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Is this the most important thing you need to do in an online interview?

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With a virtually total lockdown in place over the country for the next few weeks/months while we wait for the vaccine roll-out to take place, we’re going to have to persist with online and video assessments for some time to come.

Now I know what you’re thinking… how hard can it be to act normally online? Well, the unfortunate truth, as we know from our experience interviewing online over most of 2020, is that many people still struggle with sitting in front of a camera, phone or laptop.

In particular, we have found that candidates agonise over their choice of background. At least in a normal, face-to-face interview, you are on neutral territory and it’s the same for everyone, but when you’re squinting down a Zoom screen then what does your choice of background say about you?

If it’s lots of books, are you trying to make a point about how intellectual you are?  If it’s kids’ paintings, does that make (some) people think you’re going to be distracted by your children rather than working.  Don’t (as we heard of recently) have an arty nude on the wall behind you.  Apart from anything else, it can distract the interviewer!  

Other things that distract the interviewer are pets getting in the way, your mobile going off or emails pinging across your screen in the middle of your explanation as to how you are the best thing since sliced bread.  Similarly, your broadband flickering in and out doesn’t help.  So make sure you prepare properly before you press the ‘video and audio’ button.  Also, don’t look off-camera: make sure you maintain eye-contact with whomever you are speaking to and, as in any interview, answer the questions put to you, not the ones you want put to you.  However, important at these are, arguably the single biggest no-no is dressing inappropriately.

Now it’s horses for courses obviously.  If you’re applying for a techie job, no-one expects you to wear a three-piece pin stripe.  Similarly, if you’re going for a construction site manager post, you won’t be wearing a hard-hat to the interview.  For admin posts, don’t rock up in your jammies, and above all, don’t think you can get away with only jazzing up the bits you think are visible on camera. This sounds obvious, but it is scary just how many people think they can get away with it. 

For example, early in January, Bart de Wever, the Mayor of Antwerp no less, was caught without his trousers during a Zoom interview.  Like Mr Reeve, he too wore a smart shirt for his interview with Belgium’s version of Radio 2. Unfortunately, he hadn’t reckoned with a mirror (see what I mean about getting the background correct) that revealed his wardrobe malfunction. Monsieur Wever said: “I’ll remember this for a long time.”   So will you if you are found to be sitting in your underwear while trying to conduct a serious discussion about your future employment prospects!

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment


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