Devastating individuals, families, businesses and communities, Covid-19 has also harmed the job and career prospects of millions around the world. In the UK alone, seven of every 10 operating companies furloughed at least some of their staff, unemployment claims increased by 70% in April, and the number of job openings dropped for eleven months in a row. With unemployment set to double before the end of 2020, the jobs market will prove more competitive than ever before, particularly for younger generations or those who have recently changed career pathsHowever, ‘essential’ jobs in health and social care, manufacturing, engineering and transport are very much needed to support governments and populations throughout the pandemic. Perhaps surprisingly, many large companies are using the coronavirus as an opportunity to diversify their business. Large employers are actively recruiting for skilled engineers and technicians to develop new products and provide new uses for existing products that can help the millions of people in lockdown around the world.
With social distancing requirements, many businesses are using video meetings to recruit new candidates. Here’s how to prepare for virtual interviews during the pandemic.
Don’t be tempted to expend less effort into your virtual meeting or to expect an easy interview: your hiring manager will expect formal and professional conduct with you, in appearance and in content. Treat video meetings with the same care, respect and attention as you would a face-to-face meeting. Wear the same professional clothing you would wear to an in-person meeting; solid clothing choices and darker colours are easier to see on camera and won’t provide a distraction. Get into a working mindset: plan for plenty of sleep, a healthy breakfast to set you up for the day and establish a positive, energetic demeanour with exercise or meditation to clear away stress beforehand.
Prepare as much as you would for a face-to-face meeting. Visit the organisation’s website, social media channels and recent press releases to research the company’s current situation and establish how you could enhance the business. Get your friends, family or colleagues to practice asking you questions on your experience, skills and knowledge. Ask them to provide feedback on your answers, communication and presentation over video.
Don’t forget to extend your professional courtesy to the rest of the hiring process. Send a follow-up email to thank your interviewer for their time, reinforce that you enjoyed meeting with them and hearing more about their organisation, and sign off hoping to hear back from them soon.
Whilst modern technology has significantly improved our daily lives, it is not infallible. Complete at least one practice run before your meeting: make sure your technology works, plug in your computer battery, test your internet speed and connection and check your camera and audio settings. Before your meeting, log on early to reduce the likelihood or any technology fails or impact from software updates. Reach out to your hiring manager the day before to state that you are looking forward to the meeting at the set date and time, double check that your time zones match, and ensure you have a direct contact number in case you can’t connect to the call.
From Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, to BlueJeans and GoToMeeting, every technology platform is different. Explore the platform that will host your call beforehand, so that you know how to join the meeting, how to change video and audio settings and how to protect your private connection. Use background blurring or choose a custom professional background beforehand if your platform offers it, to increase your personal security and limit distractions. Make sure you use a professional display name on every platform, as you would with a professional email address.
Despite your best efforts, connections fail, power cuts happen, loud noises interrupt and alarms go off at inopportune moments. Draft a brief plan of action in case something goes wrong: how will you remain calm in the face of distraction or crisis, and how will you contact your hiring manager to tell them what has happened and rearrange the meeting?
To best prepare for your call, you will need:
Whilst adhering to lockdown and social distancing rules, mimic the physical interview experience as much as is possible. Find a quiet, private place in your house or flat free from possible interruptions. Provide enough lighting and fresh air to ensure you are comfortable, and choose a calm, minimalist wall space that will act as your professional video background.
Tell family members or housemates about your meeting ahead of time to ensure they know you don’t want to be disturbed and can reduce their use of your Internet connection. Arrange any childcare with partners or housemates so that you are not interrupted or distracted worrying about emergencies.
Create and go through your own checklist which could include:
Position your webcam so that you are close enough to see your head and shoulders, but not too close than is comfortable. You should be able to see your interviewer comfortably, and not have to strain or continually move your head or camera to see the other person.
Without scrutiny outside the confines of your video camera, it could be tempting to ‘cheat’ during your virtual meeting: candidates may plan to replace thorough research with Googling a potential employer on another device or computer window during the video meeting. This practice may seem covert but in reality, an employer or hiring manager can easily tell when an applicant is distracted, whether they are in the room with you or in another country.
If you feel you need prompts, keep a printed copy of your CV on your desk next to you and place a brief one-pager of bullet point notes within reach in case you need to quickly refer to them. However, it is paramount that you are open with your employer about your notes, so that they know why your eyeline or attention shifts away from them. Being prepared and organised will never negatively impact your job search, as long as it is accompanied by honesty.
After exploring your CV, relevant knowledge, skills and experience, you will also be asked a series of questions. Some questions will test your ability to perform in the role, and your potential employer will also be interested to test your creative thinking and adaptability skills by getting you to think on the spot. Practicing potential questions before your call will reduce nerves and stress, and ensure you are more comfortable and eloquent in your meeting.
Your hiring manager will also be checking your interest in the role and the company. Prepare a handful of questions to find out more about your potential employer’s culture, planned projects and long-term business goals.
The mounting devastation of the coronavirus has directly and indirectly impacted the mental health of millions. Individuals who have lost their jobs may suffer a lack of self-esteem or anxiety about re-entering the workplace, and lack of contact with friends and family can lead to loneliness, making it hard to remain positive. Although your hiring manager will understand this, and may also be suffering from similar feelings, positivity and optimism during your video call are vital. Whilst understanding employer will sympathise with difficult situations, they want to hear more about your skills and experiences rather than your current difficulties, and resilience and determination are invaluable personality traits when jobseeking.
An absence of handshakes, informal chats on the way from reception areas to meeting rooms and face-to-face rapport will make it even harder for recruiters to get a sense of your personality and interest in the job (ditto your ability to gauge your fit with the company). Your interviewer will understand your need to learn more about the company and form a connection: ask plenty of questions about culture and discuss anything you’re uncertain of. Remember that your interviewer is a person too: be friendly, pleasant and polite, and treat them as a human being in a professional manner.
Small efforts in body language and communication can have dramatic impacts on your connection. Remember to nod and smile to show that you are engaged in the conversation, and use hand gestures and positive speech as you normally would. Take care to look at your computer screen when listening to your interviewer speak, and look into your webcam directly when answering a question. This style of eye contact will enable you to concentrate fully on what your hiring manager is saying, as well as pick up on their tone and body language, rather than worrying about your own appearance throughout the call. Your hiring manager will also benefit from proper eye contact with you.
A global crisis like the coronavirus pandemic could in fact provide an excellent opportunity to showcase your flexibility and resilience – key attributes that employers can harness for every situation. Make sure you have an honest and positive answer prepared in case you are asked about your current circumstances. Be truthful about job losses or furlough arrangements, but also show how you are best using your time: mention what you have learned from online courses or expanding your skillset with hobbies like cooking, gardening or sports.
During your meeting, draw attention to instances in your CV where you have persevered with difficult tasks, adapted to manage stressful situations or creatively solved problems to see projects through to completion. Use your previous success in difficult circumstances to show your potential employer both your immediate value to their business and your long-term potential as a part of their team.
In the UK alone there are almost 40,000 recruitment companies in operation. Any recruitment consultant you approach will most likely be working remotely during the pandemic and will undoubtedly have gained experience of dozens of video interviews in the past few months. Your recruiter will have gleaned invaluable feedback from clients and any mistakes or good experiences of other candidates, so can use their expertise to help you.
Ensure you are fully briefed for your video call as you would normally be for any meeting. Call your recruiter the day before to get support with any last-minute nerves and straight after your video call to help them get the best feedback for you.
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Read our 5 Tips for Job Hunting During Covid-19.