Future of Work | 7 Steps to Ace Your Online Interview (COVID-19 edition)

As the pandemic continues to disrupt how we live, work and play, more companies are reconsidering conventional face-to-face recruitments in their efforts to comply with safe distancing measures – and taking them online instead. The new normal, it seems, are virtual job interviews conducted in the comfort of your homes and stretchy bohemian pants. Business at the top, party at the bottom – am I right? Even in a post-COVID-19 Singapore, it’s likely that online interviews are here to stay. As the world becomes increasingly digitised, the merits of virtual interviews over traditional ones are apparent. They are convenient. They save time. And most importantly, they help to streamline the hiring process by providing employers a sufficient glimpse of candidates without over-committing resources. So, whether you're job hunting in the midst of the pandemic or still enjoying your pre-adulthood life, learn these 7 steps now on how you can clinch a smooth (and successful!) online interview experience.

Career Guides
Wong Wing Lum

Congratulations, the many summer holidays spent on hustling has finally paid off.

After what seems like a perpetual season of job search, you’ve secured the first round of interviews with a hiring manager! Though, no popping of any champagne bottles just yet. Let’s knock your virtual interview out of the park first.  

What is the point of an interview? Its purpose is two-fold. Firstly, employers can assess whether you are suitable for the job in terms of qualifications, skillsets and compatibility to the company’s culture. Meanwhile, interviewees can also get a clearer indication of whether the job meets their needs and expectations.

The fundamentals of F2F interviews still apply

1. Research the company

Just because the interview is moving to Zoom or Skype, it doesn’t mean that you can stealthily churn out search engine results and read off a screen as the questions are delivered to you. Interviewers are sharp enough to discern whether you are trying to weasel your way out of laying the necessary groundwork for a successful interview. Adequate preparation ahead of time can mean the difference between securing the job and resuming the dreaded process of job search.

Spend extra time to research about your potential employer. The basic expectation is to browse through the company’s website to learn about their history, mission, values, recent accomplishments and future goals. To stand out, dig deeper by identifying a situation or a problem that they have been facing (or might potentially face) pertaining to the role you are applying to. Think of how you can value-add to the company with your existing skillsets by helping them fill in the gaps you have pointed out. This acts an avenue to showcase your analytical thinking and potential to excel in the role – propelling your profile ahead the rest of the other candidates.

Researching your interviewer tips

2.  Practice Interviewing

Not everyone has the flair to wing an interview effortlessly, and that’s completely fine. Rehearsing your interview answers is one of the ways you can prepare ahead of time and calm your nerves down. Before the interview, briefly jot down the main pointers that would guide your response. Avoid crafting full-fledged sentences or paragraphs to regurgitate during the interview. Memorised answers have the tendency to sound stiff, hindering your personality from truly shining through during the interview.  

We’ve made a list of popular interview questions you should be well acquainted with.

List of interview questions
We've included tips on how you can excel too!

Interviewers can sometimes throw you off with curveball questions that do not seem even remotely linked to the role you’re applying for. The purpose of these “nonsense questions” is to unearth your personality, beliefs and creativity in a spontaneous manner that goes beyond a pre-written interview script. When this happens, stay calm and remind yourself that you can’t possibly prepare for every question. Instead, direct your focus on giving an authentic answer that best reflects a positive message or trait about you.

Nonsense questions look like | How would you describe the colour yellow to a blind and deaf person?; How many elephants can you fit inside Singapore?; If you could choose to have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Glassdoor hacks for interview research

Now, let’s get on with the virtual component

While traditional in-person interviews and virtual interviews roughly follow the same format, it is harder to communicate non-verbal cues online. They include facial expressions such as furrowed brows (confusion) or dazed eyes (uninterest), body postures and gestures like stiffness (anxiety) and crossed arms (doubt).

Offline, you tend to pay closer attention to these cues, which in turn prompts you to modify your responses to be more aligned with what the interviewer is looking out for. Though the ability to pick up these subtle nuances is primarily weakened online, being conscious of your limitations in the digital vehicle helps you train yourself to be more responsive when it comes to decoding these signals.

