With the start of the school year, you may have had a desire for change. If the summer period gave you ideas for a new job, this article is for you.

Within this economic and social context disrupted by Covid, is the start of a new era where constantly shifting from face-to-face to virtual is now the norm. We are sometimes at the office, but still very often behind our computer screens at home.

The routine of job interviews is not immune to these changes, which is why Think Manners, a company dedicated to etiquette in general and business etiquette in particular, gives you 5 keys to understanding these changes easily:

– understand the culture frame of the company you want to join,
– make a good first impression,
– know how to introduce yourself,
– know the rules for online interviews,
– navigate cultural differences.

These enable you to stand out of the crowd and land a new job or get a promotion.

1 – A golden rule: feel comfortable with the corporate culture

What is it all about?
Whatever format of the interview awaits you, only one thing matters: if you land the job, do you think you will feel comfortable in this new environment? To find out, you have to know about corporate culture. A simple job description is not enough to give a realistic picture of what your life will be like in this future company.

Among the elements that shape the culture of a company are of course its history, its raison d’être and also the values it defends. All of these concepts are most often widely shared on the website of the company you want and it is therefore important to consult it to validate that you will be in line with these values.

The dress code
Another aspect of a company’s culture is the dress code at work. It fits the general mood that leaders want to create. For example, in a rather relaxed atmosphere, without fixed hours, where autonomy is valued and where there is little pressure on appearance: wearing a T-shirt will probably be sufficient. On the other hand, in a more formal atmosphere where the desire to appear serious and credible is required, more importance will be given to appearance: a suit will probably be the norm.

If you are comfortable with the culture of the company, you will also be comfortable with its dress code and you will not need to “conform”, it will be natural for you because you are in line with the values. If not, it may be a sign that this company is not for you: check before going for an interview and choose the right outfit to start the meeting on the right foot.

2 – How to make a good first impression – online or in person?

There is very little time to make a good first impression, as David Swanson’s quote “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” reminds us.

The attention span of others can be very limited, hence the need to pay attention beforehand to what will help you make a good impression quickly.

Positive attitude
Always try to maintain a positive attitude by keeping a smile on your face at all times and thus showing a calm and kind face. Most of the time, this is enough to relieve tension and ease relationships. This is all the more true when the eye of the camera during a Zoom meeting depicts your finest expressions!

Eye contact
Looking your contact person in the eye shows that you are listening to them. It also helps you listen better, providing a point of focus that facilitates concentration. This attention to your interlocutor shows that they are important to you, that you are interested in what they are saying and that you are paying attention to them. In video, eye contact is more than ever your ally! But know how to use it to your best advantage.

In particular, be aware that in some cultures (Arab countries, Asia) it is customary not to look the person in the eyes as a sign of respect. This is a form of deference. This can therefore lead to a certain number of misunderstandings between a Westerner who will seek eye contact and an Asian who, on the contrary, will avoid it.

There is an additional difficulty, linked to the way virtual meetings work: where to look to make sure that you are looking people in the eye? A simple rule is to look at the camera. This is of course easier said than done. Tell yourself that the eye of the camera replaces that of your interlocutor, and you will remember to look at him or her more easily.

Body language
It is quite simple to decode our thoughts, emotions or intentions through the non-verbal elements of our communication. This is called body language or, more skillfully, synergology. In front of a screen, mainly our eyes, arms and hands will convey our emotions. Thus, a good liar will look you in the eye, while someone who is embarrassed not to tell the whole truth will have a harder time maintaining eye contact with you. Here are some attitudes that are very easy to interpret from the other side of the screen:

– holding your head in your hands shows how detached and uninvolved you are,
– transmitting anger through frowning,
– showing boredom by fidgeting in your chair,
– running your hand through your hair to replace a strand and refocus, to anchor yourself in what you are saying.

3 – How to present yourself: the elevator speech

To succeed in the first 5 minutes of an interview, it is absolutely necessary to know how to present yourself well. To achieve this, the famous elevator speech is a very powerful tool to introduce yourself in a few sentences. But these few lines cannot be improvised. There are a few key steps to follow in order to write the winning speech:

Know your goal
It is about telling others, as well as yourself, who you are.
So, remember to ask yourself questions about:
– the goals you really want to achieve,
– your background and your motivations,
– the best way to formalize your thoughts, is by referring to past experiences for example.

