Welcome back to the Ultimate Interviewing Guide. Last week we made it through the phone interviews. By this point, you’ve had multiple conversations with HR and the hiring team. Being invited for a face to face interview increases your confidence now that the finish line is in sight. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to prepare for the final hurdles to come.
Face-to-face interviews (whether in person or video) may not always be the last step in the process; however, they are usually the most in-depth information-gathering sessions that hold the most weight in hiring decisions. If you “pass” the face-to-face interview, any further interviews should be a piece of cake, comparatively speaking. I am not suggesting that any follow-up phone or face to face interviews should be taken lightly. Every interview should be well prepared for, if not over-prepared for. However, once you clear the hardest test, the rest tend to be much more manageable.
Whether the face-to-face interview takes place in front of a webcam or in person, following best practices will make sure you are prepared, polished, and most importantly, memorable (in a good way).
Innovations in technology have been growing by leaps and bounds. Who would have thought there would be a hockey puck sized device that turns on an off the lights in your house, changes the temperature on your thermostat, and sing your kids a lullaby just by calling out to her name: Alexa. Video interviewing technology has quickly adapted to become mainstream, replacing the need for paying for flights and hotel rooms while being able to connect people from across the globe in a virtual face-to-face meeting at any time of the day. There are major advantages in cost and flexibility. Skype can be used for free while other software packages cost pennies on the dollar compared to paying for in-person interviews. Addressing flexibility, some companies have completely replaced phone interviewing with video interviewing to condense the interview process. Others have saved money by adding a video interview between the phone and face-to-face interview as an extra layer of vetting (prior to inviting candidates in for a much more expensive, face-to-face meeting). The largest impact comes from those who use video interviewing in lieu of meeting in person (which can be extremely cost-effective when hiring remote-based employees or those working in non-local offices).
There are many platforms including Skype, FaceTime, WebEx, and HireVue, among others, although they all pretty much work in the same way. They provide the interviewer and candidate with a link, code, or profile that connects them to the meeting. The programs use your device’s webcam for video and microphone for audio (sometimes companies prefer to utilize a separate teleconference line rather than using web-based audio in order to retain audio quality should either the internet or program lag during the interview). While some technologies allow for the interview to take place on a computer, tablet, or cell phone, it is advisable to use the device that has the most computing power, generally your computer or laptop, as some programs require advanced CPU speeds and can cause distracting delays during the interview if your device isn’t fast enough.
Keep in mind that many video interview platforms allow the potential employer to record the interview for future viewing. There will be a disclaimer that will let you know the interview is being recorded, generally on the email that includes the link and password for the interview. For companies, having the ability to record interviews is an extremely useful tool. First, it allows team members who were not available to attend the interview to review at a later time. Considering top talent doesn’t tend to stay available for long, this flexibility allows for a quicker interview process while allowing all decision makers to provide input on the candidate’s performance. Second, it cracks down on interview fraud. Although rare, there are times when candidates will either a) have someone more experienced interview on their behalf or b) will interview on someone else’s behalf to help them get the job. In other words, one person interviews while the other shows up, either for an in-person interview or, even worse, the first day of the job. Being able to go back to interview recordings has saved companies from keeping fraudulent employees on their payroll.
Regardless if the video interview is conducted as the first step in the interview process or the very last, popper preparation is needed to take advantage of the technology while limiting the pitfalls.
How to Prepare:
Do your homework.
Just like preparing for phone interviews, start with doing your homework. Spend some time on the company website, Google the company’s name and see if there are any interesting updates or news articles, and utilize both Google and LinkedIn to research the people you are meeting with (check out the first part of the Ultimate Interviewing Guide for additional details).
Pick the right time and place.
Be strategic when setting up a video interview. Set a time you are guaranteed to be uninterrupted and make sure you pick the right location. First, make sure the location has proper internet connectivity. Slow or intermittent internet connection will cause the video to cut in and out, making it very distracting to all parties. Second, pick a spot that is not only quiet but has a professional background. This can be a bit more complicated than setting up a phone call which you can take from your car or outside in a quiet location. If you can’t find a private place at work, be transparent about your situation apologize in advance if you need to take the call from your car or another less “professional” location. Try to avoid locations that can be loud or distracting (i.e. - Starbucks).
When conducting video interviews from a home or personal office, make sure that you check your surroundings as the interviewer(s) will be able to see everything in your webcam’s view. A clean and tidy office space will make for a more professional first impression. Test your webcam placement prior to the interview to make sure everything looks the way it should.
Dress the part.
Regardless of where you conduct the interview, look your best. Remember, the interviewer(s) can see you. The rule of thumb for any face-to-face meeting is to dress slightly more professional than what the situation calls for. If the dress code for the company is smart casual, have on your nice suit, or ladies, a nice, professional dress. In other words, ask yourself, “Would I wear this if I were meeting the team in-person in their office?”
