Can you hear me? Can you see me?

News article

COVID-19 moved job interviews online. A job applicant and two recruiters share their views on how the leap into digital format has succeeded and what one must remember in a remote interview.

Teemu Jämsä thought it was nice to have time off for the first time in a long while. He had finished his master's thesis in January and graduated after five and a half years of studies at the University of Oulu. Summers he had spent working.

– At some point I grew tired of not having anything regular to do during the day.  This inspired me to look for a job. Of course, financial factors were also at play, says Jämsä.

He set a goal for himself to submit two job applications every weekday. This helped him stay active in his job search.

– I submitted some fifty applications over the spring. In February I was invited to a couple of interviews, but otherwise the lines stayed quiet. Landing a job felt impossible.

Jämsä sought work across a wide spectrum based on his interests. He primarily went for positions of design engineer and quality and development engineer.

– Studies in industrial engineering are a comprehensive and interesting package. My education allowed me to apply for a wide variety of positions. My chances were improved by not setting major restrictions for geographical location. I was ready to move for the job.

In March, Jämsä’s persistent efforts were beginning to pay off. He was receiving interview requests on a nearly daily basis. Soon Jämsä had so many interviews scheduled that he decided to stop writing new applications.

As spring progressed, Jämsä found himself in a situation where he had to prioritise workplaces: if he received a job offer, would he accept it or take a risk and wait to hear about a more interesting position?

– When prioritising the workplaces I emphasised the job description and the opportunities for development and career advancement provided by the position. Even though I was ready to move, the location of the job was also a factor. The third most important factor was salary.

Jämsä had been working for Outokumpu for four summers before his graduation: three in a steel mill in Tornio and one in a mine in Kemi. Jämsä also completed his thesis for Outokumpu. It was this familiar employer that offered him the position of day shift foreman at the Kemi mine. However, this was only a fixed-term contract.

Finally, he struck gold. Jämsä was hired as a permanent consultant at the consulting and ICT services company Accenture. He worked for Outokumpu in April and began at Accenture in May. 

– I lived in Oulu and drove daily to the Kemi mine and back, over 100 kilometres each way. Now I can work remotely.

As the COVID-19 situation lets up, at least a part of Jämsä’s new job will probably return to the office, so moving south might be on the cards for him.

Whether you are present remotely or in the flesh, prepare yourself

Nearly all of Jämsä's job interviews took place remotely as Teams video conferences. He had good experiences with remote interviews: he saved on travel time and thought participating from home was easy. Connections were functioning as well.

– It is easy to have your notes in front of you at home. I felt self-assured and confident. 

He found it difficult to prepare for the remote interview mentally.

– Usually I prepare and cheer myself on as I travel to the interview. Now I just hopped on, straight from home.

In Jämsä’s experience reading another person is more difficult remotely than face-to-face. Making contact was also more difficult.

– It was sometimes hard to keep my eyes on the camera. My gaze kept drifting to the walls.

In terms of preparation, Jämsä sees little difference between remote and face-to-face interviews. Preparation is important regardless: think about the most common questions and your answers to them, go over your strengths, research the employer and write down some questions for the interviewers as well. 

– Of course, with remote interviews one must ensure that the internet connection, camera, microphone and lighting are all working beforehand. You should test your remote connection with a friend. Practice makes perfect.

Jämsä hopes that employers will keep conducting interviews remotely even after COVID-19. This would make life easier especially for those applicants who are prepared to find employment outside of their home town.

Headhunter wants to meet people

What do interviewers think about keeping the practice of remote interviews? Depends on who you ask.

Timo Välenoja, the CEO of recruitment company Target Headhunting, has been conducting remote interviews during the pandemic and also intends to keep doing so once it subsides. The company's Service Director Alexandra Kymäläinen, on the other hand, is eagerly awaiting the return to face-to-face interviews with potential hires. However, the headhunter duo agree that first contact should be made by phone and last contact by being physically present.

Sprawling chitchat is absent and the conversation remains concise. 

– On the phone we can survey the expertise of the potential employee and chart their interest towards the vacancy in question. If the expertise and motivation are there, we can schedule a remote meeting, says Välenoja.

When a job applicant reaches the final recruitment round, both the applicant and the employer usually want to meet in person.

– You cannot get the same idea about another person via a remote connection, says Välenoja.

– Our clients expect that we find the most suitable candidate for their organisation. We can only be sure of this once we see the applicant face to face, Kymäläinen adds.

Välenoja and Kymäläinen also agree that remote connection is more suitable for finding a specialist than a salesperson or supervisor, for example.

– Certain social features are vital for supervisors and those working in contact with customers. These features are better highlighted in physical meetings than via remote connections. I feel that a person's posture, handshake, sitting position and the way they gesture give me information that does not come across remotely, Kymäläinen says.

Over a year in COVID conditions has made remote meetings a routine for many specialists. Välenoja has noticed that now remote interviews can also get straight to business – neither party is no longer fussing about with the technology. The switch to remote connections has condensed the interview down to 45 minutes from one hour.

– Sprawling chitchat is absent and the conversation remains concise. 

In remote interviews there is no sprawling chitchat and the discussion is concise.

Teemu's tips for a remote interviewer

  • Keep the camera on.
  • Introduce yourself (and the other interviewers) and the vacant position.
  • Ask your colleague to act as a scribe so that you can better focus on the applicant.
  • Maintain contact during the recruitment process.

Alexandra and Timo's tips for a remote interviewee

  • Calm yourself before the interview and focus on it.
  • Do not become alarmed if your dog barks, for example. Unexpected situations can serve as ice breakers.
  • Look at the camera, not your notes.
  • Practice until your answers are concise and come up with examples.