Congratulations – you’ve impressed the hiring manager with your polished resume and thoughtful cover letter, and you’ve scheduled your interview! While that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating in itself, the actual interview process can be intimidating and stressful for interviewees. Additionally, the COVID-19 health crisis has added new layers of complication to the hiring process for both candidates and workplaces.
“The biggest change to our hiring process has been that hiring and onboarding are now done remotely,” said Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review. “I’m sure this is true of many companies, and it’s an adjustment everyone has to make.”
Whether you’re preparing to meet with a hiring manager over phone or video now, or gearing up for in-person interviews in the future, leaving an excellent impression is key to landing a job offer. We’ve gathered tried-and-true expert advice, as well as new tips for the current environment, to help you master your next interview.
Tips for Any Type of Interview
Do Your Research
Don’t get caught without a clue about the company! Before your interview, review the requirements of the position you applied for, the company’s mission and values, and any recent news coming from the organization and industry. If you’re juggling multiple job leads or working with hiring agencies, it can be easy to lose track of each position that you’ve submitted for. Keep an organized list of what you’ve applied for, complete with links to each company and job posting, to avoid any last-minute scrambling.
Dress Up, Even If You’ll Be at Home
Although some industries have clear traditions and standards when it comes to attire, many companies have implemented more relaxed dress codes. This can make it difficult to determine what to wear to your next interview. We recommend that you always opt for a more elevated interview look; you may feel silly walking into a jeans-casual work environment while wearing a jacket and tie, but it’s always better to overdress than underdress. You only have one chance to leave a first impression, so make it count!
If you’re not meeting anyone face-to-face, you should still dress up for a video or phone interview. A nice pair of slacks and dress shoes will help you feel more alert and professional than your sweatpants, even if you’re the only one who will see them!
Practice Your Elevator Pitch
Your response to the typical “tell me a little about yourself” interview question should not be your life story. “For candidates that haven’t interviewed in a while, (they should) be mindful not to make the interview all about themselves,” noted Theresa Santoro, director of HR and operations at Actualize Consulting. “I want to know about them and their skill sets, but I am also interested in hearing how they carried that over into the organizations they worked for and how they impacted them. If they only talk about themselves, they come across as selling too hard.”
Be prepared with a minute-long description of what you’re currently doing, what you previously did that may have led you to your current or most recent position, what you’re hoping to do in the future, and how it ties to the position you’re interviewing for.
Don’t Badmouth Your Old Employer
Many interviewees fall into the habit of complaining about past employers or jobs – this is not a good look! Even if you were in the right in your situation or if the story ends with how you saved the day, interviewers might assume that you’ll also trash-talk their company and employees. If a hiring manager asks you to critique your past work environments, be kind and fair with your response.
Do Practice Good Body Language
Have you ever been told that your hands fidget when you’re nervous? Have you been called out for avoiding eye contact? We all have physical quirks and reactions when we’re under pressure, but your nonverbals may give your interviewer the impression that you’re not focused or interested in the job. Practice your verbal and nonverbal interviewing skills with a trusted friend or mentor, and ask them to point out any nonverbals that may be distracting.
This rule also goes for virtual and phone interviews – avoid distracting movements, jangling jewelry and loud noises that could be distracting on a screen or through a speaker.
Ask Good Questions
After answering all of their questions, the interviewer will likely ask you if you have any questions for them. Prepare two or three thoughtful questions that show your interest in the company. Here are some good ones to get things started:
- “What are the biggest challenges that your team faces?”
- “What progress do you hope your new hire will make within the next month, six months and 12 months in this position?”
- “What is the company’s culture and dynamic like?”
Let Your Enthusiasm Shine Through
Companies want to hire employees who will be happy working for them. “When interviewing an applicant, what stands out to me is the eagerness of the person to get hired, no matter if the interview is in person, in a call, or in a video call,” said John Howard, founder and CEO at Coupon Lawn. “It shows in the voice, the demeanor, and the answers they give to my questions. When an employee is enthusiastic during the interview, they stand out to me.”
While you don’t need to force an overly peppy or bubbly performance, show your enthusiasm with thoughtful questions, good posture and energetic responses.
