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Inside View: Elaine Avery, Atlantic Union Bank

Inside View: Elaine Avery, Atlantic Union Bank

/ People, Hiring
Inside View: Elaine Avery, Atlantic Union Bank

A creative twist on panel interviews streamlines the hiring process and identifies best-fit candidates.

Elaine Avery
Elaine Avery, Customer Care Center Director, Atlantic Union Bank

Contact center leaders often find themselves faced with the challenge of having to quickly staff up to accommodate business growth and expansion. Identifying a top candidate who has the passion and skills to deliver on your CX vision, whose values align with your company’s and who is a natural fit for the culture requires management time, energy and focus. Imagine the daunting task of having to suddenly double your current staff size. And then do it again. And again.

That was the position that Atlantic Union Bank’s customer care center found itself in while keeping pace with the bank’s expansion that included multiple acquisitions from 2010 through 2019. During that time, the customer care center grew from eight universal inbound phone representatives to 64-plus specialized teammates handling phone inquiries, online banking and customer support, as well as a sales team, says Customer Care Center Director Elaine Avery.

“We had a relatively short period of time to staff up following the acquisitions,” she recalls. “But to hire 20 people, you have to screen at least three times that number.”

Streamlining the Interview Process

Atlantic Union Bank, formerly known as Union Bank & Trust, has roots in the Virginia area that stretch back to 1902. When you’re a community-oriented bank with a long reputation for customer-focused values and goals, cutting corners on hiring customer-facing staff is not an option.

Avery and her management team were tasked with finding a way to make the hiring process more efficient while not sacrificing on the quality of hires. How could they streamline the process for identifying the candidates who would not only thrive in the position, but who were a good fit for the culture and team?

Both Avery and Customer Care Manager Sheena McCartney were familiar with panel interviews. They understood how efficient the interview technique could be versus holding a series of one-on-one sessions with multiple members of the management team. After comparing notes, Avery and McCartney came up with an idea to put a twist on the traditional panel approach. Instead of scheduling a single applicant to meet with a panel of managers and supervisors, they decided to bring in eight candidates to be interviewed as a group. Participating on the panel were a cross-functional team, including the contact center manager, e-channel manager, a trainer, an online banking representative, team leads and a member of the sales team.

At the start of the panel session, job candidates were instructed not to disclose any confidential information during the group interview. Following a warm welcome to the candidates, the frontline teammates kicked off the meeting by presenting an overview of the company, along with sharing their experiences with the company. “The candidates get to hear about the company from our representatives who can tell them about their personal career journeys. It shows them that there is growth opportunity,” Avery says. “We can tell them about the career opportunities, but to hear it from a frontline representative is really the proof.”

Once the welcome and company background portion of the meeting is done, the frontline teammates leave the room and the interview begins.

The interview consists of three questions, which each candidate must answer.

  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What was your biggest professional achievement?
  • What worked well when you were part of a successful team?

“Those are the three things that really help us to identify who the candidates are that would fit on the team that we have,” Avery says. “When people are talking about their journey and their most proud accomplishment or professional achievement, we look for the passion behind it. We also employ behavior-based techniques, but sometimes you have to go with your gut.”

Combining the Interview and Job Preview

Once all of the individuals have answered the questions, the management team exits the room to begin assessing the candidates. Meanwhile, the frontline teammates once again step up to discuss the bank’s core values and answer any questions.

Next, the teammates will share some of their performance measures and expectations for the job. Candidates have a chance to pose their questions to the frontline teammates, and then they’re taken on a tour of the customer care center where they can greet other teammates and watch them in action.

While the tour is taking place, panel members who have follow-up questions for the candidates, will pull those individuals aside for a one-on-one interview.

Following the tour, the panelists meet with the frontline teammates who participated in the process to get their input about the candidates. “They get to interact quite a bit with the candidates when the managers are not in the room, so we’re very interested in hearing their feedback,” Avery says. “Most of the time, their recommendations are spot on with what we’ve uncovered with our questions.”

PANEL INTERVIEW PARTICIPANTS (FROM LEFT): Aaron Phinney, Online Banking; Lynette King, QA & Training; Brittney Warabak, Sales & Service; Whitney Thurston, Manager, Online Banking; Sheena McCartney, Manager, Customer Care; Maurice Hobson, Inbound Team Lead; and Scott Ayers, Online Banking Team Lead

Building Team Camaraderie from the Start

For busy contact center managers, holding group panel interviews can be an appealing technique: It saves time and effort, allows hiring managers to instantly collaborate on their assessments and decisions, and eliminates multiple layers of one-on-one interviews.

But how do job candidates feel about the approach? The customer care center conducted its first group panel interview last March and received enthusiastic reviews from the applicants who participated. “The recruiter received so much positive feedback that we decided we should continue with this model,” Avery says. Candidates commented that the group approach eased the stress of participating in a panel interview, and they felt more comfortable and confident throughout the entire process.

There was also an instant camaraderie that developed among the candidates that helped interviewers to assess culture and team alignment further, Avery notes. “We intentionally positioned the interview room near the front door,” she explains. “We observed the candidates standing on the blacktop interacting with each other, which helped us to determine who would be a good fit for the team.”

Higher Engagement and Positive Outcomes

While it’s still too early to measure the full impact that the revised interview approach has had on turnover, Avery says that there have been several positive outcomes to date. Importantly, candidates who participated in the group panel process were noticeably more engaged from the start. “They walked in on Day 1 feeling like they already had friends,” she says. “It has been inspiring to watch the interactions among the teammates who were on the same panels together.”

In addition to the benefits to new-hires and the management team, Avery says that involving frontline customer care representatives in the interview process has had a considerable impact on their engagement and professional development, as well.

“One of the proudest moments for me was watching our teammates give their presentations during that first panel interview. They did an outstanding job. When you give people the opportunity to grow and stretch themselves, you’d be amazed at what can happen.”

Susan Hash

Susan Hash

Susan Hash served as Editorial Director of Contact Center Pipeline magazine and the Pipeline blog from 2009-2021. She is a veteran business journalist with over 30 years of specialized experience writing about customer care and contact centers.
Twitter: @susanhash

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