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How to crack a virtual interview

With the evolving Covid-19 situation, all work, meetings and interviews have gone virtual. Hiring has become slow and the people who were once the interview rock-stars are now complaining that now interviews favour more technically skilled people than the ones who are skilled in working with other people. If you ask me, there is some amount of truth to that. As an introvert, I definitely am enjoying my working from home schedule. As a technical person, am enjoying the lack of office banter.

However, these are strange times and I have had some of my students go through virtual interviews. In fact, why speak of my students? A few years ago I interviewed with McKinsey in the London office. I had three interviews with them, two of which were virtual from their office. Why I didn't end up at McKinsey is a story for another time but I had really good feedback from them. So what is it that I did right? Or for that matter, what is it that my student who landed a job at Apple do differently to the average candidate?

Here are 12 things to consider:

1. Do you have a stable internet connection

This might seem like a no brainer but believe me it's not! How do I know this? I regularly speak to tons of online marketing entrepreneurs to keep this blog running and me sane. And if I could charge a pound for every time I bump into people with terrible internet connections, I'd be rich. You'd think, hey, these people are internet entrepreneurs, surely they've the sense to pay for the best internet service? No! So if these people don't I imagine a lot of us general people don't as well. But how do you make sure your internet connection is as stable as possible? Make sure to turn the load on the system down. Maybe reduce the bandwidth being used by YouTube or Netflix by other members at home when you're interviewing.

2. Do you have a decent set of headphones and microphone

Nothing kills a virtual interview like bad sound. Which is why you always see me looking like a call center agent on my YouTube channel. Better that than poor sound quality. Why? Because when your brain is struggling to just hear, it doesn't want to use up energy in comprehension. The same for your interviewer. So stop using the default computer audio.

3. Camera and lighting

Well I am not super precious about a high resolution camera because even the interviewer understands that you're likely not interviewing to be a YouTuber. So whatever camera you have as a default on your laptop / Mac should work fine. However, lighting is something that's under your control. Face a source of light so that your face and behavioural cues can be well read.

4. Confidence and body language

You'd be surprised how important this is even for a virtual interview. Even when your interviewer can't see your whole profile, it is actually really easy for them to see nerves and fidgeting on camera. So make sure you smile, and appear confident. If you want more tips on instant confidence building and other interview related tips, go here.

5. Do you have access to a white board or pen and paper where you could think aloud

This is one that I learned while interviewing specifically for McKinsey. Like I mentioned, two of my three McKinsey cases were virtual from their offices. So while doing the case, I had pen and paper handy (of course!) but also talked my interviewers through what I was doing by speaking aloud. Step after step after step.

Of course you might not be in the exact situation, i.e. you might not be in a case interview situation. However, most interviews present you with opportunities that you can demonstrate stellar communication with. Even if they're brain teasers, market sizing problems or just a machine learning algorithm that you're asked to explain, speaking aloud through steps shows confident communication. Besides, in interviews where I've gone up to the white board and talked demonstrated the solution to the interviewer, I've had a 100% success rate. While a white board might not be practical or visible on camera, you can get creative with the presentation mode on your call. Try using PowerPoint, paint or anything else to literally be on the same page as the interviewer.

6. Pause

This is the other thing I learned during interviewing for McKinsey. The power of a pause. In a real life job situation you are rarely expected to work without thinking. So if you need a minute to collect your thoughts, it is okay to say this to the interviewer. They will appreciate the candor and the thoughtfulness.

7. Are you dressed smartly

I understand that with the Covid-19 situation most of are in our lounge wear all day long. Most young consultants are also making silly jokes about the work-attire. However, realise that how you dress affects how you feel almost 100% of the time. So if you're in your pajamas during an interview, a part of your brain is still sitting in the lounge. On Netflix. Get dressed and check on camera as to how the colours show up on the screen. I learned this the hard way recently. I've an outfit that looks amazing in person. I wore it on camera a few days back and I swear it wasn't me. Not even one bit. So, I suggest you check out what you're wearing for the interview on the web-camera before hand. Hint: Bright colours and patterns (including pinstripes) are messy on camera.

8. Did you get into the interview zone mentally

If you remember the pre-Covid situation, many minutes were spent on the commute and wait to the interview room. This was the time you got to yourself to mentally get into the interview zone. However, when the commute is from your living room to your dining room (if that!), you are missing out on the good hour of getting into the interview mindset. So before your next virtual interview, I suggest that you get into the mindset much before your scheduled call.

9. Did you come across as nice and personable

Look, this is hard on a call with a stranger who you can't discuss commute or weather with before diving into the interview. Interviewers can't any longer offer you a drink of tea or water, and you can't make them like you by offering to serve them some water as well. However, there are tons of things that you could small talk about. Hint: the crazy Covid situation is an excellent conversation starter and almost a no-brainer. Find out how their life has been affected by the lock-down, how they're doing while working from home and so on. Those are instant brownie points that are much much easier than sheepishly wondering what an interviewer might be interested in.

10. Did you practice your story enough

95% of the people I speak to are scared of competency interviews. WHY? Because they don't realise that competency interviews are stories about themselves, meant to help them put their best foot forward. Even if you are not expecting a competency interview, always be ready for one. And have stories outside the normal set of competency questions as well. Facts tell but stories sell. And if you need some inspiration in crafting your story, watch this.

11. Do you have enough practice with interacting through the camera

Here's my gross generalization which I've no data to back up with. If you're an Asian born expat, chances are that you are much better at this than your peers. Why? Because if you're anything like me, you speak to your parents twice a day on a video call. Can you imagine the amount of practice people like me get while interacting through camera? In short, a lot! And for reasons out of normal client and employment related work. This builds up a muscle of confidence while working with the camera which is critical when all interviews go virtual.

12. Keep distraction and noise in the house to a minimum

You may or may not have control over this completely, especially during these strange times. However, if you can, intimate all members of the household to keep it a bit quiet while you're in the interview. Not because the interviewer can hear the background noise through the mic but because the background noise can distract you much more than you realise.

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