The social distancing requirements that accompanied COVID-19 have transformed personal and business practices, including how we interview for jobs.
During the pandemic, meeting in person was impossible. Many people, unfamiliar with communication tech tools, were suddenly forced into conference calls and Zoom meetings. It wasn't a smooth transition. With a quick Google search, you'll find hilarious (and sometimes humiliating) examples of virtual meetings gone wrong.
But, what happens when the call or virtual meeting you've scheduled is really, really important? It's an interview for your dream job, and you only have one opportunity to make a great impression.
Will you dress professionally only from the waist up, exposing your boxer shorts when you stand in front of the camera? Will your parrot squawk relentlessly in the background? Will your cat walk across your keyboard and mute your microphone? Will your kids start WrestleMania in the living room? Will you dial-in three hours late due to a forgotten time zone difference?
Technology is fickle, and there is no way to avoid every challenge that you may experience during a phone or video interview. But, with a little forethought, you can set yourself up for success and increase the odds of putting your best (virtual) foot forward.
Here are a few tips on how to ace a virtual job interview.
1. Do Some Digital Digging.
It's essential to do your homework before any interview, but even more so when the meeting is virtual. Since you won't benefit from the sensory experience associated with an in-person meeting, you can compensate by spending extra time researching the company and your interviewer in advance.
Check out the company's website, Glassdoor profile, social media pages, and recent press statements. These offer insight into company culture, priorities, and developments. Use this intel as fuel for an intelligent conversation, as well as job interview questions. Further orient yourself to the company's physical location by visiting it via Google Maps.
Be sure to Google your interviewer and view his or her LinkedIn profile as well. Perhaps you'll find out you have the same alma mater or grew up in the same hometown. Coming to an interview prepared will allow you to have a robust and personable conversation and show the interviewer that you cared enough to go the extra mile.
2. Get the Logistics Right.
If you are traveling to a physical location for an interview, it's obvious that you'll need to know the address, where to park, how to access the building, etc. Getting to an interview on time is a sign of respect and attention to detail. However, it's shocking how many individuals botch this concept virtually, arriving late and frazzled from rushing. Nine times out of ten, this can be avoided with some simple preparation.
Don't rely on the person setting up the interview to define logistics clearly; be proactive. If your interview is via phone, be sure to clarify whether the interviewer is calling you or if you should call them, and don't forget to confirm the phone number. Is this call coming to your home phone or mobile phone? Are you to call an office line or conference line? Do you have the extension number or login credentials needed? These are not details you should leave until the last minute.
If you are invited to a video interview, you'll need to set up and test your technology in advance. Download the video platform, learn how it works, and test your speakers, camera, and microphone ahead of time. Although you may think there are good reasons to wear headphones (better listening, privacy, etc.), we don't recommend it, especially for technical positions. Headphones have been used as a tool for cheating when a secondary source feeds answers to the interviewee. It's best to avoid the perception of impropriety and leave the headphones off.
Whether your virtual interview is over the phone or by video, be sure to check the time and account for time zone differences. Getting the logistics right will put you at ease and ensure the interview begins well.
3. Prepare with Care.
The key to nailing a virtual interview is learning how to leverage its unique pros and avoid its inherent cons. The most significant variable associated with a virtual interview is your location. Some individuals have a quiet area with a door where they can retreat. Others struggle with an environment that is outside of their control.
Think about areas that are available to you and where you can best minimize distraction. What strategies can you deploy to avoid noise from family members or pets? Can you avoid dates and times when there is noise from neighborhood services or lawn maintenance? If your home isn't an ideal spot, consider visiting a library, a quiet coffee shop, or ask a friend for help.
Phone interviews come with their own challenges – most notably, cell reception. It's better to take important calls on a landline, but if you're using a cell phone, be sure to check the quality of reception from your location. There is an incredible upside to a phone interview – the interviewer can't see you. Take advantage of this! Have your resume, LinkedIn profile, and job description accessible during your call for easy reference. Make notes of the accomplishments you want to highlight and check them off your list as you go.
Video interviews can be tricky for beginners because being in front of a camera doesn't feel natural. If you aren't used to it, practice with a friend in advance. You may find that your internet connection lags, but with preparation, you can adjust the pace of your speech to accommodate it. Another element to consider is lighting. Be sure you aren't backlit or sitting in a shadow. Dress for success, from head to toe, so that you feel professional and confident. And, don't forget to eliminate distractions like disabling your on-screen notifications and silencing other electronics.
4. Be Extra Polite and Attentive.
When we connect with others in-person, we naturally interpret body language and use this unconscious feedback to shape our responses. Access to this stimulus is reduced or eliminated in a virtual interview, so you'll need to focus on heightening the available senses.
First, avoid multitasking; a virtual interview requires all of your concentration. Pay close attention to your tone of voice, speech pattern, and volume to ensure you are communicating clearly. Try to keep your answers direct and avoid rambling. Conversely, listen intently to the interviewer, and if you have a hard time hearing or understanding, say something. If you are on video, make eye contact with the camera, maintain good posture, and nod in a conversational way. Whether you are visible to the interviewer or not, smile! A smile can be heard in your voice, improves your mood, and helps you connect with others in-person or virtually.
Second, recognize that a virtual interview is a professional meeting. Actions you might take with friends like placing them on hold, interrupting, or speaking over them, have no place here and are considered rude. At the end of the meeting, send a thank you email or letter to the interviewer. Being polite and polished builds your credibility as a professional.
Lastly, if you've taken the steps above, yet are still experiencing major challenges like a noisy environment, spotty WIFI, or poor cell reception, contact the interviewer and ask to reschedule. No one is immune from the unexpected technical and situational challenges associated with virtual meetings. If you are unable to communicate effectively, your interview is doomed, so be honest with your interviewer and work together to find a scenario that improves your chances for success.