Just when you thought that you might be getting the hang of this whole interviewing for a new job thing, the world went sideways. Interviewing (let alone interviewing well) is already challenging enough on a good day. So how, exactly, are you supposed to go about interviewing—and getting hired—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic?
The answer is: You adapt. That’s what recruiters and hiring managers are doing, and they’re hoping you will, too. As the ground continues to shift under our feet, companies are working to adjust their recruiting, interviewing, and hiring processes to fit the circumstances. Which means hiring is going to look a little different for a while.
Here’s what you need to know about the evolving interview process—and what you need to do to get the job—according to two hiring managers who are actually hiring right now.
1. The Hiring Process Will Be All Virtual
These days, you can expect most interview processes to be remote from start to finish—no surprise. And when you get hired, your onboarding experience will probably be virtual, too.
While this isn’t ideal, there are some advantages. “We’re missing in-person interaction, which is so valuable, but switching to virtual interviews has allowed for more flexibility and saved time for both interviewers and candidates,” says Liz Keyes, SHRM-CP (Society of Human Resources Management-Certified Professional) and Director of Human Resources at Coalmarch, who is actively looking to hire digital marketing specialists and account managers. “Rather than reserve a conference room and have candidates commute to the office, we can easily schedule a video meeting from the comfort of everyone’s home.” This increased flexibility could serve to accelerate an interview process if a company has an urgent need.
That said, you can expect familiar interview patterns, as hiring managers are sticking to what already works. “We still break up interviews into half-hour sessions with various team members so we can get the best idea of who the candidate is and how they work with others,” Keyes says.
How to Adapt
- Prep for remote interviews. Be prepared for interviews conducted in a different medium. Be sure to follow best practices if you’re doing a phone interviews. If you’re doing a video interview, “Make sure that your headphones and mic work in advance and that your background isn’t distracting,” says Brandon Binder, Director of Enterprise Sales at Tripactions, who manages a growing team of enterprise account executives.
- Remember, in the end, an interview is an interview. Regardless of the format. “Virtual interviews are a lot like traditional in-person interviews in that you want to show up slightly early and make sure you’re well-prepared,” Binder says. “Be ready to talk about why you want to work for the company you’re interviewing with and why you feel like the job makes sense as your next career move.” Also: Dress professionally, be ready to talk about your experience and what you could contribute to the team and company, make sure you can answer the common interview questions, and ask questions of your own. And don’t forget to send a thank you note!
- Know that it’s okay to be human. We’re all interviewing from home, which means roommates might accidentally step into the frame, kids might cry, dogs might bark. Try to plan ahead to minimize the chances of unplanned interruptions, but if it happens, don’t sweat it. If there were ever a time for hiring managers to be extra understanding, this is it.
2. There Might Be More Rounds of Interviews
Some organizations are adding more calls to their typical interview process to make up for the missing in-person piece. “I’m interested in really getting to know the people I interview, and since we can’t meet face-to-face, I’m willing to invest additional time over video calls so that we can go deeper and have real conversations,” Binder says. “That might mean we schedule an additional call or ask a candidate to put together a virtual presentation so that we can get a better feel for their experience, what they’ll contribute, and the impact they’ll make if they join the team.”
So if a hiring manager asks you to join one last call, don’t be discouraged. It likely means that they’re really trying to get to know you, which is a good thing for everyone. The more information you have about your prospective employer, manager, and coworkers, the more likely you are to make the right decision for yourself, too.
How to Adapt
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the process. Getting clarification on what to expect is always a good idea, but will be especially helpful now. So toward the end of a call when a recruiter or hiring manager asks if you have any questions, remember to ask things like: “What does your interview process entail?” “What is your timeline for making a decision?” “What are the next steps?”
3. Communication and Collaboration Skills Are More Important Than Ever
In the midst of all this uncertainty, certain skills and traits have shot to the top of every hiring manager’s wishlist. "We’re looking for people who are self-motivated, have the ability to collaborate digitally, and communicate effectively," Keyes says. “These are strengths that we look at for any potential hire, but it is increasingly important while we are working remotely.”
“Interviewing via video is a bit of a test,” Binder adds. “How well does this person handle calls? How do they keep participants engaged? Do they utilize creative communications tools like whiteboarding on an iPad to get their point across?”
