How to Virtually Impress a Hiring Manager, with Shereen Rodrigues

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 273:

How to Virtually Impress a Hiring Manager, with Shereen Rodrigues

Airdate: December 9, 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.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by Top Resume. Top Resume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster.

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

Ten months after the start of the COVID pandemic, one-third of the U.S. labor force works remotely.

For many of us, working from our homes is here to stay. And so is virtual hiring.

Shereen Rodrigues is here to talk about how to virtually impress a hiring manager and what you need to do differently.

She’s the talent acquisition manager at Otak. It’s an architecture and engineering design firm in the Pacific Northwest.

Shereen joins us from Portland, Oregon.

Well, Shereen, let’s jump right into it; is virtual hiring going to go away after the pandemic ends?

Shereen Rodrigues:

I really don’t think so. I think virtual hiring is here to stay. People are realizing, companies are realizing that many jobs can be done from home, including jobs like my own, recruiting and hiring, so I think it’s here to stay.

Mac Prichard:

Do you think it’s happening in just a few industries or certain parts of the country, or is virtual hiring more widely practiced than that?

Shereen Rodrigues:

I would say it’s more widely practiced. Many jobs can be done virtually, obviously, there are some that require their employees to go to a physical location but many times the team that’s doing the hiring, or the corporate team, is able to do their jobs virtually so I think it can span across almost all industries.

Mac Prichard:

Many people have worked virtually for a long time and there’s been a lot of talk about remote work being just around the corner. It’s been striking, don’t you think, Shereen, how dramatic the change has been in such a short time? Why do you think employers don’t want to go back to the old ways?

Shereen Rodrigues:

I think employers are saving money and realizing that, sometimes, employees are actually more productive, actually many times, more productive working out of their home office. They are cutting out their morning commute, evening commute, they tend to have a little bit more energy, maybe a little bit more sleep, because of that, and, for example, at my company, Otak, we’re not using as much office space, so we’re giving up a couple of offices and that’s saving the company money.

Mac Prichard:

Again, some companies have always hired virtually; is there something different today about the virtual hiring process that wasn’t present before the pandemic?

Shereen Rodrigues:

I would say the main difference is that virtual interviewing is new for many candidates. So, in the past, if you had a virtual employee they had their home office set up, they had a separate space and equipment, technology dedicated to helping them be effective in a virtual environment. Whereas today, I think some people are just learning the ropes on how to work from home, and so there’s a little bit of a difference there that I’m noticing, but that’s why I’m here today. To help people figure out how to make a good impression.

Mac Prichard:

Do you think that employers have higher expectations now for candidates who go through the virtual hiring process than they might have a year or two years ago?

Shereen Rodrigues:

I don’t know if higher expectations is quite the phrase that I would use. I think it might be a little more difficult for a candidate to convey certain things, a level of interest or passion, over a screen than in person, so I don’t know that it’s on the part of the hiring managers, but I do think that there are things that candidates can do to make up for the fact that they’re not physically there, in person, in the same room.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about that. What can candidates do, Shereen, to virtually impress recruiters like you?

Shereen Rodrigues:

Well, I would say it starts with the mindset that even though this, let’s say your first interview is with the recruiter or HR, or whoever it’s with, it’s still your first impression. So, pre-COVID, if you were going in for an interview, you would dress your best, head to toe, prepare copies of your resume, just be super prepared, look up the directions to get to the interview. Virtually, obviously, you’re not going anywhere but I would still recommend to take the same steps. You know, dress as if you were going into that office, even the bottom half that’s not appearing on the screen, because I do think that the way you dress can affect how you feel and your level of confidence in the interview, and also making sure that your background is professional, or at least, non-distracting.

I think that you need to sit in front of a curtain or a window or something. Just make sure that your environment looks professional and doesn’t have pets or kids or anyone else in the background distracting from the interview.

Mac Prichard:

Can you share examples of some distracting backgrounds that you’ve seen or that your colleagues might have talked about?

