How to Make a Great Impression in a Virtual Interview

Global pandemic got you thinking this is no time for a job change? Think again! Unemployment did soar to alarming rates in the early days of Covid. According to the Harvard Business Review, U.S. unemployment jumped from 3.5% in February of 2020 to 14.7% in April. But as of November 2020, it’s back down to 6.7%.
 
There is a job market, and it’s yours to partake in if you so choose. But the search is likely to be virtual.
 
So whether you’re out of a job or just looking for a change, let’s talk about strategies that will help you shine on screen and land your dream job.

1. Polish that profile

Keeping your online presence current and polished is a good idea in any moment or market. But according to Fast Company, there’s a particular urgency to sprucing it up right now. 
 
“Because many HR professionals are relying on video interviews, they’re also looking for ways to get a better feel for who the candidates are… [so] many are turning to social media profiles and looking for evidence of the candidate’s work online.”
 
This is a moment to assess your professional online presence. Personally, I focus on LinkedIn.
 
What’s your headline? What achievements are you highlighting? Do you have links in your profile to samples of your work?  Can you ask for testimonials or endorsements from people in your network? Ask a few friends to check out your LinkedIn profile as if they were looking to hire. Get their feedback and make adjustments. 
 
This is your moment to use LinkedIn like a Rockstar.

2. Set the scene for success

My family has this little holiday tradition. Every year we watch the 1989 classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It gets worse every year, but you don’t mess with tradition. This year, my 13-year-old was savvy enough to recognize that no one in Clark Griswold’s office had a computer on their desk. She simply couldn’t fathom the idea of work getting done in a pre-technology world. I can barely believe it myself.
 
Technology has evolved in ways the workforce of 1989 could never have imagined. It’s amazing what we can do today. But while videoconferencing technology has technically enabled amazing things, we all know it can be clunky and awkward by 2020 standards. So do your best to make your virtual interview as smooth as possible.
 
Here’s a quick checklist:
 
  • Check your tech. Internet connection, microphone, webcam—are they all working? If not, make sure you troubleshoot ahead of time.
     
  • Create a professional setting. Your background—real or virtual—should be as professional as possible.
     
  • Test the platform in advance. Make sure that wherever you’re meeting (Zoom, Teams, etc.) you have everything downloaded or updated, and you'll be able to get into the virtual interview without a hitch. Do a practice run with a friend if you’re anxious.
     
  • Strip out distractions where you can. Kids, dogs, landscapers, snowblowers—they're all noisemakers of the highest order! Be aware, and do your best to minimize.
     
  • Acknowledge distractions you can’t control. In a tiny apartment or homeschooling kids solo? Don't stress! Just call this out as the meeting begins so no one is caught off guard. Any interviewer with a shred of humanity will offer you some grace.

If the interviewer isn't willing to cut you some slack, pay attention to that vibe! I mean, is a workplace that can't roll with real-world challenges graciously really where you want to be?

3. Account for the floating head syndrome

Videoconferencing is the best we’ve got, but it’s not perfect. There is so much about in-person interaction that we didn’t appreciate until we lost it! We’re now trading in floating heads. We’ve lost our access to body language which helped us read the room or sense how we were being received by our conversation partner.
 

In the absence of body language, you’ve got only your voice, so check in with the interviewer.

 
In a pre-pandemic world, the savvy among us might read subtle cues from the interviewer indicating we’ve gone off-topic, or we’re going into too much detail. But in the absence of body language, you’ve got only your voice.
 
So check in—not constantly, but periodically. Ask the interviewer “Am I answering the question you asked?” or “How’s this level of detail? I can provide more or less if that would be helpful.” 
 
The interviewer will appreciate your checking in. It demonstrates an emotional intelligence many of your competitors may not show.

4. Keep that energy soaring

We all know Zoom-fatigue is real. Energy tends to be lower on video, so find ways to express enthusiasm that the interviewer can’t help but experience.

Focus on being fully present.

This isn’t about singing and dancing (though some solid choreography would certainly make you memorable!) Focus instead on being fully present. Close all of your tabs or windows besides the videoconference. The temptation to multi-task or be distracted by an email is dangerous. This will help you stay focused on the conversation at hand.
 
Be prepared to share stories or examples about projects you were really excited about being a part of. Oh, and find moments to just smile! Let your interviewer know, visually, you’re just happy to be there. Your enthusiasm will shine through.

