As businesses are cutting back on travel costs and hiring decision makers are more broadly dispersed across organizations, today it is more likely than ever that during the job search process a portion of your interviews will be over the phone or via video conference. Just because these meetings are not in person does not mean they should be approached casually or with any less seriousness than in person meetings. The goal of these interactions is the same as all other contact during the interview process: to advance to the next level of discussions and land the job. The following are some helpful guidelines to prepare your self for a virtual interview.
Managing your setting:
Test your communications technology to make sure it is working before the interview. If cell reception is unreliable in your house or particular areas, be sure to use a landline for a call. If you do not have a landline, be sure your cell phone is charged and you are able to conduct the call in a location with the best possible reception. Ask for the interviewer’s phone number in advance just in case the call is disconnected. For video calls make sure your internet service is strong and working. Test all connections before the call or video discussion.
Mitigate peripheral noise and be sure you are in a place where you are able to take notes. Don’t conduct the call when you are distracted, driving or otherwise. Turn ringers, alarms and sound on all other electronic equipment off. Make sure you are somewhere where your only focus will be on the conversation at hand. This means if you are in front of your computer, don’t check email and Facebook!
Phone interviews can be more difficult than in person interviews: the inability to read body language removes several components of natural communication. During a phone interview you don’t have a chance to view body language or nuanced expressions which often communicate as effectively if not more effectively than words. One way to ensure you sound positive and enthusiastic is to smile while you are talking on the phone. It is a proven fact that smiling while you are talking will change the tone of your voice and make you sound more upbeat. Also, propping a mirror up in front of you is a good trick. If you are looking at your self while talking you feel more engaged and have a better idea of how you are being perceived. If you are someone who naturally paces or uses your hands a lot when you talk, use a headset that allows for movement. The more you are talking in your “natural” state the more comfortable and confident you will seem and the better your ideas will flow avoiding stilted and awkward conversations. However, do not use a speaker phone! The background noise is difficult to manage as is the reception.
Bear in mind that phone interviews are typically shorter than most in person interviews. Generally they only last 20-30 minutes thus you have to be succinct and to the point in your responses, but not to the point of being abrasive. Be sure to have all information you need at your fingertips. At a minimum have your resume, the information you have collected researching the company and the job description in front of you for ease of reference.
Be sure to set a time when you will be in a professional environment. If you cannot be in a professional setting at the allotted interview time it is better to reschedule the meeting than to hold it in a place where you cannot focus or your interviewer will be distracted. Outdoor settings and your gym are not appropriate places, nor are your cluttered home office or your dining room table unless you prepare and make them appropriate. In order to make them visually appropriate remove all clutter, make sure the background is as plain as possible and professional looking. A blank wall or neat bookshelf are good options as well as a wall with tasteful, simple art. You do not want your interviewer distracted trying to determine what in the world the art is behind you instead of focusing on you. Nor do you want them critiquing or drawing conclusions about you based on your décor decisions!
I once had a candidate try to conduct a Skype interview from a public place where you could see people walking and engaging in a variety of outdoor activities in the background. It was distracting and unprofessional. I spent my time trying to figure out where she was (I think it was Dolores Park) and was not impressed that she did not take the time to make sure she was in a setting where we could have a professional conversation. I, correctly or not, quickly concluded a) she was not thorough enough to plan ahead and be sure she was in an appropriate place for the interview and b) was not taking the interview process seriously. Needless to say, she did not find a position with one of my clients.
Once you have prepared your background setting so the interviewer can focus on you, make sure they will be impressed by who the see. In short, dress exactly as you would for an in person interview. Wear proper work attire for the targeted work environment. For lawyers, this means a suit or at a minimum a jacket. It is simple to put on a suit jacket over a simple shirt or casual clothing to give a professional impression. If you are unsure of the work dress codes, ask the recruiter or person who arranged the interviews and dress according to their directives. Remember you only have to dress up from the waist up—there is no excuse not to put in that fifty percent effort on this front.
Although it may not feel like an official interview, it is and it was. Every interaction you have with someone who is making the hiring decision or can influence that decision is an interview. Follow up with a thank you via email within 24-48 hours restating your interest in the position, highlighting your qualifications, expressing your appreciation for their time and that you are looking forward to hearing from them to continue the interview process.