The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to make so many adjustments. Unfortunately, many businesses (large and small) have been forced to layoff large portions of their workforce, creating a job market that’s tighter and more competitive than ever. The supply of candidates in the market far outweighs the number of available jobs, making it vital for job seekers to perform well in interviews every time they get the chance.
But of course, nothing in 2020 is ever that simple. Many job seekers are facing a brand new challenge while searching for work: virtual job interviews. These virtual job interviews, often conducted over Zoom or Skype, add significant pressure to an already stressful event. Virtual job interviews make it harder for job candidates to read body language, engage in small talk, and get a feel for the company they’ve applied for.
So what are the keys to nailing a virtual job interview? We’ll break down how the top candidates are preparing, and what they’re doing to get it right.
Before the Interview
Study up on the company:
Just as you would before an in-person interview, you want to know about the company you’re applying for. This should not only help you determine whether or not you actually want to work there, but it will also prepare you to answer and ask questions during the interview. Visit the company website, understand the product or service that they offer, learn about the founders/founding story, and, if you want to go a step further, develop ideas to share that might help improve the company.
Prepare “PAR” stories:
What’s a PAR story? PAR stands for problem, action, resolution. A PAR story is a great way to respond to interview questions because it gives the interviewer insight into the problem you were faced with, the action you took, and the resulting resolution. It’s a simple formula but is incredibly useful when responding to common interview questions.
For example, you might get a question like, “Tell me about a time you had a dispute with a co-worker and how you handled it?” By using the PAR framework, you’ll be able to clearly identify the problem (or why there was a dispute), the action you took, and how the story resolves. Anticipate some questions you may get asked and prepare PAR stories in advance to answer them.
Prepare you space:
Because this is a virtual interview, you’ll want to make sure the space in which you’ll participate in the interview is clean, simple, and free of distractions. If you’re interviewing from a computer at home, make sure there are no dirty clothes on the floor or any visible signs of uncleanliness. Pick a place where the background is uncluttered, simple, and doesn’t distract from the experience. We also recommend removing any possible distractions for yourself, including pets. Find a place where it’ll be quiet, where people won’t be walking in and out, and where you’ll feel comfortable speaking freely. You may also decide to shut any windows so that you’re not distracted by something going on outside.
Check your internet connection:
Possibly the worst thing that can happen during a virtual interview is having your internet connection fail. If your internet connection is weak, is prone to failure, or otherwise may give out, do your best to find a different place before the interview that has a stronger connection. Do a video call with a friend or relative hours or days before your interview so that you know if your connection speed will support live video streaming.
Do a practice round:
Video interviews do not come naturally for many of us. It can be a bit awkward to see yourself on camera, and getting comfortable in that setting often takes practice. Call a friend or relative and ask if they’d be willing to participate in a practice interview with you. Give them a list of possible questions to ask, and practice rehearsing your answers, PAR stories, and questions that you want to ask. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have some experience under your belt when going into your virtual interview.
Create a cheat sheet:
The one big advantage to doing a video interview is that you can discreetly be looking at notes without your interviewer knowing. The best way to go about this is by creating Post-It notes and sticking them to the edges of your computer. You might write out different talking points, PAR stories, questions you wish to ask, or facts about the company. Then, during the interview, if you need to sneak a quick glance at your cheat sheet it’ll still look like you’re looking straight ahead. Of course, if you’re reading directly from your notes or stare at them for too long, your interviewer might catch on. Use this strategy to reinforce your preparation, not as a replacement for it.
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During the Interview
Dress to impress:
The coronavirus pandemic has not only impacted the way we work, but for many of us, it has impacted the way we dress. Polos, blazers, blouses, and jeans have been swapped for t-shirts and sweats, and the casual dresscode is being applied more broadly than ever before.
Unless your interviewer has specifically told you that you do not need to dress professionally, we recommend that you do. If you have any questions about what “business professional” attire looks like, check out this guide. We’d also suggest avoiding strong or distracting patterns on your clothing. Keep it simple. And yes, we understand that you’ll likely only be seen from the chest up, but just to be safe, we recommend putting on a nice pair of pants too.
Maintain good posture/body language:
Even though you won’t literally be face to face with your interviewer, they’ll still get a good feel for your confidence and demeanor through your posture and body language. A virtual interview will not allow you to shake the interviewer’s hand, however, healthy posture, a smile, and good eye contact will go a long way.
Of course, eye contact can be tricky. The age old question for video interviews is whether or not you should stare into your computer’s camera, or whether you should be watching the interviewer on your screen. Both have their advantages. Looking directly into your camera gives the impression of direct eye contact that interviewers love. However, this robs you of the opportunity to pick up on the body language cues of the interviewer–something you can only get by looking at them on your screen. So what do we recommend? Do some of both. Answer questions by looking directly into the camera for 4-5 seconds, and then shift your gaze briefly to look at the interviewer.
Video interviews are notorious for lags, static, and other infractions that will hurt or impact the sound quality of the interview. To mitigate this, you’ll want to speak slowly (or at least a little slower than you might during an in-person interview) and clearly. Enunciate purposefully. If you recognize a lag in the video or get the impression the interviewer was unable to hear you, ask them if they’d like you to repeat what you said. Be cognizant of the speed and clarity of your speech.
After the Interview
One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is failing to follow up after an interview. Many candidates don’t want to come across as pushy or overbearing, so they fail to send their interviewer any sort of message or information after the interview. This is a missed opportunity, regardless of whether you participated in the interview in-person or virtually.
So, what’s the best way to follow up? With gratitude. Send a thank you email to your interviewer the day after your discussion. Let them know that you appreciated the time they took with you and that you’re happy to have gotten to know them. If there were any questions that they asked you during the interview that you were unable to answer, respond to those questions in this email as well. This will show the interviewer that you took their question seriously and that you went out of your way to find an answer.
A fun way you might consider following up is with a video of your own. Remember, one of your goals as an interviewer is to be as memorable as possible. There will be lots of candidates who send thank you notes, but how many will record a thank you video? Film yourself saying thanks, answering any outstanding questions, and reiterating your desire to work for the company. Send the video to your interviewer along with a short thank-you email. This will immediately help you stand out and set you apart from the rest of the competition.
Virtual interviews are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. To stand out in a competitive job market, you’ll need to prepare thoroughly before the interview, monitor your body language, posture, and speech during the interview, and send a meaningful follow up afterwards.
We hope this guide was helpful to you, and we wish job seekers everywhere the best of luck with their virtual interviews!