Q: What are your top tips for interviewing virtually?
Interview season is coming. And, like it or not, your interviews are almost guaranteed to be virtual. The silver lining to this? We have all been practicing for virtual interviews since March, thanks to COVID. That means you probably already know where you get the most reliable Wi-Fi signal and what your resting face looks like. That also means that you probably already have a few virtual meeting pet peeves! For me, it’s the Outlook 15-minute reminder ping of whomever is not on mute. Think about things that have annoyed you over the past 6 months of virtual meetings, learning, and patient care; how are you going to ensure that you are not an offender?
Recently, my husband had a virtual interview that he had prepared for extensively. However, about 30 minutes before “go-time,” he realized that his setup in our very, very small dining room was not ideal. All of a sudden, the two of us were in a rearranging frenzy: taking the mirror off the wall, finding the perfect width of book to put on top of the laptop stand, adjusting the blinds for the right amount of light, flicking the light switch on and off, setting up his notes with tape against a glass on the table, and then kicking his wife and daughter out of the house to avoid distraction. Ultimately, he had a successful interview, but we both realized that making the perfect virtual environment takes energy, time, and more resources than we had imagined.
Don’t let this happen to you!
Here are some tips:
- Remember location, location, location! There are many aspects to this, so let’s break it down further:
- Camera angle – place your camera at eye level or slightly angled downward. This means you will likely have to invest in a laptop stand or a stack of sturdy pharmacy textbooks. You may be tempted to use your phone because it has the nicest camera, but I strongly urge you to find a different option. There are so many notifications, buzzes, rings, and alerts that phones send that, even when you think you have muted them all, one sneaks through. The last thing you want is for your interviewers to be afraid of your gigantic hand reaching out toward them as you flick the banner notification away.
- Background – keep it neutral. No distracting photos, mirrors, or decorations. Pharmacy diplomas, appropriate posters, and simple decorations are acceptable. As for those virtual backgrounds of you at the beach, at the Eiffel Tower, or on a gondola in Venice … I would skip those (though that sounds like fun right now, doesn’t it?!). Keep it professional and simple.
- Lighting – is everything! Proper lighting eliminates shadows, glares, and reflections and makes the person on the other side feel as though you are actually sitting at the table with them. Natural light from a window is ideal to preserve a realistic color scheme. Position yourself directly toward the light source, not from the side and never, ever from behind. If your interview will take place at dusk or nighttime, check out 3-point lighting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBGuQZo0g94, or even an LED ring light.
- Sound – This includes how you sound and your background noise. The best way to tackle this is to get a good friend to meet with you virtually at the same time as your interview and see what happens. You might not have realized it before, but maybe the garbage truck always comes by at this time, or the neighbor’s dog is louder in the living room than in the bedroom. Make sure your microphone is not muffled by any surroundings, project your voice, and speak clearly! Interviewers can always turn down the volume on their end. In addition, if your environment is quiet, you will not need to constantly mute/unmute/mute/unmute until you accidentally start talking while on mute and hear “you’re on mute” from your interviewer (my virtual meeting pet peeve #2!).
- Wi-Fi connection – You may successfully complete steps a–d only to find that where your lighting and camera angle are best is actually a dead zone. You can purchase Wi-Fi extenders, or upgrade your speed, if that is within your financial means (https://www.techradar.com/news/the-best-wi-fi-extenders). You can also try to reduce the number of devices using Wi-Fi during your interview. (Tell your roommate to take a Netflix break!) Sit close to your router, shut down all other apps on your interviewing device, and do not engage in any downloading during the interview.
- Distractions – This includes family members, children, friends, pets, door-to-door salespeople, and all of your other devices. Put a sign on the door as a reminder, or set up your interview spot in a rarely used space. I’ve even heard of people renting a hotel room just for the afternoon to complete their virtual meeting in a quiet environment. In addition, consider the distractions on your screen. Close your e-mail to avoid the 15-minute meeting ping and wandering eyes. Close your web browser to eliminate the urge to Google something quickly. Definitely close all of those Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files to promote your focus on the task at hand: your interview.
- Consider your interview etiquette. The great news: you aren’t in person, and no one can tell how much you fidget or talk with your hands. The bad news: your typical mannerisms will need to be modified for video.
- Look directly at the camera – not at your interviewer, but at the actual dot in your computer, when you are speaking. This is awkward, but it will appear as though you are looking them directly in the eye. Feel free to look back at the screen when not speaking so that you can pick up on nonverbal cues from your interviewer.
- Wear headphones – they may not be “cute,” but it will be worth it to have better sound quality and no lag time or echo in your speakers. Headphones will also help you stay focused and “in the zone” so that you don’t get distracted.
- Allow for the inevitable awkwardness – there may be freezes, tech hiccups, or pauses that feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, that comes with the territory of virtual meetings. Maintain your composure, be polite, and ask for others to repeat themselves, if necessary. Keeping your cool through a technologically challenging virtual interview will hopefully translate into a pharmacist who is calm under pressure.
- Talk slowly – it’s hard enough to keep up with someone who is nervous and speaking fast in person, and it’s even harder to keep up over video! Speeding up your speech will not make the interview over faster, I promise. I’ve tried.
- Wait your turn – in person, you may use fillers like “yes,” “okay,” and “mm-hm” to show you are following along. Over video, however, these fillers are distracting and may actually sound like you are trying to speak up or interrupt your interviewer. Nod your head and smile, but try to refrain from these typical verbal fillers.
- Be a technology pro. Try to practice with the specific platform that will host your interview (Zoom, WebEx, Cisco, etc.).
- Sign on EARLY – Don’t get caught struggling with the link, having to restart your computer, or not knowing how to work the technology. It will delay your interview and take time away from showing them your strengths.
- Flex your tech skills – If you are comfortable in the platform, offer to share your screen of a presentation or project that you have worked on. This is equivalent to bringing in your portfolio to a physical interview and will show your interviewers just how prepared you really are.
- Remember that practice makes perfect. Practice until you get it right and then practice more until you can’t get it wrong. Your answers and stories should be second nature by the time you get to an interview, thereby preventing any stuttering, confusion, or awkward pauses while you rack your brain for your preferred answer. Although you can/should keep notes for yourself, try not to sound as though you are reading off the notes taped to the side of your computer.
Of course, the timeless interview tips are also still relevant, no matter the venue:
- Dress to impress. Even though they can only see your chest and higher, you will feel more confident and prepared if you also wear the bottom half of your outfit.
- Have several questions for each interviewer. This shows you are engaged in the interview, interested in their program, and eager to get the job.
- Send a thank-you card! This might be the first time I’ve said I would prefer a physical card, but I am so tired of reading my e-mails while working from home all day. However, e-mails don’t get lost and will always make it to the recipient before the final decision is made. So, a thank-you e-mail is still a safe bet.
- Be yourself. It is absolutely appropriate to be your authentic self (though pressed through a professional filter) during an interview. Smile, laugh, crack a couple of jokes, or share something personal about yourself.
- PRACTICE. Wait, I said that one already, didn’t I?! Must be important….
Some of these tips you may already have ironed out. If so, congrats, you are going to do fantastic on your virtual interview. If not, you still have plenty of time to make it perfect.
In the end, some things are out of your control, and that is okay! Give it your all, get all of your questions answered, and let your true colors shine.
Tamara Malm, Pharm.D., MPH, BCPS
Department of Pharmacy Practice & Administration
University of Saint Joseph School of Pharmacy & Physician Assistant Studies