Building Rapport in a Virtual Job Interview, with Mark Mohammadpour

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 248:

Building Rapport in a Virtual Job Interview, with Mark Mohammadpour

Airdate: June 18, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Our show is brought to you by Top Resume. Top Resume can help you stand out in today’s crowded job market.

Get a free review of your resume today. Go to macslist.org/topresume.

In every job interview, you need to connect with your interviewers. It’s hard to make this chemistry happen in person. How do you do it on a Zoom call?

Here to talk about how to build rapport in a virtual job interview is Mark Mohammadpour.

He’s a strategic communications executive, certified personal trainer, and health coach. Mark also hosts the podcast, Chasing the Sun.

Mark, here’s where I want to begin, what kind of challenges do you see the people you work with face in building rapport in a virtual interview?

Mark Mohammadpour:

We know that a large majority of communications is non-verbal, more than 90%, and out of that 90%, a significant amount of that is our body language. We are used to an environment where we are able to see and get reactions and respond to those reactions in real-time, and while we have video technology that allows us to see each other, we have to make some adjustments in order to build rapport, build affinity. And to me, that involves building confidence in how you present yourself and how you engage with your audience in a very rapid fashion so that you can be considered very quickly as a potential candidate.

Mac Prichard:

Why is it so difficult to build that rapport in a video call, whether it’s by Zoom or another platform? What’s stopping those connections from happening?

Mark Mohammadpour:

I have noticed this throughout my career, and given what’s going on with COVID, Mac, we’re seeing a lot of studies about the amount of energy that it takes to conduct a video call. Your senses are being directed in multiple places on the screen, especially if you’re in a panel interview. It takes a lot of energy to be able to come across, not only as someone who’s confident, you’re selling yourself, you’re engaged and you’re asking questions; it’s exponentially more challenging when you’re in a virtual environment but we’re going to see this more and more common. We have to take a step back and realize it takes a lot of energy, a lot of resources, in order to really sell ourselves in a virtual environment.

To be able to send a message that will be received by other people and say, “This is someone I want to continue to engage with. It takes more energy than we realize and I think that we’re finding that out now.

Mac Prichard:

Why do you think it takes so much energy, say compared to an ordinary audio phone call? Why is a video environment so draining?

Mark Mohammadpour:

The body language, the tone of your voice, the receiver is taking all of this information and is very quickly having to make a decision. There are so many different great candidates out there for particular positions, very similar backgrounds and education, and there’s a lot of common elements that you see with perceptive candidates but it really comes across in the interview, “Can I build rapport with this person?”

And to me, if you’re going to be working with someone, you’re going to be engaging with people, either in person or virtually, there has to be that sense of affinity. There has to be that sense of trust, and so very quickly you have to be able to see, do you really believe what they’re saying? Can you trust what they’re saying? Are you going to be able to get along with them?

A lot of times, especially people I’ve worked throughout my career…I’ve worked with them 8 to 10 to 12 hours a day, Mac, and 5 days a week, 6 days a week for months, if not years. Being able to establish rapport in a virtual environment over video takes a lot of energy because you’re using all of your muscles. You’re smiling, you’re gesturing, you’re using body language. I’m standing up, having this interview with you, Mac, and I’m moving around because I know that this helps build confidence in myself, to be able to come across as an expert, and to me, that takes a lot of energy, it takes a lot of preparation.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about how to build that rapport, affinity, and trust, those three things that you mentioned. How do you recommend people get started, Mark?

Mark Mohammadpour:

It’s acknowledging that just like a traditional interview, it takes practice. This is not necessarily easier to sit down or stand up in your home or your virtual office and engage with people. It is just as challenging, if not more challenging. The time that you’re saving commuting to an office to interview, you need to spend practicing. And you need to spend time practicing a number of scenarios and that involves the “perfect scenario.” Where you know the questions that they’re going to be asking you and how you’re going to respond. But it’s also going to be looking at different scenarios where perhaps the technology doesn’t work, the video conferencing goes down. What’s going to happen then? How are you going to respond to that?

