KALAMAZOO, Mich.—As Western Michigan University students prepare for virtual interviews and navigate the job market during an unprecedented pandemic, they are learning to put their best face forward as they sit in front of a screen. Making a good impression to land a job or internship is challenging enough without worrying your Wi-Fi might freeze your screen or equipment stop working—even your roommate could make a cameo appearance, as was the case for graduate student Kalpesh Ghati.
"My roommate didn't know I had an interview, and he just opened the door and walked in," recalls the student pursuing a master’s degree in engineering managemen
Ghati says he’s learned a few lessons since interviewing for internships one year ago, including taping a sign on the door that says, “Do not disturb. Interview in process.” He did end up landing the internship with snack company Mondelēz International, and now he’s on the hunt for a permanent position ahead of graduation in April. Ghati says rather than practicing his firm handshake or making eye contact, he spends his time in front of a mirror, critiquing what an employer will see over a screen.
For a successful virtual interview:
- Use a laptop with a fixed webcam and microphone, not your smartphone.
Check your background for unprofessional or distracting objects or people.
Test devices before the call, and have a plan B if the computer crashes.
Have a notepad and pen for taking notes.
Keep your resume close for reference.
"When you're sitting at the same table with someone who is interviewing you, there's a good channel of communication, good body language. You have to practice to have that good impression come through the camera,” he says.
The University's Career and Student Employment Services and the Zhang Career Center staff have rolled out resources for students like Ghati to prepare them for everything from resume critiques to mock interviews. They are ready to assist the hundreds of students expected to participate in upcoming virtual career fairs beginning Wednesday, Feb. 3, and continuing through the month.
More students than ever are taking advantage of these services because they are easily accessible online, says Amanda Jeppesen, employer engagement assistant for Career and Student Employment Services.
"During in-person fairs, the questions are more like what a company produces and what opportunities they have. Now students are looking at how they should interact online and what different materials or tools they need," she says.
Among the many campus resources is a specialized software called Big Interview, which helps Western students practice and record a trial interview. It’s designed to reflect their education, employment interests and even the level of their experience with technology used during interviews.
THE OTHER SIDE
Students aren't the only ones who have had to pivot in this new recruiting and hiring climate. Kellogg Company, like many employers, quickly shifted many of its summer internships to a virtual format in 2020 and is continuing that practice this year.
"We learned students are extremely resilient. They were some of the first to pivot to virtual at the beginning of the pandemic. Students are willing and capable to shift to the virtual workplace," says Liz Hamilton, intern program manager for University Relations at the Battle Creek, Michigan-based food manufacturing company.
She says it's important for student job seekers to keep up communication, connect with employers and network with career services and similar resources because “employers are still participating 100%."
"Be really intentional with your time, weed out what is important and set goals. If you don't know something, ask," adds Jamie Marmey, associate recruiter for Kellogg's University Relations division. "This is affecting everyone, whether you are a student or an employer, and we certainly understand that things come up."
KEEP IN MIND
WMU's Jeppesen reminds employers that the virtual interview process can be unnerving for some students, and she encourages empathy as they navigate the frozen screens, dropped calls and, yes, the occasional roommate in the background.
She also encouraged students to be persistent and remain positive with their job hunt. Employers who may have paused internships or hiring during the pandemic still have their eye on Western talent for the future.
"We're assuring students that the economy will come back, the vaccine is coming out and, in the meantime, we're keeping a close eye on industry trends," she says. “(Employers) want Western students to know they are partners, and they are going to be there for them as soon as they can hire them."
To learn more about registering and preparing for interviews, check out the Career and Student Service resource guide.
For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.