Job Interview Coaching: How to Ace a Job Interview in 2021
Congratulations! You have navigated your job search expertly and landed an interview. Perhaps you are targeting remote jobs or you may be adjusting to going remote because of the pandemic in 2021. With the increase in video interviews, many common interview questions remain the same. You may, however, experience changes in the interview context and benefit from reading these latest job interview tips.
Some companies may be operating under the added economic pressure; others are introducing new processes and tools for work from home. Interviewing as a business partner is the best way to have a collaborative conversation, no matter the hiring outcome. If you are not hired now, you may be gaining a great addition to your network and learning new things for your job interview preparation. With a mindset of a partner and a fellow industry contributor, you are inspiring confidence in the interviewers and building ties that may render results down the road.
We asked some of the leading career coaches to answer the questions candidates may have about job interviews in 2021:
✔What’s new in job interviews during COVID-19?
✔How do I prepare for video interviews?
✔Are there any interviewing techniques I can use to phrase my offer better?
✔How should I address a COVID-related layoff during the interview, if asked?
✔What should I ask at the end of the interview?
✔Is there room to negotiate my compensation package during the pandemic?
✔How should I follow up after the interview?
Emily Graham: What’s new in job interviewing during COVID-19?
While the standard interview questions remain the same, there has been a significant rise in video interviews. Employers are using Zoom and other proprietary video technologies, the next best thing to being in person—safe, visual, and easy.
Here are the pros: You can interview from the comfort of your home and cut out the drive and extra small talk. You can have notes around you with reminders of the stories you want to tell (stories are 10x more powerful than generic answers). All of this can go a long way in eliminating interview day jitters.
The cons? You do not get to see the office and get a feel of the environment although this will likely still happen ahead of an offer. You need to be able to navigate any tech challenges that pop up.
☛To prepare, choose a quiet location with a clean background that is free of distraction.
☛Test your technology ahead of time so you know how to unmute yourself and turn on your video.
☛Choose a well-lit area and check your lighting on camera to make sure your face is visible.
☛Adjust the video angle so that both your face and upper body are visible. This can be done by elevating your webcam above your eye-line, at the level of the top of your head.
☛Try a short mock interview with a trusted colleague, mentor, or friend.
☛Like any other interview, draft a list of your strengths and examples from your experience that demonstrate your value.
☛Try using cards with your key differentiators and achievements. You can easily look through the cards as you speak (vs. turning larger pages).
☛Have notes and ideas for your ‘elevator pitch’ (“Tell me about yourself”).
☛Ask insightful questions about the company’s projects and challenges.
☛Log into the meeting at least five minutes early. This will allow you to work through any challenges ahead of your scheduled time. Interview time may range from 20 to 60+ minutes. Have a glass of water on your desk.
Monica Marcelis Fochtman: How do I prepare for video interviews?
Video is used for interviews in two formats. The first is a one-way video where you film yourself answering a series of pre-set questions. You can (usually) stop and start your video and re-record answers if needed. When finished, your completed video is sent to the company for review.
The second is a two-way interview where you and the interviewer(s) can see and hear each other. This format mimics an in-person interview.
To prepare, treat each step as you would an in-person interview.
☛Get physically ready: hair, attire, smile!
Even in the one-way interview, you should dress the way you would for a regular interview. The recommended interview outfit for a video interview is the same as for an in-person interview: one level up in formality from the daily dress code you can expect at that organization.
☛Get mentally ready.
Preparation is key. Practice your answers, either in front of a mirror or record yourself on your phone/computer and then watch yourself. You want the focus to be on the value you can deliver in the role. Have 2 to 3 examples of your previous wins ready to go and tie them back to the position.
☛Take care of the light in advance.
Look at yourself on camera and remove any distracting background images. Darker, jewel-tone colors look great on camera. Minimize patterns, as they are distracting and do not always translate well. Make sure your room/office is well lit, with the lights off to the side and above your camera.
☛Practice eye contact.
When speaking, try to look directly into the camera lens, as this mimics direct eye contact. This takes practice because we often tend to look at the image of ourselves or the person we are speaking with.
☛Emphasize your positive attitude.
