How to ace a virtual job interview, according to a career coach

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With the government’s furlough scheme now paying a quarter of Britain’s wages, you might be thinking that it’s not the ideal time to be looking for a new job or to switch careers. 

“I think that’s a very common strategy. A lot of people think ‘I’ll just wait for it [the current, global coronavirus pandemic] to blow over’ but I personally don’t think that’s the best approach for a couple of reasons,” London-based career coach and consultant Hannah Salton says. 

“Firstly, it’s not all going to blow over quickly, and secondly – when things do get ‘back to normal’, many others will have the same idea and the job market could get very busy.”

Salton, who has a background in corporate recruitment, adds that while now is not the time to quit your job without a new offer, there’s certainly scope for those looking to develop their career. 

She continues: “If you’re employed, there is still a lot you can do proactively, for example reviewing your LinkedIn profile, developing your CV, reflecting on your achievements, and getting clear on what that next move is. And, most importantly: expanding, nurturing and developing your network.”

How to expand your network virtually

When you’re looking for a new job, Salton says the most important thing you can do is network – not in the schmoozing attending every event for the sake of it-way, but networking in the sense of fostering genuine authentic professional relationships with people in your industry and other industries you’re interested in. 

“Now could be a great time to try and kind of reconnect with old friends or colleagues, or try and build up new connections in your areas of interests,” Salton says. 

“I try and avoid being totally prescriptive on how to expand your network because I do think it’s a very personal thing. For some people, it may be texting previous colleagues and asking them for a virtual coffee – catching up with their professional world and getting a bit more of a feel for other people’s roles or employers. It can almost be a social reconnect.”

Salton also encourages all of her clients to be proactive about networking on LinkedIn. 

“LinkedIn is brilliant for being visible and for sharing content,” she says. “A lot of people aim to create a really shiny profile and hope to get headhunted. In my experience, that’s not the reality or the usefulness of LinkedIn, it’s much more useful to use as a platform to outreach and to have conversations with people. 

“This could be reaching out to people at companies that you might be interested in working at, asking for a virtual coffee over Skype to learn a little bit more about that person’s career journey, and learn about their challenges. I would recommend doing this in the spirit of connection and building a community. Sometimes people feel a bit funny about reaching out ‘cold’ to people, so do it with the right intention – to learn, gain insights, expand your network – rather than to pester them asking for a job. In my experience, the more you put yourself out there and make efforts to connect, learn, and network, the more opportunities come back to you.”

How to ace a virtual job interview

Once you’ve secured a job interview, Salton says the process would be like any normal application, but the main interview will take place virtually instead of in person. 

“In certain industries, people have been using virtual interviews for a really long time, using telephone and video interviewing. So it’s quite well used anyway but obviously now it’s the default,” Salton says. 

“I would say the biggest risk is candidates being more self conscious or getting a bit flustered and nervous about using technology. So candidates should be reassured, that in terms of how they approach it, and the type of answers they give, a lot of that doesn’t change.”

Salton adds that the basics you need to get right before going into a virtual job interview are making sure you have a strong internet connection, making sure your household knows that you have an interview so you’re less likely to be interrupted but also if your kids do burst in, to not let it affect you too much and know that the interviewer understands the current tricky circumstances. 

How you are placed on your screen is another factor, and Salton says it should be like a passport photo. 

She continues: “Not being too far away or too close to the screen, with all of your head and maybe the tops of your shoulders and make sure the angle is okay. It doesn’t have to be super flattering, but making sure that you’re seen head on, rather than tilted. What you can do if you have a laptop is just try raising it a little bit with books so that your laptop is at eye level.”

What to wear during a virtual job interview

Salton recommends making the environment of the at-home interview as similar to an in-person interview as possible – which means wearing clothes you would regularly wear to a job interview

She adds: “You could argue that as long as you’re in a suit from the waist up, wear wherever you like, but I personally think from a mindset perspective, it helps you get in the right frame of mind.

“If you’re fully dressed how you would normally be, I think it puts you in more of a sophisticated, professional mindset.”

Body language is important, too. Think natural arm movement, looking at the person speaking on the screen instead of eyeballing the camera and allowing for natural silences.

“Knowing yourself and being able to confidently and clearly communicate your strengths, your skills, your experience – be that on an application form a CV, or your LinkedIn profile – is really key,” Salton adds.

“The ability to build relationships – whether that’s through an interview or through networking – will always continue to be important.”

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