What happens if suddenly, another person comes on the camera that you weren’t expecting? Maybe you were expecting a one-on-one conversation and then, all of a sudden, there’s an additional person or 2 people. Now, it’s challenging enough in an in-person environment but now you need to be able to manage people on your screen and picture some of those people might be on video and some might not. Some might just be listening in, some might be engaging, some might not. I think that’s a lot of practice in order to make sure that you have the confidence to very quickly build rapport, and a relationship with them, as you go through that process.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about those three scenarios, Mark. The first one you mentioned is having the questions in advance. Do you recommend asking an employer to give you the questions?

Mark Mohammadpour:

I think it’s one part doing some research, looking online, chatting with other prospective employees that maybe have applied to the particular company, it’s looking within your professional association if you belong to a trade organization. Say, “Hey, I’m going to be interviewing with so and so. I looked through your LinkedIn network…” and be able to do some of that behind the scenes discussions.

Talking to the hiring manager, talking to HR, perhaps looking at some of the key topics that they’re going to want to discuss, look at the job description, but I think it’s also, Mac, just like an in-person discussion, you really want to own the conversation as much as you can. And coming in and being proactive, and saying, “These are the topics that I think we should address.” And read the room, read the virtual room, obviously, but anytime you can help drive a conversation and build a conversation, it really helps build rapport and helps build confidence in yourself to be able to say, “I’m the person for you. Let’s shut down the process, let’s go forward with this.”

Mac Prichard:

Scenario two, something goes wrong. Let’s got to the worst-case scenario, your mute button doesn’t work, maybe it’s a choppy wifi connection. I”m sure you can provide your own nightmares as can our listeners. What should people do to prepare for those mishaps?

Mark Mohammadpour:

I think, it’s first thinking of what those could be, if it is a poor wifi connection, is it, “I’m not going to be in a place that’s completely quiet.” Is it something where my daughter might be…it’s all those worst-case scenarios and thinking about your plan b and plan c. I also just believe in honesty and grace. And I realize some recruiters might not necessarily agree with me and might just say, “Go on to the next person.” But I feel strongly that if a candidate is honest, and says, “I apologize, this is what happened.” That good things will eventually happen and I would like to work for an organization that respects and gives grace but a lot of that comes with preparation. That just means being very honest with what happened.

Mac Prichard:

Can that honesty lead to connection and rapport, as well, depending on how you handle the situation?

Mark Mohammadpour:

I absolutely believe so and I think that goes on the other side as well. So, if you’re the interviewer and something goes wrong, be upfront and honest about what happened. I think it’s also on the interviewer’s part to look at, what are the alternatives? If they’re scheduling a call, and it’s a video call and for some reason, the service doesn’t work, I think it’s up to them to address applicants and say, “This is what we’re going to do in case this doesn’t work, we’re going to call you directly or we’re going to reschedule.” There is some sort of plan b or plan c that’s already baked into the process and the hiring manager, HR, whoever the ??? is that’s part of that dialogue, they have agreement before they go into the interview process.

Mac Prichard:

Your third scenario was that perhaps, people show up unexpectedly, or some people are on video and some are on audio-only. How should you prepare for that, Mark, and when you’re in that situation, what can you do to make connections with others, so that it doesn’t become an awkward situation but instead allows you to build rapport?

Mark Mohammadpour:

What I’ve done, and I’ve seen this throughout my career, whether it’s interview discussion or I’m running a virtual meeting and someone unexpectedly pops into the virtual room, I wait for a pause, and let’s say, Mac, that you’re coming in late, I’ll take a pause and say, “Hey, Mac, I’m Mark Mohammadpour, it’s nice to see you. I want to bring you up to speed or engage with you in some way. Mac, what’s your role as far as this interview process is concerned?”

That might be one question that I ask when there’s a break in the action, and that would allow you to be able to engage and that helps set the tone for the rest of the meeting. Because the reality is, Mac, when you’re interviewing, you have to control your own destiny as much as you can. You can’t rely on the other people, the other employers to say, “Okay, let’s take a time out and introduce this new person that’s come into the meeting.” Because they may or may not do that.

They may not even know that this other person is coming on. You’ve seen this before as well, where the employers aren’t talking to each other, so it’s up to you to take a pause and bring them in, and then carry on the discussion.

