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HR grads share tips for nailing your virtual job hunt

Newsroom authorby Jill ScarrowOct 20, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is a story told by numbers: case counts and hospitalization rates crowd the daily headlines.

Running alongside those stats are figures of a different kind – ones that tell the tale of the economic fallout from the lockdown. Business closures and job losses have mounted over the past months. According to Statistics Canada, 10.2% of Canadians were still unemployed in the month of August.  Meanwhile, recruiting and the job hunt has moved online as over two million Canadians continue to work from home.

Whether you’re unemployed, a new grad starting out or just looking to make a career shift, how do you land a new job in this new normal? We asked some of our expert alumni working in human resources for their advice on how to get noticed, ace a video interview, and integrate into a new role during the virtual job hunt.

Aaron Pacherco smiling

Aaron Pacheco (Human Resources ’10) is Senior Recruitment Consultant for RBC Insurance focused on finding the best talent for sales positions in the organization. In the world before COVID, he spent most of his time at face-to-face events, and now does all his work remotely.

Jennifer chow smiling

Jennifer Chow (Human Resources ’13) is a Human Resources Business Partner at GeoTab – an Oakville-based company that supplies technology to track supply chain logistics. She began her career working as a recruiter for the SickKids Foundation.

Nicole Brocklebank headshot

Nicole Brocklebank (Marketing ’09) is a Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist for TEKsystems, an organization that offers recruitment services to the technology sector.

Female smiling

Rosana Fialho (Human Resources ’08) is a human resources professor at the Pilon School of Business. She’s worked in human resources throughout her career, including two years she spent working remotely. That experience spurred her master’s research into several aspects of remote work.

We asked all four of them to weigh in with tips and tricks to land a new job amidst the challenges - and opportunities - presented by the pandemic.

What’s the most important thing someone can do right now to land a job?

AP: I’m sure new grads hear ‘network’ every hour of every day. You’re not going to get a job from every person you talk to. But just try talking to as many relevant people as you can. Even a quick coffee chat. You can even show confidence by saying ‘thank you – I’m not going to apply (for this job) today, I’m going to develop skills for the future.’ That shows a lot of confidence.

JC: Leveraging your external network is more important than ever. LinkedIn is a great resource, as it allows you to network directly with the hiring team. When you are using LinkedIn, ensure you are distinguishing yourself by personalizing your message to stand out from the crowd.

Is there still a place for the cold call or the informational interview – even if it’s virtual?

AP: Absolutely. We’re doing career chats more than ever. I’ve had people reach out because they saw a job posting. They say… ‘could you schedule a call with me just to go over the role, how could I build the skills I need to get the role one day?’ Even the fact that I’ve just met this person over the phone and made a connection on LinkedIn, that really helps. Then maybe a month later a colleague of mine is looking for a different role that they’d be good for.

RF: One of the biggest ways to find a job is networking - and networking is going to be a lot harder in this context. But harder doesn't mean impossible. It just means that you've got to find really creative ways to network. Whether that's reaching out to organizations to do informational interviews, or finding virtual networking events - which do exist. If you can’t find any, consider organizing your own. Just keep trying.

So the networking is a must-do. Let’s talk about resumes. What are you looking for that helps a resume stand out?

AP: The roles I’m (filling) right now, I like to see technical skills, even if it’s not part of the job description. So if you can tell me, ‘I’m great with Zoom,’ ‘I know how to WebEx,’ that always stands out. As a recruiter, I definitely look at LinkedIn as well.

NB: Make sure your resume is done professionally. That it has a great template and a good look, very clear, concise and detailed …  also get a professional photo on LinkedIn. I’ve always said that before, but even more so now, (you need it) to standout. Make sure that your cover letter really talks about the job that you’re applying for.  You know, a lot of cover letters, it’s just one letter that is for every role, and they just change the company title. But really, make those letters personal to the company.

JC: I also think it’s important to share your story. Maybe if your resume doesn't necessarily convey all of your experience, I would always recommend creating a cover letter. When I recruited at SickKids, this was the channel that allowed you to share your story and why you'd be a great candidate.

The pandemic has forced people to make tough choices. Sometimes, that has meant taking time off to care for children or a loved one. What about the resume gap? How would you suggest addressing that?

JC: Organizations are changing as employers are recognizing the human aspects of HR, and they use this information to make business decisions. Organizations are evolving and shifting as they evaluate candidate qualifications beyond relevant experience and look for skills such as resiliency, which could be a result of taking time off. As a result, this shouldn’t limit someone from applying to various opportunities.

In today’s job market, the video interview is the new normal. How can you shine on camera?

RF: The biggest barrier in video is communication. There are a couple of things that prevent fulsome communication, both from a tech perspective and a non-verbal communication perspective. For example, you have barriers to actually conducting conversation. A common complaint with many interviews is video quality or sound quality. There are lags, sometimes the internet cuts out. It's really important to make sure that your system is running well before you have that interview, because there’s nothing worse than dropping that call. You should also test the audio and the video in advance, making sure that if you’re using headphones, that they actually work. Do a test in that room of your house where you’ll be dong the interview. Because depending on your house or condo, you might have different signals in different rooms.