3. Conduct a tech run

Even if you are familiar with the video conferencing software used for the interview, it doesn’t hurt to be extra sure. Double-check the technical capabilities of the software ahead of the interview session to avoid any potential technical glitches. Make sure that your internet connection is stable and troubleshoot in advance to ensure a smooth video conferencing experience for you and your interviewer.

Implore your friends to stay back after a zoom catch up session to listen to you run through your interview responses. On one hand, you can make sure that your audio and video systems are in check. On the other hand, it provides an avenue for you to receive feedback on how you can improve the articulation of your answers and refine your body language to exuberate confidence. If your web camera is producing low quality and grainy images, you can start thinking about investing in an external Webcam. You can find affordable ones here on Carousell.

4. Look the part

Zoom interview
This is all of us at one point | Credit: Casey Chin; Getty Images

Make sure that the usernames you use on these video conferencing platforms reflect a professional profile. Seemingly minute components of your virtual identity – email addresses, user profiles, display pictures – are crucial elements that build your image. Right from the get-go, don’t give your interviewers any reason to doubt your professional capabilities.

As for what you should wear, opt for clothes you would normally put on as though you are going for an in-person interview. Even though it’s easier to look presentable above the waist for video interviews, there is a psychological benefit in wearing the full ensemble that helps to set the mood and mentality for an interview. Furthermore, you do not want to end up like Tony over here – if there’s any possibility that you might move about, the last thing you wish for is your interviewer to see you in your funky garments.

5. Be strategic about where you conduct the interview

Choose a private, quiet and well-lit location that is free from any distractions. Let your family or housemates know about your interview schedule ahead of time to minimise interruptions. In the event that you might be sharing your screen with your interviewer, ensure that the navigation bar is swiftly managed. Close all unnecessary tabs on your browser and switch off any incoming notifications from messaging applications or social media that might distract you during the interview.

The backdrop of your video call should be neutral and tidy. When deciding where to place your webcam, keep in mind that you should be the focal point of the conversation. If you’re using Zoom of Google Hangouts, you can choose from this collection of professional virtual backgrounds.  

6. Taking basic etiquette online

Now that the interview is held within the comfort of your own home, all the more you have no reason to be tardy. Since experts have largely agreed that the standard for in-person interviews is to arrive 15 minutes ahead of the stipulated time, you should standby in the virtual waiting room at least 5-10 minutes before your interview starts.

When you are answering a question, try to gaze into the webcam to simulate directly looking into your interviewer’s line of sight. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but the effort pays off. Like in-person interviews, smiling, nodding and keeping a healthy level of eye contact signals that you are respectful and attentive. Beyond this, it elicits a sense of confidence and authenticity that helps you build a stronger connection with your interviewer.

7. A little thanks goes a long way

Within 24 hours after your interview, drop your interviewer a follow-up email to show your appreciation for their time. According to the Robert Half study, 80% of human resource managers consider thank you messages when deciding on the candidates they would ultimately hire. Yet, according to the same study, only 24% of the applicants proceed to do so.

Take this as a final opportunity to restate your interest, subtly plug in the unique strengths you bring to the role and bring up any talking points you might have missed out during the interview. This sample email by Yale University’s Office of Career Strategy does an excellent job of expressing sincerity and personalising the thank you message.

It’s completely normal to feel the jitters before job interviews, especially with the stakes this high when you’re entering or re-entering the current job climate.

Tell yourself this: Whether you’re nervous or not, the interview goes on. Would you rather let your anxiety control you, or turn it around and leave no room for any regrets?

Enter every interview with an open mindset to learn and grow. Even if the eventual outcome turns out to be less than ideal, don’t be discouraged. Take it in your stride and continue to improve yourself. Perhaps at the moment, you were not the best fit for the job. It does not mean that you will never be good enough.

As Singapore’s plunges deeper into recession from COVID-19, the economy is reckoned to get worse. You’re going to apply for tons of jobs and only to hear from a couple back. You might probably get a lower than expected salary in the name of circumstance. You’re going to face rejections like you’ve never experienced before. The road ahead is not an easy one, yet at the same time, you will also find that the adversities you face from these extraordinary circumstances will carve out new pathways to resilience.

Keep your head up, this will undoubtedly be one of the most formative phases of your life.

Hatch is an impact-driven business with the mission to make digital and design opportunities accessible for all.  That's why we are committed to sharing valuable resources like these freely and openly for the community.

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