An interview feels like the most important part of the job-hunting process, because it’s the first opportunity to show who you really are. Resumes and portfolios can only tell an employer so much — it’s the interview that ultimately decides whether or not you get the job.
But as important as job interviews are, they’re really just the culmination of the work you’ve put in leading up to that point. If you’ve landed an interview with a prospective employer, they’re clearly interested in hiring you. Here’s how to give yourself the best chance for success — and what you need to consider now that many job interviews are being conducted virtually.
- Arrive on time
Many of the principles that apply for an in-person interview are the same for virtual interviews. Just as you should always arrive at an interview early, try to get to a Zoom interview five to 10 minutes before the scheduled time. Do this even if it means waiting around on camera before the others log in.
As you wait for the interviewer to show up, take the opportunity to focus your mind and calm your nerves. Concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes and try to relax any tension you’re carrying.
- Check your equipment and lighting
Before the interview, check your mic and headphones to make sure the sound is working properly.
Try to minimize as many outside noises and distractions as possible. If you’re living with parents or roommates, conduct the interview in a room away from other people and ask them to be quiet. Remember to turn your phone off so it doesn’t ring during the interview.
Check how your background looks on camera. Having a lot of clutter behind you may seem unprofessional. If possible, try for a neutral background, like a bookshelf or wall of photos.
- Be mindful of your appearance
During a virtual interview, it’s easy to get distracted, slouch or look away. Practice looking at the camera instead of the screen, even if that seems unintuitive. If possible, ask a friend to conduct a test interview and provide feedback on how you come across.
“Eye contact is important,” said Jayne Mattson, career expert and author of “You, You, Me, You: The Art of Talking to People, Networking and Building Relationships.” “Sit up straight and make sure your full upper body is visible and dress appropriately.”
It’s good to take notes during the interview, but you should avoid taking them on the computer. It might look like you’re checking your email or social media, and typing sounds can be distracting. Take notes in a regular notebook, but try not to look down too much.
- Prepare to answer difficult questions
It’s the question that every job seeker hates: “What’s your biggest weakness?” Answering this question feels like stepping on a landmine. If you answer it honestly, you could be ruining your chances of getting the job. If you try to be clever and use a weakness that’s actually a strength, it could seem like you’re deflecting the question.
Mark A. Herschberg, author of “The Career Toolkit, Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You,” advises job seekers to use a real weakness but mention how you’re working to solve it.
“For example, say ‘I’m not great at public speaking, but I’ve joined Toastmasters, and it’s something I’m going to be working on,’” he said. “That’s how you win with this question.”
Make a list of weaknesses that you have and describe how you’re working to improve them.
- Research is key
Go through the job description and write how your past experience fits the requirements. Don’t be shy about including unpaid work or club activities. If you organized a fundraising dance marathon during your senior year of college, use that as an example of project management.
“Always mention that you’re willing to learn new skills,” said personal finance writer Zina Kumok. “When I was interviewing for a job as a marketing coordinator, the CEO asked me if I knew how to create emails in Mailchimp. I told him I didn’t, but that I was confident I could figure it out.”
- Use notes and reminders
One advantage with a virtual interview is that you can have notes in front of you. If you want to reference something in your job history or mention a common interest, you can write a post-it with that reminder and keep it on your desk.
For example, if you and the interviewer were both members of the same sorority, write a quick note that says “Mention sorority” so you don’t forget.
- Send a thank-you note
Expressing your appreciation after the interview is key, especially in a tough job market where setting yourself apart is paramount.
“I sent both a thank-you email and a handwritten thank-you note after a job interview,” Kumok said. “I got the job, and my boss later said it was the handwritten thank-you note that put me above the other candidate.”
In your thank-you note, Mattson says you should reference something specific that was said during the interview. This proves that you were paying attention and that you’re genuinely interested in the job.
- Prepare a list of questions
Most job interviews will allow time for questions at the end. If you don’t have any, it shows that you haven’t done enough research about the company and that you’re not really interested in the job.
To find ideas for questions, look at the company’s LinkedIn profile or read some of their most recent blog posts. You’re likely to find inspiration there.
“Some general questions include, ‘What are the challenges your company is facing in the next 12 months?’” Herschberg said. “Or ‘What would make someone excel in this role?’”
It may be good to ask them if there are any concerns about your experience. This gives you the opportunity to explain something in your resume, like why you took a year off after high school or why you haven’t had an internship yet.
“The separation is in the preparation”
There’s a popular saying in sports that the separation is in the preparation — in other words, the victory goes to the one who took the most care to prepare. For something as important as landing a job after graduation, it’s key to prepare and put yourself in the best position you can.
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