Interview Tips for the Age of Social Distance Interviewing
Video and Phone interviews have replaced traditional in-person interviews as companies seek to employ health care professionals to keep up with and manage the global pandemic. Given the current state, your job search may involve several phone and/or video interviews. How you make your case will determine further interest in you as a candidate.
Phone interviewing is unique, even more unique than video interviewing. You can’t count on visual stimuli such as good looks or power suits, eye contact or body language, to aid your presentation. Neither can you rely on visual signals to interpret the interviewer’s response. In this context, faceless conversation takes on an added dimension of importance. Both strengths and weaknesses, as conveyed by voice, are magnified through the phone. Your voice personifies everything about you.
The hiring authority listens for a relaxed style that communicates confidence, enthusiasm and intelligence. This is reflected in a smooth conversation flow devoid of cliches or verbal catchalls to stall for time as well as other negatives.
Remember that you do not have the advantage of interview body language. Avoid being too cheerful or overly concerned. Leave no doubt as to your level of interest in the job. You may think it’s unnecessary to do this, but employers often choose the more enthusiastic candidate in the case of a two-way tie. Besides, it’s best to keep your options open—wouldn’t you rather be in a position to turn down an offer, than have a prospective job evaporate from your grasp by giving a lethargic interview? Additionally, always be positive, even if this job change has not been your choice.
Prepare & Practice in Advance
Practice holding the receiver ahead of time, you never know how long the interview could last. The phone mouthpiece should be 5 cm from your lips, speak normally and remember to always be professional. Make sure there is no background noise or music; switch any other phones off in your vicinity as well as computer speakers, doorbells (if possible), and even put your pets away in a separate area.
Most companies want to know what you know about them. Gather data concerning the company, the industry, the position and the specific opportunity ahead of time and make sure you have a thorough understanding of the company and/or position that you will be interviewing for. Link your abilities with the company’s needs in the mind of the employer. Build a strong case for why the company should hire you. Make a list of your strengths and any questions you may have and keep them handy during the interview (See ‘Questions’ below).
Practice a phone interview with a friend or family member before your actual interview. Have them ask you several questions as well as additional questions for further explanation to simulate real interviewee/interviewer dialogue.
The same is true for video interviewing, however, video allows you to use visual stimuli such as good looks or power suits, eye contact or body language, to aid your presentation. The video interview is no longer a faceless conversation, rather an interesting middle ground between phone and in-person interviews.
Prepare & Practice in Advance
For most of us, video interviewing is not second nature. In order to make your video interview experience more encouraging, you will want to prepare yourself and your technology for the your interview. Look at your surroundings and make sure your desk and any other area the camera can see is clean and organized. Especially, take a look at what is behind you; be aware of bright window light or things that are cluttered. If possible, have a friend or colleague practice with you and verify that you and your interview area look professional on camera.
- Ensure you have a stable internet connection
- Make sure your computer or device has a camera or webcam built-in
- Set up your interview in a spot where there is no background noise for the microphone to pick up
- Remove any phones from the area to avoid distractions
- Close unnecessary applications and tabs on your desktop to avoid confusion
Look at the camera, not the screen
Eye contact is critical during an in-person interview. Keep looking at the camera exactly as you would look into the eyes of the interviewer. If you look down at your computer screen, the interviewer will see the top of your head and not your eyes.
Dress professionally from head to toe. Do not take your attire lightly or too casual. This is the BIGGEST mistake candidates make. Clients want to see you dressed appropriately. Also, do not make the mistake of dressing from the waist up only. Make sure you stand out from your background. Dress in light colors if the room you are in has a darker background or dark colors against a light background. Plan accordingly so you always look your best.
Be Professional & Engaging
Make sure you show that you are engaged on camera. When listening, nod, smile, and use hand gestures when appropriate. Be mindful of how long you take to respond to questions but answer with sufficient detail. Being in the comfort of your own home can help put you at ease, but be aware, this is still an interview and there is no do-over. If the video interview is at the beginning of the interview process, this is your first impression with this company and you can never make another first impression. Make it count!
