For many professionals, virtual interviewing is a new concept they’ve been faced with this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the height of the coronavirus, a Gartner study revealed that 86 percent of organizations were interviewing candidates virtually. And while some companies have slowly returned to the office, others have decided to stay remote indefinitely. Regardless, virtual interviews are here to stay in one capacity or another, and retail professionals should get comfortable with having these important discussions through a computer screen.

We connected with Debra Schwartzfarb, a veteran human resources professional and former vice president, executive recruitment for Kirk Palmer Associates; and Kristy Knupp, senior director, recruiting, Chico’s FAS, to get their expert insights to help you master your next virtual job interview, no matter what side of the interview you’re on.

1. Be Prepared

Just like any job interview, you should go into a virtual job interview informed and prepared. Actually, Schwartzfarb suggests candidates should be even more even more prepared for virtual interviews than if they were interviewing in person. “Sometimes you can get lulled into the fact that you’re sitting in your living room and forget how people are going to view you,” she said. Schwartzfarb encourages getting on Zoom early to double-check your background, removing anything that can be distracting for either you or the interviewer, like the pile of unopened mail taking over your kitchen counter. (Also, wear colors that make you feel confident, because that will shine through!)

The responsibility to be prepared isn’t just on the candidate. Knupp explains hiring managers need to read through a candidate’s resume before a virtual interview so they’re not distracted on screen. “If you don’t come prepared today on a virtual [interview], the candidate knows it right away,” she said. “And that first impression, while we’re so worried about our impression of the candidate, the candidate’s first impression with us is so critical as well, because it’s a microcosm of what it’s going to be like to work with you in a virtual world.”

2. Practice Makes Perfect

You don’t want to come off sounding robotic during your virtual interview, but Schwartzfarb insists it’s important to practice speaking on camera. “Do some practicing ahead of time to make sure that you’re comfortable with the camera, and that you can look at people in the eye,” she said. A technique that has worked for Schwartzfarb is enlisting a friend to practice with and get feedback on her on-camera presence.

Knupp also suggests practicing eye contact. “Make sure that you’re looking at the camera when you’re speaking,” she said “Some leaders may have their screens and systems [set up] differently at home. They may think they’re looking at the candidate, but they’re looking at maybe a second screen, [and] their camera is on the first screen, so it looks like they’re not focused and paying attention.” Testing this ahead of time and practicing can avoid this situation.

3. Be Upfront and Honest

The pandemic has forced a lot of people into working from home, and sometimes that means working with pets, children or even roommates, in the same small living quarters. Everyone is on the same page that these are “unprecedented times,” but it may be beneficial to warn your interviewer or interviewee ahead of time of your circumstances. “I would be upfront, maybe say to the interviewers, ‘Listen, I’m going to apologize in advance. My kids are here. They know I’m interviewing, but sometimes they run rogue,” Schwartzfarb said. “So you just set the tone. And that way, if something does happen, you’re not thrown off and they’re not thrown off.”

On the flip side, if you’re conducting the virtual interview, you want to ensure you’re making the candidate feel comfortable before you even jump into the first question. “Make sure that you’re putting the candidate at ease and setting up the interview structure,” Knupp said. “I really have been trying to put the candidate’s needs [first] and find that point of connection quickly in regards to the effort.”

4. Turn Off Notifications

Just like if you were interviewing in person, you want to be present during a virtual interview. Knupp suggests both interviewers and interviewees turn off all notifications (e.g., Slack, email, Microsoft Teams, etc.) and make sure phones are on silent mode. Furthermore, she encourages hiring managers to practice active listening techniques to help drown out background noise.

“Don’t check your phone during the interview,” advised Knupp. “Therefore, you’re not distracted and can really focus on the time that you have with the candidate […] Listening is tough in all circumstances, but particularly when you’re in a virtual world.”

Check back next week to learn tips from Schwartzfarb and Knupp on how to successfully onboard new hires virtually!