Even before we found ourselves sheltering in place and spending way too much time at home, interacting with potential employers was changing. The last time I went for a proper interview, almost 20 years ago, it took almost half a day. I met with three different people, each in their own office. It was like running a marathon. I was exhausted by the time I walked into the elevator to leave.

The rigorous interview process was there because, back then, all potential employers had to get to know you was your resume. It severely lacked any personality, and employers understood that candidates were more than just their education and previous work experience. Meeting in person was necessary to really know if a candidate had potential.

I ended up working at that company for 15 years, and was told, by the manager who initially hired me, that he made his decision during the interview. Without it, I wouldn’t have gotten the job. I stood out in person as a person.

Looking for a job today

Today, things are different, but only to a certain extent. Resumes contain more information about a candidate. They do better at presenting a three-dimensional picture of a person. There is also social media which can help round out who a person is. Sadly, this outlet can paint the wrong picture if not carefully managed, but that’s an issue for another day. The point is that not as much hinges on the in-person anymore even though it’s still a vital piece in the process.

Holding interviews virtually

Also different today is that the in-person interview doesn’t have to be done in person. We’re really living in a virtual world now. It’s allowing us to continue business as usual no matter the external circumstances. It gives hopeful candidates the ability to stay in the running for a job without ever having to leave their home. It’s excellent, but it can also be a hurdle to overcome.

Remembering to be professional

I don’t know about you, but I always feel less professional when I’m sitting at home. You get me into a conference room or an office space, and I’m all about work. When I’m at home, even on a business call, there are constant distractions reminding me I’m at home. My kids run by, the cat knocks something over, the laundry bings. I find myself leaning toward more casual conversation than business talk since I feel like I have to apologize for the noise around me, which means allowing my colleagues into my life, which means we talk more about our kids than our work. This is not what you want to happen on an interview, so make sure you’re completely alone in a private space. Find a room where you can close the door. Put up a ‘Do Not Disturb Sign.’ You may even want to slip on a pair of uncomfortable work shoes to keep you in that professional mindset.

Dressing for the part

We’ve all seen the jokes about virtual meetings. It’s business on top, but party down below. While you don’t have to fully dress the part when having a virtual interview, it can help keep you in a professional mode. Definitely put some time into how your top half looks though. Do your, ‘I’m leaving the house and seeing people,’ beauty routine and put on a work-appropriate top. Interviews are not business casual, even if the office mood is. What you wear shows how serious you are about the job, even in a virtual interview. A tidy, clean appearance says a lot about how you’ll approach your job.

Focusing on the conversation

The hardest part of an interview is to keep your nerves in check. You have to pay attention to what’s being asked. You have to give good answers. Have, have, have. It’s a lot of stress to put on yourself to be the perfect interview. Stop. Being yourself is more important than getting the answers right. Your resume will talk about your accomplishments and show off where you excel. The passion you feel for the position and how you approach professional situations comes out in an interview when you simply relax. Speak how you feel and be truthful. It helps hiring managers see how you fit into their corporate culture, and helps determine if you’ll truly be a good fit for the job. Because a hiring manager only sees your face during a virtual interview, they’ll be focusing extra close on your expressions. You don’t want to come off as tense and stiff because you’re letting your nerves get the best of you. Be engaging, relaxed, and personable.

I made it to the second round of an interview once, and then got the job because I answered questions honestly. When asked what it would be like for me to have a remote boss, while I was in the office, I answered truthfully. I admitted it would be hard at first while I adjusted to it since I’d never experienced that before. I was the only candidate who said something like that, who admitted to the challenge. It caught the hiring manger’s attention and they appreciated my response enough to speak to me again.

Minimizing the temptation to fidget

The last tip I have for a virtual interview is, before the interview starts, to remove everything else from your desk. You don’t want to fidget while you’re talking to a hiring manager. I know my desk is covered with temptation. I shuffle papers, thumb through piles, move pens around, and constantly stick post-its everywhere on a regular basis. Sitting at my desk is a cacophony of activity, but during a virtual interview, I don’t want to look like I’m doing a million things at once. I want to remain engaged and focused on the speaker. That means keeping eye contact with my computer screen. Removing all the little distractions on my desk before the call makes all the difference.

Wishing you luck with the 2020 job search

I know right now everything feels uncomfortable because it’s different. We’re adjusting to an overwhelming cascade of information about what we should and shouldn’t do to stay healthy. Most of it is out of our control, but you can still be in charge of how you present yourself at an interview. Companies are still hiring and you can still get that perfect job, even while you’re stuck at home. Good luck!

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash