaks the flow of conversation
  • Likewise, it should go without saying but don’t send other interviewers or people emails or texts during the call to discuss what is happening – however subtle you think you are being, it’s fairly obvious!
  • If you are screen sharing, make sure your alerts and emails are turned off so they don’t pop up
  • At the moment, some popular platforms are crashing so it may be better to invest a small amount in a lesser known but equally good provider (as long as you are comfortable with how secure they are)
  • Security and safeguarding can be a concern and a number of providers are not considered to be safe so you need to look into this and be comfortable with data protection. Also, a number of platforms have the ability to record the conversation which can be tempting, but is only legally permitted should all parties agree to it upfront

Part of the joy of meeting people face to face is the human interaction – the shared joke, small talk and connection you only really get being with someone. All of this is still important and some can be replicated in a virtual environment, as Houseparty and numerous virtual drinks, have shown us. So most of all, remember to be human – and empathetic.

The difference in our current situation to previous online interviews is, almost to a person, people are inviting you into their home environment which is a total privilege in and of itself. You may not see their background, they may have dressed the room, but the chances are they will be making do and learning as they go too. Embrace that shared experience and the small people who will inevitably wander in and out of the room just at the crucial moment.

Online interviewing isn’t perfect, but then neither are many of the things that happen at work day in, day out, and seeing how people cope when things don't go to plan can tell you a lot.

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The Changing Face of Recruitment in Sport: Why Longer Term Planning is Leading to Longer Term Success

With the introduction of over-arching roles such as Sporting and Performance Directors as guardians of a club or team’s vision, identity and longer-term success we have seen a shift – by those who buy-in to the need for a more strategic overview – away from transactional decision-making to more thoughtful recruitment.

This is obviously good news for us, given we founded our business on the premise that the rigour and process found in search within the corporate world was often lacking in sport, where who you knew all too often trumped what you knew, and what you had done held more value than what you were capable of. But it’s even better news for the industry.

Here, we explore how hiring practices should be evolving in an era of multi-disciplinary teams; where cultural fit and diversity of thought offer as much competitive advantage as calibre in an often complex and dynamic environment.

From a Knee-jerk Moment of Panic to Taking Time to Reflect

Clubs who take time to understand what skills and capabilities already exist in their building; what others have that they may want or need; where other sports and other geographies have taken their thinking; and crucially how a role may have moved on since they last hired into it, invariably start with a better and more considered brief. Understanding the size and shape of the gap, as opposed to constructing an ideal person out of context is critical to building high-performing teams.

No candidate is ever more than an 80% fit against a theoretical position – understanding this, and where the 20% could lie means understanding who else is already there to support them, whether the rest of the team are in the right roles, what training or mentoring could be given and where the flex exists in the organisation.

No candidate is ever more than an 80% fit

It also requires a clear view of what success looks like and the route to achieving it. Taking time to pause and reflect when someone leaves can feel like a luxury. But in finding time to seek clarity and alignment, to ask good questions and challenge assumptions, you save it in the long-term, and sometimes discover you don’t need to hire at all as the answers already exist within. The wrong hire is not only costly, but can be catastrophic.

Know Yourself, Know Your People

No matter how many lines on a job description are devoted to specific skills required or key responsibilities to be met, every role is 50% capabilities, 50% cultural fit. Knowledge can be transferred, experience gained, skills developed. But no one can thrive in an organisation where values aren’t shared and aligned.

Every role is 50% capabilities, 50% cultural fit

When I worked in the corporate sector, I was lucky enough to count LEGO and Amazon among my clients. While their briefs were often similar in terms of the innovative and digital skill- and mind-sets of the people they were looking for, what it took to lead in the two cultures varied dramatically. Anyone can learn to say ‘we’ when they mean ‘I’ in an interview, and vice versa, but playing that game day in, day out, in a fast-paced environment is exhausting.

Diversity of Thought as a Business Imperative

Really considering personal fit doesn’t mean hiring from an un-diverse pool – quite the opposite. And could mean choosing to hire someone who feels counter-cultural in contrast to the above – that works too, as long as you, and they, know they have been hired to create challenge and change, and the frameworks are in place to support them. Diversity is not just an ethical and moral imperative but a business one.

