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Virtual interviews: mishaps and learnings

Totum consultant Georgia Cooke looks back on a year of virtual interviews and lessons for the future.

The past year will be remembered forever for Covid. Less obvious, but revolutionary in its impact, was the sudden and complete transformation of business into a virtual workplace – including all job interviews. For the first time, we at Totum experienced recruitment and induction processes conducted entirely online.

And while we anticipate a return to office life as lockdown further eases, most businesses accept that some aspects of work – including virtual interviews – are here to stay. So what have we learned about the virtual interview in the past year that might help job seekers and recruiting firms manage them better?

Controlling the tech
Most obviously, we’ve had candidates and recruiters getting locked out of their online interviews and then struggling to get back in. Tech issues can be a source of huge panic that hardly helps focus the mind on the content of the interview. But at the same time, candidates can rest assured that firms are very understanding. The key message? Stay calm and carry on.

Recruiters will wait if you need to reboot your broadband or leave/rejoin the meeting to improve your connectivity. And if you lose your interviewer? Just wait and use the opportunity to gather your thoughts!

What to wear
Interestingly, we are often asked about the dress etiquette for virtual interviews. We know of one interview that went wrong because the candidate appeared in his running gear, ‘fresh’ off the back of his lunchtime jog. At the same time, it looks rather overdressed to be wearing a suit and tie if you’re sitting in front of your kitchen units. We recommend smart casual: a shirt or smart blouse is the right idea. And always wear something suitable on your bottom half – just in case you need to stand up!

Easily distracted…
The other bugbear of the virtual interview? Distractions. When children were at home while schools were closed, we knew of many an interview in which a child popped up on screen, in the background or even keen to fiddle with the keyboard. While universally met with understanding and smiles, it’s tough to keep on point when your child has just discovered a fondness for the ‘leave’ meeting button.

This distraction may now be less likely, but there are plenty of others to choose from – for example, an interviewer leaving the room several times to answer their front door. While home life is unpredictable, trying to reduce potential distractions to a minimum will help everyone – find a quiet room, put your phone on silent and maybe put a note on your door asking visitors not to ring the doorbell for the duration of your call.

Can I ask… Oh, sorry…. You go first…
Less obvious, but perhaps more difficult to overcome, is the disjointed nature of virtual interviews. With many people still working from home, virtual interviews may often be attended by several individuals, all located in different places. This can make the conversation quite stilted, especially if people talk over one another. We know this can be worse too if interviewers have not taken the time to discuss their objectives/questions in advance. This can lead to repetition and lack of focus.

Zoom or its equivalent are never going to be the best conduits for natural conversation. But good preparation on all sides will make such meetings a whole lot easier and more productive.

Virtual future
As workplaces open up again, face-to-face interviews are already returning. And for good reason. Meeting in person at the office is an important way to give candidates a sense of the culture of the firm they might join.

But the virtual interview offers a lot of new possibilities, especially in the early stages of the recruitment process. It allows firms to be more creative and interview many more candidates from further afield, who may have previously been discounted if their CV didn’t quite match the job profile. Combined with the likelihood of more flexible/hybrid working options post-Covid, the potential advantages of the virtual interview are huge for both firms and job seekers alike.

As ever, good preparation is the key to successful online interviews, enabling recruiters and candidates to get the most out of the many virtual opportunities on offer in the post-Covid future.

Five tips for virtual success
– In advance, check your tech, the camera angle, the lighting in your room, and your background (neutral please).
– Practise natural eye contact into the camera – don’t stare rigidly into the screen.
– Think of putting post-it notes on your screen to remind you of key points (if you don’t find it distracting). This will help you maintain natural eye contact.
– Avoid too many distracting hand gestures or flicking through papers on your desk, which may sound noisy when picked up by your microphone.
– Be ready to share screens to take advantage of the technology to show off your work.

Georgia Cooke is an experienced recruitment consultant responsible for business development and marketing roles from executive to manager level at Totum Partners. She can be reached by email georgia@totumpartners.com

Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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