The good news is you’ve landed an interview with a top employer. Forget the firm handshake, though. These days your first impression is likely to be laptop to laptop. COVID-19 continues to alter workplace norms, and among the biggest ones is a virtual interview replacing face-to-face interaction.

With a little planning, here’s how to make your virtual interview an effective one.


How’s your Wi-Fi?

Spotty internet reception can be a downer when you’re streaming Netflix. Now consider talking to an employer and your connection goes dead. Yikes!

If reception is a problem, move closer to your router for a better signal. It’s certainly worth it to buy a WIFI extender or a better router if need be. Consider it an investment because being able to communicate successfully during a job search is essential.

If your WIFI is unreliable due to others using it in the household, take care of that in advance. Tell your sibling to download the last year of Windows updates after your interview.

Make sure to test all of your equipment before the big day. You don’t want technical problems interfering with your conversation. It’s not a bad idea to have your cell phone nearby in case the unthinkable happens, and you lose your connection. At least you’ll be able to call the interviewer back quickly assuming you’ve planned well enough in advance and have the number handy. Just make sure your phone is on “Do Not Disturb.” You don’t want sounds from your phone interrupting your interview. Imagine the chimes from your 30 buddies in the group chat cutting off the flow of your responses. In addition, close all the apps on your computer to avoid extraneous noise.


Speaking of sounds . . .

The doorbell rings. The dog barks. Your spouse groans, “You left your dirty dishes on the couch — again?”

That’s not the impression you want to give your prospective boss.

Find a quiet space free from distractions. Alert your spouse and anyone else in the house that you’re on a professional call.

If you find yourself somehow still being interrupted, don’t panic. Explain what’s happening, suggests Sarah Fulton, Vice President of Operations to The Lee Group. The pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges that most employers can relate to. Fulton recalls one candidate revealing a toddler was actually hidden under a desk during an interview.

“The candidate put the baby on her lap and finished up the interview fine,” Fulton says.

She stresses that life happens, especially during this era when many parents have children at home due to online schooling or childcare issues.

“It comes back to authenticity,” Fulton says. “You can’t fake that you’re distracted because your kids are about to break each other’s necks!”

Come clean, and if necessary, reschedule.


Behind you

Speaking of that ideal space free from distraction, consider your background. If possible, sit at a desk with a window nearby; a home office is ideal. Forget planting yourself in front of bookshelves. Titles of varying colors and fonts can distract the interviewer who might wonder what’s on your bookshelf.

“If you have a wall behind you, I’m not going to see the kids running by or crawling on the windowsill,” Fulton says. “But understandably, for some people the dining room table is their desk right now.”

Lose the headphones. They can cause extra background noise, Fulton says. And don’t play with the mute button between questions. Mute is ideal for presentations or large group meetings.

“Technology is so good; you want it to be a quick exchange, which can’t happen if you keep pressing mute,” Fulton says. “If you need to mute yourself because something is in the background, you probably need to ask for the interview to be rescheduled.”


Dress the part

Your attire should be the same whether you’re interviewing in person or virtually. Leave the floral patterns for a picnic; choose solid, bold colors. Avoid noisy jewelry.

Make sure you’re seated so the interviewer can see you from the chest up. Frame yourself in the center of the screen. Even though it’s called a laptop, make sure you position your computer firmly on a desk. You might need to elevate it with a few books or something else stable. Test yourself ahead of time to ensure you’re at the right angle with the proper lighting; remember the lighting the night before will not be the lighting the day of.

Talk to the camera; smile during your answers. Use nonverbal cues to express your interest and engagement.


Have a blast!

No, really, Fulton assures. “Have fun.” That’s the advice she gives a candidate before an interview.

Ideally, you’ve studied the company ahead of time. You’ve prepared questions whose answers can’t be found on the website.

“Ask the person how long they’ve worked there,” Fulton says. “Ask them why they’ve stayed. Consider asking about the structure of the department as it relates to the job.”

Don’t forget to listen carefully. Wait until the interviewer has finished the thought before responding; interruptions are more overt virtually. Some candidates are so worried about what they’ll say next, they forget to really hear what the person on the other end is saying. It’s easy to get lost in a virtual conversation if you’re not listening.

Just like an in-person interview, it’s important to relax, Fulton says. Be yourself. Be human. It’s hard to build rapport with a candidate who is robotic. It’s OK to have a cheat sheet to remind you of what you might want to say, but don’t rely too much on it. By all means, don’t come across as if you’re reading anything.

Sometimes virtual can be a bonus. If appropriate, share your screen with an idea or example.

Tell yourself, “I’ve got this.” Because most likely, you do.

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