Opening Strategies to Connect in a Virtual Interview

Check out my this weeks article in ‘The Tribune’.

Please do share the article amongst your family and friends.

A tiny virus exposed faults in our economy and high consumption economy and threw life into chaos. Among the casualties are the large number of working folks left behind on the wayside by big and small corporations and the fight for that elusive interview call.

I recently conducted a poll on LinkedIn on the question “do you as an interviewer or interviewee take a minute to break the ice?” 223 votes were received and 27% responded that they used an icebreaking statement only sometimes or never. I would wager that the number is higher as we tend to not find faults in our behavioral self assessments.

Interviewers come in all sizes and shapes and most importantly with their very own variants of ingrained biases and mindsets. Not all interviews follow a script. Reality is that unless you are an interviewer in a corporation where the culture of respectful and through interviews is imprinted into the way things are done, or have a high ethical and basic decency and manners compass, interviews can go all over the place.

The pandemic has exacerbated the tensions of working in a digitally connected world, fear for one’s own role and fear for the business and team for interviewers also. Some common interviewer biases which tend to derail interviews are questioning the reason for layoff and often implying that it is because of performance reasons which are not being revealed or just low fitment of the candidate for his or her previous role which means that they will continue to be B or C players if hired.

While you as an interviewee can’t really do much about the interviewer’s biases in the 30 to 40 minute meeting, what you can proactively do is make sure that your first digital impression is on the point and you take the initiative to build a connect with the interviewer. Don’t get intimidated by the profile of the interviewer. After all, as one of my earliest murder mystery heroine Miss Marple said:

‘Well, my dear,’ said Miss Marple, ‘human nature is much the same everywhere, and, of course, one has opportunities of observing it at closer quarters in a village.’

 The Thirteen Problems, The Thumb Mark of St Peter

My top opening strategies to make an awesome digital connect:

1.       Always be visible on video, even if the interviewer(s) have not switched on their video

2.       Be relaxed, even if it means you need a spitz of your favourite perfume or a stress ball handy. When you are relaxed, you will be able to handle those dodgy questions with better presence of mind. Believe me, the scent of desperation can travel across the screen!!

3.       Have an opening question ready, even if the interviewer does not take the initiative. It could be as simple as “How is the weather at Pune?.” In response to how are you, can say “I’m good, am thankful me and my loved ones are safe. Trust the same at your end.” The weather, pandemic and sports are safe topics. Try to stay away from politics and if that topic arises, maintain a neutral stance.

4.       Acknowledge and nod as the interviewer talks. Be grateful to the interviewer for taking time out from their busy schedule for the interview.

5.       Make sure your face is not dominating the screen. Being visible upto your second or third shirt button is recommended.

6.       Do use hand gestures to emphasise your point just as you would in a face-to-face interview. Practice beforehand so that your hand gestures are contained and not too fast as that would be distracting in a video.

7.       Dress appropriately from top to bottom just as you would in a face to face interview. Do stay away from loud prints and big accessories.

8.       Make sure your tech is sound. This means no internet glitches, charged up devices and good lighting.

The writer is HR Advisor and Career Coach

1 thought on “Opening Strategies to Connect in a Virtual Interview”

  1. Thanks for sharing. Very well thought out useful content.
    Few additional inputs.
    Technical interviews for non-fresher level professionals conducted in most of the IT organizations of today differ slightly from your stated content in the new remote working scenario.
    1. Switching on an interviewers video might not be mandatory but enabling candidate videos and capturing screenshots by interviewer as proof is a hard requirement of the recruitment departments.
    2. Interviewers get around 45 mins to 1 hour max to screen a candidate and need to evaluate them on several different tools and technologies, so one may not find time to talk about other icebreaker topics like the weather in Pune and Bangalore.
    3. In an ideal scenario a candidate would be ushered into one of your organizations conference rooms and asked to explain scenarios and solutions on a whiteboard. All of which is conspicuously missing in today’s pandemic influenced remote interviews. Therefore candidates should be willing to use tools like mspaint / flockdraw / powerpoint or other tools to draw or write and explain their solutions. Many are nervous or unwilling to do so.
    4.In these lockdown days at several neighborhood houses you usually hear drilling machines busy doing interior modifications, which leads to a lot of background noise. In such cases it is better to request the interviewee to change their location or to politely ask the interviewer to postpone the interview.
    5. As human beings and as Indians particularly some of our opinions views and conclusions are influenced by stereotypes at times. Details like the state, or language or university of the candidate or their English accent may sometimes skew the final assessment of the interviewer at times. What would be best is to have a faceless assessment as is done by our Income-tax department. Here both the Interviewer and Interviewee names are masked on Zoom or Teams or the tool being used to conduct the discussion, the candidate resume is stripped of unnecessary information like Languages spoken or Father’s name or Secondary school name and Higher secondary school name etc before handing over to interviewer. Although these parameters are imp they can be considered post the first round technical screening.

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