Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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Years of video and phone interview experience have taught me three things: dress and decorate according to the job, avoid burning the barn before the interview, and keep the dog entertained.
“The job goes, she learns, to a vigorous recent graduate from the Liverpool area. He has enthusiasm, has in-depth knowledge of the curriculum and current policy, is a consultant in internet technologies, and did part of his practicum in Grade 8. He also plays the guitar and is an athlete. He is an excellent match.
Julie is a canoer of shorelines, with big oil bills ahead. In her heart she is an excellent match, but as she plods along the old truck road, she knows that she really is not.”
Julie does not really prepare for the interview. She does not practice sample questions, study documents and current best practices, or gain experiences that demonstrate skill and commitment (such as volunteering.)This week, my speculation is more properly an advice column. Years of video and phone interview experience have taught me three things: dress and decorate according to the job, avoid burning the barn before the interview, and keep the dog entertained. Much as I like these interview formats, so much can – and invariably does – go wrong.
Someone once told me that she “loved” phone interviews because she could sit back in her pajamas and relax. I was raised on a farm, and lounging in pajamas was a privilege reserved for acute bouts of influenza. One greeted the morning, and one’s chores, dressed. Besides, the clothes that you wear for the phone interview permeate the phone line; dress professionally if you want to sound professional. My friend eventually sacrificed the bunny slippers for low heels, and experienced success.
Additional attention is needed for a video interview. Prior to my first video interview, a friend and I did a “practice run.” This was wise, as she pointed out that the unmade bed and heaps of books on the floor were distracting. I improvised an attractive blanket screen for a background (This was before those wonderful backgrounds), and all started well. Two minutes into the interview, the panel members turned to one another. “We lost her,” they said. “I am still here!” I called out, as they rose as one and exited the room, chatting about trying the phone. An assistant entered, placing a hand on either side of the screen. She gasped, and in that instant I knew the feeling of a squirrel, staring back from a live trap. However, for two minutes they had seen an attractive, neat background – not an unmade bed. I was still able to describe my resources on the phone, and a week later I drove off into a snowstorm to my new contract.
Yet, you can prepare for hours, setting the stage, and then find yourself huddled in a dog hair packed car, on a lone hill, at the height of a thunderstorm, seeking an internet signal. Lightning bolts flash around you as you wave and give a thumbs up to passing cars, or they will rap on your window offering chains, gasoline, or cell phones. We look after one another out here. The interview panel stares without expression, and then quick notes are penned. Prepare, but accept the exceptions that the elements send.
My favourite interview of all time was a phone interview, arranged for late on a weekday morning. I was dressed for school, with documents and sample materials at my fingertips. My teenage son was, I believe, mowing out front. Two nights before this, we had burned out the foundation of the old barn, and I had earlier checked for any hot spots. All was well. The phone rang and the interview began.
I was confident; I felt in charge. Then a thick plume of white smoke coiled past the window. I scanned the yard for my son, willing him to race for the garden hose and dose the smouldering straw. “Could you please repeat the question?” I asked in a poised and professional voice. The smoke thickened and my heart sank.
A car rolled down the driveway, lurching to a stop near the barn site. Two women in their Sunday best scrambled from the car. One dropped her briefcase and seized the hose. The other wobbled through the high grass in her dress shoes to the faucet. There in the rising wind, skirts and hair billowing, they hosed down the straw. I am not sure what the interview panel thought when I said that the barn was on fire but it was under control now. Perhaps they thought it was an example of Maritime humour.
Recently, a local journalist interviewed me about my writing and publishing journey. I set up my props – media kit open on the computer screen, a Word document of the book body ready for quick searches of relevant passages and quotes. I was nervous, because this was a new type of interview experience for me, but I was prepared -- and in full business casual attire. I did not factor in the dog’s love of phone calls.
The interviewer was kind, providing prompts and allowing me processing time. Then, the dog settled beside me and pressed one ear to the phone. The computer screen turned blue. The message assured me that, although something was wrong, “we” were compiling an error report and would restart the computer. The dog began to paw my arm, announcing that she wanted the phone. I rose and paced; the dog followed, tugging at my sleeve. I closed my eyes, focusing on the voice, avoiding the “Oops” on my still blue screen. The dog sank her teeth into my sleeve, a dead weight now, dragging beside me. I will always be grateful to the interviewer, who kept me on track.
When I put the phone down, the dog marched to the treat cabinet and turned hopeful eyes to me. “I did not bark. I deserve a reward, don’t you think?”
These illustrations lead me to three pieces of advice:
Above all, be honest with the interviewer. My nervousness was based on the newness of the experience, and I did admit that. I wish, sometimes, that I had also shared the dog’s eagerness to participate. The antics were, to me, very endearing.