Senior Series: Virtual Interviewing

This week, we’re covering all things virtual interviews. Though some organizations might be able to offer in-person interviews again this summer, it’s likely that many will opt for virtual interviews for initial screening, first-round interviews, and even final round interviews. While a video interview has some commonalities with more traditional in-person interviews, there are definitely some specific challenges and opportunities to take into account. 

Before we jump into this week’s newsletter, we just wanted to include a note to remind you all that we are thinking of you and hope that you are taking time to pause and practice self-care when you can. Living Well has many excellent resources, including a mindfulness SoundCloud and a bunch of virtual events. The identity centers (the Prism Center, the Mosaic Center for Students of Color, the Women’s Center, and the Interfaith Center) continue to offer support to students, as does the Office of Student & Community Relations for those living off-campus. The end of a semester and the start of a job search are both stressful times, which you might find is compounded by the ongoing public health crisis. If you need some support, please reach out. 

We also wanted to share an exciting new initiative launched by the Alumni Association. In UVM Connect, you can now join a group for students seeking remote internships to connect with alums who have the capacity to host them. Learn more in our latest blog post on networking, and join the group here. Three members of the regional alumni board have volunteered to talk with you more about interviewing – Ian Davis ’10 and G’16, Director of Finance, Vermont Department of Economic Development; Aimee Marti ’91, VP Branding and Corporate Social Responsibility at Aspenti Health; and Thomas Stirling ‘10, President of Stirling, Inc. Consider sending them a message in UVM Connect!

As we’ve shared in previous messages, we recommend setting aside some time each week to work on different aspects of the job search process. This newsletter is pretty densely-packed, so consider breaking it up into smaller pieces. And remember: We are always here for you! Schedule an appointment to speak with a career counselor via Handshake. 

Past & Future Topics 

Interview Basics

Purpose of Interviews 

While the purpose of you resume and cover letter is to get you an interview, the primary purpose of an interview is to get you the job. An interview is an opportunity for an employer to get to know the person behind the application materials. It is an opportunity to breathe life into the bullet points on your resume. In his book, You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education, author George Anders claims that interviews serve three purposes: for the employer to assess if you are capable to do the job you’ve applied for, to see if you will actually do the job you’ve applied for, and to determine compatibility.  Interviews may seem daunting in that interviewers have a lot of power in determining whether you receive an offer or not. Despite that, it is important to understand that you as the interviewee hold some power as well. An interview also affords you the opportunity to determine fit. It is your chance to meet your future employer and colleagues and to ask questions about projects and office culture.  Overall, a hiring committee would not invite you to an interview unless they were interested in you and what you could add to their organization. Remind yourself of that, take a deep breath, and get ready to share your story. 

Basic Interview Prep 

Before we continue, you did not read the last sentence of the previous paragraph incorrectly. You should be prepared to share your story with your interviewer. It is your opportunity to show the interviewers who you are and why your experience makes you the most qualified for the position. Interviews can be stress-inducing and might feel like a test with the number of questions thrown at you. The bright side is that if an interview is like a test, you know all the answers already because you lived them. Continuing with the test metaphor, your best study guides for an interview are your resume and cover letter. Familiarize yourself with each job experience on your documents and try to have a few solid stories to tell for each one. If you’re having trouble determining what would make for a good story, use the Career Competencies to frame your drafts (teamwork/collaboration, critical thinking/problem solving, oral/written communication, digital technology). 

Once you have an idea of what to include in these stories, it’s time to think about organizing your thoughts. The tool we recommend using to organize your thoughts is the S.T.A.R. Method. S.T.A.R. is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Each story you prepare to an interview should describe the situation you were in (location, time frame, job title, etc.), detail the task you were responsible for, explain the actions you took to accomplish that task, and conclude with the positive result of you taking those actions. Following this framework will ensure that you have well-crafted stories to share during your interview without the fear of over or under sharing. 

Types of Interviews 

Interviews will look different from one organization to the next. While one organization might conduct a few rounds of interviews, including a screening and final interview, another company might only conduct one and only one round of interviews. A screening interview is a tool used by hiring committees to narrow down their applicant pool and determine who they want to invite to a final interview. A screening interview is usually a 30 to 45 minutes conversation over the phone and may consist of a few broad questions. A final interview is usually conducted in person and can span anywhere between 30 minutes to the majority of a workday. During a final interview, you can expect to meet with several employees, answer a wide range of experiential and behavior-based questions, and could even be asked to give a presentation. Due to the wide variety regarding what an interview could look like, it is important to do your research and understand the scenario you are getting yourself into. When invited to an interview, read in detail the invitation and make sure to ask the hiring committee representative you are working with any questions you may have. 

One important thing to note is that, due to the pandemic, it is likely that most interviews at the moment will take place remotely (either through phone or video call). Luckily, many of the aspects of the interview process will remain the same regardless of the medium through which it takes place. You can find our general interview guide here: 

If you still have questions or feel unsure about participating in a fully remote, interview process, keep reading to for pro-tips on how to fully prepare. 

