Over the holiday break, my family watched Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day starring the hilarious Steve Carell and Jennifer Gardner. Alexander's father played by Carell is job searching, stay-at-home-dad. He scores an exciting interview but can't find a sitter so takes the baby along. The scene was excruciating to watch. As Steve struggles to force-feed the interviewers his catchy ideas for the job, his baby eats an entire permanent marker. The interviewers spend the scene gawking at the baby, immersed in the ultimate interview distraction.
I spent the rest of the movie wondering:
“How are interviewers distracted in virtual interviews?”
With the uptick of virtual interviews, there’s also an increase in distraction variables. Both parties are in different places and said places are not bland offices but messy, loud rooms holding a cesspool of distractions.
A study in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications looked at the effect external distraction have on memory. A group of testers were asked to read an audiobook in a sterile, quiet lab and another group read outside of the lab; at the end they answer questions about the book. The findings showed people who had more external distractions remembered less. This study is a close evaluation on an interviewer’s experience. If they are more distracted, then they are less likely to remember the incredible insights you share in the interview and why they want you for the job.
With this, an important, yet vastly overlooked, aspect of interview prep should be removing all possible distractions for both interviewer and interviewee. To pinpoint what those are, I asked a couple of recruiters that have conducted MANY virtual meetings and interviews to share the most distracting offenses that have interrupted interviews thus their ability to fully embrace the time with the candidate.
Here are the Top 5 Virtual Interview Distraction called out by the recruiters I interviewed:
My first virtual interview distraction conversation happened over a ceiling fan story. She called out a fan in the background as being extremely distracting for herself and the interview panel; yep, they all commented on it afterward. This struck me because a fan is such a common room accessory that many wouldn’t consider removing, but I’m here to tell you-you should!
What else could be competing for attention in your background- a Roomba timed to fly by in the middle of your elevator speech or a busy piece of art that the interviewer can't help but try to figure out?
To dispel distractions, it's important to take time to assess your background with as much attention as your make-up, outfit, and lighting.
Prevent the Tech Talk
At this point, most hiring teams have the interview process nailed down. They use multiple platforms to ensure scheduling, technology, and presentations flow smoothly so they’re able to focus on the decision-making. This leads to the next issue brought up by a recruiter: Fumbling over the technology that has been sent over prior to the interview.
Take some time to become acquainted with the technology used in the interview.
Though the interview team may brush-off your tech questions and remark that it happens to everyone. The bottom line is-it’s taking valuable time away from you and the interviewer to discuss the position, thus distracting from the overall goal of the meeting.
Can You Say That Again?
The recruiter prefaced this distraction point stating she doesn’t mind kids and babies interrupting the interview; it's clear that candidates with kids have few options these days, like for Steve Carrol in the movie, it can be unavoidable sometimes. The biggest distraction is loud noises that are made in the background. Dogs, appliances, tv, and people can be huge distractions. That are ongoing throughout the interview.
Plan ahead to create a quiet nook and calm the rest of your home before an interview.
Some may be tempted to jump ship and hop to a coffee shop, but that’s risky because it could cause more stress in terms of internet connection, forgetting documents, and surrounding baristas adding to your distractions.
Remember when the pandemic started and everyone thought it was great to wear a business top with yoga pants. It’s funny, I’ll admit. But I stop enjoying it when I hear from a recruiter that she’s seen it in an interview. Here’s the scene: the guy is participating in an interview; the guy is asked a question which requires a document that is on the other side of the room; the guy gets up to fetch the document; the guy shares his basketball shorts paired with suit and tie top.
Dress the Part!
The overall dissatisfaction I gathered from the recruiters was a general disappointment with candidates not taking the interview process as formally during the pandemic. Dressing the part was only the beginning, many didn’t send a thank you message or join the interview on-time or follow-up promptly.
Your overall approach to an interview can be a distraction to the interviewed party. Though we are in unprecedented times, an interviewee should revert-back to precedented interview practices.
Your workspace reflects so much about how you work. Though a Zoom call doesn’t expose your space in its entirety, it can be one of the most offensive distractions to you and the interviewer. Clearing your work area is an important prep step. Consolidating your materials and leaving your resume and paper for notes is a quick action that will project into the overall interview vibe.
Plan-Ahead and Stick to the Essentials
Along with preparing with necessary technology, be equipped with the material you may need. For example, a friend shared that he keeps a whiteboard by his desk to explain processes and complex concepts for an interview. If you are presenting, you might keep your typed notes nearby.
I recently read that an interview is an opportunity for a hiring manager to root for you. Releasing fears and viewing the conversation in a positive light can be an exciting mind shift. Allowing you and your interviewer to focus on what matters most- sharing your passion for the work you’ll do together. Without the distractions, you’ll be able to really get to the meaningful conversation.