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Virtual Interview: Tips & Soft Skills for the New Workplace

By DeVry University

August 31, 2020
18 min read


  • Jackie Costello, Cox Enterprises Sr. Technical Recruiter

  • Colby Williams, Cox Enterprises Sr. Technical Hiring Manager

  • Scarlett Howery, DeVry University Vice President of Operations

This Future-Ready Skills session highlights valuable insights from Jackie Costello and Colby Williams including advice on how to navigate the interview process, the soft skills hiring managers are looking for and how to prepare yourself for virtual interviews in today’s remote work environment.


Video Transcription

Scarlett Howery: All right. Well, hello everyone. I'm Scarlett Howery, Vice President of Campus Operations, and I want to welcome you into what I believe will be a great discussion on interviewing and soft skills in our virtual world. I have the pleasure of introducing to you; two recruiters focused on ensuring that they get top talent in technology for Cox Enterprises. They are Jackie Costello and Colby Williams. They are both joining me to share with you what you need to know when preparing for a virtual interview and the processes that go with it. Please enter any questions that you might have in the chat. I want to welcome you, Jackie and Colby. Jackie, do you want to take just a minute to introduce yourself?

Jackie Costello: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Scarlett. And welcome everyone, I'm excited to be here today. Yes, my name is Jackie Costello. I am a Senior Technical Recruiter with Cox Enterprises. I specifically support the Cox Communications division, which is our telecommunications division. Within that, I support our network engineering and outside plant and construction division. So, I hire for a lot of technical roles when it comes down to it, to put it simply. I've been with the company for over five years now. I always like to say it was the best career decision I've ever made and I'm excited to answer your questions.

Scarlett Howery: Great. Welcome, Jackie. How about you Colby? Would you like to introduce yourself?

Colby Williams: Yes. I'm Colby Williams, originally from Huntsville, Alabama. I've been working with Cox since 2005. I've pretty much worked under Cox Communications, Cox Automotive, and currently, right now, I'm back in Cox Communications working with Cox Business specifically. So, I'm hoping this is going to be a great session. I'm hoping we can help somebody.

Benefits of a Virtual Interview

Scarlett Howery: Yeah, absolutely. Well, let's dive right in. We'll start with the first question. So Jackie, what would you consider to be the advantages of a virtual interview?

Jackie Costello: Absolutely. Overall, I think there are a lot of advantages to virtual interviewing. First and foremost, in this day and age, it is socially distant. It does allow for you to have a little bit more flexibility in your schedule. I know pre-COVID, I would always encourage candidates to arrive a good 30 minutes before their actual interview time. So if your interview was at one o'clock, I would say absolutely be there by 12:30 and factor in – I live in Atlanta Georgia – factor in Atlanta traffic, which can be quite quite hectic and can easily make your commute anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. So I would always say, make sure that you get there 30 minutes before, make sure you check in with security, you know where you're going, especially if you're going to a campus that's a large campus.

You don't have to worry about any of that anymore with virtual interviewing. You can just hop on your laptop. Also, too, you know, your schedule will allow for a little bit more flexibility because you don't have to factor in all these other things. And then you also have the ability to like keep some notes on the side of your desk to reference during your interview. Maybe just some keywords to help jog your memory when you are talking. So overall, I mean, I do think it allows for a lot more flexibility. One little downside to it is that you just don't have the ability to be in person and to have people physically see you. But I think that your personality can come across very well if you prepare well for your interview.

How to Prepare for a Virtual Interview

Scarlett Howery: Yeah. And to that point, what tips would you have for someone who is preparing for a virtual interview?

Jackie Costello: Practice, practice, practice, and oh yes, practice. I know that sounds so simple, but I can't stress it enough. Especially being on camera. If you're not used to being on camera, or you are uncomfortable being on camera or you just get nervous during interviews, period, no matter what, you need to practice your interviewing skills on camera. You need to make sure that you know how to explain who you are when they say, "Tell me a little bit about yourself" you need to have your spiel ready to go. You don't want to sound verbatim and almost robotic. You want it to flow naturally, but you want to be able to explain yourself in about a two minute-ish timeframe that wraps up who you are, what your education is like, and why you're interested in the role that you are applying to.

