We’ve become used to this virtual world during the pandemic — from coffee with friends, to work meetings and even weddings! But being used to something doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to learn.
Our increase in productivity has come with its own problems, some we might not even be aware of yet. But our comfortable environment, the ease of scheduling (and unscheduling) meetings, and the tendency to overstuff our calendars can become pitfalls in the virtual working world, especially with regard to online job interviews.
In this article I’ll share what sets virtual interviews apart from in-person ones and five best practices to help you ace your next online interview.
“As a job candidate, you want your first impression in a virtual interview to say, “I’m here, I’m prepared, and I’m professional. I’m the right candidate for this position.”
Virtual Versus In-Person
The dynamic of a virtual interview is wholly different from an in-person one. For example, think about the steps you’d take before an in-person interview — getting dressed appropriately, eating breakfast, and travel time to the company’s office. You might wait in the lobby, even make small talk with the receptionist, and then head in for the interview itself.
With a virtual interview, you don’t have any of that buffer of time to “warm up.” In fact, I’m hearing of many people going directly from one important meeting to the next. There’s no time to decompress after that last meeting, or time to prepare yourself for the next meeting.
As a job candidate, you want your first impression in a virtual interview to say, “I’m here, I’m prepared, and I’m professional. I’m the right candidate for this position.” You don’t want to say, “I’m frazzled, I’m disorganized, and I can’t manage my schedule.”
You only get one chance to make a first impression, even in a virtual interview. You have to give yourself the time to make a great one.
Tip 1: Block Out Time
That leads me to my first tip. I recommend blocking out at least ten minutes of time, if not more, before your interview is scheduled to begin. Set a reminder on your phone to close out your spreadsheets, set your status to away, and fully focus your attention on the coming interview.
You can practice mindfulness exercises, stand up and move your body, or practice deep breathing to center yourself. Allow yourself time to recreate the mental buffer you lost when the world went virtual.
This is also a good opportunity to review your preparatory notes. Read through your resume, know what questions you want to ask, and go over your key speaking points. Remember that the majority of the interviewer’s opinion will be formed at the very beginning of the conversation, and the rest of the interview will be spent validating it. You can save yourself an uphill battle if you start strong just by reserving a little time out of your schedule.
Tip 2: Don’t Guess How To Dress
Making a good first impression is tough in-person, but it’s even tougher virtually. Charisma, body language, a firm handshake — many of the tools you use in-person are lost online. You need to use every weapon in your arsenal to impress a hiring manager, and that includes paying attention to what nonverbal cues do translate virtually, such as your appearance.
Keep your clothes professional, but don’t overdo it. Smart business casual strikes a good balance. For men, a simple button-down collared shirt is a good choice, rather than a full suit and tie. You’re still at home, after all; you know it and the hiring manager knows it. For women, a blouse, sweater or similar button-down sets the right tone.
Although you’re at home, take care not to get too comfortable. T-shirts, hats and vibrant prints, along with unkempt hair or a sloppy shave, are too casual for most corporate interviews.
Also consider your video background. What will the interviewer see behind you as you’re responding to questions? If it’s distracting, unattractive or inappropriate for a business setting, either blur your background or use a virtual one. If you use a virtual background, choose something professional that won’t distract a hiring manager’s attention from you.
Tip 3: Turn Off Self View
Have you ever been in a Zoom meeting where your eyes kept moving away from the person speaking and focusing on yourself instead? This doesn’t mean you’re vain. It’s a known phenomenon that happens to everyone. There’s a reason conference room tables don’t have built-in mirrors.
To keep from constantly checking your appearance or facial expression throughout your interview, remove temptation and turn off self view. You want to keep your attention 100% focused on the interviewer and how they’re responding during the conversation.
Self view usually comes on as a default setting. Use it for a few seconds before the interview to check that your camera is at eye-level, you’re centered in the frame, and your lighting is good. Once that’s all sorted, turn off self view. I also recommend putting the other person’s video window just below your camera for the duration of the interview.
“Mention your aspirations, prove you’ve done your homework on the company, and ask thoughtful questions.”
Tip 4: Make Use of Your Notes
Keeping a copy of your resume and preparatory notes on hand isn’t something you need to hide during a virtual interview. Just as with in-person meetings, having notes simply proves that you’re prepared and taking the meeting seriously. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) read your notes like a script, but you can reference them to confirm certain points or to remind yourself of questions you wanted to ask.
Your notes will also save you time by eliminating filler words and pauses, tidying up your responses, and helping you sound more professional.
Tip 5: Follow Through on Your Interview Meetings
As noted above, it’s incredibly easy to jump into and out of virtual meetings. They can almost seem like a minor part of your day due to their excessive convenience. But a virtual interview should be given its due as one of the most important meetings you’ll have.
Lately, we’re hearing from clients that candidates are backing out of the interview process at a higher rate than ever before. This may be because virtual interviews are so convenient that candidates can easily accept interviews even if they’re not truly interested in taking the position.
This has caused hiring managers to become skeptical of candidates’ genuine desire for an opportunity. If you’re really interested in a particular position, then make sure you stand out from the crowd by communicating that interest during your interview. Mention your aspirations, prove you’ve done your homework on the company, and ask thoughtful questions. You can assuage managers’ concerns by proving your authentic interest in the position and the company.
Many of these points are proof that nothing has changed. When you treat online interviews with the same level of respect and formality as you would an in-person interview, the results will speak for themselves.
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