If you’re in a job search or plan to be soon, you know that the stakes are high in this competitive market. A major part of the process where many job seekers routinely under prepare is the interview. In fact, I often see candidates spend more time planning their outfit than their content.
While what you wear certainly has an impact, what you share earns an offer. And just when you thought the interview couldn’t get any more stressful, the current pandemic has changed up the game in new ways, so there are a few additional things you need to be ready for if you want to stand out and secure a great next step in your career.
Although you’ll no longer need to worry about the grip of your handshake (perhaps ever again), here are three new aspects that will be important to focus on in your next job interview:
1) You’ll need to set up the environment. While video teleconferencing has become more popular over the last several years, use of this medium for job interviews has dominated in the past few months due to social distancing, which means expectations for a near flawless execution have also skyrocketed. Fumbling through the process while experiencing distractions and technical difficulties isn’t an option, so it’s up to you to master the platforms being used and practice beforehand so you appear confident in troubleshooting any unexpected challenges.
And now, instead of showing up to a building where you meet in a conference room or office, you are required to set the stage for the interview environment, which takes some additional preparation and can have a major impact on the outcome. As the host of at least one side of the interview space, you’ll need to consider lighting, connectivity, audio quality, ambient noise, background visuals and video angles just to name a few. Everything counts and will be a part of the evaluation since it’s likely you’ll be using video technology regularly to communicate in the new role, perhaps with customers, so the interview has become an audition of sorts.
Interviews are inherently anxiety-provoking and there’s a lot you won’t be able to control, so it’s in your best interest to control as much as you can regarding the environment. The ball for much of this is now in the job seeker’s court.
2) You’ll be asked how you’re handling the pandemic (and you should ask them as well). On a positive note, employers in the near future will be more forgiving of resume gaps and layoffs due to the major disruption in the job market over the last several months. However, a question that is more frequently being asked of candidates is, “How have you handled work during Covid-19?” They’re not wondering about your hand-washing routine or collection of animal-themed masks. More often than not, they are assessing your leadership, creativity and adaptability during a crisis.
As you prepare, consider your audience’s greatest pain points and which skills would be of most value for them to hear about. For example, “One of our team’s priorities was to ensure that our customers remained informed during our transition to working virtually, so I partnered with our IT team to set up a new email address that would be monitored after hours to respond to customer requests, which helped to eliminate disruption of response times.”
If you were furloughed, describe the new skills you developed, relevant online courses you completed, volunteer efforts you participated in throughout your community or how you supported three school-age children participating in online education. While there isn’t a right or wrong response necessarily, there are certainly ways you can be strategic in your answer to demonstrate your positive attributes versus wasting an opportunity to showcase relevant competencies by not thinking through your reply beforehand.
Learning about company culture just got harder. Part of the interview process is assessing the company and job fit for yourself while the hiring team is assessing your skills and fit at the same. A big piece of that puzzle is often revealed during an in-person interview when you have the chance to observe the building decor, employee interactions, workspace set-up and overall office vibe. With in-person interviews on hold or in offices that have been significantly restructured to comply with social distancing guidelines, much of this information is now muddled or lost.
However, culture is an important part of your future happiness and career success in a new role, so it’s worth exploring other strategies to understand what your new employer will expect. Ask to speak with people you’ll be working with including peers, colleagues on collaborating teams and direct reports. Use online tools like Glassdoor, Twitter and even LinkedIn to view comments or postings about the organization. Tap into your network to get honest feedback about their experience working in the company. Get creative with your questions by inquiring: “Who was the last person on the team to get an award and what was it for?”, “Can you give an example of a recent team conflict and how it was handled?”, “What are the top traits of the most successful team members?” These types of questions demonstrate your interest in finding a mutual fit and are harder for others to answer with a canned response.
And just for good measure, here are some important aspects of a successful job interview strategy that haven’t changed:
1) Don’t count on a good interviewer. It’s 100% your responsibility to leave on the table the messages that convey your value proposition. This includes what skills and abilities you’re bringing to the role that will help to solve the department’s greatest problems and lead to increased success. To do this effectively, you must research the company, market, key players, and competition, and then create the messages you want to share during the interview to show how you’re the candidate of choice, regardless of what questions you’re asked. Unfortunately, there are many untrained interviewers in the world, and it’s little consolation after being passed over to complain that you weren’t asked the questions you’d been expecting. Here’s how to nail it.
2) Practice – out loud. I would be willing to bet that for many job seekers, the only time they’ve practiced out loud was during an actual interview. This is not where you want to discover your mistakes, and for most of us, that perfectly curated message in our minds loses something when it comes out of our mouths. As someone who has worked in corporate recruiting interviewing eight plus candidates every day, it’s very obvious who has taken the time to prepare. Do yourself a huge favor and practice with a friend if possible, a video tool or at the very least a mirror. You’ll be happy you did.
3) Negotiate. While not a part of the interview per se, negotiating the offer is the last step before accepting the role and perhaps the one and only time you have leverage in the hiring process as a candidate. Don’t waste it. In the current economy, you may feel lucky to just get the offer, but don’t forget that you’re providing a valuable service that helps the company’s bottom line, and it’s worth ensuring you’re being paid market value. And although market value may be shifting, there are many aspects of compensation outside of base salary that you can negotiate such as equipment to work more effectively from home, additional vacation days or even a later start date. It’s important to be sensitive to that fact that if a company just experienced a massive layoff and there is a lot of competition for your position that you may not get everything you want. However, most hiring managers are open to making reasonable adjustments where they can.