Do a test run.
Now that you have a location picked out and your wardrobe ready, it is time for a test run. Most video interview programs will have a test link to make sure everything is running properly prior to the interview. Testing will also let you see what the webcam picks up to make sure you and your surroundings both look presentable, giving you time to make final adjustments. For example, you may need to move the camera around to pick the perfect viewing angle or may need to adjust the lighting in the room to make sure the interviewers can see you clearly.
Smile, you’re on camera. Like any first impression, it is important to come across as likable and pleasant. Be positive and presentable, not only in your answers to the interviewer’s questions but with your body language. Keep engaged by maintaining eye focus on the interview. If you have ever done a video interview before, there can be a sense of awkwardness on where to look. Most devices have the webcam above the screen. If you maintain focus on the interviewer (who is on the screen) it will appear looking downward. On the other hand, if you stare into the webcam, you won’t be able to see the interviewer. Is it better to look at the interviewer or stare into the camera? As long as the interviewer has your undivided attention, do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. There is a slight advantage to maintaining focus on the interviewer as you will benefit from reading their body language and reactions, something that you can’t do over the phone. Keep in mind that your body language is being read as well, so be mindful of your posture and body language during the conversation. Make sure to avoid outside distractions as the interviewer will notice every time you take your eyes off the screen/camera (which goes back to finding a quiet place that you can remain undisturbed).
Be prepared if the technology doesn’t cooperate.
Technology is great…when it works. Just because everything worked when you tested your system prior to the interview doesn’t mean everything is going to run smoothly. The video feed might cut in and out. The audio might be a little gurgled at some point. If this happens, simply bring up the connection issue with the interviewer rather than pretending it isn’t happening. Most times, companies will have a backup plan if the connection isn’t cooperating, usually transferring to a phone. call You don’t want to be in a situation where you are asking the interviewers to continually repeat themselves or mishear their questions and go off a wild tangent.
On a similar note, the video or audio may be slightly delayed. Although you might be excited or anxious during the interview, try to refrain from interrupting the interviewer as it can be extremely frustrating and distracting to be cut off mid-thought. This can be especially difficult if there is a lag due to a slow connection. Try to keep a one-second buffer between the interviewer speaking and providing your response. The slight delay not only makes sure the interviewer is done speaking, but it shows that you are processing what they are saying rather than responding compulsively.
Feel free to take notes.
If you plan on taking notes during the call (which is a great idea), be sure to let the interviewers know. This way, they know what you are doing when you are looking away from the screen. Otherwise, they may think that you are not being attentive or are lost in thought.
If you read part one of this guide, you will know that a universal pet peeve that most interviewers have is when candidates do not have any questions for them. Always come prepared with a list of questions and make sure to write down any questions that come to mind during the interview itself. Well thought out and relevant questions make you memorable. Research the interviewers and try to come up with questions that are relevant to their point of view. For example, you may want to find out more about the day-to-day environment from a colleague-level interviewer whereas you may want to learn more about the long-term direction of the department from the director. If you are meeting with multiple people, have at least a couple of unique questions for each person. Addressing each interviewer independently will give you a couple of minutes of one-on-one time, allowing you create a closer. Plus, if you are able to come up with questions based on content from the interview, it will show that you have been attentive and find value in their thoughts and opinions.
Make sure to follow up with each interview via a personalized Thank You email. Depending on whether or not you have everyone’s contact information, you may need to ask for the interviewers’ email addresses or send your Thank You email to the recruiter or HR rep who can forward it along appropriately. Make sure you address the hot topics of discussion, reconfirm your continued interest, and highlight how your experience fits the position.
In Person/Face to Face (F2F) Interviews
Old fashion, in person, face-to-face (F2F) interviews are still the gold standard in thoroughly vetting potential new hires. Even though video interviewing is gaining in popularity, looking someone square in their eyes, putting on a big smile, and shaking their hand remains the most powerful way to create lasting memories.
A F2F interview provides information outside of the typical Q&A during the interview. For the company, it allows the team to come together as a cohesive unit to select the next addition to their group. It also allows the interviewers to better assess cultural and personality fits as well as interpret body language. For the candidate, it gives an opportunity to check out the office, meet the personalities of the team in their work environment, while also allowing them to better interpret body language.
Since F2F interviews are used as the primary information gathering session, they usually include the most influential decision makers. In terms of preparation, think of the interview as the highest hurdle on the track.
How to Prepare:
Do your homework, again, and prepare additional questions.
Follow the same “homework” as before, researching the company and the interview panel. Most likely, the company will provide you with an agenda that will include the interviewer’s names and titles. When doing your research on each interviewer, make sure to have a list of questions prepared. As mentioned earlier, managers find candidates the most memorable when they ask relevant and meaningful questions. Take into consideration the level and perspective of each interviewer and come up with a few questions that are personalized to their specialties. Feel free add/remove/edit your questions during the interview, but you still want to have a set of questions ready at your fingertips (scroll down to the Questions section for more tips).
