When it comes to landing a new job, it’s important to stand out professionally. This has always been true, but social distancing and virtual meetings have made it more difficult than ever to make a positive impression.
The good news is that you can build better communication skills. You can get your foot in the door. Three areas, in particular, will help you stand out. Focus on what you say, where you say it, and how you say it.
In the case of a job interview, you are the product. It is your job to persuade the recruiter why they should invest in you. These three questions can help you build the script for your big sell.
What am I passionate about?
Recruiters look for passionate team members because positive energy is contagious. You can’t inspire others unless you’re inspired yourself. Do some research on the company ahead of time, but do it with the intention of finding what excites you about their work. Study the company’s website. Perhaps it contains a customer story that inspires you, or an initiative you’re particularly interested in.
The main point: Don’t be afraid to share your passion in your interview and be sure to connect it to the company’s mission. Extra points if you can explain what it is about their work that connects to your personal values.
What is the one thing I want them to know about me?
Recruiters and HR professionals are exhausted from endless virtual meetings. Yes, science shows that “Zoom fatigue” is a real condition. Make it easy on your listener by getting to the point and reinforcing your key message at least twice during the interview.
Your key message should highlight what separates you from competitors. Spend some time before your interview outlining not just your skills, but your interests and hobbies. Think about yourself through a holistic lens. The combination of your personal and professional traits make you a unique candidate. Maybe you’re a software engineer with a gift for communication (highlight the benefits of translating code understandable to any crowd) or an editor with a strong background knowledge in tech (highlight that you are up to date on the latest content formats). No two candidates are the same. Explaining what separates you from the pack could be the most important sentence of the entire interview.
Whatever your “one thing” is, find opportunities during the interview to focus the recruiter’s attention on it by setting up your statement with a precursor like, “If there’s one thing I’d like you to know about me, it’s this…” The next line is what the listener will remember, jot down, and share with others on the hiring team.
What story should I share?
Have short, relevant stories ready to share, ones that connect you to the company’s values.
Before the interview, write your stories down. They should be events or experiences about times when you shined, learned something new, or faced a challenge. I recommend following the traditional (time-tested) structure: Use the beginning to establish context, include a middle with hurdles and challenges, and end with a resolution. The resolution doesn’t always have to be perfectly happy, but it should showcase some kind of growth.
While telling your stories, pay attention to the words you use. For the company that places a high value on collaboration, tell a story that hits on the theme of teamwork. When you work on the script, use more “we” pronouns than “I” statements. For the company that wishes to “enrich lives,” think about a time you helped a peer or client, using empathetic phrases like “I understood their frustration.”
Rehearse the story, either in the mirror or in front of friends. When the time comes, you’ll be able to deliver it concisely and effortlessly.
Storytelling isn’t just about what you say. It extends to your setting. What does your environment and presentation reveal about you? How does it reflect on your personal brand? This is an element candidates often overlook. Pay attention to it, and you will stand out.
Glance at home-design blogs or magazines to learn how to place objects in a way that complements your background without creating a distraction. For example, even if you don’t have a large library of books, you can create the illusion by stacking a few titles on your shelves. (Pro tip: If you do go with a books, make sure that you’ve actually read them — the recruiter may ask.)
If you’re not comfortable sharing your background or if your immediate surrounding is cluttered and messy — then, and only then — should you consider a virtual background. Many of the pre-set backgrounds on virtual platforms are distracting, look really fake, or create a strange halo around your body that distorts your gestures. That said, if you use one, make it part of your story. For instance, choose a photo of a famous building on your college campus or a background that represents your artistic work (if applicable). Think creatively.
Engaging someone in a virtual setting is especially difficult because we don’t see the full range of expressions, body language, and other cues that create an emotional connection between two people.
Slow down the pace of your speech
It’s natural to speak rapidly at an in-person meeting, because you can read a host of non-verbal cues and recognize when to keep quiet or let someone else have the floor. Those cues are hard to read in virtual settings. Although it might feel odd, slowing down your rate of speech will make it easier for your listener to follow the conversation. It also makes it less likely that you’ll interrupt the interviewer. An added bonus of speaking more slowly is that you’ll use fewer filler words like “ums” and “ahs” that many listeners find annoying.
A television broadcaster wouldn’t read a script about a fire in the same tone as she would read a story about a lost puppy being reunited with his family. One calls for a serious delivery while the other calls for an uplifting, cheery delivery. It’s the opposite of speaking in a bland, monotone for the entire conversation. Inflections adds a layer to a remote conversation that helps to replace the emotion that is often stripped away in a virtual dialogue. If you’re sharing the story of a serious challenge you faced, your tone should be more somber, slower. You could then raise your voice, speak more rapidly, and emphasize key words as you excitedly share how you overcame it. For example, you could emphasize the bold words in the following sentence: “I was so proud of us for not only surviving this crisis, but finding new ways to thrive as a team.”
Speak to the camera
Television anchors use a teleprompter to make “eye contact” with the audience. Can you imagine watching a 30-minute program where the host is talking to his notes the entire time? Well, that’s exactly what you’re doing if you’re talking to the screen and not the web camera. Remembering that speaking directly to the camera is difficult, so schedule practice sessions with a friend. Record the mock job interview and review it. You might catch distracting habits that can be easily fixed.