If you’re facing a job search right now, you’re not alone. There are record numbers of people filing for unemployment benefits in the U.S. and half of the global workforce is at risk of losing their livelihoods. Whether you were recently laid off, were unemployed before the global pandemic hit, or are choosing to make a change, looking for a job now — amidst hiring freezes and layoffs — will be different than it was a few months ago. But how different? How has the crisis affected how you approach a job search — from finding open positions to writing a cover letter and resume to (ideally) interviewing? Does the usual advice still apply?
To answer these questions, I spoke with Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Bring Your Brain to Work: Using Cognitive Science to Get a Job, Do it Well, and Advance Your Career and Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, an executive fellow at Harvard Business School and the author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who. Here’s their advice for facing what feels like a daunting challenge at this time.
3) Prepare for a remote interviewGiven that most people are working from home, there’s a good chance that if you’re lucky enough to get an interview, you’ll be doing it remotely. All of the standard advice about how to prepare for and perform during an interview still applies but you’ll also need to think about others aspects as well:
Technology. When the interview is scheduled, ask what video platform they’ll be using and then spend time familiarizing yourself with how it works, especially if you’ll need to use any features like screen sharing. Test out the link ahead of time. Be sure you have a way to reach the interviewer in case the technology fails. “The last thing you want is to be disfluent in a high-pressure situation,” advises Markman. “People are going to be as forgiving as possible, but if you can demonstrate that you’ve thought through the contingencies, it’ll convey competence.” And set up the best possible circumstances for the technology to work. For example, Markman suggests asking others in your household to not stream TV while you’re doing the interview.
Appearance. Your goal is to look professional. You don’t need to wear a suit jacket — that would look awkward under the circumstances — but you don’t want to wear a sweatshirt either. Choose a neutral background for your interview (it probably goes without saying to avoid one of those virtual beach backgrounds). Fernández-Aráoz says that if you have a professional-looking space you can show in the background, it can help to humanize you, and it’s better than being right up against a wall. However, a blank wall can be less risky when it comes to interruptions or accidentally displaying a messy room. You might also consider standing during the interview. “It’s more dynamic and your vocal chords warm up faster and it’s easier to project,” he says.
Company’s crisis response. In addition to the usual research you’d do on the company, Markman advises looking into what the firm is doing in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Try to get the latest information. “Things have changed so rapidly and you may have applied for the job a few months ago,” he says. “Make sure you’re as conversant as possible. Check their website, any newsletters, and social media feeds — up to and including the day of the interview.”
4) Rehearse ahead of timeExperiment with how you might answer common questions. “When we get nervous, we tend to start monitoring ourselves. Since you’ll be able to see your own image as you’re talking during the interview, you’re likely to get distracted. Staring at a face — especially your own — will make you lose your train of thought,” says Markman. Be sure to rehearse in the spot where you plan to do the interview so you can see how you look. If you can’t stop looking at yourself when you practice, you might want to close the window with your image in it. You don’t want to be self-conscious to the point of distraction. “But it can be useful to occasionally look at yourself during the interview,” says Markman, “to make sure you don’t have a tag sticking out or something.”
5) Go into the interview with a positive mindsetRemember that during the interview, you won’t be getting the same level of non-verbal information from the interviewer. And as Fernández-Aráoz points out, there’s lots of research that shows when we don’t have feedback, we tend toward a negativity bias. We think “this isn’t going well.” So experiment ahead of time with staying positive and assuming the best is happening. You might have a mantra you tell yourself when you start to doubt your performance. Or you might sit quietly for five minutes before the interview starts and mentally review all the reasons the interview is likely to go well.
Read all 8 Top Interview Tips and the complete Harvard Business Review article