Video offers fewer opportunities to pick-up and respond to non-verbal social cues. Make sure to convey your positive body language and smile. If an employer is interviewing several candidates with similar skillsets, your personal qualities may help you stand out and leave a great impression. Thank the interviewer that the end.
Dr. Cheryl Minnick: Are there any interviewing techniques that I can use to phrase my offer better?
As a university career coach, I help students prepare for in-person, group, panel, video, and Zoom interviews. Regardless of the mode, the goal is the same—to share “fit” for the company and unique “ROI” for the job, internship, practicum, field experience, research, or volunteer role.
To build confidence, we teach strength-response techniques students can use to answer any question rather than focus on anticipating frequently asked questions. When candidates focus on the top 10 questions, and the first question of an interview is not one of the ten, they may shrink in fear, lose self-confidence, and give up before the interview is over.
One technique you can try in your next practice interview is “Circle Back.” It encourages candidates to answer questions lobbied at them by circling their responses back to the company mission and/or the role’s required and preferred hard and soft skills.
For instance, if a pre-physical therapy student were asked a question about their 15 years of ballet training, they would circle ballet back to physical therapy. They could share ways ballet taught them to see the body, interpret movement, and witness the body’s displacement of center of gravity during extension of arm and leg … all lending to a unique ability to quickly see and diagnose balance problems. They could continue talking about their dreams of working with injured athletes, including ballerinas. They would not share the performances they were in, the companies they danced for, or the teachers they studied under. At a School of Physical Therapy interview, most faculty do not understand how those experiences relate to physical therapy.
Shelley Piedmont: How should I address COVID-related layoff during the interview, if asked?
No one is unaware of the COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact. Unlike in previous recessions, where there may have been some stigma attached to being part of a layoff, that does not seem to be as prevalent with the economic downturn associated with coronavirus.
Recruiters and hiring managers understand that many businesses were impacted and had to lay off staff members. If asked about it, be direct about the reason. You can say something like,
“Unfortunately, my employer was greatly impacted due to the shutdowns and loss of business during the pandemic. There were layoffs as a result, and my position was eliminated.”
You may have already cleared the issue of a reference with your former manager. In that case, you can add that this person is happy to provide a reference for you. This additional statement will further clarify that your termination was solely due to business reasons and not performance.
When wrapping up your latest job, always take the time to collect new recommendations and kudos for your LinkedIn profile, resume, and other career documents.
Thea Kelley: What should I ask at the end of the interview?
There are some questions you should always ask, such as: “What is a typical day like in this role?” and “Why is this position open? If it’s a new role, why was it created?” It has always been a good idea to ask, “What are the biggest changes and challenges facing this company/this department in the next few months and the next few years?”
As a result of the pandemic and the economic upheaval it is causing, certain new questions should also be considered. For example:
☛What is the company’s strategy for success in 2021 and over the next five years?
☛What has this company learned from its experience in 2020?
☛How has the current situation created extra challenges for this role?
☛It can be difficult to get funding to hire right now. What is the need driving this hire?
☛What does upper management see as the importance of this department?
☛If this role is not 100% remote, what safety precautions are in place?
☛What percentage of the team works remotely?
☛How do you build team spirit, especially between remote and co-located employees?
☛Can you tell me how the career security and growth of the remote team members compare to that of the co-located ones?
☛What advice would you have for how the person in this role can develop rapport with the rest of the team?
And, for the hiring manager in particular:
☛What is your strategy to keep your department strong and maintain headcount?
Shelley Piedmont: Is there any room to negotiate the compensation package during the pandemic?
You should always try to negotiate better compensation or work conditions, regardless of the prevailing economic conditions. Why? Because if you do not ask, you will never get. Most employers will not give you their best offer first. As the buyer, they will start the negotiations at a number with room to go higher. Most will be willing to go higher in compensation or better the offer to secure your services.
You see, the organization has spent a great deal of time to find you, the person they have decided is best to do the job. There is always a chance that you may walk away from an offer if it does not meet your needs. That would mean that they may have to select a less qualified candidate or start the search over again, all of which are sub-optimal results. Therefore, the organization may be better off financially to give you what you want (or at least get you closer).
