Acing an interview in the new normal
The ‘new normal’ means many things to many people. In all walks of life, we have to re-learn how to do simple things, and that’s no different in business.
One of the major changes many people have to contend with is the traditional interview process. How do we navigate interview etiquette when such an important part of an interview is about physical contact, facial cues and getting a “feeling” for the person we’re interviewing (or is interviewing us)?
Here are the five most important things you need to know about successful interviews in the new normal.
Replacing the handshake.
Prior to the ‘new normal’, we would walk into a room and shake the hand of the interviewer, or the panel of interviewers, to establish rapport and introduce ourselves. But unfortunately, nowadays, we can't do that. Instead, we now have to do this virtually. The good news is that we can still make that great first impression, and it’s all about making sure the first image of you, when you appear on the video screen, is what you want it to be. This will set the scene for the rest of your interaction.
For example, you can show ‘openness’ with a gentle and friendly raising of your hand, along with a gentle smile, while greeting the people on the other side of the screen. I'm not talking about a wave, just a gentle raising of either your left or right hand, followed by a polite greeting. This shows you are happy to be there, that you've got a warmness about you, and that you’re comfortable talking to the rest of the panel.
Technology can be your friend (or your enemy)
It is absolutely imperative to understand, and know how to use, the virtual platform. Some organisations use Teams, some use Skype, some use Zoom. One of the biggest challenges that I find is candidates only acquaint to the platform at the time of the interview, which can be a problem, especially in making that all-important first impression.
I've had instances where candidates couldn't find the video toggle button, or something as simple as the unmute button. Which means they have to essentially try navigate their way through a ‘new’ piece of software for the first time, when it's actually supposed to be interview time.
My suggestion: do a dry run and test the link a day or two before. It's all about knowing what the process is to going to be like, so you’re fully prepared.
Secondly, and more importantly, is the hardware that you use. I strongly suggest you don’t use a cellphone for a video interview. Rather use a fixed device, either a laptop or a desktop.
Remember, an interview is not the same as having a Whatsapp call; the image of you needs to be professional, which means stabilised and properly framed. There have been times where I've had interviews with candidates who use their cellphones, and all I could see was an image up their nose. This is not a good look.
Know your own CV
This point for me is probably one of the most important and in fact doesn’t only apply to the new normal but to any interview situation. This is where most candidates fail interviews, because they've actually lost familiarity with their own CVs and struggle to answer questions around tasks and duties that they themselves have put on the CVs.
Your CV is your textbook; learn it, study it and know it well. It is about you, after all. Being unable to respond quickly and effectively about your own capabilities will create doubt in the mind of any interview panel.
Maintaining focus during your interview
One of the most important techniques to learn for physical interviews is how to look at people, to maintain eye contact, and to be able to respond and look at different people in an interview panel inside the room. This is difficult, if not impossible to do in a virtual interview, but you can do the next best thing: maintain your focus on the screen at all times.
To simulate eye contact, keep your eyes focused just below the eye of the camera on your device, and it will appear to the viewer that you’re looking directly at them. When listening to the interviewer or anyone that's posing questions, you are welcome to look at his or her face on your screen, but when you respond, always focus your eye just below your camera. Even though there may be multiple attendees on the chat, it will give every single person the impression that you are looking at and talking directly to them.
Integrate your surroundings
In a virtual call, each participant will be seated at various settings and locations. Some are at home, some at the office, some in their cars. However, it is up to you to invite the panel into your setting.
I have no problem with fixed backgrounds on Teams and other platforms for most video calls, but this is a problem when it comes to interviews. I once interviewed a candidate who used the standard office background on Microsoft Teams, which at first glance, looked absolutely fine. However, when he moved around, I could actually see that he was sitting up in bed, not a good look for a professional interview.
You can actually use your background to your advantage. Create a natural setting that reflects who you are as a person, not just a professional. For example, you can display your highest qualification behind you, or maybe a professional interest that you may have. Perhaps you're a tennis lover, or a cricket player, a music listener, an animal activist; include some visual elements to represent that without you having to openly discuss it in the interview. Be careful not to be too controversial, by including visuals of specific sports teams for example. Rather keep it neutral and conversational.
Remember, interviews in the new normal can be just as exciting (or scary) as they were in the ‘old days’. By learning to adapt, using the guidelines above, and working with - rather than against - the technology, you can make an even better impression than before.