5. Ask questions of the moment 

It’s good practice in any climate to ask thoughtful questions in an interview. Hiring leaders respond well to curiosity. Especially the kind that shows you did some prep work.
 
In this particular climate, be sure you ask a question or two that is relevant to the experience we're all having. You might ask how they’ve shifted their strategy or service delivery or what they’ve learned about their customers during Covid.
 
This line of questioning shows not only a spirit of curiosity, but that you’re thinking about the need to redirect, be agile, and consider the context when engaging with their products or customers.

6. Put your resilience on display

The great buzzword of 2020 will surely carry into 2021. You may have skills, experience, and connections, but every company wants to know: Are you resilient?
 
Buzzy though it may be, companies want, now more than ever, to recruit people who know how to deal with setbacks, handle rejection, learn from failure, and keep on truckin'!

Every company wants to know: Are you resilient?

So as you move through your conversation, find spots to highlight moments of failure that taught you something new; challenges you overcame; or difficult feedback you used to improve yourself. You can even talk about how you transitioned to working while homeschooling, nursing, and doing whatever else the pandemic has demanded of you.
 
These are the rules of the road when it comes to virtual interviewing. And of course, it goes without saying that what mattered in traditional interviewing—being on time, being professional, doing your research, sending a thank you note—all still applies.
 
Now go get ‘em, tiger!
 

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Prepare Yourself for the Future of Work

The future of work has been on our collective minds for some time.

Technically, you never arrive in the future. It’s always, by definition, ahead of you. Yet months into a global pandemic that has triggered major changes to how we work, many experts are saying the future of work is hurtling towards us.

I sat down with Vice President of People and Communities at Cisco Systems, Elaine Mason. Elaine is a well-read deep thinker on the subject of the future of work, and I invited her to share her own research-based reflections on the changes we’ve seen so far, and what may still be to come.

And no matter what your job, career stage, or aspiration, Elaine shared plenty of tangible advice you can put to work today to prepare for your future professional success.

We focused our conversation on four trends that have been particularly relevant in 2020. These were:

  1. The remote workforce
  2. Diversity and Inclusion as part of corporate strategy
  3. Movement in the gig economy
  4. Shifts in corporate structure and hierarchy

The future of work and the remote workforce

Remote work could be here to stay

As I write this piece in my dining room—while my kids homeschool in their bedrooms—I’m aware that working virtually has become the norm for many across the globe.

Prior to the pandemic, company philosophies on remote work were all over the map. Some organizations have worked virtually for years. Many others resisted the trend.

The world of work has probably fundamentally changed.

But as Elaine describes the current state of virtual work, “With the rare exceptions of lab work, manufacturing, healthcare, [and other frontline professions] the majority of us are now [commuting]… seven feet from our beds to our offices.”

“The world of work has probably fundamentally changed,” she says.

Companies that had previously been cynical of virtual work have been forced to acknowledge that things are getting done. In many cases, executives report higher levels of productivity than ever.

But Elaine warns that studies on productivity are not yet conclusive. Some show productivity is up. Others, however, contend that work time is up, but actual productivity is down. The jury remains out.

So what’s next in the world of virtual work and productivity?

The purpose of the traditional office will evolve

Elaine predicts that virtual work is here to stay … sort of. The way we use the traditional office will likely shift.

"Workspaces will be used more like community service centers," she said. "What you're [likely] to see is those large campuses for a lot of organizations… will probably shrink, and the use of that space will be more event-based or point-in-time-based."

Workspaces will be used more like community service centers … and the use of that space will be more event-based or point-in-time-based.

In other words, there will be an office to go to, but it won’t necessarily be everyone’s default. You’ll go if and when a project or occasion calls for an in-person working session.

The good news? “If you're a new Yorker,” she offers, “that's been dying to live in Wyoming, this [may be] your chance.”

The concept of productivity will evolve

As Elaine points out, the measurement of virtual productivity is messy. Many companies measure by the amount of time employees spend on screens. By that measure, productivity is going up. But so is burnout.

Wearable technologies (think augmented and virtual reality) will allow companies to better measure how employees engage with their work.

In the future, she explains, we will begin to see a shift toward wearable technologies (think augmented and virtual reality) that will allow companies to better measure how employees engage with their work beyond staring at screens.

