In general, good video conference etiquette is not a complicated affair. Be polite, professional, mute when you’re not speaking, and please wear pants. Since the travel restrictions and social distancing orders that were implemented in early 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, video conferencing has become one of the most vital tools for businesses and individuals across the US. The unprecedented uptick of video conferencing in the place of in-person meetings or interviews has opened a new cadre of nuanced issues for participants across various types of calls. Now, we are not just having internal office meetings remotely—we are hiring, attending classes and webinars, taking virtual trainings, and interviewing.
In the construction industry, the critical procurement interviews for alternative delivery projects, wherein Owners interview the most qualified candidates and choose the firm that wins the job contract, are now also moving to video conference. The interviewing team often includes half a dozen people that may be stationed in different offices that would normally travel to the interview location together. For situations like these, Mission Critical suggests paying attention to three key elements for your team’s video conference interview.
- Be Situationally Aware
By now, we have all seen the blogs and articles that offer advice on your work-from-home video conference meetings. Near the top of the list is what we call “situational awareness,” meaning that your environment and even the simplest details can have profound effects through the video conference platform. For example, sitting in an echoing room will leave the selection committee praying that you aren’t the lead speaker for the presentation, and nobody really wants to see the miscellanea of your home life in the background. Even the sound of a paper page-turn while you flip through your notes will have a much greater impact when your microphone picks it up and your video catches the top of your head looking down at your desk. A few options we suggest regarding your situational awareness:
- Try virtual backgrounds for the entire team or choose rooms that are relatively nondescript and clean
- Choose quiet rooms that do not echo and do not have ambient noise like a washing machine or loud pipes
- Keep your door locked to avoid interruptions
- Try to keep light sources behind or off to the side of your screen
- Plan your Delivery Style
Once the scene is set, the next challenge is the team’s delivery of the presentation and answers to questions during the Q&A. There are general rules for proper diction and body language, but when the interview and presentation is moved to a virtual platform, those rules become more complex and shift focus. Your presentation should be composed and practiced so that each person has a predetermined section to deliver, avoiding clumsy handoffs that have interruptions and awkward pauses. The lag in virtual reality amplifies the impacts of both interruptions and pauses in speech, which can signal to the interviewers that your team is not fully prepared. On the other hand, speaking too quickly can lose the interviewers because it is much harder to follow along with a virtual voice than a physically present, human one. To improve the delivery of your presentation during a video conference interview, we suggest:
- Speak slowly from the start, enunciate, and pause to signal changes in ideas or message
- Over-prepare to make sure that the entire team knows who should be speaking when
- Use smaller gestures and face the camera to provide more engaging body language
- Adjust the “angle of attack” and place your camera at eye-level to provide a more natural and engaging view of the face
- Include most of your upper body in the frame to allow for gesturing and body language
- Technology is Great… until it isn’t
No matter how many times you have practiced, technology may inevitably fail you in a crucial moment. The risk of failure is compounded when you have multiple personnel across multiple locations participating in your interview. We suggest practicing with technology, testing out the acoustics of the team’s individual environments, camera angles, and even the use of earbuds versus computer speakers and microphones. The biggest recurring problem is connectivity, which will often skip during speaking or “fuzz” over what is being said. When this happens, the interviewers may not feel comfortable interrupting to ask you to repeat yourself, and key parts of your presentation may go unheard. To preempt these failures, Mission Critical suggests the following mitigation tactics:
- Have a “Safety Brief”: Open the interview with a respectful acknowledgment that technology fails and ask your interviewers to signal if at some point they cannot see or hear you
- Identify waypoints in your presentation: If interviewers signal they did not hear you, do not just repeat what you think they missed! Back up to the waypoint your team decided upon, and repeat that small section to ensure nothing was missed and the idea is presented in continuity
- Devise a subtle signoff: Come up with a phrase for your team to use to signal the end of a Q&A response so that the interviewers are clear when you have finished each answer, and they aren’t waiting in that amplified awkward silence
Construction is an essential part of the national economy, so we don’t expect social distancing restrictions to halt the industry. Instead, we anticipate more virtual and video conferences in place of in-person meetings and interviews as we move forward with infrastructure projects. As your firm positions to pursue these projects, the three key elements here should help you succeed in your procurement interviews. And remember, please wear pants in every video conference.