By David F. Carr
The Enterprisers Project, June 30, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the reality – and etiquette – of job hunting.
Get advice on virtual interview manners, remote working questions, and more.
The dynamics of the job market have changed over the long months of the COVID-19 crisis, and they may not revert to old patterns when and if we get back to “normal.”
Your approach will have to change, too, in terms of when you need to push, when you need to be patient, and how you get a potential employer’s attention. Here are a few key factors to think about, according to recruiters and career experts on the front lines of today’s job hunt.
6 job hunt etiquette tips
1. Be prepared for the interview process, or more of it, to be virtual
This might be the most obvious change – the part where most or all of the interview and hiring process has been conducted over online video meetings for the past several months. As more workplaces reopen, this will probably start to change, but maybe not for the initial rounds of interviews. Everyone has had plenty of time to rethink what really needs to happen in person and what doesn’t.
“While a number of organizations have returned to in-person interviewing, we do expect that remote interviewing through later stages in the process will continue for many companies,” says H. Michael Burgett, founder and executive advisor at CIO Partners, a recruiting and executive career counseling service.
“It’s okay to ask about meeting in person, but do not push it – and be prepared to work around it,” says Mike Vaughan, a recruiter at Advanced Business Engineering in Marietta, Georgia.
2. Get ready for your close-up
Even assuming everyone reading this considers themselves tech-savvy, the question of how effective you will be in an online interview is as much Hollywood as Silicon Valley. Your challenge is not so much ensuring proper QoS for a video call as it is making yourself look good on camera and creating an emotional connection at a distance.
Even if you come from an organization that does a lot of online meetings, that might not count for much if you’ve been in the audience for most of those presentations – or if you’ve been in the habit of leaving your camera off and talking over slides. When using the same tools for an interview, the point is to approximate a face-to-face connection with the hiring manager or hiring team.
“The virtual presentation part is the biggest change, and a lot of people are not comfortable with that – details like how to position the camera, how to talk to the camera,” says Marianne Grady, a career coach based in New Jersey. In a recent panel discussion on the topic, she showed the audience a photo of the laptop in her office propped up on a box to put it on eye level. She has had to rearrange the lighting in her office because the light from the window illuminates one half of her face and not the other. She suggests watching for details like reflections on your eyeglasses.
We’ve previously shared some workplace online meeting tips that you may find helpful, including how to establish eye contact (or the illusion of it) through the webcam. “Engaging people is the thing,” Grady notes, and it could make all the difference in a competitive job market.
Research scientist Abdelrahman Y. Fouda’s essay in the journal Nature includes some good tips based on experience, including the idea that you should dress up just as you would for an in-person interview. “Professional attire has a positive impact and helped to remind me to behave in a polished manner – I’ve found it too easy to drop the professionalism in front of a webcam because you don’t feel the same social pressure you might in a face-to-face interview,” he writes. “Dress well from top to bottom and do not rely on the fact that the camera shows only your upper body. You might need to stand up or walk with your laptop from one room to another, as I did.”
3. Clean up your office background
Besides making yourself look good, make your surroundings look good, as best you can. “When you are being interviewed by video conference using Zoom, Webex, etc., make sure the space behind you looks professional and neat,” advises Carol Lynn Thistle, managing director at Heller Search Associates, which specializes in placing CIOs, CTOs, and other senior IT positions.
“Virtual backgrounds are not a good idea because they are distracting for some people,” she adds.
Author’s caveat: The point on virtual backgrounds particularly applies to gimmicky backgrounds. If you’re trying to get a VP job, you probably don’t want to make it look like you’re broadcasting from the bridge of the Enterprise. Using the virtual background feature built into Zoom, or using webcam software, could make sense if you replace the view of a cluttered home office or a kitchen with a plain background or a professional-looking image. And even a geeky background image could work if you’re applying for a sufficiently geeky job and have a feel for your interviewer’s attitudes toward such things.
Otherwise, the simple, low-tech solution is to neaten up your home office or whatever quiet location you’ve picked for your virtual meeting.
4. Do your homework and go in with a plan
Be thoroughly prepared for every interaction with a potential employer. You want to know whether they are surviving or thriving right now, Grady says. “You can take a job and be out looking for another one in a couple of months.”
Maybe you want to take the job anyway because some income is better than none, but know what you’re getting into.The employer may be under more pressure to wring the maximum value out of every dollar.
Having done your background research will also allow you to have a better conversation with your interviewer and tailor the points you make to their most pressing issues. You will also have a better idea of how hard you can push when negotiating an offer.
The employer may be under more pressure to wring the maximum value out of every dollar.
“Before COVID, late-stage discussions about things like compensation and the start date were held between the recruiter and the candidate. Now that hiring managers crave more interaction with finalists, they are often directly involved in those conversations themselves, which is a change,” Thistle says.
5. Know your remote work talking points
Whether you love or hate working remotely, be prepared for remote work to be part of the conversation. Employers will want to know that you are capable of being productive when working remotely when they need you to do so. Whether they will push the remote work option or resist it is another question.
“The fact that people can be productive with remote work has been proven, and there were so many people who didn’t believe that,” Grady says. “The baby boomers are aging off, and they were the ones who really wanted you sitting at your desk, day in and day out.”
If you prefer remote work, you have a lot of leverage right now.
There’s also a financial incentive for change, she says, noting that the investment bank where she used to work as an HR director is likely to go from three floors of office space to one when the lease is up, thanks to increased remote work.
Many organizations will retain a preference for getting workers back into the office as soon as possible, but if you prefer remote work, you have a lot of leverage right now, Grady says.
Senior IT people tend to be comfortable working remotely and may be more likely to be trusted with it.
6. Get ready for some tough questions
While technology has not suffered to the same extent as the rest of the economy, that may not protect those who have specialized in IT for an industry that is hurting right now, such as travel and tourism. If that means you must seek work in another industry, Thistle advises, “Spend time thinking about how your achievements and skills relate to the sectors that are hiring – the technologies they use and the challenges they face. Rehearse answers to the question bound to come up about your lack of direct industry experience.”
If you’ve been out of work, or not working at full capacity in the past few months, Grady suggests being ready to explain what you’ve been doing with all your free time. You want to be able to say that you’ve been improving yourself, sharpening your skills, and maybe picking up an additional certification. If you’ve used the time to upskill, she says, that shows you’re a go-getter.
David F. Carr is a writer, speaker, student of digital business, and the author of “Social Collaboration for Dummies.”
The Enterprisers Project is a community and online publication built to discuss the evolving role of the CIO and how IT leaders drive business value in a digital world. Visit https://enterprisersproject.com/article/2020/6/job-search-etiquette-covid-19?page=1