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Zoom's head of hiring has interviewed thousands since Covid-19—avoid these 4 most annoying mistakes, he says

Twenty20 | Nelen

With unemployment rates high and video job interviews the new norm, highlighting your strengths through a computer screen can be a stressful task.

But, like any other form of public speaking, preparing for an interview means thinking about what your audience wants: a personable candidate who can clearly articulate their ability to get the job done.

Few people are better positioned to speak to the do's and don'ts of the coronavirus-era job interview than Phil Haynes, Head of Global Talent Acquisition for Zoom.

Since the start of the pandemic, Haynes says he's interviewed thousands of candidates. Below, he shares the four most annoying mistakes that get in the way of otherwise qualified candidates:

1. Too much fidgeting and peeking at your phone.

"Don't fidget," Haynes advises. "With an in-person interview, you'd never sneak a look at your phone. It's simply not behavior you would exhibit in real life. So we remind people: a video interview is still a face-to-face interview."

Another tip from Haynes: "Whether you're talking or listening, you need to liven things up. Show that you're listening with your body language" — nod when necessary, lean forward, smile genuinely and keep gestures to a minimum.

2. Up-and-down eye movements across the computer screen.

"We all have that tendency to look down a bit," Haynes explains, "because we're looking at the screen, not the camera. Even the executives here at Zoom sometimes struggle with this."

But the point is to at least try to maintain eye contact.

A few ways to practice: Stare at the camera and pretend it's a person, or rearrange the talking box on your screen so that your interviewer appears closest to the camera. Haynes also suggests getting into the habit of hiding your self-view during meetings. Why? Because people notice!

"If you're looking at yourself," he says, "you're going to be adjusting your glasses, your hair, your position. Without that self-view, you're much more likely to focus on whoever's talking."

3. Visibly worried and distracted by what you can't control.

According to Haynes, every job seeker's nightmare — the squalling baby or the howling dog, among several other home environment mishaps — has never scotched an otherwise great interview.

Since March, he says, "I've seen dogs' butts behind people's heads, I've seen UPS guys at the door. We've got a recruiter in Amsterdam who does interviews with his two-year-old on his lap. The human element is just pouring through."

In many ways, pandemic rules have made the interview process "richer and more honest."

"They've actually enhanced our ability to judge and see the real person," says Haynes. "People are able to relax in their kitchen or living room in a way that they couldn't when they were coming in with their suit and tie, their briefcase and business persona."

4. Boring, unenthusiastic answers.

If your stories don't demonstrate specific examples of how you identify and fix problems, your recruiter will leave the interview with a page of notes amounting to nothing tangible: Nice person, no visible skills.

Consider in advance what questions you'll be asked, and take the time to prepare compelling answers that will keep your interviewer engaged.

Think of the nuggets, the real-life stories from your work history where you faced a challenge and had to do something smart or unusual to solve it. Think of the times when you were most stressed — of the battle stories you told your friends and family. Remember the dates and details.

Boil everything down to a few sentences. Explain them in terms of the value you hope to bring to your new job. Practice telling your story before the interview.

Other obvious, but often ignored interview tips

Six months into the pandemic, the basic virtual interview checklist is — or should be — standard knowledge. And yet, so many people still fail to take them into account:

  1. Find a quiet place with good WiFi signal, decent light and a background that's neither weird nor distracting.
  2. Wear appropriate clothing, preferably solid colors, nothing bright or striped.
  3. Silence your phone and place everything you need — water, paper, a pen, resume — within reach.
  4. If you're using Skype or Google Hangouts, make sure your username is appropriate.
  5. Join the meeting ahead of time, especially if you're using an unfamiliar platform.

What else? Oh yeah: Relax and remember to be yourself!

John Bowe is a speech trainer, award-winning journalist, and author of "I Have Something to Say: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking in an Age of Disconnection." He has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, GQ, McSweeney's, This American Life, and many others. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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