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Virtual interview advice – from both sides of the Zoom screen

Entrepreneur and founder of Pink Boutique, Alice Rowen Hall, has set up 3 new businesses during lockdown. We caught up with Alice and new recruit Kimberley to find out their virtual interview tips.

Alice Rowen Hall - The Interviewer

So first question – how did it come about that you’ve set up not one but three new businesses during lockdown?! 

We hadn’t actually been intending to set up businesses before lockdown. We knew we were going to do something but weren’t sure what yet. I think once we got locked in we got super motivated! And we thought; if we’re setting up one, why not set up three? Our group structure allows us to divide the overheads of having offices and infrastructure across three businesses, which ultimately makes it less risky for us to set up right now. We’re launching Lowkal, a low calorie online food store, AllergyBox, an online store especially for allergy sufferers who struggle to shop, and Rowen Interior Design, a design agency.

How was your approach to recruitment different during lockdown? What was the process that candidates went through?

The process was largely the same as in non-lockdown times but it was completely virtual. Zoom was our saviour and helped us get a real feel for the candidates’ personalities. We did find that if a candidate was not right, we were able to wrap up the interview quite quickly which may have been awkward in person. We’ve managed to find the most fantastic people – who have fortunately been quickly available, mainly due to the current circumstances. It’s quite funny that our teams have started without meeting us face to face! Luckily through using an online project management system we’ve been able to all get up to speed really quickly.

What were the different challenges and opportunities of virtual recruitment?

It was a bit of a challenge to appear professional when we were husband and wife sitting side-by-side in our study! We ended up going in separate rooms to tune in which seemed to work a bit better. I loved how quickly we could arrange interviews – sometimes within hours – because people could just hop on a call. That was fab.

How have you managed to onboard and manage new staff remotely – has that been a challenge?

Luckily we have our super organised Operations Manager Sarah who has everything set up in our project management system. It’s amazing how many resources there are out there – for example, we use Google Drive, and there are video tutorials for it and lots of Q&As. We’ve set up sample tasks so people can practice using the systems, and they can work their way through ticking off the induction tasks as they complete them. If anything, it’s better for transparency as anyone can log on and see where a project is, rather than having to have a conversation which may take up more time.

What are your tips for candidates who have virtual interviews coming up?

I really think being well presented goes a long way – even if that’s just brushing your hair and putting a smart top on. I’m all about casual working but it’s nice to see that someone has prepared for the call. It’s also great when someone has already researched the company as it doesn’t take as long to explain the business mission. It’s a stressful time for many right now but try to relax before the call and fill your mind with some positive vibes. If you can be smiley, keen and enthusiastic it will make the call enjoyable for all parties.

Kimberley Rumble - the Interviewee

Can you explain how the process was different to other jobs you’ve applied for (pre-lockdown)? Was the process faster etc?
Before the interview itself, the process of applying was quite similar. After seeing the job advert on LinkedIn, I worked on my CV, cover letter and portfolio. I highlighted all my relevant experience and tried to put together the perfect proposal which demonstrated how my skills could benefit Rowen Group. The next day, I received an email asking if I could jump on a Zoom call with Alice and Andrew to discuss my application. We scheduled a time and had a virtual interview a day or so later.

What things did you consider before the interview? Your Zoom background for example?
I tried to choose somewhere that had good lighting, so went with the living room where my desk is. This is the area from where I work and where I can be creative, so I chose to have that space in the background. I made sure it was tidy, that I was presentable and I asked my other half to stay out of the room!

Did you feel that it was easy to build a rapport virtually? Do you have any tips around this?
Apart from the initial “can you see me/can you hear me” situation you always get with Zoom, I very quickly relaxed and felt at ease. I didn’t have the same nerves I would normally when waiting in a reception area to be called in. Because I was in my own space, I was much calmer. I also felt the same from Andrew and Alice, it was a bit more informal and it felt like it was an opportunity to just “meet” each other and get a feel for how we could work together. With zoom calls, you can often get people talking over each other because of the delays, so I would make sure to listen as best you can. As with any other interview, be prepared with some questions, but wait for them to ask you if you have them. 

What was your first day like when you were working from home?
I was the very first employee of Rowen Group, so at that point, Alice and Andrew were the only people I needed to touch base with. On my first day, we jumped on another Zoom call to go over the outline for my role and what was needed initially. Because we were working on 3 start-up companies, my main port of call was the branding. We discussed which was a priority and they gave me as much detail as possible in terms of a creative brief and links to Pinterest boards they had full of inspiration. As soon as I came up with some ideas, I would send them over, they would give feedback and we would develop, jumping on calls when needed.

How have you built relationships with your new colleagues?
I was the only one for a few weeks but we have quickly grown to 8! As more team members came on board, we would have a group Zoom call so everyone could introduce themselves and talk about the role they will be playing at RG. We’ve mainly kept in touch using project management tasks like Asana or via email. A weekly video call with everyone is a great way to catch up and talk about what everyone has been doing that week, but I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone in person when it’s safe to do so.

What have you found to be unexpected benefits of the whole experience?
I have found the experience surprisingly productive. As someone who doesn’t have children or pets, I have been able to just get on. I put on my music, I write my to-do list for the day and get to work without any distractions. If I find myself in a bit of a creative rut or can’t think, I just take a 10-minute break, put on a load of washing or something like that and then get back to it. These little moments sometimes means another idea pops into my head. In my previous 9-5, I would stay glued to my chair and the screen for hours on end without ever looking away which wasn’t great for my mind or my body! On the other hand, if I’m having a really productive day and I don’t want to stop, I’ll work through my lunch break, eat at my desk and then finish an hour early if I’ve got everything on my list done. That flexibility is something I’ve really enjoyed. Working for people who trust you to get on and do what’s asked of you is really refreshing!

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