John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.
Rendering your experience and selling the value of you in a virtual interview didn’t just occur recently. In the past decade, sophisticated executive recruiters, companies and serious organizations started engaging candidates this way. Now, you need to master core components of video or virtual interviews like never before, and how you differentiate yourself from your competition may determine your career fate. Depending on the interviewer’s agenda, their timing and their focus you need to adapt and win on this forum.
For my individual and my company’s corporate outplacement clients, this journey into video resulted in next-round interviews and, eventually, offers in a very tough and candidate-rich job market. Here’s how to stand out against the competition:
Practice. Practice. Practice.
You need to practice on the different forums and role-play before your interview. How do I know? I have had clients agree to a recruiter’s request for a “quick Zoom” meeting only to find out it wasn’t the ubiquitous Zoom but a Microsoft Teams meeting. What happens when you are invited for a conversation on video and you don’t really know what the platform is or how to use it? It delays or makes the process more awkward.
I suggest clients role-play with me on various forums using their phone, their laptop and a backup computer. The fundamentals of a good meeting include good sound, good picture quality, a clean background and confidence in whatever setting you choose. You have a crappy phone? Don’t try to do the interview on your phone. Your computer’s camera is old school? Replace it or borrow one. You have awkward hand gestures and a curiously weird picture in the background of your cloudy video shot? Fix it.
Bottom line: Rehearse all interviews in advance and on all technical forums.
How you dress matters.
My clients who have won interviews have started upgrading their look and body language on these virtual interview platforms. For example, one client recently won his next round and final round interview partly because he dressed a little like the executive he would replace in the new role, right down to the tie he wore. On the C-Suite panel interview the first comment by one of the panelists was, “Wow, you really got dressed up for this. You know you didn’t have to.” This person, dressed in business casual, was taking the interview at the office but not in his usual suit. My client replied, “Well, of course, I wanted to show everyone that I still knew how to tie a tie.” There was a chuckle. My client followed with, “In all seriousness, I am hosting a video conference later with a client so I thought I would look like the old normal.” His nonchalant disclaimer sent a nice message to them that business still continued. It also provided a level of seriousness to the tone of the meeting that helped him eventually win the next stage of the hiring process.
Bottom line: Do not dress down for your video interviews. You need not wear the formal dress or suit but still up your game.
Body language has power.
A recent client won her way through the interview process by improving her online confidence through body language: hand gestures, props, eye contact, standing and sitting, creative environment staging. In a confined space — especially a small space at home — the art of the interview lies in using limited visuals and gestures effectively.
My client put a picture that her son had painted behind her and during the interview she could see one of the panelists looking over her shoulder at it. She opened her palm, hand up, turned to the picture and said, “My son painted that and it inspires me to stay creative in my work.” It seemed natural but, in truth, we practiced the way she gestured, how she turned and looked at the picture and then how she looked back into the camera. It provided a human touch and even though it was rehearsed, it did not seem that way to the audience. Creatively using your space and being comfortable in your space online is key. The new move toward virtual interviewing, classes and endless online meetings has created what I call “Zoom zombies,” people who used to move about or motion freely feel they must stare into a camera to be counted.
Bottom line: Stop being tied to your chair. Move around. Make yourself look comfortable in your own skin and don’t render yourself like a bird in a cage.
From the front lines of interviewing and getting hired, my clients are expressing their value by putting a spin on classic interviewing tactics and content. Your ability to be comfortable in a small space and communicate through virtual interviewing will be expected. To differentiate yourself from the average person you need to build creativity into your dress, use props — such as a report that you lift up — and be willing to take some risks. If you can master the small spaces that you now must communicate in by being a better, more confident and improved version of yourself, you will stand out and get closer to your ultimate goal of being hired.
John M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina. Read John M. O’Connor’s full executive profile here.