How To Screen And Hire Candidates Who'll Thrive In a Virtual Environment

By Tony Restell

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Sara Bennett of PACE Staffing Network. I really wanted to discover how recruitment businesses are tackling the challenge of screening for - and ultimately hiring - employees who will thrive in a virtual working environment.

The interview is really enlightening for anyone wanting to hire staff who are well placed to succeed in a remote working role - and you can catch it in full (~7 mins) below.
Sara Bennett Pace Staffing Interview

Watch the full interview

Here's the full video, a transcript of which follows underneath

Interview Transcript

Really excited today to be joined by Sara Bennett. Sara's a Director at Pace Staffing Network. Sara, I wonder if you could just take a moment to tell everyone a bit about Pace, and what you as a business have been up to over the last few weeks of the COVID epidemic.

Thank you so much for having me today, Tony. My name is Sara Bennett, and I'm a Director within marketing communications here at Pace. We're headquartered in Bellevue Washington, in the stunning Pacific North West. We have a 45 year history of putting people in jobs together in the right way.

Pace's story goes back to 1975 when we became one of the first placement agencies in the U.S. to require the employer, not the candidate to pay the placement fee. Our Founders, two young female entrepreneurs, had a vision for how employer-paid recruiting and placement services could make a difference. And we did. Today we continue to provide a menu of staffing and recruiting services to Pacific Northwest companies, both small businesses and corporate bigs.

Staffing and recruiting is a volatile business, and we've been around for 45 years. We thought we'd seen it all until the COVID epidemic. But throughout this process we have maintained a strong focus on solving our clients' needs. Right now a lot of those needs are very flexible and temporary solutions, and we're here to be able to provide that and help them build back better from this epidemic.

Here at Pace, our staffing and recruiting processes are being tailored to identify candidates that will thrive while performing in virtual roles to support our clients' needs, whether they're selecting a more phased out approach to returning back to their offices or they're checked into a more virtual model altogether.

Interesting. And what are you finding employers are fearing the most when they're working with people virtually, when they're hiring virtually? What kind of challenges & fears are you coming up against?

Yeah, employers are really struggling to maintain a culture of accountability while working nearly 100% virtually with limited virtual management expertise or previous experience in this type of environment. Employees, regardless of whether they were interested in working from home or prepared or suitable for that environment are now being immediately thrown into this experience.

Many of the managers and HR professionals in our network express concern that they were frequently asking themselves, are employees really working? Or are they just sitting on the couch at home with their laptop really maintaining the same hours as if they were in the office?

There was evident distrust between the employees and if they were honoring their work commitments and arrangements.

So we also heard concerns of employees virtually feeling fulfilled. Were they interested in their work? Were they feeling supported? Many employees get their fulfilment from external sources and they're lacking that in this new environment.

The vast majority of these fears can be eliminated by selecting candidates that have been screened for a virtual work environment.

Similarly to how you'd pinpoint the key indicators of success in a role that you're hiring for. You can also screen a candidate for shining in a work from home environment.

And can you tell us more about what that screening process looks like in practice?

Yeah, there are several factors that confide us with insight on whether a candidate will be suitable for a virtual role. That we can kind of find these predicting factors that can really help us to give some foresight. Of course, there's no way to fully eliminate the potential for a WFH arrangement to go south. But, there are a few indicators that we go off of.

Firstly, we evaluate a candidate's ability to be internally rather than externally motivated. We're searching for candidates who love the work that they do, and are able to reach their fullest potential regardless of who's noticing. We identify this in a candidate by viewing their work histories and paying particular attention to what drew them on to take certain jobs.

Why they left certain jobs? Who were their favorite leaders? Those they trusted to help them get the job done. How hands-on were they? We also ask them what they enjoy doing outside of work. Because getting this insight into their personal interests and leisure pursuits really kind of gives an idea of do they support their own professional growth because being internally motivated isn't just something that applies to work, and we can really draw valuable indicators from their personal lives.


Yeah, that's a really great one that really gives us a strong idea that we're going to succeed. Next, we evaluate the candidate's ability to organise and structure their work to accommodate this work from home setting. We really want to be able to see if they're able to stay focused on getting the jobs done and being able to avoid those distractions that come from working from home.

We really want to see if they know the difference between being busy and producing results. A really great way to get some insight on this one is to ask them to give an example of a time at work that they were the most of proud of themselves for accomplishing a goal and see within that story that they will tell you, are they talking about the metrics and the goals they hit? Or the experience?

If they're able to describe a high-level result they achieved or an outcome they produced, you may have uncovered someone who you can really count on to bring results no matter the environment.


Lastly, we recognise that effective virtual employees are those who know how to work independently and solve problems independently.

Ask them about recent challenges they've solved. How long did they stay stuck on that? Did they acquire help from others? How long did that take? Really tapping into their problem solving process is just such a valuable way to see how they'll be able to solve problems while working from home & isolated from others they can turn to for quick advice.

Excellent ideas Sara. Thank you ever so much; and if employers and candidates would like to find out more about Pace, where should they turn to?

If you are an employer looking for staffing services or a candidate looking for a new role in the Seattle area, be sure to check us out on

Excellent. Well thank you very much for your time today and stay safe. ...and look forward to seeing everyone on the next video. Bye for now.

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