Shereen Rodrigues:

Yes, I do have a couple that come into mind. One happened about a year ago, I would say, but a gentleman signed onto a virtual interview sitting in his recliner chair, just kind of looked like he dialed into the call haphazardly, not really prepared. He was wearing a polo that was unbuttoned on the top and I think he dialed in from his phone, and there was a microwave dinging in the background, people shuffling around; it was very distracting from a recruiting perspective, and needless to say, we didn’t move him onto the next stage.

Mac Prichard:

It’s quite a striking image, it sticks in the mind, and you’re still telling that story more than a year later.

Shereen Rodrigues:

Yeah, it stands out.

Mac Prichard:

It does. Well, you mentioned a moment ago about bringing work samples, and do you encourage candidates who are going through a virtual hiring process to do that? I mean, they obviously probably did that automatically in the old days.

Shereen Rodrigues:

Yes, like I said earlier on, you want to be prepared, just as if you were going in to meet with the hiring manager in person. So, whether that’s, if you’re in the design world, if you have a portfolio, make sure that you have digital copies of that prepared to share live, during the interview, if you need to screen share, or any other examples of projects that you’ve worked on in the past. And even if they don’t ask for it in the moment, it’s nice to just review that before you speak with the hiring manager. Sometimes people will send it electronically via email just prior to the interview or just after the interview, but I would always just have it pulled up and ready to go just in case it would be helpful to you to demonstrate how you would be a good fit for this role.

Mac Prichard:

What kind of practice of skills do you recommend that might not have mattered when you were meeting with people one on one, in person, but now that you are doing it electronically, what kind of preparation do you recommend? Particularly, I’m thinking of technical skills, Shereen.

Shereen Rodrigues:

Technically speaking, I would recommend that individuals really invest in a good technology set-up in the first place. So, ensuring that they’re plugging in headphones that have a microphone attached to them into their computer, using a computer or laptop to take the call with a secure internet connection versus taking the call from your phone or driving, you know, which is never safe in the first place but it also doesn’t come across as very professional either.

Using the application in advance of the call. So, if you’re getting a zoom invitation a day or two before your interview, log into that and make sure that you understand how to use the application, how the audio controls work, maybe do a test run with a friend or family member, just to make sure that you’re extra prepared for that interview. Because in the old days when you were walking into an office, you would still prepare and make sure that you looked up directions and that you got there ten minutes early, and you still want to do the same thing virtually.

Log in a few minutes early, make sure that you’re all set up and ready to go before the start of the interview.

Mac Prichard:

Everybody who’s listening to this show’s gone through a lot of changes in the last year, and I think as a result, people are more forgiving of simple mistakes, but as the pandemic goes on, what are you seeing among your hiring colleagues, Shereen? Are recruiters still forgiving of simple mistakes or, as time goes on, are the expectations that you will do these things and perhaps there might not be as much patience as there might have been 7 or 8 months ago?

Shereen Rodrigues:

That’s a great question. I think that we’ll always have some patience for technical glitches that just randomly happen, you know, in the middle of a call, but as far as being prepared for the interview, so making sure that there are no distractions in the background and all of that, I think that expectations are there to stay. We’ve been in this quarantine, pandemic situation for many months, I want to say 6, almost 7 months, and so I think it is an expectation that people take the time to think about their set-up and prepare appropriately for the interview.

That being said, you can’t control everything, so if a kid busts into your office mid-interview,  I’ve had that happen before and I’m pretty forgiving about that. You can’t control everything but as long as you appear prepared, to the best of your ability, then I would say that’s fine.

Mac Prichard:

One last technical question that I want to ask is about lighting. How important is good lighting when you’re doing a video interview, in impressing a hiring manager virtually?