The Interview Process – What To Expect
To a large degree, the success of your interview depends on your ability to discover the needs of the interviewer and to empathize with the interviewer.
Ask questions to verify your understanding of what the interviewer has said, without editorializing or expressing an opinion. By establishing empathy, you are in a better position to freely exchange ideas and therefore demonstrate your suitability for the job.
In addition to empathy, there are other fundamentals to a successful interview. These influence the way your personality is perceived and will affect the degree of rapport—or personal chemistry—you share with the potential employer.
Technical Interest – Employers look for people who love what they do and get excited by the prospect of tearing into the nitty-gritty of the job.
Confidence – No one likes a braggart, but the candidate who’s sure of his or her abilities will almost certainly be more favorably received.
Intensity – The last thing you want to do is come across as “flat” in your interview. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a laid back person, but sleepwalkers rarely get hired.
Note: most employers are aware of how stressful it can be to interview for a new position and do everything they can to put you at ease.
Basic Interview Strategy
There are two ways to answer interview questions: the short version and the long version. When a question is open-ended, we suggest you say, “Let me give you the short version. If we need to explore some aspect of the answer more fully, I’d be happy to go into greater depth.”
The reason you should respond this way is because it’s often difficult to know how to specifically answer each question. A question such as, “What was your most difficult assignment?” might take anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes to answer, depending on the detail you choose to give.
Therefore, you must always remember that the interviewer is the one who asked the question. Tailor your answer to what he or she needs to know, without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and create a negative impression by giving a long answer when a short answer is just fine?
Let’s suppose you were interviewing for a sales management position, and the interviewer asked you, “What sort of sales experience have you had?”
That’s the sort of question that can get you into trouble if you don’t use the short version/long version method. Most people start rattling off everything in their memory that relates to their sales experience. Though the information might be useful to the interviewer, your answer could get pretty complicated and long-winded unless it’s neatly packaged.
One way to answer the question is, “I’ve held sales positions with three different consumer product companies over a nine-year period. Where would you like me to start?”
Or, you might simply say, “Let me give you the short version first, and you can tell me where you want to go into more depth. I’ve had nine years experience in consumer product sales with three different companies, and held the titles of district, regional, and national sales manager. What aspect of my background would you like to concentrate on?”
By using this method, you let the interviewer know that your thoughts are well organized and you want to understand the intent of the question. After you learn what the interviewer is looking for, you can spend your time discussing in detail the things that are important for this position.
Beware: An interview will quickly disintegrate into an interrogation or monologue unless you ask some high-quality questions of your own. Candidate questions are the lifeblood of any successful interview, because they:
- Create dialogue, which will not only enable the two of you to learn more about each other, but will help you visualize what it’ll be like working together once you are hired.
- Clarify your understanding of the company and the position responsibilities.
- Indicate your grasp of the fundamental issues discussed so far.
- Reveal your ability to probe beyond the superficial.
- Challenge the employer to reveal his or her own depth of knowledge or commitment to the job.
Your questions should always be slanted in such a way as to show empathy, interest or understanding of the employer’s needs. After all, the reason you’re interviewing is because the employer’s company has some work which needs to be completed or a problem that needs correcting. Here are some questions that are very effective:
- What’s the most important issue facing your department?
- How can I help you accomplish this objective?
- How long has it been since you first identified this need?
- How long have you been trying to correct it?
- Have you tried using your present staff to get the job done? What was the result?
- What other means have you used? For example, have you brought in independent contractors, temporary help, or employees borrowed from other departments? Or have you recently hired people who haven’t worked out?
- Is there any particular skill or attitude you feel is critical to getting the job done?
- Is there a unique aspect of my background that you’d like to exploit in order to help accomplish your objectives?
Questions like these not only give you a sense of the company’s goals and priorities, they indicate to the interviewer your concern for satisfying the company’s objectives.
Here are seven of the most commonly asked interviewing questions. Review these before the interview. Think through the answers to the questions for two reasons. First, it won’t help your chances to hem and haw over fundamental questions such as these. The answers you give to these types of questions should be no-brainers.
And second, the questions will help you evaluate your career choices before spending time and energy on an interview. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers you come up with, maybe the job isn’t the right one for you.
- Why do you want this job?
- Why do you want to leave your present company?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What are your personal goals?
- What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
- What do you like most about your current company?
- What do you like least about your current company?
The last question is probably the hardest to answer: What do you like least about your present company?
Rather than pointing out the faults of other people (“I can’t stand the office politics,” or, “I don’t get along with my boss”), it’s best to place the burden on yourself (“I feel I’m ready to exercise a new set of professional muscles,” or “The type of technology I’m interested in isn’t available to me now”).
By answering in this way, you’ll avoid pointing the finger at someone else, or coming across as a whiner or complainer.
Here is the way to handle questions about salary.
- What are you currently earning?
Answer: “My compensation, including bonus, is in the high 40s. I’m expecting my annual review next month, and that should put me in the low 50s.”
- What sort of money would you need in order to come to work for our company?
Answer: “I feel that the opportunity is the most important issue, not salary. If we decide to work together, I’m sure you’ll make a fair offer.”
Notice the way a range was given as the answer to the first question, not a specific dollar figure. However, if the interviewer presses for an exact answer, then be precise, in terms of salary, bonus, benefits, expected increase and so forth.
In the answer to the second question, if the interviewer tries to zero in on your expected compensation, you should also suggest a range, as in, “I would need something in the low-to-mid 50s.” Getting locked into an exact figure may work against you later, in one of two ways: either the number you give is lower than you really want to accept; or the number appears too high or too low to the employer, and an offer is not made. By using a range, you can keep your options open.
Types of Questions
There are four types of questions that interviewers like to ask.
First, there are the resume questions. These relate to your past experience, skills, job responsibilities, education, upbringing, personal interests, etc.
Resume questions require accurate and objective answers, since your resume consists of facts that tend to be quantifiable—and verifiable. Try to avoid answers that exaggerate your achievements or appear to be opinionated, vague or egocentric.
Second, interviewers usually want you to comment on your abilities or assess your past performance. They ask self-appraisal questions like, “What do you think is your greatest asset?” or “Can you tell me something you’ve done that was very creative?”
Third, interviewers like to know how you respond to different stimuli. Situation questions ask you to explain certain actions you took in the past, or require that you explore hypothetical scenarios that may occur in the future. “How would you stay profitable during a recession?” or “How would you go about laying off 1,300 employees?” or “How would you handle customer complaints if the company drastically raised its prices?” are typical situation questions.
And last, some employers like to test you with stress questions such as, “After you die, what would you like your epitaph to read?” or “If you were to compare yourself to any U.S. president, who would it be?” or “It’s obvious your background makes you totally unqualified for this position. Why should we even waste our time talking?”
Stress questions are designed to evaluate your emotional reflexes, creativity, or attitudes while you’re under pressure. Since off-the-wall or confrontational questions tend to put you in a defensive posture, the best way to handle them is to stay calm and give carefully considered answers.
Of course, your sense of humor will come in handy during the entire interviewing process, just so long as you don’t go too far.
Even if it were possible to anticipate every interview question, memorizing dozens of stock answers would be impractical. The best policy is to review your background, your priorities and your reasons for considering a new position. Handle the interview as honestly as you can. If you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so, or ask for a moment to think about your response.
Wrap It Up
At the conclusion of your interview, you can wrap up any unfinished business you failed to cover so far and begin to explore the future of your candidacy.
It’s a good practice to make the interviewer aware of other opportunities you’re exploring, as long as they’re genuine and the timing has some bearing on your own decision making.
The fact that you’re actively exploring other opportunities may affect the speed with which the company makes its hiring decision. It may even positively influence the eventual outcome, since the company may want to act quickly so as not to lose you.
However, your other activity should be presented in the spirit of assistance to the interviewer, not as a thinly veiled threat or negotiating tactic. Play it straight with the interviewer.
Remember to maintain a positive attitude. The better your interviewing skills, the greater your chances of getting the job.