Make sure that, you are, all of your technical situation is good to go. So you know, your internet is good, or you need to make sure that you are set up for somewhere so that you have a strong connection. Also, too, make sure that you've set the stage. Bear in mind, too, like we're all in this together. I'll be honest with you, I don't live in a big apartment at all, and we got to do the best that we can do. So, no one's telling you to go out and buy all kinds of office furniture and paintings and all that other stuff, but just find something that works for you. Just don't have a lot of things going on per se. But just bear in mind, too, that we're all in this together and we're all doing the best that we can in these situations.

Prep Your Interview Space and Attire

Scarlett Howery: Yeah. That's some great advice. I think some of what you mentioned is already what you would do to prepare for an interview, but there are a few extra things in there that I think are really important. Do you have any specific tips for the physical appearance of the candidate when they're on camera for this interview?

Jackie Costello: Make sure that you're sitting in something that you're comfortable in. You know, if you're sitting in like a wooden chair, that's just awkward; you may find yourself super fidgety. The other thing is, I always like to tell people, practice with your own camera phone. We all have phones nowadays. We all have ways to take videos of ourselves. So, set it up, you know, before your interview, and take a video of yourself. It is so eye-opening to see how you look on camera and where your eyes go because your eyes are the windows to the world right now. Your eyes say everything about you. So, if you're the type of person that when you're thinking your eyes go over here and over here, that all shows on camera, and you want to make sure that you try to limit as much of that as possible.

And then I would also say, you know, maybe try out some shirts or jackets or anything like that. A lot of times, you want to stay away from colors that drown you out. You want to stay away from probably a lot of colors or a lot of multicolored or has a lot of patterns going on and stuff like that. Again, another way to do that is either FaceTime with some friends or family, get some feedback and or just try it out on your own camera phone. You can always erase it.

Scarlett Howery: Not the time for your sequined shirt, right.

Jackie Costello: Exactly, exactly. Yes. Right. And if you have, you know, children or pets or you know, anything that can cause extra noise or anything like that. Again, we are all in this together and believe you me, I have been on interviews where someone's child has come running in out of the blue, and that person has felt terrible and apologized. And you know, I've always been like, I get it. That's totally fine. But try to make as much of that, and prepare in advance for as much of that, as you possibly can to ensure that you are focused during that time and that you have your full attention on the interview at the moment.

Leverage Your Soft Skills

Scarlett Howery: Yeah, really smart. Thank you, Jackie. So, Colby, a question for you around soft skills. We entitled this, you know, soft skills for a purpose, but I really would love to hear from you, what would you define soft skills as being?

Colby Williams: Well, I define soft skills, and especially in the context of an interview, it's really the bread of the sandwich, right. So, the technical portion is the meat that Jackie's looking for, but your soft skills should really be at the opening and the ending. And what we mean by soft skills is how does your personality come across to that interviewer? Because they're not just looking for a technical resource now, because especially in a city like Atlanta or major metropolitan cities, probably 200 people sent their resume in for that job. And out of those 200, probably 50 were worth even looking at. And if you made it to that last 50, then how do you make yourself stand apart from those other 50? And soft skills is one of those things that you really can't put down on a piece of paper that really has to show through, through your interview. And all the steps that Jackie gave is exactly what we look for.

Scarlett Howery: Yeah, that was a great visual. So, it's the bread, now the meat as the technical, the bread is the soft skills. I love it. So, how do you evaluate then soft skills when you're in a virtual interview?

Colby Williams: So, let's take the opening of the interview. The best thing for you to do at the opening of your interview is to introduce yourself and create a comfortable environment. You're nervous and trust me, that interviewer is nervous because he has to sit through 10 of these interviews and keep his, you know, motivation up through those ten interviews. Help him out. Walk-in, present a very pleasant smile and then open, like go to their LinkedIn because that's one of the questions from Susan, is it better to contact the interviewer before LinkedIn or after? As soon as possible. You want to create that relationship because not to go too far down the rabbit hole, Scarlett, but when you create relationships, that's almost as important as your technical ability in a work environment. So, when we talk about the bread, don't think about the bread as not being important. The bread is very important.