During the pandemic, the business realities may mean that the competition for a position is higher, and there are more qualified candidates from whom to choose. It will depend on the position. Some positions are still in high demand with fewer qualified applicants, like in data science.
Even if your role is not in a high-demand area, that still does not mean you should not negotiate. If they picked you, they want you. Take the opportunity to invite the employer to collaborate with you on the offer that is mutually beneficial for both of you. The upside is that you might be able to get a better offer. The downside? They will just say no.
You can negotiate paid time off, insurance, stock options, pension plans, bonus amounts, remote work options, commuting costs, professional development/training/education, number of people on your team, internet/phone/equipment fees, and/or your title.
Emily Graham: How should I follow up after the interview?
It does not matter if your interview is a brief phone conversation, a video interview, or in-person meeting, you must follow up!
☛Always ask if you can get their email address.
This is the best way to reach out because it is instant and it is very easy for them to respond.
☛Always send a thank you letter.
Very few people do, and it is a great way to stand out from the crowd. Personalize it. Thank them for their time and insights. Mention something specific from your conversation that you found interesting. This will bring them back to your conversation and help them remember you. State their biggest need in the role and remind them what you have done that meets their exact need.
☛Follow their instructions on timing.
If they tell you they will have an update by the end of the week, wait until the end of the week and touch base. If there is still no update at that time, mark your calendar to follow up at the end of each week.
Wayne Pagani: How should I follow up after the interview?
Have a strategy for your interview follow up. This can include running a post-interview self-assessment, sending thank you notes, and staying connected.
After the interview, take a minimum of 30 minutes that same day to review how it went and what you might improve on. If there was something that you missed and think that you could have been better at, you might be able to come back to it and recover in your Thank You Letter. For example:
“ … in reference to your question about Topic-ABC, allow me to elaborate with the following: … (and include the response that came to you in your self-assessment)”. Just be sure that this is not a topic that can be Googled to improve your response.
The first half of this self-evaluation process is to assess what you can improve for future interviews. The second half is to look at what went well so you can replicate it moving forward.
☛Say Thank You:
A vast number of hiring managers that I have spoken to have shared that two simple words leave an impression on them, and those words are Thank You. Your Thank You Letter should go out within 24 business hours (if emailing, send it as an attachment).
Here is a sample Thank You Letter for executives from Career Professionals of Canada’s Executive Director, Sharon Graham.
First, express your sincere appreciation for the time that people took to meet with you. Also, remind them about how well you fit in their organization and this specific role with a few brief examples of what they get if you are selected. In some cases, it may be appropriate to include a second page with a T-Chart which highlights the match between their needs with your qualifications for this specific role.
☛Stay connected by following up:
Remember to follow up by sending a Follow-Up Letter reiterating your interest in the position and the value that you offer. Include an invitation to provide any further information the hiring manager might need. That way, you can remind the employer that you are interested and available, even though a couple of weeks may have passed since the interview.
Regardless of the outcome, if this really is a company that is a fit for you and is high on your list of target companies, take time to nurture a relationship with the organization and its people. LinkedIn and other social media platforms offer opportunities to do so – with respect, tact, and professionalism.
About the authors:
Monica Marcelis Fochtman, Ph.D., CPRW, is a professional resume writer and career coach, specializing in helping mid-career women level-up and transition to new industries. Monica is the owner of Sheldrake Consulting.
Dr. Cheryl Minnick is a Certified Job Search Coach, Certified Career Management Coach, and Academic Advisor at the University of Montana.
Shelley Piedmont, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, is an HR professional with 20+ years of experience as a Corporate Recruiter and HR Director. She has hired for various roles on behalf of Fortune 500s, small and private businesses, and everything in between. For more information, visit www.shelleypiedmont.com.
Thea Kelley, CEIP, CPRW, OPNS, provides one-on-one job search and interview coaching for job seekers nationwide. Her Amazon best-seller Get That Job! was reviewed as “excellent” by Forbes. For more information, visit https://jobsearchandinterviewcoach.com.
Wayne Pagani is the owner of W.P. Consulting & Associates where he supports people around the world with their career aspirations. He is a certified yoga instructor, a member and Senior Advisor of Career Professionals of Canada, and a trainer for career professionals and organizations across Canada.