Present yourself professionally.
Dress for success. Follow the rule of dressing slightly nicer than the office dress code. Come prepared with a portfolio/binder with you to the interview. The portfolio should include:
This interview is going to be full of questions, usually more in-depth and difficult than the previous. Make sure you are prepared to discuss your achievements and provide examples of problems you have solved. Practice for the interview. Take the list of interviewers and come up with five questions you would ask if you were in their shoes (taking into consideration their title/level in the company). Come up with answers to those questions along with details regarding specific challenges you tackled and skills you’ve learned along the way. Although the actual questions may vary, it will be easier to draw from your past experiences now that they are fresh in your mind. Often time, you will find yourself coming up with better sample answers, better examples, and better achievements than if you were to “wing it” the day of the interview.
Don’t be late!
Plan to arrive 15-20 minutes early, taking into consideration traffic and weather. You can always spend extra time sitting in the parking lot conducting last minute preparations. If you walk in late, you are already at a disadvantage. If you are running late for the interview call someone at the company and let them know. The more notice you can give the better (don’t call 2 minutes before the interview is supposed to take place and say that you are running 30 min behind).
Act the part.
When you are being greeted by each interviewer, make sure you stand up, maintain eye contact, and give an old-school hardy handy shake. Sit up tall and maintain proper posture. Body language says a lot, so make sure you are projecting confidence and professionalism.
Be consistent, but have a variety of examples to share.
When meeting with multiple interviewers maintain consistency in your answers. The interviewers are going to debrief afterward and will compare notes. You don’t want them finding discrepancies in your responses. It is recommended, however, to provide different examples and achievements throughout the interview. Giving multiple examples shows that you have a wealth of experience rather than relying on the same example over and over again.
The interview panel will be assessing more than just your abilities. Cultural fit and personality are just as important as being able to add value to the team. In other words, not only do you have to be qualified, you also need to be likable. Let’s pretend the roles are reversed. You are in charge of hiring someone that will report directly to you. You have two final-round candidates. The first has the most experience of all of the applicants but has a difficult personality. The second still meets the minimum requirements but is more junior. What they lack in experience, they make up for in passion and drive. They are open-minded, flexible, and moldable. Who do you hire? The nature of your vacancy may dictate your answer, but you can see how personality and drive play into the decision making process. It is not uncommon for personality to trump experience. If you have both, you will maintain the greatest advantage.
We had discussed the importance of having questions prepared, but what type of questions should you ask? Since F2F interviewers usually include multiple interviewers spanning different levels and departments it is important to customize your questions. For example:
Human Resources: Benefits, company culture, company mission statement
Colleague level interviewers: Day-to-day operations and position/project-specific questions
Managers/Directors: Departmental level questions, the direction of the company, and the problems they are looking to solve
Executive level: Direction of the company and bigger picture corporate goals
You may have spoken with one or multiple team members prior to meeting them in person. If this is the case, make sure you have newly prepared questions. The further along in the interview process, the more specific your questions should be, taking into the account what you have learned along the way. You may want to ask each of the interviewers about their thoughts and opinions on a certain topic or task. You may also want to refer to previous conversations with other interviewers. For example, if HR stated that the company has been rapidly growing, you may want to get the hiring team’s perspective the positive attributes that have led to the growth spurt. Perhaps one of the managers mentioned the team is going to be implementing a new computer system in the near future. If so, does a colleague level interviewer think the upgrade will help make their job more efficient? These questions are simple conversation starters that show you are an active listener.
Just as before, take the time and send each interviewer a personalized Thank You email that references some of the details from the conversation along with confirming your mutual interest in the company/position. Provide your contact information should they have any follow-up.
Becoming a good interviewer is a learnable skill. Some people are naturally characteristic and have a supernatural ability to sell others on their abilities. For others, especially those who are more introverted, it can be a bit more difficult to navigate highly technical conversations in a foreign environment. Regardless of your comfort level with interviewing, the more you practice, the better you will become. If you are struggling with the interview process, practice with a friend or loved one. Come up with more examples and achievements that you can use during your interview. Go on more interviews, even when you are not necessarily looking. In short, it is just as important to focus on what makes a positive impression as it is to avoid creating a negative one. Your resume, personality, level of professionalism, qualifications, and interview performance are all factors you control.
Good news! If you read this far, you are clearly the type of person that is willing to work hard to become better at what you do. Just by analyzing your interview skills, you are on the track to a future full of success.
The Headhunter Guide is RECRUITER WRITTEN'S way to provide insider's knowledge to candidates and employers alike. Enjoy!