Mac Prichard:

Well, often when you go to an in-person meeting, interview rather, there’s an opportunity, maybe you’re in the lobby, maybe you’re walking with someone to the interview room, there’s that period where everyone sits down and there’s that exchange of pleasantries, there’s a conversation about the weather, chances to make connections and build rapport. How do you do that in a virtual interview?

Mark Mohammadpour:

I think it comes with being able to analyze their environment. One of the fascinating things about what’s going on now, Mac, is looking into the lives of people and how they are presenting themselves in this environment. And I think it’s that we’re giving ourselves a lot of grace, considering that a lot of us are working from home and we have our families and children and pets and extended family that we’re all managing with. But I think it’s also the opportunity to be able to look at our home office and environment and structure it in a way that presents ourselves as who we are. Ultimately, we need to brand ourselves in a way that everything around us shows who we are.

That doesn’t mean to create a distraction, because you need to be the center of the discussion, but along with that comes being able to look at the audience that you’re speaking with. Then, if you see a diploma, if you see something relating to pop culture, and being able to identify it, acknowledge that. I think that’s something that you can do very quickly, and frankly, Mac, if somebody has that in the background, they’re asking for someone to be able to engage with them on that.

There’s a very specific reason why it’s there, otherwise, they would hide it, at this point. To me, that’s an open opportunity to be able to say, “Oh my gosh, you like that movie.” “Oh, I really like that sport.” Or whatever the case might be.

Mac Prichard:

Good, we’re going to take a quick break, Mark. This is a terrific conversation.

When we come back, Mark Mohammadpour will continue to share his advice on how to build rapport in a virtual job interview.

Stay with us.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Mark Mohammadpour.

He’s a strategic communications executive, certified personal trainer, and health coach. Mark also hosts the podcast, Chasing the Sun.

Now, Mark, before the break we were talking about building rapport in a virtual job interview, and I love your tip about reading the virtual room, looking at what people have chosen to display in the background. Sometimes people have these virtual backgrounds with beaches but often they show their home office and you were saying, chat about that diploma on the wall or that sports team logo.

Any other tips for reading that virtual room?

Mark Mohammadpour:

A lot of it also comes…when you’re building rapport, having to really…you really need to work on how you’re engaging with the monitor or the laptop you’re interviewing on. For this interview, I’m literally looking at the webcam camera. I’m not looking at the screen because I want my fellow speakers to be able to see me in the eye. This is one of the things that we have to get over, is when we’re looking at the screen, the other people in the meeting are not able to look us directly in the eye.

Now, this takes a lot of practice but I’m literally standing, doing this interview, looking at that webcam camera, assuming that that webcam camera is your eyes, Mac. It’s taken me a long time to practice that but I have experienced this enough throughout my career where I have seen people act on webcam like they’re looking directly at the monitor, their screen. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing but when you’re building rapport, you want to be able to see people in the eye. You want to be able to see their reaction. And I also stand up and this is a health thing for me, (I burn more calories standing up vs sitting) it allows me to work on my tone of voice, it allows me to use my body and my body language to be able to accentuate what I’m trying to say.

Going back to the fact that, so much communication is non-verbal, and so doing those things, to me, is really important and helps tell your story and ultimately take control of the interview.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about those things, first of all the webcam. How does looking into that camera, which as you said, feels unnatural, how does that help you make a human connection with someone in a virtual interview?

Mark Mohammadpour:

Being able to look at somebody in the eye and have the receiver be able to see that is so critical. When you look at in-person interviews, you’re looking at people in the eye, and you want to be able to read their language and their reactions and how they respond, and so I wanted to be able to give people that. To me, being able to assume that people can look at me in the eye shows that I am trustworthy, that I might be a little bit vulnerable, depending on what I’m sharing, but ultimately, it helps build rapport.

If I’m not looking people in the eye, it could mean that I’m hiding something or that I might not be fully trustworthy. Now, I think that we’re at a point, Mac, where we’re still evolving our relationship with video conferencing, but the more that we can do to assure that we are building trust is really critical, and eye contact, even in this new age of looking at webcams, can be a benefit.