You want to make sure you’re in a professional environment, but that doesn't mean you have to have a shelf full of textbooks behind you. Have a clean space, because first impressions matter. I’ve actually seen some really creative techniques, like people hanging a plain, ironed bedsheet behind them so it looks like a wall, or using a closed door behind them so that it’s plain and tidy. If you happen to have a room divider that is fantastic. Whatever you do, aim for the focus to be on you, not what’s going on behind you.

AP: Call environment is huge. But I don’t want to single someone out because their home is set up differently than someone else. Not everyone expected to be doing this. I always tell people, look for something with a blank wall. Body language is huge.

Body language? How can you read body language on video call?

AP: I’ve done virtual interviews recently and people have done all the right things. They’re dressed up, they have a tie, they’re in an office setting.  Or they have a blank wall. And they’re slouched. They forget they’re on camera, I think. They have their headphones in and after a few minutes they slouch because they think they’re on the phone.

I know some people think they can sit on the couch. You can, but you might be too comfortable. Even sit on a kitchen chair, anything that’s upright. It sounds obvious, but it’s really not. I see people sit on loungers and La-Z-Boy all the time and it throws them off.

JC: Individuals are a lot more comfortable over video, but remain professional and stay focused during the call, use your body language to demonstrate engagement on the call.  Be animated in smiling and moving your hands when you're speaking.


NB: Also, consider questions to ask: Is (the job) remote? What does the training look like? Because now everything is virtual, especially with the social distancing and the capacity that companies can have in the office.

These are great tips, but why is it challenging to create a strong presence in a virtual interview?

RF:  This is documented in research, one of the biggest challenges with video interviews is that the non-verbal communication can often be impacted. For instance, whether they realize it or not, when you're sitting in an in-person interview, interviewers evaluate your posture. How do you carry yourself? They’re reading facial expressions, hand gestures, a lot of things that have nothing to do with what you're saying, but rather how you are saying it. In a video, it’s very hard to leverage this, as often you are only seen from the shoulders up. Make sure that you’re making it as easy to see you as possible. Make sure that you have clear lighting, make sure that the windows are not behind you because then they’ll create a shadow. Have some lighting or a window in front of you with the curtain open so they can see your facial expressions.

One thing that is clearly distracting is when the interviewee is clearly looking at themselves or looking away. So one little trick I’ve discovered is to put a mirror above where your camera is because then you might be looking at yourself, but you're looking at the camera and it looks like you’re making eye contact, which is surprisingly powerful.

Video is not going to be the same as walking into the room and having a presence, but you can certainly do some things to help your presence really shine through.

How about privacy considerations in a virtual interview? After all, it’s a bit like having a stranger in your living room.

RF: That's why you have to think about the environment. If you have a lot of people around in your space, it could be hard to have a private conversation. You have to plan for that in advance. Maybe that plan means simply to put up a well-ironed bedsheet behind you. Or, Zoom has really creative virtual backgrounds. For data privacy, make sure you ask if they’re going to record the interview, and then I would be conscious of how long they’ll keep the recording, what do they use it for, who’s going to use the recording, etc.

Landing a job in a virtual world is just the first step. Joining a new company seems equally daunting right now. Statistics Canada reports that 2.5 million Canadians are still working from home, so a new hire may go months before meeting a co-worker in real life. How can someone stand out in that environment?

NB: I think that's going to be tough for new grads coming out of school. They’re going to really have to learn how to complete tasks and stay on goal and stay focused with home distractions around you. That may be hard for someone fresh out of school. I’d say one tip would be to get into the practice of focusing and finding space that’s quiet.

RF: Some of the things I found helpful are to take initiative to create and protect time for casual conversation. A big part of acculturation, and becoming part of the fabric of the DNA of the company, is how you know your colleagues. For productivity, for creativity and for long-term career growth, having social ties is critical. It's really hard to do that when you’re remote. Creating opportunities to have casual conversation, making time to talk about your weekend, and networking internally is important. Remote employees need to actively facilitate this, since there are no random small talk opportunities like in a bricks-and-mortar office. Remote (work) can be really isolating.

Let’s go back to the point about new grads. They face a particularly tough battle. In August, youth employment was still 15.3% below pre-pandemic levels. What advice would you have for anyone in this group?

AP: Be yourself, a polished version of ‘yourself.’ You have to find a way to adjust your regular personality. Things like jokes in an interview are OK - polished, not an offensive joke.

NB: We look at, were you working during school? If you weren't working, what were you doing? Were you volunteering? Were you doing some sort of activity other than just school? So I think if there’s a student who has graduated and they haven't done much volunteering, I would suggest looking at getting involved in something. I know it's different with COVID and what you can get involved in and what's happening. But look at doing something to improve your resume.

JC: Be yourself.  There are many ways to get involved. For example, joining a virtual career fair, exploring online volunteer opportunities within your field, and leveraging your personal network. Lastly, reflect on individuals that you have connected with or spoken to.

RF: There are lots of online jobs that are available out there, and I think we are going to see this increase given the times. The more that we learn – the more the whole industry learns – the more online jobs there will be out there. Don’t give up.

Learn about Sheridan's Business Administration - Human Resources program in the Pilon School of Business and find out about our Career Centre resources for grads.

Written by: Jill Scarrow, Manager, Advancement Communications at Sheridan.

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