Competitive advantage is gained when clients hire a range of experience and consider how to foster diverse thinking and different perspectives, bringing in those who can ask good questions and focusing on understanding the demands of the game, as opposed to the traditions of the sport – something the FA have shown with great success over recent years, bucking the trend from hiring ‘football’ people to focusing on hiring the best people, whether they have come from their sport or others such as rugby union, the EIS and cricket.

Understanding the demands of the game, as opposed to the traditions of the sport

That’s not to say being cognisant of the age, gender and ethnic make up of your workforce isn’t important, but quotas can disguise groupthink if experience and lens aren’t also taken into account. When looking at those we consider to be the best leaders in the performance space, the thing many have in common is not where they have worked, or who they have learnt from, but the fact that they have moved across sports and geographies, gathering different knowledge and experiences while remaining true to themselves and their personal values.

From ‘What’s the Solution?’ to ‘How Many Solutions are There?’

The organisations that are fit for purpose are those who have abandoned the idea of the heroic leader in favour of a greater focus on team dynamics. One person can’t, won’t and shouldn’t have all the answers and there is a need to build collaborative teams of experts and generalists. This goes back to the 80% – understanding people’s weaknesses and areas for development, as well as their strengths, and ensuring the team has all that is required, not just one individual. Multi-disciplinary teams should be just that – and part of a bigger system where the different parts pull together and can operate independently and symbiotically as required.

We recently completed a search for two roles with very specific academic requirements given the technical nature of the briefs. Rather than matching the specification as expected though, the end hires were a pair who have never met but could clearly work together as a team, complimenting and strengthening each other while fitting the culture perfectly. Neither one could have got the role alone.

From Search to Selection

For the above reasons, we are increasingly working with clients to help select the best candidates as opposed to searching across the board for the ‘right’ skills and capabilities. Much of the latter is already known within the world of performance sport, and the increasing use of analytics and objective measures, for example in a Head Coach process, can often get us to a shortlist fairly quickly especially where there is a discreet candidate pool and less room for lateral thought. But choosing the right candidate, at the right time and within the context of the brief is far harder.

This is where the subjective comes in, the good questions, the understanding of your gut and what its years of experience and subconsciously absorbed data is telling you. The grey. And once again it brings us back to time – taking a few extra days, weeks to ensure you have covered the market; to have really understood your own brief, team and needs; to put together an assessment panel of stakeholders who see the world differently but share the same view; to understand what you have already and how the team can support the hire – and the hire will support the team; to have selected the best candidate, and not just searched for them.

So How is the Recruitment Process Changing?

The teams we work with who are getting it right are those who are moving from a focus on management to a focus on leadership in its truest sense. To building teams who together can find the answers, not having to have all the answers themselves. From maintaining the status quo, to seeing what’s possible.

As they shift their priorities internally from just short-term success, to a broader view encompassing longer-term planning and a sense of what it really takes to win, they are also shifting to properly planning their hires, rather than just filling their vacant roles.

This means asking the same questions of themselves and their assumptions as they would want a successful candidate to ask them of their organisations.

Anna Edwards and David Slemen of Elite Performance Partners announce new partnership with Leaders In Sport

Leaders in Sport and EPP: A New Partnership

A Shared Platform to Address the Performance Challenges of Today

Getting to speak with, meet with, and interview the best of the best in performance, day in and day out gives Dave and myself both a deep view of current issues and a broad understanding of shared challenges across sports, roles and environments. But we haven’t always had the forum in which to debate this insight with an informed and curious audience. Which is why, for 2020, we have created a partnership with the Leaders In Sport Performance Institute whose membership represents a unique platform to learn, share and develop together.

In Leaders we have found an organisation who share:

  • our passion for performance
  • our desire to aid growth – both individual and organisational
  • our belief that different sports can learn together - and from each other
  • a view of the importance of good leadership at every level

Where we complement each other though is in where and how we gain our insight.

  • At EPP, we strategically advise elite clubs and organisations and speak with  individuals on a daily basis- from senior leaders to expert practitioners and their teams.  In doing so, we are able to bring together a myriad of different perspectives as they are formed, finding and shaping the common themes and understanding the truths that sit beneath them.
  • Leaders In Sport, best known for their brilliantly attended events, regularly bring together performance leaders to share and debate reflections and thought leadership over a period of several days.

By combining these two views: the micro (collected into shared insights) and the macro (derived from individuals), we hope together to better address the performance challenges of the day.

