By Allie Grilland Matthew Rousu
One of the many ways that COVID-19 has caused chaos is with job searches.
At our university, we’ve interviewed people virtually since March and have had many students interview for jobs and internships virtually. Interviewing can be stressful in normal times – and having the interview virtually adds more for candidates to think about.
Here are a few tips we have for those who may have virtual interviews as part of their job or internship search:
n Think about your background:
In normal interviews, you don’t have to think about what is behind you – you’re usually going to the location of the firm to interview.
But in a virtual interview, your background becomes a part of your professional brand. Your background should look professional.
We recommend interviewing in a tidy, calm space with a neutral background with natural light and relatively free of visual distractions. Visual distractions can include a messy desk, loud or vulgar posters or décor, and a highly trafficked area by pets, partners, or kids. Of course, you would appear more professional sitting on a chair versus a couch, bed, or floor.
If you struggle to find a professional background, many sites (such as Canva, an online graphic design platform) allow you to choose or design your own virtual background with either a wallpaper graphic or a professional image.
n Demonstrate your (visual) professionalism:
Remote work and video conferencing have created a more casual work culture in terms of dress and personal appearance. During an interview, your interviewers may be more casually dressed than you, and that is OK.
We recommend candidates dress in at least business casual, which means a conservative button down shirt, tie, blouse, or sweater. In ordinary times, a good rule of thumb is to dress a level above what you ordinarily would in the job and this remains consistent with what is expected during virtual interviews.
What about your bottom wear? We’ve heard antidotal stories where interviewers will make candidates – especially students – stand up and reveal whether or not they are wearing gym shorts or professional wear that matches their top. While this is uncommon, it’s a cautionary tale to be 100% professional even if the interviewer will only see 50% of you.
We also recommend making sure the name that appears for you in the virtual conferencing setting matches your first and last name as represented in your employment materials (no nicknames, abbreviations, or characters).
Think of this in the same way we encourage candidates to create a professional email, as employer wants to hire somebody with the email — or virtual screenname — of PartyDude2020.
n Minimize Distractions:
Screens can be a distracting presence during interviews. Make sure your phone is away from your interview space and on silent. Minimize all other browsers on your computer and remain attentive to the video conferencing software. Employers can easily detect when the interviewee is distracted.
n Expect a technology snafu (and roll with it):
Technology snafus happen and they are frustrating. Naturally, things can also go wrong with technology during an interview. It is important not to get upset when that happens, as that can derail your focus and prevent you from making a great impression. When interviewing, you should mentally prepare yourself for the fact that a technology glitch will happen. Then, if it does, you should be in a better mental state to handle it.
On a recent search for a position at Susquehanna, the Zoom links stopped working for our candidate. The candidate texted me calmly to find out how to proceed, and we made alternative arrangements in about two minutes.
Afterwards we found out the problem was some employees here who were “catching up” after not seeing each other in person for a couple months due to COVID-19. Everybody laughed about it in hindsight, and it didn’t seem to impact anybody’s attitude.
In fact, we thought better of this candidate for calmly handling an issue during the interview process.
Interviewing for a job can seem daunting in normal times. Interviewing virtually can feel overwhelming. Hopefully these tips will ease your anxiety and ultimately help you to land your next role.
Allie Grill is associate director of the Career Development Center at Susquehanna University and Matt Rousu is dean of the Sigmund Weis School of Business at Susquehanna University.