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Looking for a new job is almost always a daunting process. But today, in the midst of a global pandemic, the pressure might feel even greater. Times are certainly tough, but many companies are hiring, whether for permanently remote jobs, or roles that will become in-person in the future.
Virtual interviews are the new norm — especially in tech. If you're new to virtual interviews, don't panic. Here, two experts from Justworks break down some of the key points on how to do well on a virtual interview.
What to Expect in a Virtual Interview
It's not just candidates who might be new to virtual interviews. Many companies are just beginning to try out the practice, or expand how much of the interview process is done remotely. According to Yujin Kim, VP of Engineering at Justworks, going fully remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of things about the way his team interviews candidates.
"Virtual interviewing pushed us to put the emphasis on the candidate experience in a new way," Yujin said. "It’s easy to forget that the candidate is at home staring at strangers through the computer for hours." Some ways his team addressed this? They reduced the number of interview sessions and ensured that an adequate amount of breaks are built into the interview schedule.
While virtual interviews aren't new, many companies used to have a face-to-face meeting as a final step in the process. Today, companies have to make hiring decisions based on remote interviews alone. This is something that Jason Tumilty, Director of Talent Acquisition at Justworks, believes will last beyond the pandemic.
"There will be more of a comfort zone around hiring based purely on a virtual experience rather than having the final in-person meeting," Jason said. "This will enable companies to move quicker and save costs, and ultimately it will save candidates time."
Standing Out in a Virtual Interview
A virtual interview can feel strange. After all, you're basically meeting a handful of strangers from your living room. Many job seekers might wonder how to approach the interview, or how to bring their A-game. But standing out in a virtual interview may be simpler than you think.
Focus on Communication and Energy
"Most of the in-person interview tips still apply," says Jason. "Being mindful of your body language, making eye contact, and the usual verbal communication dos and don'ts — these are all good practices." He also emphasized that an important part of communication is making sure your technology works well and your sound quality is good. Do what you can to eliminate background noise and distractions so you can focus on the conversation.
Another important part of communication? Your energy!
"The candidates I’ve enjoyed talking to are the ones who bring a lot of energy to the table," Yujin said. "I know it’s hard to do in a remote setting, so I appreciate it that much more when people make an effort to bring that energy in their gestures and tone of voice, for instance."
What to wear to a virtual interview
While your choice of outfit may seem less important when you're interviewing from home, what you wear to a virtual interview should still be what you'd wear to an in-person interview. Don't dismiss classic advice. You might feel a little goofy, but to the interviewer, it shows that you care enough about the role to put in the effort.
"I appreciate people trying to bring their best," said Yujin. "Things like wearing a button-down shirt, putting on a nice Zoom background, or positioning the camera carefully aren't what we base our hiring decisions on, but you do notice those little things the candidates do."
"Once the video switches on, it's on," added Jason. "It's not like you can quickly change your outfit or clean the clutter in the room behind you — and you don't get a second chance." He added that you can always ask whoever is scheduling the interview what their expectations around dress are. If you happen to overdress, it may help you stand apart from other candidates who don't make the same effort. You could even make a joke of it and use it as an icebreaker — you'll certainly be memorable!
When it comes to interviewing for technical or software engineering roles in particular, Yujin also called out the importance of demonstrating adaptability. You may be asked to use remote interview tools you haven't used before to do whiteboarding or code review — CoderPad is one example used at Justworks. Try to approach these challenges with a positive attitude, and, going back to the first tip on this list, focus on clear and effective communication.
"Are you able to communicate your thoughts despite the remote whiteboard being challenging?" Yujin said. "Are you able to use the tool to effectively convey your solution to the team even if it isn't easy-to-use at times?" These are important competencies that many interviewers will be looking for.
Advice for Today's Job Seekers
Despite COVID-19, there are many many opportunities out there for job seekers, particularly in software engineering. Some companies are even taking the initiative to develop and participate in programs (like the John Stanley Ford Fellowship) that create more opportunities for those who have been historically overlooked for such positions. Justworks is just one example, but Jason encouraged people not to be scared by the current situation and take the first offer that comes their way.
"Talented engineers are still in high demand," he said. "My advice would be to get experience interviewing at a few companies, and be picky about the next opportunity you take."
Yujin suggested that job seekers show that they're hungry for the role, while being authentic to themselves at the same time — in other words, don't be disingenuous.
"You'll want to show resourcefulness if you want to stand out," Yujin added. "And you have to show learnability. Be ready to say, 'I might not know everything yet, but I'm ready to learn.'"
Justworks is the fastest growing HR technology company in the country. We provide small- and medium-sized businesses access to big-company benefits, automated payroll, HR tools, and compliance support — all in one place.
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