Sorting out
Start by not censoring yourself, that is, write everything you want to say. Be as exhaustive as possible so as not to forget anything, and don’t be afraid to go into detail at this point with supporting examples. Then go back to your notes and select the elements you think are most relevant. Ask yourself questions like: should I mention this particular project to prove my interest in this position? If not, remove this item from the list.

Specific case of the ‘self-video’
Due to the constraints of Covid and the difficulties in meeting people face-to-face, it is increasingly common for a recruiter to ask, as a first interview, that you record a short video to introduce yourself. If this video is conclusive, then the recruiter will bring you in for a face-to-face interview. This further reinforces the importance of having well prepared your elevator speech.

To work further on the elevator speech, follow the link to the practical guide I have just published on the subject: Elevator speech, the art of presenting yourself

4 – What are the rules in the virtual world?

Whether you are having your first interview on Zoom or recording a ‘self-video’, the rules for these virtual meetings are the same.

Pay attention to the background
In terms of appearance, the particularity of video conferences is that only your chest and the background are visible. So, pay attention to the background behind you: make sure it is rather neutral unless there is a purpose, for example, an object or a photo related to a project or an experience. In this case, you should be prepared to talk about the object or the photo in an appropriate way. The backgrounds offered by providers are also possible but are less personal and often known. However, they have the advantage of settling the issue of lighting in the room.

Finally, pay attention to your outfit (the top you will wear). It should be chosen according to the corporate culture (as previously discussed) but also according to the background.

Find a quiet place
Try to find a place that is as quiet as possible. For example, make arrangements in advance for childcare if necessary. A calm environment promotes serenity and presence. Preparing in advance is important to give yourself every chance on the big day to be 100% in the moment.

Then comes The posture. Standing up straight and having your shoulders back are part of the work on your brand image. It conveys a feeling of natural authority, of self-confidence, putting you in a position of strength.

Smiling is also part of the posture, as we have seen: it demonstrates your goodwill, and it can help to relax the atmosphere. In front of the camera, we can only see your chest, so being well-positioned, not slouching whilst smiling is all the more important.

5 – What about cultural differences?

In order to make teams with employees from different backgrounds work while respecting the fundamental principle of inclusion, it is absolutely necessary to address the issues of cultural differences. Here we are referring to values deeply rooted in the culture of origin of each person and which make for example a French person react differently from a Belgian or a Dutch in a specific situation. Here are two examples:

Power distance
This cultural dimension analyses the place of status in the configuration of a society and, by extension, of a work team. In some cultures, each person’s place must be precisely established. There are those who decide and lead and those who execute. In such highly hierarchical societies, the leader is expected to give clear instructions and it would not occur to participants in a meeting, to challenge these directives.

On the contrary, in more egalitarian cultures, there is a leader because there has to be one, but he can be challenged. He expects to be challenged and would be surprised if his colleagues did not share their opinions. For example, Belgium and France are societies that are very attached to the notion of hierarchy. However, The Netherlands and Great Britain are hardly ever so. It is important and interesting to keep this in mind during your interviews to better understand the reactions of a recruiter or future colleagues.

Uncertainty avoidance
Second example: the concept of risk. How to make decisions when circumstances are uncertain? Is the important thing to get results and get them quickly, or should you have a clear agenda, ask a lot of questions to be sure, and put quality above all else? The answers to these questions are dependent upon the degree to which an individual needs to work in a certain environment.

In a culture that does not like to operate in uncertain environments, we find characteristics such as a greater need for laws, rules, structure and planning. Even if some of the rules are absurd, they exist and that is reassuring. On the contrary, in a culture that accepts the notion of uncertainty more readily, rules are made only for what is absolutely necessary to control. Here again, Belgium and France are together on the side of risk aversion, whereas Great Britain and the Netherlands are societies where more uncertain environments are not scary, but on the contrary, are welcome.

Final words
Corporate culture, a good first impression, an elevator speech, a well-prepared virtual meeting and some cultural differences awareness are key to succeed in job interviews where competition is tough.
Understanding these elements can make a difference and give you the edge that will make you land that dream job you had in mind this summer!

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by Alexandra Beaulieu – photo by Fiskes on Shutterstock