Shereen Rodrigues:

I would say it’s very important. You know, they say something like “80% of communication is nonverbal,”  and given the fact that you aren’t there in person,  they can’t see your entire body language, it’s that much more important that you have good lighting, especially on your face, so that they can see smiling or just little facial expressions that really help get your point across when you’re talking. Especially, for example, if you’re really excited about a position, normally, if you’re in person, you have certain actions or body movements that relay that to the hiring manager, but over a video, in the frame of the video, you may not be able to pick up on some of that, so being able to see your facial expressions is of that much more importance.

Mac Prichard:

We’re going to take a break. When we come back I want to talk more about that human element and steps people can take to replace that now that hiring is happening virtually.

Stay with us. When we come back, Shereen Rodrigues will continue to share her advice on how to virtually impress a hiring manager.

As Shereen says, everything you do as a candidate needs to be more polished when an employer hires virtually. And that includes your resume, too.

Learn how you can make your resume shine.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

The expert writers at Top Resume will review it for free. Go to macslist.org/topresume.

You’ll get actionable ideas you can use to make your resume more impressive.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with S​hereen Rodrigues.

She’s the talent acquisition manager at ​Otak.​ It’s an architecture and engineering design firm in the Pacific Northwest.

Shereen, before the break we were talking about that human element, and you mentioned how lighting can help, perhaps not replace, but convey some of the signals that used to come across in in-person hiring meetings.

Are there other steps that candidates can take when they’re going through a virtual hiring process that will replace that personal contact that would come from, say, small talk at the start of an interview, or conversations as you walked down the hall before starting a formal meeting??

Shereen Rodrigues:

Absolutely, like you said, this is just a regular interview just as if you were going into an office. It’s okay to let your personality shine, it’s okay to start off the conversation with a little bit of small talk, to crack some jokes because, at the end of the day, this is, you’re both getting to know each other, right? It’s the employer interviewing you but you want to get to know them and their personalities as well, and the best way to do that is to have a little bit of small talk and see if this is a team that you’re going to want to spend much of your day with.

We spend however many hours, 8, 9, 10 hours with our coworkers, and then thinking about work even, offline, so you want to make sure that it’s a good fit on both ends and having some conversations outside of just strictly the job, I think, is very helpful for that.

Mac Prichard:

Do you have some recommended ice breakers that work virtually?

Shereen Rodrigues:

Yeah, it depends on if you’re in the same city, maybe there’s…weather is always a good one, everybody can talk about the weather. If you went on any adventures over the weekend, sometimes I’ve been going out camping or hiking because there’s not a lot else to do during the pandemic, so I’ll talk about something I did that weekend, or just maybe even, I would stay away from the news because a lot of that is political, so you want to avoid those topics. But just anything, honestly, that’s going on is a good ice breaker.

Even asking them how their week’s been will open it up for a conversation as well.

Mac Prichard:

What do you say to a candidate that may be uncomfortable with small talk?

Shereen Rodrigues:

A candidate whose uncomfortable with small talk, I would say just have the understanding in your mind that the people that you’re talking to, they’re not robots. just like you aren’t a robot. They’re real people, and before the interview starts, they’re already routing for you, they want to fill this job just as badly as you want to find that dream job of yours. There’s likely people taking on work for this empty job that really need a break, and so they’re antsy to get the job filled. So, if you think about it that way I think it will calm some people’s nerves about it being so serious and just opening it up and giving the interviewers a chance to really see that you’re interested and that you’re friendly and just that you can have a basic conversation.

It doesn’t have to be extensive. Just a quick, “Yeah, I’ve been busy today. Something about my house, I’ve been working on my house.” It doesn’t have to be extensive, it can just be a sentence or two, just something to break the ice.

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked a lot about interviews, what about the application itself, Shereen? What can a listener do with a resume or application form, or cover letter to impress a hiring manager virtually?

Shereen Rodrigues:

Yeah, I would say, because everything’s virtual, it’s even that much more important to get across that first impression in multiple ways. And the resume and cover letter are one way to do that. So, I would recommend going online, you can just Google search “resume templates” or “cover letter templates.” There are a lot of awesome templates out there that have a little bit of color or they’re preformatted, so you just enter in your information and it kind of creates the resume for you.

