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Small changes like elevating the camera or having good lighting can make a big difference in how candidates are perceived by potential employers.mixetto/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Jennifer Ridley says she has no trouble building relationships in person, but looking for a job during the pandemic has made it harder for her people skills to shine.

With most interviews being conducted online, it’s harder to pick up on an interviewer’s body language. Ms. Ridley says she can’t always read how things are going and adjust as she would have in the past.

“I’m a very visual person,” says Ms. Ridley, 48, who is looking for a job working with elderly people in Hamilton. For example, “if they’re tapping their foot, it means you’re boring, they’re in a hurry or just not very involved with you.”

She’s been compensating for the lack of in-person cues by doing as much research as possible about the company, familiarizing herself with the online software being used for the interview in advance, and preparing herself to confidently answer questions about her skillset in a way she hopes can radiate through the computer screen.

“It can feel very impersonal,” she says, of many of the video interviews she’s been part of lately. “But I guess it’s the way the world is going.”

Mastering the video interview

Video interviews are particularly challenging for job seekers, especially for people who aren’t used to the on-camera experience.

Olga Kwak, an employment counsellor in Hamilton, says she sees many people who are job hunting for the first time in years who aren’t used to “being natural” during a video interview.

She says small changes – such as elevating the camera so interviewers aren’t looking up at your chin, or having good lighting – can make a big difference in how candidates are perceived.

“You have to have your camera on,” she says, noting that keeping it off may be commonplace in other online environments, but it makes it harder for employers to connect with recruits.

“There’s a lot of jobs out there, but competition is also higher for certain jobs because of the ‘Great Resignation’ we’re seeing.”

Mattress-maker Endy Canada conducts all of its interviews online, which can make some people nervous out of the gate, says Hemalee Sisodraker, the Toronto-based company’s director of people and culture.

She tries to remind interviewees to stay calm and have a conversation, which she acknowledges can be “easier said than done.”

Ms. Sisodraker says she likes to provide candidates with information on the company in advance of the interview, not only to sell them on working there, but also to help prepare them for the discussion.

The strategy also means candidates who don’t read the materials often stand out as being unprepared.

“We see that, at times, people think they can wing it,” she says.

Interview preparation advice

For candidates who want to be ready, Ms. Sisodraker recommends researching the company and coming to the interview with thoughts on how they would be a good fit in terms of skills and the company’s culture.

Candidates should, of course, be ready to talk about their experience, but also to discuss their professional approach to situations they could face on the job, Ms. Sisodraker says.

And while not all employers are interested in your life outside of work, she likes to hear about hobbies and interests. She’s often looking for how potential hires are able to keep their work-life balance in check.

“We want to see that you’re thriving in your personal life,” Ms. Sisodraker says.

She’ll often ask questions about someone’s hobbies or time away from work such as, “What are you learning?” and “What’s a skill you want to improve on?” to uncover more about candidate’s character and interests.

“We’ll say, ‘tell us about something that’s not on your resume,’ just to see their personality.”

If the interview is successful and a verbal offer is made, Ms. Kwak recommends getting it in writing before deciding. She says that often gives the candidate a bit of extra time to think about it, and is a starting point for negotiation, which, in this market, is an option for more people than ever.

“Many people don’t realize this is a negotiation process,” she says. “Folks aren’t realizing that, because of this worker shortage, they have a bit more bargaining power.”