How To: Ace your virtual interview in an increasingly competitive market
26 August 2020
It’s been a manic few months in the Housing and Planning sectors.
We’ve seen increased scrutiny of planning legislation, a white paper, talk of zoning, an eviction ban, and a huge effort to temporarily house rough sleepers (just to name some of the headlines!).
Local authorities have been stretched to limits in terms of budgets whilst delivering fundamental public services throughout the pandemic, but ensuring the right staff are in place to assist is as important as ever.
Despite the doom and gloom, we are pleased to report that the job market is getting busier, and we have continually been able to assist contractors with finding new placements throughout this tricky period.
But…. demand for new contracts is high; there are more skilled candidates with good references available to start new assignments than we have seen in years. As a result, we have seen an increase in interest and applications for every role we are recruiting for.
How can you make yourself stand out amongst the crowd, and ace every virtual interview you attend?
1) Know the role you are applying for, beyond the job spec
Local authority job specifications are, in most cases, pretty general, outdated, and unlikely to be the best indicator of the circumstances you’ll find yourself in when you start a contract. There is always a story behind a contractor being brought onto the team, whether it be a particular project, a backlog of workload, a long-term staff illness, to name a few.
Make sure you ask your recruiter, and the hiring manager during the interview, questions about the background of the role. The hiring manager you are speaking with is likely to have an idea of exactly the work that they need someone to cover and the reason why, and it’s important you identify this early on. What will they actually need from you?
Knowing the pain point that led to the creation of the role from the get-go will give you the best possible chance of selling yourself and your most relevant experience during the interview. They have a problem, position yourself as the solution.
It’s never been more important to prep and impress.
2) Test your tech
Technical issues. The blight of our modern age of video interviewing.
With umpteen conferencing software options available for use, you could be on Zoom at 2, Teams at 3, Skype at 4. Most councils have been using Microsoft Teams. It’s imperative that you test your set up at least a couple of hours before you join the meeting. Check you have the correct links, your microphone is working, and that your video isn’t playing up.
It’s worth having a five minute check with your recruiter or a friend, just to ensure you can be seen and heard properly. Make sure you are showing up as well lit and that your face will be clear and visible; it’s best to sit in front of a window for optimum brightness.
Have a back up plan in the form of the hiring manager’s telephone number, so you can get in touch with them quickly if you are experiencing difficulties.
3) Dress to impress, still
So, you might be interviewing from your kitchen table or your make-shift hallway desk.
Ultimately there might not be an awful lot you can do about your dog vocalising it’s excitement over the arrival of a new pigeon in the garden, or your children deciding to try and grab your attention mid interview.
You can, however, ensure that you are dressed as smartly as you would be for a face-to-face interview, and spend a bit of time reflecting on how you come across on camera. Be expressive, smile, but don’t move around too much (or pace the room with laptop in hand). Make eye contact with the camera. Have everything you need, such as your CV and notes, in front of you, and tidy your background as much as viable.
Being able to see yourself on video calls is a bizarre experience, and can be very off-putting in a formal setting. Most video conferencing softwares such as Zoom will give you the option to ‘Hide Self View’, so you can really focus on the interviewer and don’t have to see your own reflection. We can’t recommend this tip enough for less awkward communication!
4) Be kind and polite
To quote Paddington Bear, ‘be kind and polite and the world will be right’. Whether or not you agree with our furry friend, a bit of consideration and a sprinkling of manners can only ever be a positive thing.
Of course, the interviewer should be looking to hire the most competent contractor who best fits their requirements.
However, don’t underestimate the power of likeability. As covered in our first pointer, this interview is likely happening because the manager you are speaking with is struggling with resources, overworked, and probably pretty stressed. It’s been a tough time for everyone, try and leave whoever you speak to with a good feeling after your chat. A little empathy and kindness can go a long way, even if it isn’t the role for you!
And most of all, good luck!
We’ve also put together a video with some top CV tips to secure yourself an interview.