Just one more thing, and I'll finish up. So, let's look at the backside of the interview. After we've made it through your technical portion, right, think, you are tired of talking, and that interviewer is tired of talking about technical jargons also. So, lighten it up. Did you go to their LinkedIn? Did you see any activities that they like doing? You have to have something in common with that interviewer or with the people around you because these are the people that you're trying to work with. And especially if you're dealing with Fortune 500 companies, this isn't a job that you leave every two years. This is the job that you stay with. You actually spend more time with these people than you might with your family. So, those soft skills is very important to portray in your interview.

Maintain a Professional Social Media Presence

Colby Williams: Was that to me or to Jackie? Or open?

Scarlett Howery: That's back to you, Colby.

Colby Williams: Back to you. I think, how do I phrase this. I expect to see a Facebook and an Instagram page. This is how our society is right now. Especially if you're vying for a technical position, right? Your presence should be out there. So, yes, you're going to have to clean it up. You're going to take down all those college pictures that your friends thought and present a person that wants to work in a corporate environment. It's very important.

Scarlett Howery: Yeah. Do you agree with that, Jackie?

Jackie Costello: Absolutely. I think anything that you put out there to make it public in this day and age is open to criticism. Think about any celebrity that's out there right now, anything that they put out to the public is, you know, that is something that you put out there and you got to make sure that you can hold yourself accountable for it, you know. So, do I go look at every candidate's Facebook page? No, I don't have time for that. But do I look at all of their Instagram pages? Again, don't have time for that. Do I look at your LinkedIn, though? Absolutely. I look at LinkedIn all the time. A lot of times, if I'm doing an interview with someone, I will look at their LinkedIn as I'm talking to them. I may even send them a connection request so they will connect with me before they even have a chance to do it themselves. I do look at the LinkedIn page. I look at the picture that is up. I look at how the page is filled out. I look to see if it's recent. Yeah, I just, I look at everything.

I would say out of everything; your LinkedIn is probably the most important and the one that you want to stay consistent with. I always tell people, if you are really actively job searching right now, LinkedIn is such an amazing, wonderful resource, and it's free. But you have to use it in the right way. And it's great for looking for specific jobs. But the other thing about LinkedIn is that it's a wonderful source of information. If you grow your network on LinkedIn and you follow certain companies, you follow leaders that you think are interesting, follow other people at other companies, you'll start to grow your feed and you'll start to see articles coming through about things that are happening in our world today and it's very informative.

I use it as a source of news. So, you know, you want to use it as a way to look for jobs, but also as a way to be staying informed, you know. I'm always, I work in the world of technology, so I am always super passionate about finding women in technology. So, I tend to follow a lot of female leaders in technology, and I love to hear what they have to say. I love what innovative ideas that they come up with from time to time. So, you know, I mean, I follow all different kinds of people on LinkedIn, but you have to figure out where your niche is and where your groove is, and LinkedIn is one of those places that the more you use it, the better you get at it. So, I could get on my soapbox all day. I could do a session just on LinkedIn if you want me to.

Don't Forget to Follow Up

Scarlett Howery: No, it's really important. I think it does speak to just how important it is to make sure that your social media really does represent you, how you want to be represented, especially when you're in the market looking for a position, right. Another question is around following up after the interview, Jackie, would you suggest that candidates send either an email or a letter after that interview?

Jackie Costello: Absolutely. Thank you emails are so incredibly important. I can't stress enough how critical they are, and you want to send them within 24 to 48 hours. Anything after that is kind of out of sight, out of mind. I have candidates that will sometimes send them a week after the fact, and I'll be honest with you, I have to remember what it was all about because in between the time that their interview happened and then a week later that their thank you email came through, there's a million other interviews that have happened in between all of that. Always remember, it's very easy to make a first impression, and it is even easier to forget that impression. So, you want to make sure that after everything is fresh in someone's mind and they took the time to interview you, that you thank them for their time, you craft an email that says, "It was a pleasure chatting with you, learning more about your team in the role."

