COVID-19 has forced employers and professional organizations to quickly pivot to conducting interviews and running networking events in a digital environment. Honestly, I doubt we will ever return completely back to “normal”. Instead, I see a future where job seekers and prospective employers regularly interact using both technology platforms and in-person exchanges. If you are waiting to start your job search until things settle back to normal, you are missing out on opportunities to connect and delaying the inevitable need to adjust to a new normal. Here are a few best practices to get you comfortably networking and interviewing in a virtual environment:
Get Camera Ready
Being camera ready involves using the proper equipment, creating the right environment, projecting a professional image, and mastering standard video technology features.
For starters, the device you are using should be stationary and steady. It might not be distracting to you, but any movement is distracting to the person on the other end. Make sure the video camera is at eye-level and that you look directly into the camera and not up or down. I place my laptop on top of a two-inch think book, and that does the trick. Headphones can help minimize noise and ensure clear audio.
When it comes to environment, proper lighting and eliminating distractions is key. Natural light that is facing you makes you look your best. If this is not possible, consider placing a small LED light – an inexpensive reading light works just fine- in front of you. Put your phone camera on selfie-mode and move around your room until you like how you look on camera. What does your background say about you? Is it distracting? A neutral, uncluttered, professional background is best. The same is true for your professional image. The tendency for some is to mistake virtual for informal. Dress to impress (at least waist-up!), avoiding bold patterns and shimmery fabric.
Master the basic technology features of Zoom, Google Meet or another video conferencing tool. The features are relatively standard across all platforms. Enlist a friend or two and have fun playing around with the technology. My 20-year old son said it best: “mom, the first thing old people like you need to know about zoom etiquette is to mute yourself when you are not talking.” So true. In addition, know how to turn your video off, use the chat and Q&A functions, and share your screen. If you are experiencing problems with the audio or video, don’t panic. Leaving the meeting altogether and re-entering often fixes the problem. Check out this tip sheet for phone and video interviews for more ideas and best practices.
Virtual Group Networking
Chances are that any networking event or meeting that was worth attending in the past has switched to a virtual format. Start with events that you enjoyed attending and conduct an internet search for upcoming virtual events. For most people, a local networking group, as opposed to a national or global organization, is going to give you more bang for your buck in terms of connections. A virtual event using a webinar format is great for learning, but it may not give you the opportunity to interact through video and audio. An event that uses a meeting format – the organizers may refer to “breakout rooms” or “breakout sessions” in the event description – may give you greater ability to connect with the speakers or event participants. Regardless of the format, figuring out how to maximize the opportunity without the ability to connect one to one, is the challenge of virtual group events. Try asking a well-prepared, thoughtful question to the panelists to make yourself memorable. Or offer a resource. You can do this using the Q&A function or by asking the question live, if allowed. Use LinkedIn to thank and follow up with speakers or event organizers, making sure you personalize the note.
Consider attending events organized by local industry groups, professional women’s groups, your local alumni chapter, or volunteer organizations with which you belong. Don’t forget about WIT’s virtual job fair on November 5 from 4-7 pm. It is an efficient, targeted, and wonderful networking opportunity in a supportive environment! Take the time to research the many companies exhibiting and sign up to chat 1-1 with employers of interest to you!
Meetings When Social Distancing Is the Norm
Meeting with someone virtually works remarkably the same as if you were to meet someone in person. Why you do it is the same: because most jobs are found through personal or professional connections, not through job boards. How you ask for a meeting is the same too, except that instead of asking for 20 minutes of someone’s time over coffee, for example, offer to set up a zoom or google meeting. As with face to face meetings, keep the ask low-pressure (not “I need a job”). Make it about the other person (“I’d love to pick your brain about . . .”), and ask for referrals (“Can you think of anyone else in your network that I could talk to?”).
Even before COVID-19, most employers were conducting first-round interviews via phone or video. Expect this to continue to be the case. Phone interviews are the most challenging because you cannot rely on non-verbal cues. Remote interviewing requires that you answer a question with enough detail but also as concisely as possible. This can be hard when your nerves kick in. One trick is to answer concisely but follow up with something like “Have I answered your question fully, or do you need me to share more details?”. Learn to be OK with silence. Sometimes silence is needed for the interviewer to re-direct the conversation. There is an advantage to remote interviews: you can tape your resume and any useful notes in front of you, undetected by the camera, for quick reference! Check out our Job Search Readiness Resources page for tons of interviewing and networking tips!
My job demands that I interview and network every day. As stay-at-home orders took effect, the thought of doing my job virtually 100% of the time overwhelmed me. Fast forward eight months. I miss the face-to-face human connection, but I have a new appreciation for the convenience and efficiency of the technology platforms that have allowed us to keep our employees safe and business functioning at full capacity during such unsettling times. Equally important, they keep us connected to the job seekers and employers we serve.
Sheila Murphy is Co-Founder of FlexProfessionals, a firm that matches experienced professionals seeking meaningful, part-time employment with growing businesses in need of top talent. Featured on The Today Show, Sheila is a career re-entry expert, work flexibility advocate, and seasoned speaker/trainer on a variety of job search and career development topics.