by Joanne Carew

How to shine in virtual interviews for the African tech job market

Oct 19, 2021
CareersHiringIT Jobs

Today, virtual interviews are being used for end-to-end recruitment. Here’s how tech professionals can make a good impression.

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Credit: gustavofrazao / Getty

Virtual interviews may have been in vogue for many years, especially in the tech sector, but this approach to hiring was predominantly used only in the very early stages of the recruitment process. Today, digital recruitment and virtual interviews are being used for end-to-end recruitment as businesses look for creative ways to assess job applicants without breaking lockdown restrictions.

And this approach to recruitment is here to stay. According to a new survey from HireVue, a video interviewing and recruiting automation technology provider, 54% of businesses believe that virtual interviews result in a speedier recruitment process. And 41% confirm that this approach made it easier for them to identify the best candidates.

Some of the main benefits of using video tools include the speed and efficiency of the interviews and the recruitment process as a whole, according to Jaco Bester, managing consultant for Africa at Michael Page.

“Interviews can be scheduled in a timelier fashion and the topics of conversation are more focused, resulting in a much clearer picture for both the employer and candidate,” Bester says. “We have also been using psychometric tests in conjunction with video interviews; this allows us to run a much more straightforward and informative process covering all the necessary technical and cultural aspects to the benefit of all parties involved.” 

Amelia Jacob, senior business manager for Africa at Page Executive, the executive search and hiring brand of Michael Page, which focuses on the hiring of people for C-suite level roles, shares this sentiment.

COVID-19 has driven many organisations to adopt a hybrid working model and so it’s fitting that video technology — like Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp and Zoom — has become a very integral part of recruitment activity, Jacobs says. These tools have made it possible to continue searching for the best candidates in a virtual manner.

Meanwhile, it’s a good time to be a tech professional in Africa. The COVID pandemic has given huge impetus to digital transformation and, as a result, tech skills are in demand. Here below are top tips on how to be your best during video interviews.

Making the right virtual impression

Leading a discussion at the SA Innovation Summit in Cape Town recently, Jane Moors, a senior associate, facilitator and coach at Outerbox Thinking, a Cape Town-based coaching, innovation and talent engagement business, explained that even the most qualified and experienced people can struggle to express themselves. She finds that job applicants typically face three major hurdles during job interviews, particularly interviews conducted virtually.

Firstly, they don’t know how to stand out — and how to stand out in a good way. Recounting a recent experience she had coaching a job candidate for an upcoming interview, she explained that everything about the candidate made her ideal for the job but when she joined the video call her body language and tone failed to sell all of her experience and talents effectively. That is until she started talking about her ‘why’, said Moors. When she was talking about what interests, motivates and drives her, she totally lit up. “If you want to stand out, you have to know your ‘why’. Your ‘why’ is not just that you want a job so that you can make money and pay your bills at the end of the month. It’s what motivates you and drives you to add value. Passion makes an impression, it makes people stand out.”

The experience, noted Moors, also made her think about first impressions. During the hiring process, a recruiter or HR professional will make a judgement about your CV in about seven or eight seconds, she notes. And when they meet you, they get an impression of you in just two seconds. This phenomenon is called the Halo and Horn Effect, which occurs when our first impression of somebody leads us to have a biased positive or negative opinion of their work. “This can be a good or bad thing depending on what your first impression is like.”

So, how can candidates counteract this? By understanding common biases that people have. If, like the candidate discussed above, you show up for an interview with little energy and enthusiasm, people will think you aren’t interested in the job. “If you want to make a good first impression during a virtual interview, smile from the second your camera comes on. And be sure to look into the camera and not at the video on your screen so it feels like you’re making eye contact.”

According to Moors, another common problem is that candidates don’t understand who the interviewer is and what they want to hear. It’s a good idea to check out the person on LinkedIn so that you have a better understanding of who they are. It’s also a good idea to do some research around the business and the business culture. “This shows that you’re diligent and forward-thinking. If you throw something that you discovered via your searches into the conversation, it creates a human connection and they will be more likely to remember you,” Moors says.

Study job specification carefully

Similarly, Moors advises that job seekers study the job specifications carefully and make sure that they throw in some of the particulars the company is looking for or use phrases from the job spec in your response to questions. If you can, try to share examples of things you’ve done in the past that showcase how you meet the job criteria, she continued.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly given the rise of virtual recruiting, candidates aren’t sure how to create a compelling human connection. “Lately, more and more people are confessing that when they meet someone in a virtual setting, they feel a little disconnected because they feel like it’s hard to make an impression through a screen.”