Mac Prichard:

How does standing while doing the interview help make connections with others in a virtual environment?

Mark Mohammadpour:

I like to think of interviews as presentations. Obviously, they’re dialogue and engagement but for me, you’re presenting yourself. You’re on stage, this is your time to be able to share your story and why you’re the perfect candidate. Standing gives us so much confidence, especially when we have our shoulders back, and our knees slightly bent, and we have excellent posture, it allows for the room to feel like it’s your own.

Even if there’s nobody else in the room, Mac, you have a crowd virtually who is focused on you and there’s is nothing like being able to stand and present and feel more confident because your blood is flowing, you’re moving, you feel active, which I think has a lot of mental advantages to it. And ultimately helps install confidence and helps show prospective employers that you are really interested in this job because your body language is going to come through.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about body language a little more, Mark. What about gestures? Do they help or hurt you in making connections with others in a virtual interview?

Mark Mohammadpour:

They can definitely help. You have to practice that. There’s a lot of studies on the different types of gestures. You want to make sure that you fit yourself into this little box in front of you and you don’t want to stray outside of this little box, as far as your hand gestures. But you want to be able to show that you’re inviting, that you’re able to express important points of what you’re trying to say, and that you’re not using it just to use it, that you are helping to support the point that you’re sharing. Sometimes that means keeping your hand calm, sometimes that means opening them up, but it doesn’t necessarily mean waving them outside your body, You want to keep it somewhat contained.

You also want it to keep it within your brand. You want it to express who you are, and that doesn’t mean, necessarily, that I want to limit people but it is also understanding and reading the virtual room and getting a sense of how people might react to that. So, even though you’re looking at the webcam, you want to check in from time to time. Use your peripheral vision to be able to see how people are responding to you, and what I have found by using body language and using my hands to accentuate what I’m saying has reaped big rewards.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it helps with your brand, how does it help build rapport with others? How does it help make connections when you’re using gestures and standing the way that you recommend?

Mark Mohammadpour:

I think standing and being able to use gestures really shows confidence, it really helps build the fact that you’re passionate about this prospective job that you’re applying for, that you’re an engaging person, that you’re a likable person, that you are ultimately someone that people can trust and want to work with and ultimately help separate yourself from others who might not act as confident, might not express their interest as much.

There’s nothing like using non-verbal communication to be able to express what perhaps you’re not able to verbally, and I think it’s a big differentiator that we should look at further.

Mac Prichard:

What about notes, Mark? Often, candidates will bring notes into a conference room. They might put a piece of paper down on the table and glance at it occasionally. How do you use notes in a video interview?

Mark Mohammadpour:

I have seen so many different ways and means in which to do that. I think, just like taking notes in every other circumstance and everybody has to do what’s best for them. I have seen everything from putting sticky notes around the perimeter of the monitor that highlights specific talking points that you want to address, to taping a list of bullet points just below the monitor or next to your computer.

I think that I would expect that employer to understand that people need to keep notes. I think whatever works best for you, to be able to ensure that you are remaining confident and be able to engage with people but also know that you can ask smart questions and look prepared is best. I think whatever works for you, but ultimately, how you present yourself is ultimately going to reap a lot of rewards.

Mac Prichard:

In our first segment, you emphasized the importance of preparation and practice. I want to dig into that a little bit. Do you recommend that you actually record yourself practicing for a virtual interview? And when you watch that recording, what do you recommend people look at so that they can make those connections and build rapport with the people that are interviewing virtually?

Mark Mohammadpour:

Recording yourself and playing it back might feel a little awkward but it’s important. It’s good to have people, as well, do practice interviews with you. You want to make sure that you’re looking at how you’re answering questions to reduce “ums” and other awkward pauses that we all do, myself included. You want to look at the cadence and how you’re speaking, you want to look at how long your answers are, you want to look at points at which you are rambling, maybe cut back on some. You want to be who you are, but at the same time, you want to keep things tight and concise.

Especially in a virtual environment where you are going to have this challenge, Mac, of people being able to really focus, and especially at a time where we’re interviewing with a bunch of people and there might be a number of different distractions going on in our household, and everything we can do to limit that means tight, concise answers that are to the point but also in a way that is conversational as well.