Ask to Call Back If You’re Caught Off Guard
Some companies choose to pre-screen applicants with a brief, unscheduled phone call before scheduling a longer phone, video or in-person interview. If you receive a surprise call from a potential employer and they ask if they’ve caught you at a good time, it’s okay to be honest and say that it’s not. Simply ask if you can call them back in a few minutes or politely ask if you can reschedule.
Have Relevant Materials Nearby
One of the biggest advantages to a scheduled phone interview is that the interviewer can’t see what’s in front of you. Take advantage of this by having a copy of your resume, your cover letter and the job posting nearby so you can refer to them during the phone call. Make sure any distractions, such as irrelevant browser windows, pets and children, are out of sight.
Know Your Interview Platform
Many employers are using video conferencing tools like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and Apple FaceTime to conduct interviews in lieu of in-person meetings. The hiring manager or recruiter will let you know in advance what platform will be used. Be sure to download any needed software, set up required accounts and familiarize yourself with the video conferencing tool. Prepare as soon as possible – don’t wait until the last minute!
Make Sure Your Background is Professional
You might already be a video conferencing wiz through your virtual gatherings with friends, but that doesn’t mean that you should use the same settings that you use during happy hours and game nights. Charisse Lewis, career consultant, recruiter and Fiverr freelancer, noted that Zoom backgrounds aren’t very professional. “Ever since I joined an interview where the other person had a Tiger King background, this is something I have been advising against,” she said. “When you do use Zoom background with your friends, make sure to turn it off before joining the interview so it doesn’t automatically pop up.”
Don’t forget to check your “real world” background settings as well. Anything that can be seen behind you during your call should be neat and tidy; make your bed, pick up the floor and store anything that you don’t want your interviewer to see out of frame.
Remove the Distractions
The potential for distractions during a video interview are high. If your interviewer notices that your head’s not in the game, it could cost you your chances of getting the job.
“Mainly, I’m observing whether the applicant is inattentive to what I’m saying or being easily distracted,” said Kas Andz, founder of Kaz Andz Marketing Group. “Since they’d be working from home, I am looking for someone who is focused and goal-oriented.”
Set up your high-focus environment before starting your interview. Close out of irrelevant web browsers, clean up your workspace and put your phone away. If you live with others, ask them for privacy and quiet during your scheduled call time.
Avoid Your Phone, but Use It If You Have Technical Difficulties
Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding, considers looking at phones during video interviews to be a red flag. “It may sound obvious to some, but a strong element of interviewing is to give your total focus to the person interviewing you,” he explained. “You wouldn’t bring your phone to an in-office interview, so keep it away from the video equivalent too.”
Be sure to turn off your phone or leave it in a different room of your home before hopping on a video call, but make sure it isn’t too far away. If your internet goes down or your computer crashes, you may need to use your phone to finish your interview. Make sure to ask for and write down your hiring manager’s phone number ahead of time in case you need to connect offline.
In Person Interviews
Bring Your Mask and Be Prepared to Not Shake Hands
A firm handshake paired with a greeting and a smile are the traditional way to greet potential employers. Due to COVID-19, however, health and safety take priority over tradition. The company will likely provide you with instructions or inform you of any health policies before your in-person interview. If they don’t, you should ask before you arrive.
Alison Green, columnist for The Cut’s “Ask a Boss” column, wrote that interviewees should err on the side of caution by wearing a mask to their interview. “If you show up without a mask while your interviewer is wearing one,” Green explained, “you’re going to look inconsiderate and out of touch with public-health advice.”
Green also recommended that handshakes be done away with for now, and instead suggested that interviewees warmly say, “I know we can’t shake hands right now, but it’s great to meet you.”
After the Interview
Send a Thank You Note
Take a moment to send a brief email thanking your interviewer for their time. Include any extra details or questions that you forgot to bring up during the interview.
Don’t Pester the Company
Hiring decisions take time. Most hiring managers will give interviewees a general idea of when they should receive the company’s final decision. If you don’t hear back from them within that time frame, you can send a brief and polite follow-up email. Don’t overdo it with calls and messages. If the company doesn’t respond at all, consider it a sign that it wasn’t the right opportunity.
A stellar interview isn’t a guarantee that you landed the job; rather than slowing down and waiting to hear back from the company, keep pushing forward with your job search. While it’s tempting to pause your job hunt if you receive a verbal employment offer, anything can happen. It’s best to keep searching and applying until you’ve received official paperwork and signed on the dotted line.