For Moors, storytelling is a great way to create a human connection. What does this mean? Well, if you’re asked what your weaknesses are, you could list a weakness and then tell a story showcasing how you’re working to improve it.

“Even if your interviewer isn’t asking you to give an example, when you tell a story, you give a snapshot of a situation you’ve faced before and how you handled it, which gives them a clearer picture of who you are,” Mors says. You mustn’t forget that recruiters and HR professionals remember how you made them feel, concluded Moors. Sure, they will remember what you said or how well you answered their questions, but it’s the human connection that really makes a lasting impact. 

Tech professionals and the virtual interview

 So, do tech professionals typically handle virtual interviews well?

Senior, more strategic and business engaging professionals usually interview well regardless of the setting, while the more technical professionals tend to find interviews — be it virtual or in-person — more of a challenge, according to Robyn Stainbank, managing consultant for technology at Michael Page Africa. “But this is changing as companies give their technical professionals the opportunity to learn about the business facing elements, which includes more stakeholder engagements. This has helped the more technical professionals improve their communication and other softer skills,” Stainbank says. Soft skills have become increasingly important for technical professionals during the interview phase, even though their technical skills would still be tested during this period, Stainbank says.

In fact, some skills that have typically been seen as “soft skills” — like communication, collaboration, adaptability and problem-solving  — are now being deemed core skills by CIOs looking to hire new members for their tech teams. A study by business and technology consulting firm, West Monroe, confirms this revealing that 67% of HR leaders will actually withhold a job offer due to the candidate’s lack of soft skills.

“We know that technical skills are in demand but in the world of virtual interviews, more technical people would be wise to also spend time preparing for the behavioural based questions and not only questions about their technical skills,” says Moors. The new world of work means that everyone — including more technical and IT staff — is required to collaborate effectively and to work well as part of a team, she adds. “This makes it important for IT professionals to prepare themselves to be asked questions that assess their interpersonal skills and showcase their future leadership potential.”  

Virtual interviews are the norm

Cape Town-based OfferZen helps tech candidates find jobs by connecting them with employers who are on the hunt for tech talent. Pre-COVID, the OfferZen team used to see quite a few companies using video calls as an early step in the hiring process and then the final interviews and meet-the-team/culture fit stages were done in person. Now, almost every company is using virtual interviews and onsite interviews have become the exception.

According to OfferZen, it is very possible to showcase technical skills virtually, as the interviewer can follow on and watch in real time while the candidate codes or takes them through a problem. However, virtual recruitment makes it difficult to assess culture fit. During a virtual interview, it’s challenging for a job seeker to get a good sense of the company and their potential future team when they haven’t even met the team they could be working with and they haven’t had a chance to properly engage with them.

As such, when OfferZen is looking for talent, they have lunch with the job seeker and a small group of their potential teammates so that both sides are given the opportunity to get a sense of one another and to ask any questions they may have.

Simple tips for virtual recruitment success

According to the recruitment specialists at Michael Page Africa, there are a few simple things you can do to take the stress out of a virtual interview. These are outlined below.

  • Check your equipment: It may seem obvious, but if you’re using a laptop, ensure that it’s properly charged or plugged in throughout the interview. You don’t want to get cut off in the middle of your conversation.
  • Choose the right location: Make sure you choose a location with a reliable Internet connection. Similarly, you want to do the interview in a place where there is a good source of natural lighting. A plain, light-coloured background is best. As much as possible, steer clear of any distractions and make sure that any people who are around know that you shouldn’t be interrupted.
  • Dress appropriately: It is really important to treat a video interview in the same way as you would a normal in-person interview. Don’t dress in a T-shirt and jeans just because you aren’t going to the company’s offices to be interviewed. You must look as professional and put together as you would if you were meeting face-to-face.
  • Choose your camera angle: Your camera should be in line with your eyes. Don’t sit too close or too far from the camera; it’s ideal for the interviewer to be able to see your head and shoulders clearly. During the interview, don’t look at the person on the screen or at yourself if your video is also visible. As much as possible, try to look directly into the camera.
  • Pause before speaking: There is often a delay when using video conferencing tools. As such, it’s a good idea to wait a few seconds before responding to a question to avoid a situation where you accidentally cut off your interviewer before they have finished asking their question.