Mac Prichard:

You talked about reading the virtual room, what about ice breakers for an online interview, Mark? Things that, again, will help you make a connection and build rapport with others. Are there surefire questions or comments you always recommend that people either open or close with?

Mark Mohammadpour:

I love being able to be prepared with those questions. A lot of that will come with the research that you do about the people that you’re interviewing. So, if you’re talking to multiple people who have, perhaps, recently moved or are fans of a particular team, I think that will come with the research that you do, but anything you can do to establish your rapport is really important. It shows that you care about them, it shows that you’re thinking about them. Because the people that you’re interviewing with are the people you’ll be working with, and so a  lot of that will come with the research ahead of time. And I completely am for anything that shows that you have done your research and that you, ultimately, you care about the company but just as much the employers and the people that you’re working with.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve got your crystal ball, Mark, do you think virtual interviews will become less popular after the pandemic ends or are they here to stay?

Mark Mohammadpour:

They’re absolutely here to stay, Mac, and we need to do everything we can, not only from the prospective employees’ standpoint but from the employer’s standpoint, to make them as smooth as possible, not only from a technology standpoint but from a rapport-building standpoint and from a relationship-building standpoint. Because no matter if you’re working in person or virtually we’re all working around building relationships, and in this new age that is going to evolve, we need to make sure that we are thinking through that lens and that we’re doing everything that we can in order to come across as confident and the right person for the job.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a terrific conversation, Mark. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Mark Mohammadpour:

Mac, my mission is to help people prioritize their health and wellness so that they can build confidence, grow in their careers and thrive. After losing and keeping off 150 over the last 10 years, I’ve found my purpose in helping people stay accountable. My health coaching company is called “Chasing the Sun.” You can find it at chasingthesunpdx.com on Instagram and Twitter at MarkMoh or on LinkedIn.

In July of 2020, I am launching a new online accountability program that takes a holistic approach to weight loss, stress management, self-care, prioritizing exercise, no gimmicks or fads. I ask the right questions, you bring the answers, we work together to meet your goals, all within your control.

I’m sharing the tools that I’ve used to lose weight, advance in my career, and get a second chance at life, and this is a great time to re-examine our mental and physical health and I want to be your partner.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific, Mark.

Now, given all of the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing that you want a listener to remember about how to build rapport in a virtual job interview?

Mark Mohammadpour:

There’s nothing like bringing confidence into a virtual room, and everything that you can do, all the tips and topics that we’ve discussed today to help build confidence, will help sell yourself in any room, whether it’s in person or virtual, will help set you apart from everybody else and get your career off and running.

Mac Prichard:

Every resume can benefit from a second set of eyes. Get your resume reviewed for free today by Top Resume.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

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Next week, our guest will be Kenneth Johnson. He’s the president of East Coast Executives, a diversity recruitment firm. Kenneth also hosts The Career Seekers Show.

You know when you look for work that you need to network. How do you do this with people working remotely and professional events happening as webinars?Kenneth and I will talk about how to network virtually and what you need to do before you approach someone online about your job search.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

If you’re a job seeker trying to figure out how to make authentic connections with hiring managers during a global pandemic, you aren’t alone. Virtual interviews make it more difficult than ever to build rapport with prospective employers. But Find Your Dream Job guest Mark Mohammadpour says that since 90% of human communication is non-verbal, you can build that rapport through simple things like eye contact, body language, and posture. Mark also shares the importance of preparing and practicing before the interview to build your self-confidence.

About Our Guest:

Mark Mohammadpour is a strategic communications executive, certified personal trainer, and health coach. Mark also hosts the podcast, Chasing the Sun.

Resources in This Episode:

  • Do long days in the office or weeks of travel leave you with little time for fitness? Tune in to Mark’s podcast, Chasing the Sun, for tips on how to live a healthy lifestyle while chasing a fulfilling career. 
  • If you’re ready to prioritize your health and wellness, visit Mark’s website at chasingthesunpdx.com to find out how he can help you.
  • From our Sponsor: Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume.  Top Resume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. Get a free review of your resume today from one of Top Resume’s expert writers.