The graduate cohorts of 2021 are unique in several ways. You have had to demonstrate significant levels of adaptability, patience and resilience in getting through the pandemic whilst focusing on studies and completing their degree, often in isolation away from the comforts of group dynamics in university halls and library break out rooms. Despite this harsh introduction to higher education, graduates are about to face another unprecedented challenge, the increasingly common use of digital and virtual interviews, having become mainstream following the pandemic.
Digital interviews will be unfamiliar to most people, but the platforms themselves are predictable and easy enough to understand. Most of us are proficient at Microsoft teams, Zoom and their various counterparts by now, but few of us may be familiar on how to make the best impression in a virtual interview, where should we sit? What do you wear? Lighting? Cheat notes?
Don’t worry. We think you guys have had a hard enough time getting through your degrees during this crazy time, so we wanted to try and give you some ideas to think about going into the interview. We also offer 1:1 virtual training and other materials on our website if you want to check that out, but for now lets get stuck in:
1. Bear in mind, it isn’t easy for the panel either.
It is hard to assess ‘softer’ skills – like personality, body language, tone etc, correctly over virtual interviews – as humans we are evolved to use all our senses in collaboration in order to judge someone’s character – to determine if we feel safe around someone. Similarly, candidates might struggle to get a feel for a company’s culture without walking into a business and sitting down in front of them. Now, of course it isnt impossible to get a feel for someone digitally, but it is more challenging – we therefore want to make the process as easy as possible.
2. Prepare ahead of time – but don’t get too close.
Ask the recruiter what the interview process will be like, what can you expect, what video conferencing tool they are going to us and (if) any other external tools or programmes will be incorporated.
Do your pre-reading on the company, but be cautious if you decide to look up more personal information about the panel (i.e. social media accounts etc). Whilst some panel members might find it flattering that you have looked into their academic work or seen something they have freely posted to twitter or other discussion boards, there is a careful line to walk between professional pre reading and creepy stalking – don’t bring up anything about the panels personal life – family, where they live etc.
Focus on the academic side of things, is the trust / department producing papers or doing interesting research? Have they won any big contracts? Any challenges they are facing recently? Won any awards..?
3. Dress the same top to bottom
This includes shoes and deodorant / perfume if you would normally where that to an interview. Emotion, scent and memory are all connected via the olfactory system – in simple terms, use a particular scent during your revision and you are more morel likely to be able to recall it during the interview.
Dressing well includes shoes – you never know what could happen during the interview, you might have to run and answer the door or a flat mate / partner unexpectedly wanders into the room and you have to stand to usher them out – it is best to behave as if the panel is in the room with you, not just behind the camera. If your room is messy give it a good tidy instead of ‘hiding’ everything behind the laptop. Imagine if during the interview that stack of books you were balancing the laptop on for some reason collapses and the panel get a free view of the rest of the room you were trying to hide from them.
Go onto the camera app on your device before the interview to see what the panel will see when they start the interview. The background should not be distracting – but that doesn’t mean it has to be a blank canvas. Some personality can come through from your surroundings, a nice painting or picture, book shelf is obviously a classic choice, white background with a small item of distinct colour can work well, like a red flower or something similar. Keep it simple – avoid having a window behind you to reduce sun glare- if all this is difficult the use of virtual or blurred backgrounds are increasingly common. It is also important to find a location where the internet is the strongest, if you can try and use an ethernet cable during the interview (more stable than Wi-Fi). If Wi-Fi internet cuts out, use 4G on your phone for an emergency fix. Most phones can activate mobile Wi-Fi zones via settings / connections. Reduce the amount of walls / stuff between the router and your laptop. Stuff reduces signal power.
And finally, turn your lights on.
5. Position of camera
When we are talking over digital platforms in a social context we often sit close to the screen, with the camera at an angle, approx. 60 degrees or so. This is simple because that is the average position of a laptop when you are typing with it sitting in front of you. We recommend for interviews that you think about it more like when politicians are interviewed in the media. Some of you may remember this UK politician who’s adorable daughter interrupted his meeting.
Note the position of his camera, chair and posture. Top of the head at the top of the camera border, lower border goes down to approx. lower rib cage, arms visible if he needs to use them to emphasize a point or gesticulate, nice red tie, bookshelf, cool map – bit of a grumpy face though but he already has a job.
6. Look at the panel
Ill keep this one short. It is really tempting to look at yourself during the interview, we do it all the time during face time conversations with family or friends, it’s a habit and almost a reflex but look at the panel and focus on them, you need to look for subtle body language signs, impressions, movements smiles etc, its all data your brain would be collecting in a face to face interview and you should do the same virtually – this will also ensure you stay engaged with them. They will notice if you are looking away, at your phone, at a book or page or piece of paper etc.
7. Basic communication tips
Think about it a little bit like talking via a walkie-talkie, it can be useful to try and finish a sentence with a line to let the panel know when you are done. Unfortunately due to the nature of a digital interview if you stop talking and don’t move, it can look like you are frozen. Suggested lines are: ‘I’ll leave my answer there but if you have any questions for me please let me know’, ‘I think I’ll stop there but if you want me to elaborate something let me know’ – etc.
And on that note, we are going to leave this blog there. You don’t need to overcomplicate this, we just wanted to gather some tips and ideas to think about to get the most out of your interview. Mock interviewing yourself, training with partners or looking into our 1:1 sessions are other options available to boost your confidence before the interview. Break a leg!