It barely needs repeating that retail is entering a ‘new normal’. Some changes, such as social distancing in shops, will hopefully be temporary; others are set to become a permanent feature of the new business landscape.

One of these is remote working. Some estimates predict 50% of people will not return to offices – a seismic shift that will have huge implications for recruitment where virtual interviews have quickly become the norm during lockdown. I recently completed my second assignment where the entire recruitment process was carried out remotely. There will be many more to follow.

Much as remote team meetings have a different dynamic to those held face-to-face, so remote interviews require different disciplines and methods of preparation to ensure they are a success, both for the candidate and recruiter.

I shall focus my advice here on the candidate and shall kick off with some basic, practical considerations.

Before you do anything else you need to create a comfortable environment. Make sure you’re in a room where you’re not likely to be disturbed and where the WiFi connection is reliable. Anxieties over being interrupted by kids or losing connection are distractions you can do without.

Choose a background that hints at your personality without becoming a permanent distraction. A plain white background risks coming across as dull while, at the other end of the scale, a bookshelf full of controversial texts or strange paraphernalia will create an immediate impression of the person that is hard to shift. My own backdrop is some striking 60s era red, orange and green striped wallpaper which has become the subject of much amusement (and some derision!) and helps break the ice at the start of a call.  

Resist the temptation to dress down. Wear the clothes you would wear if you were in the room. Not only can dressing smartly make a positive impression with interviewers, it can also increase your own feelings of confidence.

Maintain a good posture. Sitting up straight with your feet on the floor reduces stress hormones and increases chemicals in the bloodstream that lead to a feeling of mental balance. It also makes you appear confident and assertive.

When it comes to the call itself it is important to be as engaging as you would be in person. This starts with making eye-contact, which is much harder to do remotely. One tip is to have a reminder in front of you to look into the camera rather than staring into your screen.

Make a conscious effort to exaggerate your hand gestures, facial expressions and other non-verbal responses. There is a real risk in video-conferencing that the candidate is unable to convey their energy and enthusiasm for the role. Recently, an excellent candidate didn’t get a senior role as an HR director because their energy levels appeared low and their depth of answers was lacking. I’m convinced that had the interview been held face-to-face they would have been hired.

Be proactive rather than passive. Ask questions like ‘is there anything else I can tell you or you need to know’ to show that you are fully engaged with the interview process. 

Finally, and most importantly, practice, practice and then practice some more. Interviewing remotely is a completely different experience from interviewing in person. Ask colleagues and friends to play the role of the interviewer and practice both your responses and your behaviours. And if you are required to make a presentation via Zoom or Teams, practice presenting in advance to improve your fluency and familiarise yourself with the technology.

In a challenging, contracting retail market, please don’t let a tech disaster be the thing to damage your career prospects!