How to make a lasting first impression during a virtual job interview?

2020 06 02

How to make a lasting first impression during a virtual job interview? Will the quarantine permanently change the way we perceive remote work? How to build a community over Slack and Google Hangouts? And finally, what to do if your chair at home is not as comfortable as the one at the office? To get answers to these and many other questions, Work in Lithuania talked to Smiltė Narkovičiūtė, an experienced HR specialist responsible for the Vilnius office of the IT company TeleSoftas.

Could you tell us about what HR does at an IT company?

Plenty of things, really. TeleSoftas has four HR specialists responsible for different areas – from recruitment and hiring to forming individual teams, assessing performance and ensuring internal communications.  Personally, I am responsible for the Vilnius division, which now has 40 employees and is still growing! My responsibilities are quite diverse – from ensuring a smooth IT recruitment process to community building. Needless to say, a significant part of my work consists of IRL communication with my team, which is what I, as an extrovert, miss the most right now!

Your company currently employs over 230 people. How did you find the process of moving everyone’s work to a virtual environment?

In the beginning, it was rather simple because remote work is something we are quite familiar with. However, there were plenty of challenges too! The biggest challenge was moving all the necessary equipment to people’s homes. Some colleagues needed their monitors, while others had to bring chairs and even tables, making the first few days of quarantine a big moving party. After the first week, once the technical side of things was up and running, we came face-to-face with another challenge – lack of connection. My colleagues were really longing for social interaction. Besides,  under such conditions, it is very easy to work yourself into the ground, both physically and mentally. For this reason, we started consulting our colleagues on how to build a daily routine, while team leads made it a point to call their team members more often, and not just to talk about work. After a month, we noticed that everyone’s mood was better, while productivity remained around the same. In fact, some teams even logged higher productivity, as compared to pre-quarantine!

As we’ve seen, your office has a foosball table, a kitchenette and a number of break rooms where employees can talk to each other – have you tried recreating something similar in a virtual environment?

Absolutely! Otherwise, every conversation would just work work work. Given that most conversations at our office take place in the kitchenette, we made a separate channel on Google Hangouts (called, you guessed it, Kitchenette) where people come by to chat. On Fridays, we also have game nights. With all the creative people on our team, generating ideas for entertainment is a breeze. Case in point, one of our colleagues programmed a virtual Dixit room, and when that gets old we also do trivia nights – using our own Quizmart app to boot!

Onboardgin is an important process for any collective. Have you had the opportunity to try your hand at doing it over distance yet?
We’d just brought in four new people! It was frankly quite stressful, as I’d never done it before. The first order of business was ensuring a comfortable work environment. We wanted new hires to feel as comfortable at home as they would at the office. To some we even brought ergonomic furniture!

Next, we proceeded with onboarding at the team level. To be honest, we noticed that it took a little longer than usual, as you can’t just come up to someone and give a quick explanation. Telling people what we do and how is also a slightly more laborious process. On the positive side, however, most usual practices, including pair programming, work just as well over distance. Some may even find it more comfortable to work on the same piece of code from the comfort of their home.

The first order of business was ensuring a comfortable work environment.

Given that IT companies are looking for new hires even during the quarantine, do you have any advice for people getting ready for a virtual job interview?

The first thing would be to make sure there are no obstacles on the technical side of things. Check that your camera, microphone and headset are all working and there are no connectivity issues. Even though not everyone is happy to talk to a camera, mutual understanding is much trickier without a visual component. Moreover, awkward silences are best dispelled with a smile, which is something we wouldn’t be able to see without a camera.

Another tip, which applies to all participants of a conversation, is to stop multitasking. You don’t just whip out your phone to chat with a friend on WhatsApp during a regular interview, right? The same general principle should hold for virtual interviews. The best thing to do would be to switch off all distracting applications altogether.

And finally, since maintaining focus during virtual conversations is more difficult no matter what, be prepared to tell your story in a concise but engaging way. I would also advise people to get their questions to employers ready, for this is an excellent opportunity to learn more.

Do you think the lessons learned during the quarantine will change how companies view remote work as a whole?

Things are definitely going to change, especially in IT. Already I’m hearing our team leads say something like, “I never thought that remote work could be so effective”. Soon more and more people will no doubt be asking to spend a more significant part of their working hours at home. Some of our applicants even expressed a desire to combine work and travel. Soon enough people will be able to live a digital nomad lifestyle while holding down a full-time job, working together in teams, and enjoying all the social benefits that come with employment. Even though building communities and engaging people who do most of their work outside of the office will be a challenge to any organisation, I think we can do it!