Published on Thu, 01/10/2020 - 09:12
Isma Illahi-Warren
Isma stands facing the camera

I completed my Crossing Thresholds course in 2017 having thoroughly enjoyed it and realising the ambitions I set myself, promotion being one of them. I’m not normally one for new years resolutions, but at the start of 2020, I decided I wanted to progress to the next grade by the end of the year.

I applied for vacancies as they came up and was offered a couple of interviews for Temporary Promotions. These were conducted virtually and this felt strange! The enormity of the interview was somewhat dulled as there was freedom from restraining my body language. I found my hands flaying around - becoming more expressive as the interview progressed. It was quite liberating, to be honest. As I’m used to telephone work, the interviews felt comfortable and calm. Funnily enough, I wasn’t offered either position. Drat.

As the year progressed and lockdown was imposed, my fervour for looking for jobs diminished slightly. How on earth was I going to achieve a promotion in these circumstances? I kept my Civil Service alerts open, checking through the jobs regularly. Finally, in late May four suitable vacancies came up.

I had an offer for an interview within a week. And so, I focused on preparing for the interview ahead. I guessed it would be held virtually, as my recently promoted friend was interviewed that way. Sure enough I was informed it would be a video conference with three interviewers on the panel.

I spoke to my friend who’d recently had a virtual interview and she said “You know you can have whatever you want written on your wall, the panel won’t see it! Post-it notes with key messages, prompt cards or even your entire competency if you want.” “Blimey,” I thought, “that’s true.”

But for me, having too much information was distracting, I had to remember people would be watching me, and I didn’t want to look as if I was reading. So instead key bullet points acted as a prompt when I got stuck.

In the interview, the chair explained that only the person asking the question would be on screen. They were well practised at this and the questions and video rotated seamlessly. I had to remember they could see me at all times. I tried to look directly at the camera rather the person speaking as this replicates the eye contact you would make in the room.  

The interview went well, despite a few stumbles on the first example! By the time the second one started, I’d found my flow and was speaking clearly and providing coherent examples.

After the example (behaviour questions), they went into strength questions, which they explained should be for no more than two minutes each. I found these to be the easiest part of the interview as my answers were unrehearsed and natural responses.  Then the interview was wrapped up with a couple of questions from me. Overall, it was a great experience. It was in the comfort of my home, I didn’t have to get dressed and travel across Essex and into London for it. I had the information I needed to hand and my makeup bag on the chair next to me! I can honestly say it’s the easiest and calmest interview I have ever had! It was a very different experience to arriving for an interview at the Home Office soaking wet, having travelled in a thunderstorm where my feet got so wet they were sloshing around in my shoes!

My recommendation to anyone anticipating an interview in the current crisis is:

  1. Get used to video calls -  be comfortable and familiar with your image on screen, so you are not distracted by it during your interview (on some platforms you can hide your own image if you find that more comfortable).
  2. Look directly into the camera directly to replicate eye contact.
  3. Hold your hands comfortably so you’re not overly gesticulating. If you’re expressive, practise using your hands under the level of the camera. But do what’s natural for you.
  4. If you post prompts on the wall, check how you look in the camera to ensure you’re not making it obvious you’re reading from them. This can be done by videoing a practice session!
  5. Enjoy it. Relax. And don’t forget to smile! This is from the comfort of your home. It can’t get any better than that.

I’m delighted to say I was offered the job. I’m really excited about the opportunities and challenges ahead. My advice is don’t give up just because the world of work is changing. Stay focused and aim for what you want. I wish you well in your endeavours.