For me, I’m looking at hundreds of resumes a week, and they say, on average, a recruiter or hiring manager spends just six seconds on that resume, so if you could make it stand out via a pop of color or having some graphics on there, that’s going to draw my eye much versus the sea of words that I’m used to. I would say making sure that looks in tip-top shape.

And then in the cover letter, as well, conveying a little bit of that personality. So, of course, you want to use the cover letter to express interest and highlight your experience, but also let a little bit of your personality shine through, as well, since you’re not able to meet with them in person. And then, to add onto that, after the interview, I think typically people would send a thank you note. I think that because of the pandemic situation, it’s probably safer and also appropriate and accepted to send an email thank you instead.

Mac Prichard:

You don’t miss the handwritten thank you cards?

Shereen Rodrigues:

You know, I do miss them, those are always a nice touch, but I’d rather not be touching the mail in general right now.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well, we’ve talked about the application process and the interviews and specific steps a listener can take to virtually impress someone like you. What about outside the formal application process, Shereen? What can people do via networking or referrals to stand out virtually?

Shereen Rodrigues:

Yeah, that’s a great question. This applies to pre-COVID, as well as right now, but networking is so helpful. You know, most of our great hires are referrals, so if you are preparing or have your eye on a company, check out that company’s website, check out their LinkedIn page, look and see if you know anybody who works there. Maybe connect with them over LinkedIn or see if you can get a call scheduled with them to ask them some questions that will help give you the advantage when you actually go in or virtually go in for the interview with the hiring manager.

There are virtual networking events going on that you could be a part of. It takes a little more work because it is virtual, you are focusing on one person at a time, and you have to usually schedule that time. Whereas in the past, you would just go to an event and you’re surrounded by a crowd of people that you end up talking to, several of them within that hour or two. It does take a little bit more work but I do think that it’s worth it to get on the phone with someone, do a video call versus just shooting them an inmail, and just leaving it at that or an email.

Any human interaction is going to make an impression much more than the written word alone.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned referrals. Why do those matter so much to recruiters like you?

Shereen Rodrigues:

It’s another way to stand out, and if there’s somebody in my company who’s referring someone, obviously if that person’s still employed here, chances are they’re a great employee, they already know our culture, our vision, our values, and if they’re putting their name behind a referral, that has value to me. So, I’m going to take that person’s candidacy, maybe a little bit more seriously, than someone who applies just cold, from the outside. They have somebody’s backing already before I even talk to them, and that matters.

Mac Prichard:

You already mentioned the importance of human contact; why is that so important to you and other hiring managers like you during the virtual recruitment process?

Shereen Rodrigues:

I would say because you get to know somebody a little bit better because when you’re talking on the phone or you’re talking over a video, like I was saying earlier, there are some nuances in the communication that are picked up via voice inflection, or, if you’re on video, facial expression, smiling, things like that, that really convey that person’s personality. Because so much of making a good hire is, is that person going to be a culturally valuable addition to the team, and will that person last in the role?

A lot of that is based on relationships that they’re able to build with their coworkers and with potential clients, let’s say. Whereas the written word is just that, it’s a written word. You’re able to judge if a person’s done this type of work in the past, but that’s basically it and that’s why we have interviews, is so that we can get a sense of the person themselves and visualize them as part of the team.

Mac Prichard:

Following up on networking, Shereen, what’s your best advice for a listener who has identified a company where they want to work, or at least they want to explore working there, and they want to talk to a hiring manager like you. What works and doesn’t work when a prospective candidate approaches a hiring manager like yourself for a networking meeting?

