Job-hunting can be stressful under normal circumstances. But for many, COVID-19 has brought the added challenge of virtual interviewing. While some may feel relaxed in front of a camera and in their own home, many view the virtual format as an added level of stress.
“It is just a whole different perspective,” says Karen Sheehe, a career and retirement coach with Samaritan Business Consulting. “It takes a lot of energy to be in the moment, to be professional, to be positive, to have the camera working and the sound right.”
If you’re facing the prospect of a virtual job interview, here are some tips from local experts:
Get close, but not too close
When people think of Zoom and similar platforms, they often think of talking heads, Sheehe says, but you really don’t want to be that close to the camera. Make sure, at a minimum, that the interviewer can see your shoulders. Tricia Nabors, a career coach and president of Nabors Coaching Group in Lancaster, advises that you don’t want to be sitting across the room from your computer, but you should be far enough away that people can read your body language.
Know your technology
Test your tools 24 hours in advance to make sure your computer microphone is working and your internet connection isn’t spotty, Nabors says.
“Know the platform you’re going to be using in advance so you can at least test it out,” Sheehe adds. You don’t want to be feeling your way through unfamiliar technology during the interview. “I just did this with someone a couple of weeks ago,” she says. “We practiced on Zoom, and she said, ‘Oh, it’s on Webex.’ The buttons are in different places.”
Have notes ready
One of the advantages of a virtual job interview is it allows you to keep helpful notes in front of you, and off-camera. You’ll be less likely to forget important talking points, and no one will be the wiser. Nabors recommends typing those notes as bullet points for easy reading. Keep your resume in front of you as well, so you can easily remember important work experiences and dates. Even a positive self-talk message like, “You got this!” can help, Sheehe says.
Watch your background
Make sure your background isn’t distracting, says Laura O’Neill, business services manager with PA CareerLink Lancaster County. No dirty laundry. No kids running around. Choose a neutral space in your home and, if possible, a plain wall or an office setting, she says. Even though the interview is virtual, it’s best to keep the background real, Nabors adds. “A lot of people are using virtual backgrounds,” Nabors says. “I don’t recommend it in an online interview because a virtual background can become disruptive. You can move and be out of sync with it.”
Talk yourself up
Typically, when it comes to retaining information, words rank low compared to tone of voice and body language, Nabors says. In a virtual interview, where that true in-person connection is missing, that’s not the case. “On the online platform, your words are really going to mean something,” she says. “In place of the handshake, you’re really going to have to talk yourself up, which is the hardest part of interviewing.”
Be prepared with those “proud moment” stories and results-based accomplishments that will really set you apart, Sheehe says.
“This is the one and only time you can brag about yourself and it’s socially acceptable,” Nabors says. “Employers are looking for likability, competence, enthusiasm and leadership style. You can really package that in language.”
Don’t forget the basics
Even though you’re in the comfort of your own home, remember that all the rules of in-person interviewing apply, the experts say. Research the company and the person who will be interviewing you, dress professionally, have your elevator speech and questions ready in advance, offer clear concise responses, speak to your strengths, be enthusiastic and make eye contact.
“You still have to show up,” Nabors says. “First impressions are the last impression.”
And, adds O’Neill, be sure you have the interviewer’s contact information so you can follow up with a thank-you email.
Practice, practice, practice
“I don’t think you can practice enough,” Sheehe says. “Call your best friend on Zoom and do it.”
Or schedule a mock interview on Zoom with PA CareerLink of Lancaster County, O’Neill says. Interviews last approximately 30 minutes, followed by constructive feedback. They’re a great way to prepare for those “Give me an example of when …” or “Tell me about a time when …” questions that often catch job-seekers off guard, she says.
Virtual mock interviews are available on Fridays at 9 and 10 a.m. and 1 and 2 p.m. You can send the job description to CareerLink and they will follow up for more information so they can tailor the mock interview questions to that specific position, O’Neill says.
To register for a mock interview, visit jobs4lancaster.com. You can also visit the CareerLink website and Facebook page for the latest information on future virtual job fairs and interview days.