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Career Coaching: A woman rejoining the workforce needs advice on Zoom interviews

In our new regular Voices column, career expert Sarah Geraghty offers advice to our readers who would like a change to their working life.

Sarah Geraghty

“I’m quite confident when talking to people face-to-face but over Zoom I’ve no idea how to make any kind of impression, let alone a good one. It’s impossible to ‘read the room’ and know if what you’re saying is interesting or just boring everyone to tears.”

FOR THE LAST 14 months, in my role as a training consultant, my colleagues and I have worked with hundreds of people to help them achieve their communications objectives in a brand new remote working world.

From job interviews to performance reviews, engaging with colleagues and making a good impression on your manager, running effective meetings and presenting to clients, we’re all adjusting to working in a virtual world.

In the first column of this new monthly series for The Journal, I’ll look at the most important elements of preparing for a job interview – whether that’s on Zoom or face-to-face. In future columns, I’ll answer your questions on how to plan effectively and communicate with impact in all parts of your working life.

Maybe you’re planning a career switch and don’t know where to start. Or wondering how to kickstart a pay negotiation. You want to overcome nerves ahead of presentations or pitch. You’re not sure how to build your professional network and be noticed by the right people.

This is all more difficult to do over a screen; when you don’t have the chance to shake hands, make direct eye contact and connect with someone in the room.

But a huge lesson we’ve learned during this time is that the rules of good communication don’t change on Zoom.

In remote and real life, you need to think about the interaction not from your own point of view but that of the other person. Take that as your starting point and you’re already heading in the right direction. To kick off the series, here’s a question from a client:

CLIENT: “I recently decided that after 10 years I was ready to get back into full-time work. I got called to interview but it’s been so long since my last one and everything has changed so much. The fact that it’s happening over Zoom is making me so nervous I’m considering not going for it. What do I do?”

Just because you are doing your interview from your spare room – or that it’s a decade since your last one – doesn’t change the basic rules for preparing effectively.

The employer’s expectations for a Zoom interview are the same as they are for in-person ones. That means it’s your responsibility to replicate the conditions of an in-person encounter as best you can.

Once an interview is confirmed, set time aside and follow this approach for effective preparation:

What are the employer’s needs?

Take a highlighter to the job spec and identify the essential skills, experience and abilities required for the role. You would be surprised how few people do this.

Prove my skillset matches their needs

You need a bank of relevant, specific examples that demonstrate in real, practical terms how well you did something in the past to prove you can do it again in the future.

For example, if it’s a managerial position, tell them about a time you led your team really well during a challenging period like Covid. Or the results of a project you managed successfully.

Avoid a major pitfall: making generic, baseless claims.

I am an exceptional communicator.

You need to provide evidence for this so the employer can figure out themselves if you’re exceptional or not. Serena Williams wouldn’t prove she’s a gifted tennis player by saying, “I’m amazing at tennis.” She’d demonstrate it. – “I’m a former world number one in women’s singles tennis, hold 23 Grand Slam singles titles, and three Olympic doubles gold medals.”

Practise out loud

An interview is a verbal interaction. It requires verbal practice. That seems simple, but it is overlooked by the vast majority of candidates. You need to practise your key examples and answer out loud.

Talk to a friend, talk to a family member, talk to yourself, talk to us. Just talk. And not just at the end of your preparation. Talk out your answers from day one. It will considerably speed up the process.

Practising verbally does not mean learning answers verbatim. Scripting your answers and learning them off by heart makes you sound rehearsed and it’s difficult to remember. Similarly, thinking your answers through in your head makes you feel like you are being proactive, but it has significantly less impact than proper out-loud practise.

The only effective way to prepare is to practise answering the question. Talk until you are tired of hearing your own voice. And then do it again, 20 more times. You will need to deliver the answers on the day, under pressure. So you need a muscle memory of saying them out loud.

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Think of it like an athlete preparing for a big match. Again, what does Serena Williams do? She practises the key movements, plays and techniques in a training environment so that she can replicate them in the right moment, under pressure. Think like Serena.
Get the remote practicalities right.

Position your camera at eye level by placing your laptop on a pile of books. Get your lighting right by making sure you’re facing the light – a lamp or window will do – so that your face is clearly visible.

Make sure your background is neutral and work-appropriate. Bolt-lock the door so you’re guaranteed no interruptions. Do a trial run well in advance of the interview to familiarise yourself with the platform. Keep a glass of water beside you. Don’t forget to breathe.

Next month’s theme will be: “I want to switch to long-term remote working. How do I start this conversation with my boss?”

Sarah Geraghty is Senior Training Consultant with the Communications Clinic. Send your career queries to careeradvice@thejournal.ie. Anonymity guaranteed.

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