Shereen Rodrigues:

I would say what works best for me, I do get contacted quite a bit over LinkedIn or via email, and the candidates that tend to stand out are ones that will include like one or two pieces of information about their experience that align with the job that they’re interested in. So, for example, if I have someone who’s interested in, let’s say, construction project manager position that we have open right now and they message me on LinkedIn, you know, saying, “I come to the table with ten years of experience with this other firm, in construction management, and I’d really be interested in having an informational call with you to learn more about the position.”

That would just pique my interest, that little tidbit of, hey, they might be qualified, they took the time to reach out to me separately from just applying to the job, but I do recommend, on a side note, that they apply to the job first before they reach out to anyone at the company. But that goes a long way. It’s just a quick little ping of, “Hey, I’m qualified based on this little tidbit of information.” And really all you’re doing with that is just trying to get that first call.

Once you get that first call nailed, it’s pretty easy from there but it’s all about getting your foot in the door, so to speak. And then what doesn’t work for me is vague emails. Someone who, let’s say, just emails me, “Hey, I’m interested in Otak. Let me know if you want to have a call.” That is a little bit too vague. I’m like, well, okay. I have so many people to respond to right now.” It’s more helpful if they actually tell me the position that they’re interested in, our positions, and give me a little tiny bit of a highlight of their experience.

Mac Prichard:

We haven’t talked about online searches. How common is it for you and the colleagues that you work with, when considering a candidate, to do an online search to look at their social accounts, for example, or maybe check them out in Google?

Shereen Rodrigues:

I tend to stay away from that, personally. I know that other recruiters may do that but I don’t. I don’t want to pick up any information about the candidate that could be protected information. So, age, sex, gender, all of that stuff. I don’t want to know that. I just want to know, are they qualified for the position? So, personally, I’ve stayed away from it but I know that sometimes, other recruiters might do it. It may be that it is a requirement that they look into that stuff for the type of job that they’re hiring for, so it never hurts to take a look at your own accounts from the eyes of a potential employer and maybe adjust it as needed, but, I personally, I don’t look people up.

Mac Prichard:

Are you impressed if you see that someone has a professional website that might share work from their portfolio or talk about their professional accomplishments?

Shereen Rodrigues:

Absolutely. Yeah, to me, if somebody has a website or online portfolio, and even if their LinkedIn is well tended to, that tells me that they’re serious about their career, they’re serious about work, and that they took the time to put something like that together. It’s just more likely that they’re going to be dedicated to their position at my company if we hire them.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I’ve enjoyed our conversation, Shereen. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Shereen Rodrigues:

Yeah, so as you’ve mentioned on the call, I work for a company called Otak and we are in the early stages of developing a diversity and equity and inclusion program. Part of that is working with Emerging Leadership’s Intern program, or ELI, and that is a nonprofit in the Portland area that helps… it connects companies in the area with students of color for internships. So, I’m really excited about partnering with them for summer of 2021, and we’re kicking off that process here in a couple of weeks.

Mac Prichard:

Well, great.

Well, I know people can learn more about you and your work at Otak by connecting with you on LinkedIn and I hope that they’ll mention that they heard you on this show when they send you that personalized note. And they can also email you directly, and your email address is Shereen.rodrigues@otak.com.

Shereen, given all the useful advice that you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing that you want a listener to remember about how to virtually impress a hiring manager?

Shereen Rodrigues:

Be prepared. I would say it’s all about preparation. From the technology standpoint, having your resume and work samples prepared, the way you dress, your background, all of that. Preparation is key and it really goes a long way.

Mac Prichard:

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Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

While COVID-19 ushered in the era of virtual hiring, we can expect it to stick around long after the pandemic is over. But how do you pivot to prepare for mostly virtual interviews? Find Your Dream Job guest Shereen Rodrigues says it all starts with that first impression. She suggests dressing your best, head to toe, and having a professional-looking background for video interviews. Shereen says that you should be prepared to share digital copies of your work samples, and practice using all the technology your interview requires before the actual meeting. 

About Our Guest:

Shereen Rodrigues is the talent acquisition manager at Otak. It’s an architecture and engineering design firm.

Resources in This Episode: