7 Things Every Hiring Manager Wishes You Knew
I’ve been in Human Resources, here in the Twin Cities, for the last fifteen years. In all that time, the fundamentals of job interviewing have remained pretty much unchanged. Until now, that is. As with so many of our old paradigms, the rules of job interviewing have been completely upended by COVID-19. Suddenly, you and every other job seeker have been forced – ready or not – to showcase your job qualifications, communication skills, and grace under pressure on video.
Video interviewing is hardly new. But until now, it’s been an occasional (usually second-best) screening tool. Now that it’s the only realistic option, you’re probably discovering – to your surprise and disappointment – that bringing your A-game to video is not as simple as switching on the camera.
Different medium. Different rules.
The reviews are in, folks, and it’s not pretty. Even top-tier candidates, it seems, are often getting tripped up, leaving lasting impressions with the interviewer that are hard to shake off.
So, what do you need to do to ace your video interviews? Here are the 7 things hiring managers wish every candidate knew before interview day.
1. Master the technology.
The best-prepared candidate goes into each interview having practiced everything. In the pre-COVID days, that included driving to the interview site the day before to scope out traffic and parking.
These days, it means testing your network connections and mastering the meeting software. Seriously, you cannot depend on everything working perfectly when you click the link. Find out what software the employer will be using and enlist friends to help you practice beforehand. Then practice it all again – from login to logoff – a few hours before your interview. And about logging in: showing up late on screen is like showing up late in person. So log in at least five minutes early. That way, if you get an error message, you can call or email your contact to let them know you’re having difficulties.
2. Look behind you! A tip for your household.
Maybe you’ve been telecommuting from your child’s bedroom or the laundry room and that arrangement suits you just fine. But the unmade bed, or pile of dirty clothes lurking behind you will create a lasting (and wrong) impression if it shows up on-screen while you’re introducing yourself to a prospective new employer. Be aware of your surroundings, tidy up everything in the backdrop, and choose a spot in your house that has good lighting (more on that below). Make sure everyone else in your household understands that you’ll need total quiet and zero interruptions (no surprise visitors popping up over your shoulder). Finally, mute your phone or put it in another area of the house so you aren’t distracted.
Speaking of the rest of your household, if possible, try to be the only person on your network during the time of your interview. Additional devices using the internet, especially streaming video, taxes the bandwidth of some internet plans, and could cause your network to have hiccups while you are on your very important video call.
3. Better lighting and camera height make you look more natural and engaged.
Avoid being back-lit. Placing your laptop beside a window (vs directly in front of it) will put you in the most flattering light. Likewise, making sure that your camera lens is situated at your eye level or just slightly higher, will not only look better, it will make it easier for you to direct your gaze into the camera while speaking (allowing the interviewer to have some semblance of eye contact with you). When you’re practicing your video interviewing skills with your friend, practice with lighting and camera angles until you look your best. Many candidates are discovering that, if it’s in the budget, video-friendly lighting is a worthy investment. For $50-$75, you can buy a lamp that will give you a warmer, more natural appearance.
4. Your “eye contact” isn’t working.
When you’re face-to-face with someone and asking or answering a question, you look them in the eye, right? And when you’re in listening mode for longer stretches, you follow the old “eye-eye-mouth triangle” rule (so you don’t end up weirdly staring). Those are good guidelines… which you can now toss out the window. For video, you’ll need to train yourself to look into the camera while speaking and most of the time that you’re listening. It’s not actual eye contact, of course, so it feels very weird and disengaging. But by looking into the camera, instead of watching yourself or the interviewer on your screen, you accomplish two things. First, you create the impression that you’re looking your interviewer in the eye. (News anchors can’t see you but you feel like they’re speaking directly to you by looking into the camera.) Second, you demonstrate that you have the on-screen communication skills to handle long-term remote employment well. This is especially important if you’re interviewing for a job managing others.
So stop watching your interview play out on the screen. Instead, look mostly into the camera, occasionally checking the interviewer’s expressions on-screen, and use your full repertoire of non-verbal communication skills (facial expressions, nodding, moderate hand gestures, etc.). It sounds difficult because it is difficult. But you can do it.
5. Unseen does not mean unnoticed.
Do you click your pen or shuffle papers when you’re nervous? Do you think no one sees you checking your phone off to the side of the screen? Every little unexplained noise or off-screen glance can quickly become more annoying than you realize. (Seriously, employers are calling these things out as extremely off-putting.) That may not be fair but it is true. When you’re video interviewing, you have to give the same laser-focus to your interviewer as you would in person. Does that mean that interviewers now demand video perfection? No. It means that, now more than ever, most employers are looking for a great attitude, flexibility, and a willingness to work at new skills. If you come off as someone who is unwilling to tackle the new skills required in a COVID-driven world, you become a riskier hiring choice.
6. Prepare for the ice-breakers.
An employer recently pointed out to me that the initial, informal chit-chat is still important – but so much harder to do – on video. In the old days, when you’d walk into someone’s office, you knew the drill: if you’re offered coffee or water, you accept or decline. If you’re asked about the traffic or the weather, you know the right answers. Easy. But on a flat screen, even otherwise gifted small-talkers seem to freeze, waiting for the interrogation to begin. Please, please think ahead about what you can bring to prop up some brief, casual banter. In the absence of a firm handshake, the ice-breaker carries more weight than ever.
7. At the end of the day, Grace under Pressure still goes a long way.
Will you always follow all of the above tips perfectly? Maybe not. But alongside those rules runs a greater, more prevailing truth: life happens and above all else, we humans owe each other grace. That’s never been more true than it is right now. So after all your preparation, if something doesn’t go as planned, that’s okay. In fact, those are the moments where your true character and strength can shine. If you forget everything else I’ve said, hang onto this: a gracious acknowledgement of a mishap, along with a short but heartfelt apology, followed by your willingness to press on and do your best… those are the moments that prove your resilience, focus, and commitment. And that, above just about everything else, is what every hiring manager is seeking right now.