Interview Etiquette During COVID
Virtual Interviews during COVID has presented a new set of unique challenges for both job seekers and employers. Two SRAI members share their thoughts from both perspectives during this unique year.
From the standpoint of the Interviewer:
For better or worse, I have had the duty and privilege of conducting a flurry of Zoom interviews recently. The good news is that with any luck our new colleague will be starting their job very soon. Conducting a productive Zoom interview takes preparation and coordination between all the parties. In order to keep the process fair, all candidates should be asked approximately the same questions, understanding that their answers may take the interview in a different direction. Start with a list of HR-approved questions, published by most academic institutions. There are some serious DO NOT ASK questions, such as those published here. With that settled, distribute a list of good questions to each interviewer and have them select the ones they would like to ask. Be sure that the same format is followed for each interview. Googling “Academic Recruitment Interview Questions” should help with questions that will reveal your best fit.
Once each interviewer has selected a few questions (3-4 should be plenty per person), designate someone to lead the interview to avoid those awkward Zoom silences where everyone stares at each other and no one knows what to do! This format worked well for us:
- Do your homework. Read cover letters and resumes carefully ahead of time, and make note of anything that grabs your attention, good or bad.
- Check your biases at the door! Whether conscious or unconscious, our biases can lead to bad decisions. Go in with an open mind, free of pre-judgement.
- Welcome everyone to the interview and start with introductions. Keep it short, such as your role at the institution, how long you have been there, and a little about your job duties. Don’t forget to give the candidate time to introduce themselves. Cameras ON please, let them see your face. When you are not speaking mute your microphone to avoid distracting background noises.
- Go around with 1 question per interviewer. Follow up questions are allowed to delve deeper into an answer.
- After 2-3 rounds of questions, THEN describe the position more in depth. The point of waiting to describe the position is to avoid “feeding” answers to an applicant ahead of time, and also to see how much research they have done on their own.
- Leave at least 15-20 minutes at the end for the candidate to ask questions. This can be the most important part of the interview, to get a sense of how well everyone is “clicking” for that all important gut-check after interviews are over. My go-to questions for this part are, “What would you like to ask us?” and “Why are you the best candidate for the position?”
- Thank the interviewee for their time and leave contact information for any follow-up questions they have.
- When interviews have been conducted solicit feedback from all interviewers using a standard interview assessment form. A level playing field is paramount to keep interviews fair and impartial.
From the standpoint of an Interviewee:
Interviews are nerve-racking, even in the best of circumstances, you want to make your best impression and show that you are the perfect candidate for the position. Now layer on potential technical difficulties and an increased awareness of how you look (you are staring at yourself in a little box in the corner of the screen). I have first-hand experience with this, having been hired fully remotely last year. Additionally, our office has hired five new people since that time, so I have spent a lot of time on both sides of the Zoom. Here are a few tips to help you prepare so that you can focus on impressing them with your experience and reasoning.
- First thing, is your computer plugged in and your internet or Wi-Fi working well? The last thing you want is for your computer to shut down or your Wi-Fi to drop unexpectedly if you can help it.
- Check your environment. Turn on the camera and see what is visible behind you or turn on a neutral background filter. Avoid a lot of clutter or a distracting background filter, you want them to focus on your answers. Check the lighting, do you have a glare from a window or is your face in a shadow? Try to reduce ambient noise, like from an open window or a loud fan.
- Close everything else on your desktop! Avoid distractions like your email, that project you are in the middle of, and Slack or Teams. Also, just like you would if it were in person, put your phone on silent.
- Close/minimize the video box of yourself – studies have shown that video conferences are more draining on the participants partly because they can see themselves and are hyperaware of their own appearance and spend mental energy critiquing and actively adjusting their behaviors. Don’t let the video of you distract you from listening to and answering their questions.
- Can you hear me? Make sure you are close to the microphone. You can also test that the microphone is working in the settings for the service you are using (Zoom, Teams, etc.). It can be very helpful to confirm everyone can hear you when you first start the call.
- Can you hear them? If you are having trouble hearing what they say (and your volume is all the way up), do not be afraid to say you are having trouble hearing them or asking them to repeat the question.
- Look at the camera. This one is tricky, but it is helpful to look directly at the camera when you are talking, that way it appears that you are looking at them when you respond. You can move the windows of the other participants to directly below the camera so you can glance at them to see how they are responding without looking away. I have also found that putting a sticky note directly above the camera that says “LOOK HERE” helps a lot.
- Dress to impress. We have all gotten used to dressing comfortably while working remotely and understand that you only see the upper half of a person on the video. But sometimes you must unexpectedly get up to shut a door or shift the camera, so consider the whole outfit you are wearing.
- And finally, you will probably be having a lot of video conferences in your new position, especially if it will be remote, so show off how good you are at them!
||Angela Behrend, Senior Grants and Contracts Administrator, University of Virginia, SRAI At-Large Board Member, Catalyst Committee Member
||Trevor Johnson, Associate Director, Emory University, Catalyst Committee Member