Appearing on In The Black Digital site, May 2020
Despite the economic slowdown driven by the COVID-19 crisis, there is still hiring taking place, although social distancing rules and remote working requirements mean that job interviews are increasingly being done through computer screens rather than face-to-face.
“The technology for virtual interviews has been around for some time but prior to the COVID-19 crisis it was not used often, maybe five per cent of the time,” says Matthew Gribble, CPA, Regional Managing Director of recruiting firm Michael Page ANZ. “That has changed radically. They are now the new normal and happen in 99 per cent of cases. And we expect that even after the crisis has passed many organisations will embrace the efficiency gains from using them, especially in the early stages of the assessment process. So knowing how to handle a virtual interview is a skill that anyone looking to move up or move on will need.”
In many ways a virtual interview should be treated like a face-to-face interview: taken seriously, with research and preparation. There are numerous platforms used in virtual interviews, and Gribble nominates Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangout as the most popular. They are fairly easy to install and use but checking software compatibility and Internet speed with the interviewing firm are important steps. There are useful tutorials on YouTube and most of the platforms provide a guidance package.
For first-timers, a rehearsal with a friend in a remote location makes sense. This not only helps to identify any technical issues but can go a long way to ameliorate nervousness. The overall goal is to be able to be unconcerned about the technology so you can focus on the substance of the interview itself.
If the interview is conducted from home the interviewee should ensure that there is a quiet, controlled, indoor space, preferably backed by a blank wall. There should be no interruptions from children, pets or neighbours. When speaking, look at the webcam on the computer and not the images of the interviewers. It is better to use a computer than a mobile phone but if a phone is the only option then it should be fixed in position. A hand-held selfie-style image does not say competence and professionalism.
Attire should be essentially the same as would be worn to a face-to-face interview, although it should be noted that stripes, bright colours and complex patterns do not work well on a screen. Most platforms have an option which allows the interviewee to see themselves as they appear to the interviewers, and this should be checked before the interview. Any supporting documents should be provided to the interviewers prior to the interview, and having a hard copy on hand is likely to be useful. You do not want to have to exit the video platform to check documents that you have only in digital form.
A virtual interview provides fewer visual clues than a face-to-face interview so an interviewee should demonstrate their engagement, with some extra nods and signs of agreement. A common problem with video platforms is that there is often a lag of a few seconds, and the interviewee should time their responses accordingly. The degree of lag can be established with a rehearsal, and is not difficult to address once you are aware of it.
Paper for taking notes and even a glass of water should also be available. A final piece of advice is to ensure that the connection is terminated before you relax at the end of the interview.
For interviewers, preparation is also essential to get the best out of the process. Most platforms allow for several interviewers to be involved on a split-screen basis. Familiarity with the technology is as important for interviewers as it is for interviewees. Interviewers should realise that virtual interviews, like face-to-face interviews, are a two-way street, and that they and their company are being assessed as well as the interviewee.
“The chief issues typically come with coordinating the questions,” Gribble notes. “A good briefing is important so that all interviewers are clear on the background of the candidate and their progress through the process so far, as well as the run of play and the questions to be asked.”
Prior to the interview, the interviewee should be informed about the length of the interview, the participants, and the general subjects for discussion. In some cases it might be also necessary to check any differences of time zones.
For both sides, virtual interviews are not difficult but the special characteristics should be understood. Interviewees should realise that just because they are in their home environment does not mean they can be overly casual. Likewise, interviewers should acknowledge that they have obligations to ensure that the process is organised appropriately.