Making Remote Work: How Bloomberg Adapted to Virtual Interviews
Seemingly overnight, remote work—and by extension, virtual interviews—have become the new normal. For those hiring, the transition forced interview processes to adapt to a remote format in a matter of weeks. For most, it’s been a hectic, challenging transformation (to say the least).
But luckily, the transition to virtual interviews was something that Bloomberg’s engineering organization had inadvertently prepared for. They’ve been refining their engineering hiring process for years, focusing on creating a standardized, consistent hiring process that maintains a static hiring bar for the entire organization. It’s a huge part of what helped them make the transition to virtual interviews in a matter of weeks.
Since 2014, Kristen Arena has been helping to shape Bloomberg’s hiring process across both campus and experienced hire recruiting. She currently leads a team in campus recruiting, and is the lead recruiter for their CTO office.
HackerRank CEO and Co-Founder Vivek Ravisankar sat down with Kristen to learn how Bloomberg managed to adapt to virtual interviews in the face of stay-at-home orders. You can listen to their full audio interview below, or keep reading for our key takeaways.
How Bloomberg’s existing interview framework helped ease the transition
Even before stay-at-home orders were implemented, Bloomberg’s team had relied on a standardized interview process to hire for its engineering team. And according to Kristen, it’s those standardizations that helped ease the transition to virtual interviews.
Kristen says that though the process has some nuances across different roles, the interview process for most Bloomberg engineering roles follows a similar format. It generally consists of a phone interview followed by a few rounds of in person technical and HR interviews, either in our office or on campus.
Leveraging their existing foundation
“We have a very solid foundation, and a structure in place,” Kristen explains. Bloomberg used that existing structure to translate it to an online process. “We were able to say: ‘Alright, how do we keep it intact? How do we do it remotely?’”
The goal was to take the existing interview process—from tech phone interview to in person HR interview—and replicate it in a virtual setting without sacrificing the personal touch of an in-person experience. Though the first step of the interview process was already conducted remotely, the other steps were traditionally conducted on-site. So they had to be translated to a remote experience.
On top of that, they also had to adapt their internal procedures to maintain the same evaluation process: from pre-interview briefs, to interviewer prep, to group debriefs.
Replicating the on-site interview process virtually
Bloomberg’s transformation to a virtual interview process happened over a matter of weeks. But despite the tight timeline, they spared no amount of effort in ensuring the new, virtual process was thorough and candidate-centric.
Adapting candidate prep and increasing recruiter touch points
One change that Bloomberg had to account for: bolstering candidate prep. “We have always prided ourselves on really making sure that our candidates feel comfortable with the interview process,” Kristen explains. It’s why they’d already invested so much in their robust library of candidate prep resources before the transition to remote work. “Our approach, given the situation, was to just adopt that same mentality, but heighten it.”
To go the extra mile to get candidates comfortable with this new format, the Bloomberg team implemented a few primary changes:
- Adding a virtual interview prep call: Each candidate gets a personal call from a member of the recruiting team to walk through the logistics of the interview. They share the schedule, what to expect in each round, explanations of when they’ll be able to take breaks, how much time they’ll have between rounds, expected next steps, and more.
- Testing the interview setup one-on-one: The team also helps candidates head off technical difficulties by testing conferencing and interview tools with the candidate ahead of time. “From a technology perspective, we want to make sure they’re ready to go—so testing out the conferencing tool that we use, making sure they’re comfortable with HackerRank, and that they’re aware of the diagram feature within HackerRank we use for design questions,” Kristen says.
- Simulating the in-office experience: Even from afar, Kristen’s team also goes above and beyond to help candidates experience the day-to-day of working at Bloomberg. For example, in lieu of an office tour, they share videos of the office with content about their company culture. To go a step further, they even give candidates a peek into the product by offering regular demos. “If you're a candidate and you have an interview coming up, you can drop into a video conference at some point during the week for a demo,” Kristen says. “It’s a little snapshot of Bloomberg, and a demo of our product—just to learn a little bit more about us before your actual interview.”
Together, these new measures help put candidates at ease—and in turn, enable them to perform their best in the interview. “In the context of the remote interview, things can get really lost. So we want to make sure that they feel comfortable,” Kristen explains.
Rethinking interviewer prep and feedback
Changing to a virtual interview process also necessitated a change in internal prep—especially when it comes to interviewers. “Our goal is always to make sure that the candidate is comfortable and has a great experience. And that really comes directly from the interviewers,” Kristen notes. “When we transitioned to remote interviewing, we were well aware that this poses a whole new set of challenges for interviewers as well as candidates.”Luckily, their interviewers already had a strong base to build on, since all interviewers at Bloomberg go through a training process before interviewing candidates. “They’re trained on how to assess various competencies, how to ask technical questions, and how to ensure each candidate will be a culture add to Bloomberg,” Kristen explains.
The structure gave them a head start on transitioning to virtual interviews—but they still had to brace for the change. To prep, they helped interviewers replicate the on-site, off-site by focusing on a few key asks:
- Conducting virtual pre-briefs: Before the interview happens, the recruitment team brings the interviewers together to discuss the day-of game plan, just like they would for an in-person interview. They discuss what each round will cover, who’s covering it, and answer any questions—for every single interview, both for campus and senior candidates. “We use that same mentality going throughout the interview. So, we’ll use our virtual conference room to jump in, to share feedback, and to go into the next round,” Kristen says.
- Sharing virtual interview best practices: To help the interviewers adjust to this new medium, the recruitment team shares their own tips for virtual interviews. For example, they asks that they create a neutral environment without distractions, and do their best to replicate eye contact by looking at the camera when speaking. Without body language to pick up on, some candidates can be even more nervous than usual; she asks interviewers to go out of their way to make candidates comfortable so it doesn’t impact the interview.
- Maintaining group debriefs: “We’re very consensus-driven,” Kristen says. “So when we debrief, we want to hear everyone’s feedback.” Just like they would for an in-person interview, the recruitment team invites anyone the candidate has met or spoken with to a group debrief. Having an open conversation—albeit from afar—ensures that nothing is lost in translation from interviewer notes or assessments.
On the future of (remote) work and hiring
The interviewing process may have changed, but according to Kristen, Bloomberg’s hiring plans haven’t changed. “We’re hiring as usual,” she reports. Their internships and work has gone 100% virtual for the time being, but hiring hasn’t slowed. “Candidates are still looking for roles, and we’re still looking for candidates. So we’ve just been trying our best to make sure that our process aligns with the current situation, and that candidates feel supported.”To Bloomberg’s recruitment team, that means adopting a candidate-centric approach: one where empathy dictates the interviewing process. “I think it's that relationship-building piece, and really letting the candidate guide the process: listen to them, listen to what their challenges are from a remote perspective, and be empathetic as well. I think that human aspect is critical,” Kristen says.
The flexible future of interviewing
Will we revert to old hiring processes and practices post-pandemic? Kristen is cautiously optimistic. “I do think that, hopefully, someday, we will return to in-person interviewing,” she says. “I think that will always be an element, because it’s valued and important.”
But on the flip side, she says, she could potentially see a world where candidates could have more options to choose virtual interviews—but nothing is set in stone yet.
For Bloomberg, the process changes forced by stay-at-home orders have inadvertently tested their adaptability, Kristen notes. “I think [these changes] just opened another door—another way of being able to recruit in a way that maybe we didn’t think was possible or useful before. But it is. And we’re doing it.”