We’ll see a more complex definition of productivity grounded in actual outcomes versus just minutes online.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Rethink your geography. If you want to make a move, this may be your moment.
  • Consider your priorities. Let go of the mindset that busyness equals productiveness. What impact do you want to have, and what work do you need to prioritize in service of that?

The future of work and Diversity and Inclusion

While the pandemic has challenged companies to figure out remote work on the fly, social justice happenings have pushed Diversity and Inclusion to the forefront of corporate priorities.

Progressive organizations are weaving Diversity and Inclusion into the fabric of their business strategies.

Elain says, "Companies are focusing on the triple bottom line: People, Profit, Planet… putting social justice into how they operate.”

So what does this look like in practice?

According to Elaine, companies are moving away from having standalone diversity strategies and departments. Progressive organizations are weaving Diversity and Inclusion into the fabric of their business strategies.

Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s) are a great example of this trend. ERG’s are voluntary, employee-led groups within organizations that aim to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace. Each group typically includes participants who share a characteristic such as gender identification or ethnicity. 

Employee Resource Groups are no longer just there to serve participants—they are informing company investment decisions.

At Cisco, Elaine says, the executive leadership team has started meeting quarterly with ERG’s to understand their experiences and incorporate their ideas into business decisions. These ERG’s, in other words, are no longer just there to serve participants—they are informing company investment decisions.

ERG recommendations are helping to shape product development and positioning and marketing strategy, all of which contribute to top and bottom lines.

Organizations like Twitter are beginning to compensate ERG leaders—historically these have been volunteer roles—in recognition of their strategic value.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Lean into diversity. Don’t just pay it lip service, but be proactive in engaging with a variety of voices and experiences.
  • Be humble. Know you’ll make mistakes along the way. “Listen. And assume you don’t know [things],” Elaine says.

The future of work and the gig economy

“Gig is having fits and starts,” Elaine said. She described the tension that many American workers face between desiring the independence of gig work but also relying on the healthcare and benefits provided by full-time employment.

Job insecurity will continue to push people to consider going out on their own, while the need for employer-provided health insurance will challenge that choice.

And she believes that tension will keep the gig economy in the US in fits-and-starts mode. Job insecurity will continue to push people to consider going out on their own, while the need for employer-provided health insurance will challenge that choice.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Be incredibly clear about what you’re qualified to do. What do you want to do? Where those things overlap? “This requires a good degree of self-awareness and an understanding of what [you’re] known for today."
  • Decide where you need to invest. Are there experiences, credentials, references you need to accumulate? Do those things early.
  • Focus on standing out. If you do business strategy consulting, for example, is there a unique angle you can offer to help yourself stand out from other such consultants? Differentiation will matter more as the gig economy grows.

The future of work and shifts in corporate structure and hierarchy

Recent years have revealed a good deal of pendulum swinging when it comes to how much structure and hierarchy is best.

“There was a real trend in the last decade,” Elaine explained “of breaking down structures [and] silos.” She described how online shoe-retailer Zappos experimented with the Holocracy—a means of giving decision authority to groups and teams rather than individuals. (Spoiler: they’ve since moved away from this un-structure.)

Companies, in Elaine’s opinion, are working to determine the ideal balance of hierarchy and freedom. And the previous trends we discussed are having a big impact on that decision.

Everyone is trying to design for agility and resilience, two of today’s buzziest words.

So while some companies are leaning toward structure and hierarchy while others lean away, the common thread she sees is that everyone is trying to design for agility and resilience, two of today’s buzziest words.

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind a company that it needs to be ready for absolutely anything. As organizations assess how they’re organized, they’re asking questions like “How fast can we recover? What contingencies do we have in place? What plan Bs and plan Cs do we have?” 

Elaine doesn’t know exactly what structure the organization of the future will take on. But she does offer some actionable wisdom.

HOW YOU CAN PREPARE

  • Gain new skills. Whatever your role, function, or industry, upskill yourself on being ready for change at any moment
  • Think broadly about what “career progression” means for you. As companies evolve, titles and promotions may no longer be the thing to shoot for.

For Elaine, she measures her own progression through three lenses that you too might consider:

  • Economic. How much money do you want or need to make?
  • Impact. "How close are you to positions of power and authority that allow you to make the largest impact on an organization?"
  • Personal growth. Are you learning new things as you go?

And there you have it. No one, not even the great Elaine Mason, can predict the future. But there are some actions you can take that will be sure to serve you, no matter what the years ahead might look like.

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