We’ve all heard it. Our goal is to make a great impression with all of the things before, during, and after a job interview to help paint the picture of our professionalism, excellence, and a general sense of, you-can’t-live-another-day-without-hiring-me-ness.
Years ago that meant: Dress the part. Arrive 15 minutes early. Chat with the receptionist before going in. Shake the person’s hand.
But then, literally overnight, everything changed. And no one shared the new set of rules with us. We were suddenly having to face the most important career conversations from our bedrooms, kitchens, even, sometimes, bathrooms; with kids, roommates, pets, and/or ear-splitting construction vying for our attention. There was no receptionist to greet. No hand to shake firmly. Not even the concept of showing up early (okay, there’s definitely still the concept of late, but that one goes without saying).
So what do we do when the old rules no longer apply? We make up new ones. And over the past two years (or 15 years in pandemic time), after changing jobs twice and speaking to countless colleagues and friends about their experiences interviewing virtually, I found three “new rules” that emerged.
Rule 1: Pump yourself up
Technically, this is something you do before the interview, but since it’s to ensure the interview goes well, it counts: Think back to the last time you interviewed in person. There was the waiting in the reception area, not being sure if you should ask for a glass of water, looking at your phone but not looking at your phone too much in case the whole waiting thing was also part of the interview. Then, you get abruptly called in to start, and you jumped up trying to not look overeager, and nervously walked down the hall to the interview room. Just me?
Not anymore. When you are dialing in from home or a location of your choosing, you manage the moments right before the interview, including how you pump yourself up. Whether it’s Amy Cuddy’s power pose, doing 20 pushups, or my personal favorite, ’80s flash dancing to Blinding Lights by the Weeknd, find your own technique, or “pre-talk ritual,” as author and presentation-design expert Nancy Duarte calls them—to pump yourself up in a way that releases extra energy and turns any jitters into excitement.
This rule is especially useful when you’re in a series of interviews in one day. Only have 30 seconds between video calls? Get up out of that chair and stretch. Take a sip of water. Do four jumping jacks. Studies over the past two years have proven how real Zoom fatigue is; not only causing discomfort due to eye strain but also creating a cognitive load that can impair your performance in an interview. Resist the urge to pick up your phone and start doom scrolling. Instead, do something calming or something physical, and you’ll be more prepared for whatever is thrown at you next.
Rule 2: Get the other person smiling
The virtual world is full of distractions, and we never know what’s going on in the environment of the person on the other side of the video feed. And hate to say it, but with the spike in the amount of time spent in meetings (Microsoft Teams reported an increase from 75 million users to 115 million users, and Zoom reported a jump to 300 million users in the first month of the pandemic), it’s likely that your interview is sandwiched between 10 other meetings and fire drills happening for the interviewer that day.
How do we set the tone for our conversation and own the energy of the virtual room, no matter what is going on for the person on the other end? We get them smiling right away. Extensive research, much brought to light in the viral TEDx talk “The Hidden Power of Smiling” by Ron Gutman, reminds us of the myriad benefits of smiling—including the reward mechanism in our own brains that actually reduces stress and improves our moods. When we have a more positive attitude, we are more open-minded, more forgiving, and more curious. This makes it all the more important to have our interviewer in a smiling headspace. It brings their defenses down and opens the door to building a connection.
I’ve found the most powerful way to get an interviewer smiling authentically is to ask them to share their favorite aspect of their job or team. When people speak about something meaningful to them, they light up from the inside out, not only giving you critical insight into what is important to this prospective colleague or manager but also leaving the other person feeling good about your conversation. Who doesn’t want to leave their interviewer feeling great?
Rule 3: Ask specific questions about virtual team culture and work environment
You likely will be starting this job from the comfort (or discomfort, depending on your current stance on WFH life) of your home for a while, meaning, the person on the other end of that video conference might be the only insight into the company you get. When we go to an interview in person, we get a window into the culture: People chatting in the coffee room, the buzz in the cafeteria, maybe even people playing table tennis. And companies might have gone to great lengths to foster a strong virtual culture via chat rooms and social hours and virtual team events, but you won’t know unless you ask.
Ask questions about the team culture, how the company has managed the transition from in-office to remote, how virtual onboarding will go, if there are opportunities to meet in person, you name it. The bonus is, you get to learn a little more about the interviewer and what they value, something really important to have insight into if that person is going to be a supervisor or peer.
The 2020 HBR article, “How to Find Out if a Company’s Culture is Right for You” by Kristi DePaul, shares a range of questions to help you get beneath the surface when it comes to talking about company culture. More specific to the virtual world, questions like, “What is one way in which working remotely has improved company culture or brought people closer together?” can be really telling about how your interviewer perceives the culture. Either you see the interviewer’s face light up by talking about something exciting about the team (and tap into the power of the smile), or you see how much the team is struggling. Both are incredibly helpful pieces of data to help you make a decision about taking the role.
Virtual interviewing can be intimidating until we remember to use the space and format to our advantage. Find a ritual that helps pump you up and get your head in the game, narrow in on an inspiring question that gets your interviewer smiling, and ask questions to learn about the virtual team dynamics— and you will be well on your way to having a successful interview in which you’ve gone the extra mile to learn about the role.
Lia Garvin is a team operations leader in tech, a coach, and the author of Unstuck: Reframe Your Thinking to Free Yourself From the Patterns and People that Hold You Back.