Virtual interview advice in a time of Covid-19

”…Providing some practical (interview) tips for students can make a real difference to them increasing their chances of a successful outcome. This is especially important for neurodivergent students who may have some additional challenges with communication…and increased levels of anxiety.’’

One huge change that has happened during Covid-19 has been the flip to, and necessity for many to work from home. This has accelerated flexible working that was seen to be a part of the industrial revolution 4.0.It has also meant that many students if they want to apply for jobs now or in the future will need to be confident to participate in all stages of the virtual hiring processes.

Face to face interviews, while costly in time and money can sometimes be easier to gauge the responses from others in the room when being interviewed. Some of the non-verbal cues that you would normally recognise can be missed in an online setting such as knowing when to start and stop talking for example. Facing an interview panel online can mean it can be more difficult to know who to who to address your comments to.

We are all learning new skills in navigating different video systems, and each one is a little different in the way it operates. It is nerve wracking enough to be listening to be questions and considering a meaningful response as well as having the additional burden of addressing the practicality of having sufficient internet bandwidth. There is nothing more annoying than the sound disappearing halfway through your interview or your computer deciding to do that software update just before you go into the interview room. Dogs barking, children crying, and the Amazon delivery man arriving just when you don’t want them, can all add to feelings of stress too.

By providing some practical tips and hints for students to consider you can make a real difference to them increasing their chances of a successful outcome. This is especially important for neurodivergent students who may have some additional challenges with communication , working memory and increased levels of anxiety. For some, understanding the expected interview process will be important to know beforehand to ensure that reasonable adjustments can be put in place.

The following are some tips and hints you can pass onto students for preparing for the actual interview that may be useful:

A few days before the interview

  • Read through job description and make notes relating to your skills and experiences you can offer.
  • Check out information about the organisation.
  • Prepare some questions you can ask the interviewers.

Information about the interview

  • Ask for information about the interview if this is possible e.g. How long will it be? Can you have the names of the interview panel?
  • What format will the interview be in? How many people will be on the panels? Do they provide questions beforehand, and if so when would this be? ( Some organisations give you the questions to read through 15-30 minutes before the interview.)
  • Check the system being used e.g. Zoom, GoToMeeting or Teams.
  • Can you do a test run using it beforehand in case you have to download the application? It’s useful to check how to unmute and turn on the camera beforehand.

Asking for adjustments before the interview

  • If you have a disability or health condition and/or require adjustments to the interview process, let the organisation know as soon as possible.
  • Find out what the format of the interview is and if there will be any assessments being undertaken and the format in case adjustments need to be made for you. Ask for additional time in tasks if required.
  • Access to Work (through DWP) assistance is available for virtual interviews.
  • If you need specific adjustments then explain what they are e.g. use of spellchecker if you are dyslexic, additional time to respond to questions if you have a communication challenge, responding to a question in writing, BSL support or closed captioning( subtitles) if you have a hearing challenge.

Night before the interview

  • Check software updates have been made on your computer, so this doesn’t suddenly happen during or just before the interview.
  • Check you know the time of your interview.
  • Write down on piece of paper contact details – name and phone number in case you have a problem before or during the interview.
  • Charge your mobile phone as a backup in case you need to make a call.
  • Think about what you will look like? What do you want to wear?
  • If you have headphones, consider using them to cut out background noise.
  • Think about where you are sitting and what part of your home you are showing to others. Imagine your interviewers see you in a room with an unmade bed, they may not find this very impressive!
  • Limit the distractions around you that may mean you are looking at something else and not at the interview panel.

Hour before the interview

  • Make sure you have your computer plugged in and mobile phone is by your side.
  • Log into the system and test it at least 30 minutes before if this is possible.
  • Turn off other screens or background information that you don’t want to share with others
  • Have a bottle of water or glass that is not easy to spill ( over a computer) nearby.
  • Go to the toilet.
  • Take the dog or cat out of the room if you have one. They may be cute to you, but they may be distracting to others.
  • Turn your phone on silent and switch off any other alerting noises on your computer such as Skype or Outlook.
  • Check your sound on your computer and have headphones ready if you will use them.

During the interview

  • Try and sit up right so that you look interested in what is being asked of you.
  • Address the person you are answering questions by name. Give examples of your skills and values that can be used elsewhere.
  • Take your time responding. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification. If you are making a note of key points you want to say, then let them know that’s why you are looking down or away from the camera.
  • Ask if a response is enough or would they like more detail to stop you talking for too long.
  • Avoid making jokes in the interview as you don’t know other people’s circumstances or comment that it is ‘weird’ being virtual- everyone else will be making the same comment!

Edmund Lewis, from the AGCAS Disability Task Group, was talking to Professor Amanda Kirby who is an emeritus professor at the University of South Wales and CEO of Do-IT Solutions ( Do-IT deliver person centred online tools that help neurodiverse people optimise their skills in education and in employment.


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