And then you want to add some meat to it, as to why you are a good candidate for it. You want to kind of, you know, summarize why you would be a good fit. So, you just don't want to say, "Hi, thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure meeting you. I look forward to hearing from you about next steps." You want to give some value to the email and whoever you're sending it to you. Now, if you don't have the email addresses of the people who interviewed you, always ask your recruiter, or the other thing you can do is send it to your recruiter and then ask the recruiter to forward it on. I do that quite often.

I'll be honest; there are some times where I'm sure thank you emails get erased very quickly. But then I have also had many, you know, situations that have come up where we have been splitting hairs between candidates. And that thank you email, has been the thing that did it for that candidate. And we've been like, well, they're pretty neck and neck. Well, this one sent a thank you email. I think the person that sent the thank you email wants it more. Whether they wanted it more or not, that's the impression that they've left the interviewers with, or the hiring manager with, is that they took the time to do that.

And just remember one other thought, no one is going to waste their time to interview you. Everybody's got full schedules, especially living in a virtual environment right now. I feel like I'm tied to my chair from 8:00 o'clock in the morning until 6:00 o'clock at night. So, everybody's busy, but no one is going to waste their time to talk to you. So, if they give you the opportunity to interview you, you have something that they want to know more about. That's your opportunity to perform and to shine and to show them what you have to offer and that thank you email can just be a recap in writing of what you talked about.

Go Beyond Your Resume

Scarlett Howery: That's fantastic. Thank you, Jackie. One final, I just want to make sure that I give you an opportunity, Colby. I know you shared an example earlier of the thank you note that you received and how that helped the candidate. Would you like to share that?

Colby Williams: Oh well, I've gotten plenty of thank you notes, but I think that the best one was I was interviewing interns. And the ten interns, two of them actually made it to the final round. And the one that actually stuck out to me was the one that everything he missed in that first interview when he got his second chance, he knocked it out the park on that second interview. And that's how he because the guy that he beat out - better resume, better GPA, but because he came back prepared and was willing to work and invested in learning, he got my vote over the other person because it went beyond the paper. It was a soft skill that he introduced. I do have the answer to Susan's question down there, but if we're out of time, I'll let it go.

Scarlett Howery: Sure. Go right ahead.

Colby Williams: Okay. Susan asked the question.

Scarlett Howery: Go right ahead. Go ahead. You can repeat it.

Ask Strong Interview Questions

Colby Williams: Oh, so, Susan asks, what's a good interview question? Or, what does an interviewer view good questions? So, it's really creating a conversation. So, I'm starting to hate the word interview because when you get in there, and your soft skills are having to be introduced, you have to make the interview a conversation. You have to make that person engage you. So, to me, what are good questions? Is if you don't understand something technically, ask me a technical question, keep me involved. Let me know that you care about the matter that we're talking about. Like I mentioned earlier, I could have ten candidates lined up with three of them going on that day. I can become very dry in the interview, but the ones that stick out at the ones that turn my interview into a conversation.

Another thing, force the interview to happen. And what I mean by that is, that if you have applied for a job and they've got ten things on there, you qualify for all 10, but the interview kind of stops at two or three of those, force the interview to happen. When he says, "Do you have any questions?" Bring up your skillset in those ten things that they asked about. Don't leave that off the table. That is very important because when they go back, they're going to look at all the candidates and they're going to see which one hit all the areas that they wanted. And if your interview only touches two or three, you've probably already eliminated yourself. So, force the, what I mean by force, not make them talk about it, but make the interview a conversation or make both people comfortable that it is a conversation.

Scarlett Howery: Yeah. Boy, that's really great information to share, Colby. I think that's an important piece of it. You've had some great nuggets today and I want to thank both you and Jackie for joining us and sharing your insights and pointers for job seekers out there. I hope you guys all enjoyed the discussion and took away some helpful tips. And again, thank you guys for coming in and sharing some time with us.

Jackie Costello: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Colby Williams: Thank you. Bye Jackie.

Jackie Costello: Bye.

Scarlett Howery: Thank you.

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