Starting the debate earlier so we can debate deeper

Given our privileged position in the market and the insight we have access to, at EPP we are often able to spot the trends before they become current issues and so can raise them for debate earlier, hopefully bringing the most resonant to the fore for future events.

If 2019 was a year in which mental health featured highly on the agenda for conferences and panels, it was also one in which clubs increasingly looked to each other, and to us, for insight on how to organise themselves to best provide support in this area. In interviewing those at the top of their field, looking at other territories with different regulations and governance, and bringing together learnings from several sports, we have pulled out key themes around how to structure in order to provide the right support and care for all, not just why it is needed. We are looking forward to sharing some of this insight for others to add to, and for many to debate, for the good of all.

Broadening the debate by digging into the detail

Via a series of articles and podcasts shared via the Performance Institute channels, we intend to open up the debate around key themes, extending the learnings from Leaders’ events by together asking, and attempting to answer, the follow-up questions we all walk away with and picking up on the threads of conversation that inevitably arise in the corridors when highly engaged but ultimately different people, with different roles, different experience and different views, get together.

Where Leaders In Sport have always facilitated the conversation by hosting events and raising key themes, at EPP we hope to work with them to ground the theory in the detail, adding the insight of individuals to learnings shared at an event level.

David Slemen talks on video about Elite Performance Partners and Leaders In Sport
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Actioning the debate – what it means for your people?

Ultimately, thought leadership is hugely important to what we all do. But putting those learnings into action is crucial to success. Through our partnership with the Performance Institute, we intend to bring the debate to the structures and processes we use and understand what new learnings, new evidence and trends in other sports mean about the diverse groups of people organisations should hire, and the sorts of role that will help shape careers.

The Leaders In Sport events give access to people of all levels, ages and stages to great leadership thinking. Our partnership aims to develop the leader at every level and help all reach their potential, whatever and wherever that may be.

It goes without saying that it’s a partnership we are excited about and given that the debate generated is only ever as good as the people who take part, we’re looking forward to engaging with Performance Institute members from across the board.

Find out more about Leaders In Sport

Dave Slemens and Anna Edwards of EPP present Karyn Bailey with her prize for Best Performance in the MSc in Entirepreneurship

Best Performance Prize - Bath University School of Management

As part of ongoing partnership with Bath University School of Management, we were thrilled to sponsor, and award, the prize for Best Performance in the MSc in Entrepreneurship to Karyn Bailey last week. Well done to the entire cohort and to Karyn in particular.

Why We're A Learning Organisation

Spending your days talking to some of the best teams and organisations in the country about high performance principles makes you really consider your own. One of our key principles - and one we see reoccurring in teams who thrive - is to be a learning organisation. For us, that means appreciating how much we don’t know and actively seeking out conversations and opportunities to hear a different point of view.

It also means:

  • sharing what we've learnt, as tutors for The FA, VSI Executive Education and more
  • encouraging others, as we hope we have with this award
  • putting ourselves back into education alongside our day jobs, via David's Executive MBA and Anna's MA in Coaching & Mentoring - and bringing what we learn back to the office and our clients


As I discovered today at Bath Rugby, you are never too old to do work experience.

We talk about roles being 50% culture, 50% capabilities but its hard to assess either unless you've seen what the buzzwords of 'leadership', 'strategy' and 'teamwork' mean in a particular context.

As a relative newbie to sport, I am still in transition, allowed to confess what I don't know: to ask, question, absorb and observe. I have permission to learn. Which is what I did today as the guest of Girvan Dempsey and the team at Bath. Together, talented coaches, senior leaders and expert practitioners gave me a masterclass in what good looks like, in action on the field. And as ever, in setting out to find out more, I left aware of how much there still is for me to understand. So today I commit to being a Learn-it-All (and thank David Sheepshanks CBE for a great phrase to live by).

Recruiting 8 Year Olds?

As a panelist for The Football Association's Level 4 in Talent Management, Strategy and Leadership final assessments, I have spent two days with Rick Parry, Alun Powell, Matt Richardson, Phil Church, discussing a very different type of recruitment.

How to spot opportunity, potential, natural ability, and cultural fit are all topics I am comfortable considering, even if I don’t have all the answers. But debating how - and whether - to do that when the ‘candidates’ are as young as eight and need safeguarding and support was unbelievably eye-opening. After eleven educational, challenging and often highly personal presentations, I am totally torn. And hugely grateful to those who shared their thoughts and learnings with us.


