Rules around social distancing and working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic mean the traditional face-to-face job interview is now being replaced with online meetings.
Recruitment managers and human resource departments may be working remotely, and it would be unsafe to invite a stream of candidates into the office who may not be able to travel.
Rich Shaw is the director of Pharmfinders in Cheshire, a recruitment and locum agency providing pharmacy staff across the UK. He explains that pharmacy recruitment via video interviewing is not as established as it is in some other sectors.
“It’s going to be new for hiring managers as well as candidates, so both parties are going to have to get used to this,” he says.
Pharmacists will continue to look for new career opportunities, so there are a few things those invited to interview for a job will need to know to make the best impression.
1. Become tech savvy
Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Google Meet are the most popular video conferencing tools being used for online interviews.
The most important piece of advice for interview candidates is to conduct a practice run with the technology being used, so any problems can be ironed out in advance.
Helen Chang, head of professional development at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, says candidates should be sent all the information about what platform will be used and how to access it ahead of time, and if it doesn’t arrive then ask. She explains that “it shows you are keen, engaged and that you want to prepare”.
You will need a computer or device, such as a smartphone with a camera and microphone. A headset or headphones is not a requirement but may improve the quality of your sound, so that is worth testing ahead of time.
Never do a video interview when you’re on the move
Shaw points out that not everyone will have access to a laptop at home and that using a phone or a tablet is acceptable, but you need to set it up on a flat surface. “Don’t hold it, it needs to be still; and never do a video interview when you’re on the move,” he adds.
“With certain platforms, the mobile experience is not the same as the desktop experience, and you don’t have the same functionality,” adds Chang, advising interviewees to double-check they know how to use the app that is required.
It is also important to check you have a good internet connection so you don’t get cut off or freeze, and have a back-up plan, such as another device, in case of any unexpected issues on the day. You can experiment with moving nearer to a WiFi router or using your mobile as a hot spot, but do this ahead of time.
The questions and format of the interview will likely be the same as in a face-to-face interview, and you should prepare as you would have done if you were answering questions in front of a panel in an office, says Shaw.
“A video interview is really just a change of venue,” he says.
You may be asked to prepare a presentation to give during the interview, and if that is the case you will have to make sure you know how you are going to do that, he adds.
“For example, will it be through screen sharing? If so, make sure you are set up to do that and practise beforehand so it’s a seamless process.”
Adam Jennings, senior recruiter for pharmacy at Boots, says the company are now doing the majority of their interviews online through Teams or Zoom, but the questions they ask interviewees are the same ones asked face-to-face — so in that sense, getting ready for the interview is no different.
It is even more important to engage in the questions and focus on the quality of your answers
But because it is harder to make an impression online, “it is even more important to really engage in the questions and focus on the quality of your answers”, he says.
3. Set up your interview space
Testing the relevant online meeting platform ahead of time is also about making sure that you are presenting yourself in the best possible light.
This means choosing a suitable location that is quiet, free from distractions and has good lighting.
On his first ever Zoom call from his home office at the start of lockdown, Shaw says he was in complete shadow because he had a big window behind him. “I didn’t know that until I went on my first Zoom call, and by then it was too late; but had I prepared and done a mock call, I would have known that at the start.”
To get the best lighting, the brightest source needs to be in front of you and behind the computer or device.
Location is key, he adds. “Always arrange a private, quiet location; turn your notifications off; warn people in the house; and try to arrange for that time [to be] quiet.”
You need to make sure that what the interviewer can see is a professional reflection of you
That includes checking what the interviewer can see behind you. A messy kitchen or piles of laundry will not create a professional first impression. “You need to make sure that what the interviewer can see is a professional reflection of you,” he says.
Other factors to check are your username that comes up when you’re on the screen, and, if you will be screen-sharing at any point, to double-check you have suitable wallpaper as your computer background and that all other programs are minimised.
It is possible to add a virtual background to your video call, but beware that this can be very distracting and may also pick up people who are moving in the background.
“Have a simple background,” says Chang. “I have been in meetings where there have been some odd backgrounds and it’s very distracting. In Teams, you can choose to blur your background.”
It is also important to make sure you have everything you need at hand before the interview starts, such as a pen and paper, any notes you may need and a glass of water.
“We advise that you treat the interview as if it were face-to-face, and designate enough time for the interview so you do not come across as rushed or uncomfortable,” says Jennings.
4. Develop good online etiquette
As with any interview, an online meeting will begin with normal personal introductions and an explanation of how the interview will run.
“We find that over the period of the interview, the interaction often starts to feel more natural, just like in a face-to-face meeting,” says Jennings.
Much of the etiquette of an online interview is the same as it is in person, and that means dressing appropriately: there is no such thing as “too smart” advises Chang.
But there are some differences to bear in mind. It is fine to have notes with you, but being able to make eye contact is particularly important in this setting, says Shaw.
“Interview notes should always be brief; they are there to jog your memory and provide some guidance,” he adds.
Chang says she has no problem with people taking notes during an interview, and it would be fine to have a pen and paper to hand to use if you need them. “It shows that people are listening and they want to make sure they have captured all my questions,” she says. But you should avoid having your head down and taking too many notes.
It can also be harder to judge when it’s your turn to speak. It’s not as easy to spot shifts in body language, and there can be a small lag depending on the quality of the internet connection.
Wait until the other person has finished speaking completely so you’re not talking over one another
“It is best practice to listen intently with a video interview, and wait until the other person has finished speaking completely so you’re not talking over one another,” says Jennings.
Usually the time for the interviewee to ask any follow-up questions is at the end, and this would be the same for an online interview, adds Chang.
“You do need to be mindful of talking over others, but for most platforms there is an option to raise your hand, or there is the chat box,” she advises.
If you want additional professional guidance on the interview itself, then the RPS has lots of resources including a
mentor database, Chang adds.
“I’m a mentor and I’ve been doing some interview preparation, so if you need extra support from a pharmacist and from a professional perspective you can connect with our mentoring platform.”
5. Follow up
It is always a good idea to send a polite follow-up email after an interview, thanking the hiring manager for their time and making yourself available should they have any further questions or need any more information about you, says Shaw. But this should be on the same day or the following day at the latest, he advises.
“It is also a really good opportunity for the candidate to reconfirm their interest in the position,” he adds. “It may be that during the interview you realised the role wasn’t for you. If you’re not going to be a good fit you can still maintain that relationship with the hiring manager, because other roles may come up in the future.”
If the recruitment process is being carried out through an agency, they can pass on that email to the right person on your behalf.
At the end of the interview, you should have been told, or have asked, when you might expect to hear anything about the job. Make a note of this date and once it has passed — perhaps a day or two later — feel free to gently enquire if a decision has been made.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back immediately
Chang says “be mindful that the panel may have other interviews to conduct, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back immediately”.
In your approach, be polite and understanding, she adds, perhaps by asking for an update on the process.
If you hear that on this occasion you were not successful, it is always helpful to politely ask if there is any feedback they can offer. If you are applying through a recruitment agency, they will manage this process, says Shaw.
“It may simply be there was a stronger candidate,” he adds. “But they may be able to offer other feedback.”