How to prepare for an interview in the Covid era

Smile and try to relax: putting your best foot forward in a virtual interview setting

 

Interviewing for a job – like most aspects of life – has changed since the Covid-19 pandemic. With no return to normality in sight, jobseekers are going to have to adapt to the new way of doing things. Here are some tips for the interview process.

1. Make sure all the technology is working

First things first, make sure everything is working properly as the interview will not even get off the ground if you have a dodgy internet connection or are not familiar with the necessary programs to communicate effectively with your potential employer.

“A virtual interview requires tools like a camera and microphone on your computer, a software program such as Google Hangouts or Zoom and a reliable internet connection,” says Jack Kennedy, an economist and researcher at online recruiter Indeed’s hiring lab.

“At least a day before your virtual interview check all of your technology to ensure it works effectively and can be used to communicate effectively.

“In the 10 to 15 minutes before your interview check your internet connection, sign into the meeting a few minutes early, and turn on the sound and video to ensure everything is in working order in time for your conversation.”

Marie Laffey and Claire Murphy, both from NUI Galway’s career development centre, suggest: “Use the laptop speaker and microphone or discreet wired headphones with a mic. Avoid big clunky headphones or Bluetooth headphones which can lose connectivity.”

2. Set the scene

Just because you may be sitting at home rather in a boardroom or an office does not make it open season in terms of how you present yourself and your surroundings. Chris Paye, general manager of Jobs.ie, suggests dressing the same way you would if it were a face-to-face interview.

“Set yourself up and be live online five minutes early. It’s also important to remember this is the first impression an interviewer will get of you so ensure the space behind you is something you don’t mind them seeing on camera.”

Laffey and Murphy from NUI Galway agree. “Dress professionally for online interviews,” they insist. “Avoid bright colours and stripes.

“Be conscious of your background. Make sure the lighting is bright. Place your laptop on a stack of books so that the camera is at face level - no unflattering up-the-nose angles. Ensure there are no interruptions and your phone is on silent.”

Kennedy says the formality of a remote interview can actually help you.

“It not only makes you appear professional and excited about the opportunity, but it will also help make you feel more prepared and confident.

“Try to choose a space that is clean and professional-looking so the interviewer can focus their attention on you and not what is around you. If you don’t have a space like this you can also use a neutral virtual background. Place your computer on a stable surface – a table or desk – instead of your lap or couch.”

This is echoed by National Recruitment Federation director Geraldine King.

“Ensure it is not noisy even if this is hard to achieve if you live in a house with other people. Noise will definitely add to the stress and may distract your concentration.

“Smile and try to relax. Remember the CV has done its job if you are invited to interview, so it is an opportunity to expand on what you know/have learnt or can bring to the company. Bear in mind for most companies the interviewers are adapting as well to new ways of working.”

3. Prepare properly

In much the same sense as a conventional interview, your fate may well rest primarily on your levels of preparation. As Laffey and Murphy point out, it is important to “know the role requirements, research the company, and be clear on the value that you would bring to the role”.

They suggest using the STAR framework to answer competency-based questions. Preparing for interviews in this manner will give you confidence and help to alleviate nerves. GradIreland also has useful interview videos to watch to help with preparation.

“Just because you’re in front of your computer doesn’t mean you should quickly look up answers or rely on a written script that you can read from directly,” says Kennedy. “You should prepare so that you are able to have a natural conversation without clicking around or reading directly from paper, which can seem rehearsed and unnatural.”

Michelle Coen, career and skills consultant at UCD Careers Network, says there are many sample interview questions available online, so you should gather a bank of interview questions for yourself.

“Practice your answers,” she says. “Do some practice calls via Skype or Google Hangouts with friends and family, and get feedback in relation to your eye contact, body language and audio. Book a mock interview with your careers service or use video interviewing software, if available.

“At UCD the UCD Careers Network provides students with free access to Sonru, an online video software where students can practice video interviews and receive feedback.”

4. Be flexible

The world has changed for managers and employers just as much, if not more, as it has for jobseekers and graduates. It might not be such a good idea to have concrete demands in your head in terms of salary expectations or the role you might have in a company.

“You may have to move the goal post temporarily and settle for something that was not in the plan,” says King. “If this happens, consider it as another experience and or skill that will contribute to the bigger plan eventually.

“Try not to get too hung up on salary. Covid- 19 may impact salaries for the immediate future. Remember job satisfaction and a job you love is more important. The salary will come eventually. Now go for it. Be confident and set your goals.”

5. Be prepared to ask as well as answer questions

It will be important to anticipate the sort of questions you might be asked so you can prepare answers, as well as to have a couple of questions of your own to show you are engaged with the ethos of the group as well as having a healthy curiosity as to how it all works.

Laffey and Murphy suggest keeping a log of any questions which come up in interviews so you can use this information to prepare for the next one.

Some questions you might consider preparing answers for include how you handle your work-life balance in a pandemic. What’s your work-from-home set-up like? Have you learnt any new skills in the past couple of months? You could talk about new hobbies you’ve picked up rather than focusing just on professional qualifications.

In terms of questions you might ask yourself, you could inquire about how the group has changed since the pandemic struck. What have they learned as managers from the crisis, and how do they manage their teams? What are the strategic priorities of the organisation, and have these changed due to the crisis? How does the role you are applying for help in achieving them?

Don’t be afraid to ask what the group does for its employees, and how it supports them. How do they ensure employees are able to work in an adaptable and agile way in the future?

What is their management style when leading hybrid teams, and how do they ensure the organisational culture is maintained when working in a hybrid way?