Understanding The Performance Window

The Transfer Window is a moment of focus, when teams can recruit the on-field talent they need succeed this season and next.  But arguably an equally sizeable competitive advantage comes from developing this talent, ensuring everyone in the team can improve – not just the big names, but the entire squad – creating an environment of continuous development and learning, and a robust group of athletes physically and mentally ready for any challenge.

While coaching is the obvious place to turn when thinking about building your team, and rightfully so, there are many other specialists who sit around the head coach whose knowledge is equally important in ensuring success.  Together they are the team tasked with maintaining and increasing athlete mental and physical health, robustness, speed, strength and conditioning, as well as the tactical and technical awareness often seen as the preserve of the coaching staff.  That is before you even touch on the psycho-social aspect of the individual and wider group.

A strong performance team is interdisciplinary, responsible for all elements within the 22 or 23 hours players are not training, creating the conditions, and behaviours, needed for people to be their best.  Together they look after the interplay of all four pillars of performance: tactical, technical, physical and mental and yet it is the first two that receive most of the attention and much of the spend.

Which is why, after the Transfer Window closes, we open what we have termed the Performance Window – the time between its’ end and before pre-season training starts, when more and more clubs are starting to think about the development of their performance teams to ensure they are set up for success.  It’s always hard to think about your next campaign when there’s still so much undecided in this one, but those who are able to turn their attention to the team behind the team before the end of June find themselves best placed to either allocate time and resource to developing those they have already, bringing them together around a shared vision and set of standards - or to secure talent from outside in time to have an impact before the season starts.

Taking stock at this time also gives clubs an oft-overlooked chance to consider the culture they are building – not least because the performance staff often outlast the players and coaches by a factor of years.  It is often through the deep and trusting relationships built in the massage room, or in conversation with the kit man, that a sense of belonging, or not, is cultivated.  Taking a step back to review the team as a whole, and how the performance staff connect as a group, and with the rest of the organisation is also a chance to ensure diversity of experience - not just a competitive advantage but a performance must in our book - and to make sure those tasked with improvement are improving themselves – even the best people can become trapped in their own environment if not assessed and given the opportunity to grow.

Different environments, consistent learnings

Just as it’s important for clubs to regularly consider their principles and vision alongside their talent and goals, so it is for us to refresh our knowledge of the different environments, cultures and team dynamics of the clubs we work with, however well we think we know them.  So for the past six weeks, we have undertaken a ‘Performance Window’ tour, visiting over half the clubs in the Premier League, and speaking to many others, as well as taking in a several Championship training grounds, Premiership Rugby Clubs and spending an amazing day considering what elite performance means in the most physically demanding of the arts. In doing so, we found huge differences in the size of the facilities, sense of purpose and prioritisation of spend - be that on bringing youngster through an impressive academy, nutrition, medical facilities or latest technology – despite huge parity in the overall goal.  A desire to win though was far from the only consistency and no matter where we were, North or South, conference hall or pitch, we observed that:

  1. Time spent performance planning is always time well spent. You may not be able to control what happens on the pitch, but you can set the initial conditions to give the best chance of success
  2. In any role, and any team, culture is as important as capability. Without a vision to work to, well and frequently articulated, you can't motivate people to a common goal
  3. There is no small stuff. Anything that matters enough to be done, matters. The impact of getting the little things right should never be underestimated

Given it is our day job to think about such learnings day in, day out, it is always surprising how much clarity comes from taking time to really concentrate on the bigger picture and to understand what can be discovered from a helicopter view of both organisations and sports as a whole.  If that’s true for us, it must be true for clubs, used to spending so much of the year thinking specifically about next weekend.   And why giving yourself the time to think about performance, rather than just aiming to create it, is always valuable.

Demonstrating How Our Work Aligns with Our Values

From the sighs as people sat down in the unusually high number of reserved seats on the train from Bath to London today, I suspect I may be surrounded by stiff-legged runners feeling the ache after Sunday’s brilliant Bath Half Marathon.

Once again 15,000 or so turned out to run and 30,000 to watch. Pounding the streets for Bath Rugby Foundation, the charitable arm of Bath Rugby, there was plenty of inspiration - but for me, none more so than my running buddy: at 70 years’ old my mum took part for the first time, making her fairly elite in my book. I can only hope I will be doing the same as a septuagenarian.