One of the advantages of interviewing during a pandemic is that you’re likely to be able to do it from the comfort of your own home through videoconferencing. Not only does it save time by eliminating a commute; you can set up your environment to help you shine. Having a cheat sheet can help, but it also has the potential to derail your interview, says Cheryl Hyatt, a partner with Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search.
“Any candidate interviewing for a position, whether it’s in person or virtual, should make some type of notes,” she says. “When you’re in person, you may not pull them out to read from them, but looking at a list before you go into the meeting can help you remember what you want to discuss. When you’re interviewing virtually, though, you have the advantage of being able to have them out, but you still have to be careful using them.”
Don’t write long paragraphs, says Hyatt. Instead, create bullet points of things you want to remember or to share. Hyatt suggests creating notes on these three areas:
1. The Company
Do your homework on the company, gathering information such as its basic history, key players, mission, values, and culture. When appropriate, you can interject what you know to demonstrate your interest in the job and that you’ve done your due diligence.
“The number-one thing to do to prepare for an interview is to know something about the organization,” says Hyatt. “Everyone has a mission, and you should know what that is. If they don’t talk about it during the interview, ask about it.”
2. Your Unique Skills or Experiences
The goal of an interview is to connect your experience with a particular position. Before the meeting, identify the activities and accomplishments in your background that would make you the most qualified candidate for the position.
“Maybe it’s examples of something you’ve done within your current company that would be similar to something the new employer might find impressive,” says Hyatt. “You don’t need your full résumé; you know what you did. Prepare bullet points about highlights from your career that you want to share with them.”
3. A List of Questions
Whether the interview is by video, phone, or in person, you should always go into it prepared to ask questions. In fact, many interviewers will end the interview by asking, “Do you have any questions for me?”
Don’t do it on the fly, says Hyatt. “A lot of candidates wait to see if something comes up during the interview,” she says. “Having a prepared list communicates intentionality and thoughtfulness to your interviewers.”
For example, ask about the company’s mission if it isn’t addressed. You can also inquire about the manager’s leadership style, the organization’s projected trajectory, or tasks that might not be in the job description.
But Don’t Let Your Notes Derail the Interview
A written aid should help you engage more fully, but don’t turn it into a script that stunts your ability to connect with the interviewer. How you use your notes is important.
“If you’ve ever done any type of videoconference, there’s a difference between somebody constantly looking down at their notes and somebody who knows where the green light is,” says Hyatt. “When you’re responding to a question, your eyes should be looking at the camera.”
To make use of your research, Hyatt recommends using sticky notes and putting them around the camera. Or if a wall is behind your camera, paste your notes there.
“You’ll be looking straight ahead, even if you’re reading from the notes,” she says. “You don’t want to continue looking down. People see when someone’s eyes are averted.”
Also, make sure you know which note is where. Looking around the room or your desk to find the correct points can make you look scattered, says Hyatt. “It doesn’t matter what position you’re interviewing for—organizational skills matter,” she says.
And don’t let your notes lead the discussion. Sometimes candidates who prepare cheat sheets don’t listen to or answer the question that was asked. Instead, they veer off and interject their notes into the conversation.
“No matter how much you prepare, you need to listen to what the interviewer is asking and consider why they’re asking it,” says Hyatt. “You want to be able to address their questions succinctly and completely. If they don’t ask what you had prepared to answer, you may have time at the end of the interview to share additional information.”
Virtual interviewing can be an advantage because you’re on your own turf and may feel more comfortable, adds Hyatt. “If you put sticky notes near the camera, the interviewer will often be none the wiser,” she says. “One important post-it to have up there is either a word or a drawing that reminds you to smile. If you smile when you’re talking it helps with your nerves and helps you better connect to the interviewer.”