Virtual Interviewing

Once you have landed a phone screen or virtual interview, you may be wondering “how do I make a good and lasting impression when I’m not in-person?” Believe it or not, there are important distinctions between how to prepare for a phone or virtual interview, that are just as important as preparing for being in-person. Here are some simple tips and tricks to help you ace your upcoming phone/virtual interview:  

  • Be on time! This is an any easy one to show you’re organized and ready for the job. The recruiter/hiring manager will likely be calling you for a phone interview (vs. you calling the recruiter), so make sure that you are ready to pick up the call at the agreed upon time. If you are calling into a virtual/video interview, you don’t need to arrive early like you would an in-person interview, but you should be there no later than the confirmed start time. If the recruiter doesn’t call or arrive on the video call right at the agreed upon time, don’t worry. Recruiters tend to be busy in interviews throughout the day and may run a few minutes late. If 10-15 minutes pass without hearing anything, you might want to check in via email or call. 
  • Tech: If you have a phone interview (or an “initial screening”), make sure your phone is fully charged and that you are in a space that easily takes calls. The last thing you want is for your interview to be disrupted by not having your phone fully charged or losing service! When preparing for a virtual interview, make sure you download the correct software onto your phone, tablet or computer (if needed). Companies are using various virtual video platforms like Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom, etc. – some which require creating an account in advance, while others are web-based and all you do is click on a link to access the call. When in doubt, you can always practice a video call with a friend in advance or ask the recruiter/hiring manager any questions in advance. Don’t wait last minute to figure out the tech! 
  • Professional Dress: Since the recruiter cannot see you during a phone interview, according to how you dress is up to you. “On the one hand, if you do dress professionally, it’s less about impressing your potential employer and more about feeling more professional so that you perform better. But for some people, dressing casually works for them as they feel more comfortable.” This is the beauty of being at home – you can make the call. For a video interview though, it’s recommended that you dress for success (at least from the waist up!) and keep industry standards in mind. 
  • Preparing Your Space: Handshake Blog “How to Make a Good Impression in Your Virtual Job Interview” recommends thinking about your background space and ensuring you have a clean/well-organized background. If you have other individuals living with you, you may need to give them a heads up that you have a video interview, and to not be in the background (audibly/visually) whether you are on a phone or video interview. If you do anticipate some distractions, it’s okay to name it up front, like “my dog is in another room and might bark” or “I live next to the airport so planes might go overhead, my apologies in advance!” Remember recruiters are conducting interviews all the time and have likely heard it all, so it never hurts to give them a heads up. 
  • What to Say During the Interview and After: The good news is you will prepare the same way you would for an in-person interview by reviewing the company website, job description, and your resume and skills. Check out the Career Center’s Guide to Interviewing, which includes great sample interview questions and Handshake’s “Ace Your Virtual Interview With These Questions For the Recruiter.” And, don’t forget to send a thank you note within 24 hours of the interview. It is a demonstration of your interest, appreciation, and professionalism.  
  • Lastly, Take Care of Yourself! The day of the interview, do your best to practice self-care and participate in activities you normally would, such as eating a good breakfast, going for a walk or run, or talking to a friend for example, instead of cramming interview content and worrying. Remember the organization contacted you for a reason – you’ve got this! 

Additional Considerations

When you interview for a job, it’s important to consider the multiple ways employers will be assessing your skills. While traditional Q&A style interviews are common, you may also be given prompts, case studies, tests, projects, etc. in order to test your skills within a workplace context. We have gathered examples of additional interviewing methods that you might be asked to do. Please note that some of the following methods may be particular to a specific field or industry.  

Case Interviews. There is a common interview format within the field of consulting that you should be aware of called “case interviews.” These case studies ask the candidate to analyze and solve a business scenario. Check out this resource for additional advice and examples of case studies.  

Technical Interviews. If you are interviewing for a job that requires coding skills, your interviewer may conduct a “technical interview.” A technical interview is a specialized process that tests your coding skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities. Check out this comprehensive guide to prepare you for your technical interview.  

Artificial Intelligence Interviews. In place of a traditional screening interview, you might be asked to submit a recorded video for your interview that will be screen by an artificial intelligence system. In the last couple of years, tech companies have developed algorithms to identify traits organizations look for in their ideal candidates. In response, several large companies have adopted this software to help screen their large candidate pools. If selected for an AI interview, you will receive an email with instructions on how to log into their interviewing software. Once there, you will be prompted to record video responses to a few questions selected by the hiring committee. When completed, you ship your responses off to be reviewed by the algorithm and hope to hear back with a follow-up request. Overall, the AI interviewing process is almost completely devoid of human interaction and this can feel discouraging during the age of COVID-19 and social distancing. Big Interview offers a guide to AI interview prep, and you can always schedule an appointment with a Career Counselor to talk strategy.

Closing Thoughts

While many employers are adjusting their hiring practices to include online/virtual interviews, it’s possible that you may be asked to interview in person – especially if the organization you’re applying for is considered essential. Check out this article that outlines guidelines for safe interviewing practices. While this is written for employers, it can offer helpful insight into what you might expect during the interview.

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