Brand New World: Ten Tips For Online Interviews

Why These Are So Different To Online Work Meetings

As search consultants, for some time now, we have been using platforms like Skype and more recently, Zoom, to conduct interviews with candidates in distant locations. While not a new approach – and candidates have been successfully placed without face-to-face meetings using these technologies – it is clear that the goal posts have now shifted.

Recruitment of critical leadership positions is now much more heavily focused on online platforms (in some cases exclusively), so all candidates must now seek to ensure they can perform at their best over camera.

As a hiring manager and as a candidate, it’s important to remember that an interview is very different from a regular online business meeting. The neutral and focused setting, the natural opportunities for rapport building and the ability to read nuances, something we take for granted with face-to-face meetings, is compromised and a deep level of focus is given to spoken words.  What can be seen in the dimensions of a computer screen is a much more magnified environment.

To guide candidates in particular, we want to share our top tips to be aware of in this COVID-19 impacted environment, and more generally, when interviewing via camera for a senior role. When you’ve waited for the right role and invested so much effort to get to interview, the last thing anyone wants is for your candidacy to fall over for simple and preventable reasons.  So like we polish our shoes and put on our best suit, please see our thoughts on what we think will also help you present your best self on interview day.

Ten Tips for Online Interviews:

Prepare as for a face-to-face interview/manage your background.

In the comfort of your own home, it can be easy to be complacent and treat an interview as an exploratory conversation, compared to the mindset achieved with a trip into the city to front up to your prospective employer’s offices. Help hiring managers see your interest and commitment when, like a face-to-face interview, they will be comparing you to others.

With head and shoulders the only part of you in frame, ensure you are suited/professionally attired.

Given we are often interviewing in our homes, platforms like zoom which enable you to blur or change your background to something neutral can also create a simpler and more professional backdrop

Do your usual preparation – understand the company, the role, how you fit, the value you feel that you uniquely bring to the table, and have some insightful questions ready to demonstrate your interest.

Get the camera angle right and be in frame.

This seems obvious, but please ensure the camera captures you well – head and shoulders/arms, i.e. close enough to see your facial expressions, and with you centre of the frame. Poor visual impressions (too distant, not centred, partial face only visible, camera not on top of the screen) happen more often than you think and can unfortunately detract from an interviewer’s perception of you and your performance.

Ensure lighting makes your interview a quality interaction.

Good lighting enables both parties to clearly see and read facial expressions, important to building rapport and reading nuances that can often provide helpful insights in the moment (e.g. you should have moved on with your answer). This can be easy to address – shifting a light, small moves to chair and screen.

Be conscious of your body language on camera.

Please be your authentic self, but do be conscious of the different context! In a face-to-face interview, breaking eye contact to reflect, leaning back, tapping a pen, bouncing a leg might all be innocuous actions . Once you are squarely in the lens of a camera these actions become more amplified, so be conscious of this and moderate as you can. One common issue we see is eye contact frequently roving beyond the screen, giving the appearance of distraction and also making it tough for the interviewer to build rapport and chemistry in what is already a compromised environment.

What you should consider to ensure clear communications.

Again, another obvious one, but easily compromised, particularly if there is a time lag/poor connectivity and the speed and exchanges of an in-room conversation aren’t possible or as natural.

Take the time to ensure your interviewers can hear you clearly and perhaps set some ground rules of keeping the mute button on at all times unless speaking. This is a good way to get the rhythm going smoothly.

Use pauses and allow time for the interviewer to respond; ensure you stop and give them the courtesy to proceed if you both speak at once.

To practice, it might make sense to record yourself to see how you come across on zoom and adapt accordingly. If unsure of your connectivity, video set-up, etc, do a test call with a friend or your search consultant.

Also, be mindful when you are sharing screens while presenting to your prospective new employer. Turn off all other browsers and applications to ensure you have easy access to the documents or browsers you are going to present. Also switch off Outlook/your mail program and other notifications to ensure pop-up emails don’t appear during a presentation.

How to manage through bad connectivity

Networks can be overloaded, or you can just be unlucky with a poor connection (or maybe you are at the other end of the house using a range extender or competing with family members for broadband capacity!).

Minimise the risk of poor connectivity by seeking cooperation from members of your home beforehand.

If you can’t improve poor connectivity going into the interview, give your interviewer a heads-up so they know what to expect beforehand.

If poor connectivity happens unexpectedly during an interview, speak up to see if the problem is mutual (sometimes it isn’t) and see if a new dial-in improves it. Otherwise, if the problem persists ask the interviewer if they would like to reschedule. While this last option may appear drastic and is a last resort, if your performance is badly compromised by the connectivity, this may be sensible to ensure you aren’t ruled out as a candidate for reasons beyond your control.

Managing the often inevitable interruptions during interviews from home– children and pets.

This can be tricky, so if you don’t have the luxury of children who are happy to give you the space (and who you can trust to do that!), it’s ideal if a partner/sitter can look after them, or if you can safely close a door from pets or children. If they otherwise interrupt, ask for a moment to address the interruption and collect yourself, rather than risk an off-screen distraction disrupting your thought flow/communications. We are in new territory and with many of us experiencing the same disruptions in our calls from home, you will usually find your interviewer is sympathetic.

How to manage more than one interviewer.

In a face to face interview you make eye contact with multiple interviewers to ensure they are appropriately included/addressed during the interview. Via video, our natural inclination is to look at the picture, but this clearly isn’t the same. Ensure you use targeted questions, and occasionally address interviewers by name to ensure all feel included.

If asked to meet F2F – do what is legal and what you are comfortable with.

In these tricky times, this can be a tough issue. Some companies may wish to see you in person before finalising an offer. While we need to observe legal requirements, you need to also make a decision that you are comfortable with, and to share this with your search consultant. Our experience is that most clients are very respectful of people’s individual circumstances.

Retain your sense of humour.

This environment is new for all of us, and we are all learning to adapt the way we work. So whether you haven’t been able to get the hair colour done, the children are driving you mad, or the dog is interrupting, or your face-to-face interview is a walk in the park not in an office, humour will go a long way to making this an easier and more positive experience for all of us, and might also help your interviewer see one of the ways you might respond in trying times…

Do you have any stories to share about your experiences interviewing or being interviewed online?  Leave a comment below.

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