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Interviewing During the Pandemic — Tips for Your Student or Recent Grad

Guest Contributor


As if interviewing weren't already nerve-wracking, especially for college seniors looking for their first "real" job or new college graduates hoping to make the best possible impression in a competitive job market, throw on top of that a lockdown due to a worldwide pandemic and millions of Americans losing their jobs. It might feel like a recipe for disaster.

You may be wondering if your student or new grad has any chance of finding a job right now. I'm here to say that, with the right tools, they undoubtedly will!

The key is preparation and being able to go with the flow during these uncertain times. So let's roll with the punches and get them ready for their socially distanced video interview!

Professionalism Is Key

This one is HUGE. For those of us who now have months of Zoom office meetings under our belt, we know that nobody would want to interview someone who's sitting in their kitchen with dishes piled behind them, has a yapping dog in the background, a cat crawling all over the computer, or other housemates walking back and forth during the session.

Whether your student or grad is at home with you, or in a dorm or apartment on their own, encourage them to prepare a quiet, clean and professional space for their interview. Ideally it's an office with a desk and a neutral background, but if this isn't an option, help them find or create a clean and uncluttered area where they will not be disturbed.

In addition to the environment, attire is a vital component of any interview, virtual or not. Your student or graduate should dress for success. Attire may depend on the company they are applying for, so have them research the company’s clothing standards.

Make sure they also know the importance of wearing professional clothing from head to toe. Many people think they only need to dress professionally on the top half, but anything can happen. What if your student or grad needs to stand up, or the computer screen tilts or drops, and their PJ bottoms are front and center?

Do a Test Run

Whether the video conferencing platform is Zoom, Webex or something else, offer to do a test run with them. Practicing will allow them to experience how a video interview will flow and will be helpful because they can:

  • Test the internet connection. Make sure you can see and hear them clearly, and vice versa. Remember, some parts of the house may have a more reliable internet connection. If the video seems fuzzy or sounds broken up at first, try having them move closer to the router.
  • Become familiar with the program. Not everyone has used video conferencing before or ever had to log in to a virtual meeting. This practice will help your young job applicant become comfortable with logging on to the video platform.
  • See what the interviewer sees. Is the background clean? Is your student in the frame? Can you see them from the chest up? Think of how a school ID photo looks, from usually the mid-chest up — this is all that should be in the frame. Also, make sure they aren't too close to the camera. Nobody wants to be looking up someone else’s nose.
  • Check the sound. Is there anything worse than talking to someone who sounds echoey and far away? Please make sure the room they are interviewing in has good sound quality. Certain rooms are not optimized for this. You shouldn't be able to hear any outside noises (i.e., cars driving by or a lawnmower) or inside noises such as air conditioning, a housemate's TV or music, water running or the washer/dryer.
  • Check the lighting. Have you ever tried to take a photo that you thought would be good, but then there was a huge glare on the screen, or it turned out a lot darker? Make sure your student or grad is perfectly visible and that the video is free of shadows or glares. A room with plenty of good, natural light will be best. It definitely won't look good if the room is so dark that it appears as though your child is interviewing inside a closet. It also won't look good if the blinds are open right behind them, making them disappear.

Taking care of these fine points ahead of time will be essential to a successful video interview and positive first impression, and your student or grad will be more relaxed knowing they have everything ready to go.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Virtual interviews are convenient and there's no need to account for traffic or driving time, but your student still must prepare for the unexpected.

They may think, "My interview starts at 10 a.m. so I'll log on to the computer at 9:59." NO. Remind them that, just as traffic can snarl unexpectedly and make them late, anything can happen at home. We know all too well that computers/laptops and internet connections are unpredictable. What if the operating system decides to do an update right before the interview, or the internet chooses that moment to go on the blink? By anticipating these complications and leaving lots of extra time, your student or grad can find a workaround or devise a Plan B.

Arriving for an in-person interview a minute late looks bad; logging in to an interview meeting a minute late actually looks even worse.

Think about it from the prospective employer's point of view. They've set aside this time and it is valuable to them. Tardiness communicates a lack of preparation and seriousness.

Ideally, your student or grad should be logging in for their interview 15–20 minutes before the scheduled time. If the interviewer logs in to the meeting early as well, they'll see your smiling student's face, eager and ready to interview! Bonus points.

The Essentials for Any Interview

Interviewing methods may have changed, but your student will still need to do the following regardless of what kind of interview they may have or what job they are searching for.

  • RESEARCH THE COMPANY. This one is huge and could make or break an interview. Your student or grad should thoroughly research the position they are applying for along with the company or organization — who the CEO is, the motto, the company’s fundamental beliefs. They should develop some questions to ask the interviewer, as this will show interest in the company.
  • Clean up their social media accounts, because employers will do a deep dive into their past.
  • Compile a list of reliable references.
  • Have a properly formatted resume that is appealing to the eye. Be sure to include contact information, experiences, education, special skills and any awards or recognitions.
  • Build a LinkedIn profile, as this is perfect for connecting with potential employers.
  • Practice interview questions such as behavioral or logic questions that may pertain to the tasks of the job.

For more tips and tricks to equip your student before their interview, check out the Graduates' Ultimate Interview Guide free mini-course provided by Interview4Hire and created with your child's success in mind.

Janet Bourland is the author of the GRADUATES' ULTIMATE INTERVIEW GUIDE ©2020. With 25 years experience in recruiting candidates for startups and Fortune 500 companies, she's seen where interviewing and hiring goes wrong and has the secret formula to fast track success. Claim your free mini-course and check out the full guide at Interview4Hire. You can also reach out to her for 1:1 coaching sessions, designed to help your college students master the art of interviewing with personalized solutions. Email Janet at [email protected]com, and follow Interview4Hire on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
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