How to Adapt
- Highlight your proactive nature and strong communication skills. You might be able to do this by telling a story about your previous remote work experience or by sharing examples of your past successes. But proactive, effective communication can also happen during the interview itself as well as off-screen in the form of follow-up emails, thank you notes, and timely responses.
- Demonstrate an interest in integrating into the team. Go beyond telling a hiring manager that you’re excited about a role. Show them that you care and will put in the effort to become a part of the team even if you’re working remotely by asking about their management style, their expectations for a new hire, and the team’s culture.
- Get creative about playing up your strengths. This will look different for everyone, depending on the type of role you’re applying for, but try to think outside the box. Are you an Excel whiz? Ask if you can show off a spreadsheet you’re especially proud of. Do you manage insanely complex calendars for a living? Consider sharing your screen to give your interviewer a peek (just make sure you don’t inadvertently share any confidential information in the process). Or maybe you have a digital portfolio of design work or a link to projects you’ve collaborated on in the past. Finding small, creative ways to add a personal touch or show another layer of your qualifications is sure to impress prospective employers.
4. Interviewers Are Paying Attention to How You Handle Challenges
In addition to reflecting on your most relevant strengths, you might also want to be ready to discuss your strategies for dealing with challenging situations.
“I’m especially interested in how people are navigating through this,” Binder says. “Positivity and resilience are important traits, especially during difficult times. As a hiring manager, I’m curious to learn about how applicants have overcome past obstacles and how they see that experience impacting the way they approach the coming months. There will always be twists and turns, so I want to be sure I’m hiring people who are ready for the challenge.”
How to Adapt
Be prepared to share stories about that time you overcame a personal hardship, faced conflict at work, navigated a stressful situation, or used your creative thinking skills to solve a complex problem. These are known as behavioral interview questions and you can answer them effectively using the STAR method.
5. Things Might Not Be Smooth and Straightforward
For many companies, an entirely remote hiring process is unprecedented. Which means they’re doing their best to make it work as they go along. And hiring managers know you are, too. “The key is to be open and honest throughout the entire journey,” Keyes says. If you’re new to remote work, that’s OK. If you have more questions than you normally would, that’s fine. If your cat walks across your keyboard in the middle of your virtual presentation, just roll with it. Things are different right now and everyone is doing their best to make it work.
With uncharted territory also comes uncertainty. Which means there are some things that you just won’t know. So you’ll need to be adaptable, patient, communicative, and proactive—probably more so than normal.
How to Adapt
- Bring your patience. Timelines might shift. Processes might start and stop and start again. Know that going in and do your best to adapt—within reason. If you feel like a company is giving you the runaround, it’s OK to walk away, too.
- Communicate. Share your availability, update recruiters if anything changes on your end, check in with hiring managers to let them know you’re still interested, and don’t be afraid to ask questions if anything is unclear.
6. As Always, Interviews Are a Two-Way Street
The whole point of an interview process is to find the right fit for everyone involved—including (and especially!) for you. That hasn’t changed. So as you get to know a potential employer, you should be thinking about not only how to impress them, but also whether they’re a match for your goals, priorities, and work style. You’ll want to be ready to ask questions and discuss your preferences when the time comes.
How to Adapt
- Reflect on your needs. Things will continue to shift over the next few months, so you’ll want to dedicate some serious thought to what will work for you now and in the future. Would you prefer to work remotely indefinitely or are you itching to get back into an office ASAP? Are morning meetings totally unrealistic due to your partner’s schedule, your child’s nap routine, or your upstairs neighbor’s tap dance practice?
- Know when to speak up. Whatever your preferences or limitations are, current or future, you’ll want to make sure you’re finding the right fit. Of course, you don’t need to share a list of demands on the first call (please don’t!), but knowing what you’re looking for will help you to evaluate prospective employers. Asking questions about the company’s return-to-work plan, the supervisor’s management style, and expectations around communication and availability will help to give you a decent idea about what it’ll be like to work for an organization both during and after the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed all aspects of our lives almost overnight. And there’s no use in pretending that everything is OK when it’s very clearly not. But the good news is that there are some things you can control—at least when it comes to interviewing. Just as hiring managers are doing their best to be flexible, you can work on adapting your interview skills to better fit with the new remote format. Invest more time in your pre-interview research, practice showcasing your strengths, and work on flexing your communication skills. Things might look different, but with a little preparation and creativity, you can still shine in an interview, and ultimately land a new job.
Good luck, and stay safe.