Though there’s cause for cautious optimism that a return to Normal Life is on the way, it’s safe to say that some pandemic-era conventions – like virtual job interviews – are here to stay. Interviews are nerve-wracking enough, and now with the added stress of trying to impress a future employer through a screen comes a whole new set of challenges. We spoke to Shannon Gallagher, consultant and founder of the marketing firm Influencer Logic and Guelph-Humber career services coordinator Melissa Patrizi to get the interviewer’s perspective and their top tips for students navigating the virtual job market.
DO YOUR PREP WORK
“To the best of your ability, check that all of your technology is running as optimally as possible ahead of time,” says Patrizi. Run an internet network test, if possible, and be prompt in case there are issues: “Five minutes prior is a good time to be present and available.”
Make sure you’ve done any preparation specific to the job you’re interviewing for, says Gallagher, and keep virtual limitations in mind. “Think forward and make sure your interviewer has your digital portfolio and package, especially if you want to speak to any of it,” she says. Be mindful of that cluttered desktop, too, and do a dress rehearsal if you’re planning to share your screen.
ALWAYS MAKE EYE CONTACT
This one seems straightforward, but a job interview presents unique challenges. “If there’s multiple people in an in-person interview, you would give each person individual attention,” says Patrizi. “Try to do that when looking at your screen and make it apparent that you are.”
“If you wear glasses, use contacts if possible. It’s a television rule – they create another barrier between you and your audience,” suggests Gallagher. “There’s something about eye contact and trust. We hire people who we trust, and when someone looks in the camera I can feel that warmth and authenticity.”
Unlike a class or even a meeting, making a point of being engaged and actively listening is paramount in a job interview. “Don’t take typed notes, because it will look like you’re distracted. Don’t use a notebook as a crutch, but if you use one effectively it can give the impression that you’re really prepared,” says Patrizi. Also, don’t overdo it: “If you’re worried about taking notes or reading off of something off your screen, it’s going to detract from looking at your interviewers, which should be your primary focus.”
Keep your setup in mind as well. “If you use two monitors, make sure everything is open on the primary screen so it doesn’t look like you’re glancing off to the right or left,” says Gallagher.
WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE
Most students and recent graduates don’t have access to their own private office. Many also don’t have private living spaces, which can present complications for maintaining a professional façade in an environment that is not free of disruptions, so some resourcefulness is often necessary.
“You want to avoid doing an interview in your most personal of spaces. That can be challenging, especially if there are noise considerations, but where possible try to find a cozy area with a bit of depth,” says Gallagher. Giving roommates or family members a heads up ahead of time will help prevent any unexpected interruptions, but Patrizi says interviewers should be understanding in general.
“When someone is interviewing students and new graduates, there is usually an expectation that you live in some sort of shared space,” she explains. “Create as professional an environment as you can. If you’re in a dorm room setting, you can blur the background, but you should still make sure that your bed is made and everything looks tidy.”
ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES
Do your best, but don’t stress too much if there are hiccups – it’s an imprecise process that everyone is getting used to. “I think one of the largest barriers in a virtual interview is the challenge around creating a natural connection with the people you’re speaking with,” says Patrizi. “The best you can really do is be attentive, have a very pleasant demeanour about yourself, be as engaging as you possibly can.”
Don’t panic if there are technical difficulties, says Gallagher. “Have a back-up plan if your network cuts – maybe use your cell phone data to tether,” she says. “If something goes wrong and you fix it quickly, that just shows the interviewer how resourceful you are. We recognize that it’s not perfect. Technology does fail us sometimes.”
As for the rest, all the regular job interview rules apply: research the company beforehand, read the posting closely, and think carefully about what you want to share with the interviewers ahead of time. Utilizing these tips will help you be successful and stress-free in all online interviews.