Hiring managers share how to have a firm virtual handshake

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Julia Naranjo is a student at Grand Valley State University who is set to graduate in 2022.

She was all set to make eye-contact and give a firm handshake for her internship interview with SpartanNash in Grand Rapids in March, when suddenly the state shut down due to COVID-19.

The manager with whom she was supposed to meet changed the plan and set up a phone interview instead.

“They asked me the normal questions, but it was more of a challenge because you had to prove to them how you would be a good employee without actually speaking to them or meeting them face-to-face,” Naranjo said.

Although her interview was over the phone, SpartanNash has also conducted interviews, like many other companies, via video meeting apps like Zoom.

Jamie Belt is a Talent Acquisition Consultant for SpartanNash who talked with Naranjo for that phone interview, and said she did very well, despite the sudden change of plan.

“(Naranjo) did a fantastic job of explaining how some of the projects she has worked on in classes and at the career center, how those things translate over to make her prepared for an internship. I think it’s a lot of preparation as far as knowing how to speak to your abilities,” Belt said.

Naranjo will start her internship later this month, much like her interview, virtually.

Like any interview, hiring managers say preparing for a virtual interview requires research.

Angie Wittkowski is in talent management at Amway and says they have been able to fill jobs more quickly using the virtual interview process. She says the virtual medium can also give job candidates more flexibility.

“If you’re somebody who is great in the morning, go ahead and say, ‘if I could do this interview early because my house is a little less hectic, I’ve got better bandwidth.’ Whatever it might be, go ahead and ask for that,” she said.

She had several suggestions on how to make sure a virtual interview goes well.

  1. Get familiar with the technology ahead of time. “The minute you agree to that interview, make sure you’re set up for success and you’re not going to get stressed out the first few minutes of the interview because things aren’t working,” Wittkowski said.
  2. Practice, but don’t memorize. “You don’t want to show up as robotic. Monitor your body language because the enthusiasm someone might get in a face-to-face interaction is a little bit harder in a two-dimensional situation.”
  3. Be authentic. “Don’t worry about trying to show up in this video interview, or any interview for that matter, as somebody that you’re not. We’re all working from home. There may be distractions in the background that you can’t control, but people are giving each other a lot of grace and understanding right now.”
  4. Be clear about your intentions. “Be confident enough to say, ‘I’m interested in the role. What’s the next step in this interview process?’ That enthusiasm or that interested body language might not be as easy to read through a screen.”

Wittkowski and Belt both recommend that you still dress the part, even if you’ll meet your potential employer through a screen. They say you should consider how much of your body will be on the screen and think about what your head and shoulders will look like so you can feel confident.

Belt also pointed out that with the internet connection, there could be a lag in the conversation. She said to be prepared for a few awkward moments, but to try and adjust to give an extra beat or pause after the manager is done talking so you don’t interrupt them.

Belt works with interns at SpartanNash and has told her students that this is a great opportunity for real-world experience.

“It’s not always beautiful, it’s not always perfect, but I think you couldn’t ask for a more unique opportunity. As far as an internship goes, to see what it’s like for an organization to really be shifting and adapting every day,” she said.

Both managers said this has been an excellent opportunity to realize that it’s possible to hire over a video interview. Companies are open to using it during certain situations as well as in the future even after social distancing has eased.

GVSU’s Career Center has resources available for students and graduates who are preparing for an interview, whether remotely or in-person.

They are also hosting a training session on May 13 for employers who are looking to move their internship programs into a virtual environment.