HomeAnalysisOnline interview from a Zim perspective

Online interview from a Zim perspective

Brian Makwara Accountant
The Global Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the way in which interviews are conducted.

Interviewers and interviewees were caught unawares by the reality that you can hold a successful interview online.

It’s unfortunate that in 2022 the pace in our local market of online interviews’ leaves a lot to be desired and, in most sectors, we have gone back to physical interviews from the inquiries I gather from prospective job seekers,

In my previous engagement I was actively involved in interviews, mainly at entry trainee level and at my peak, we were seeing 25 candidates a week.

We were fond of seeing the candidate walk the hallway and make a grand entrance into this huge boardroom and in a way, we could identify a lot of traits just by how one carries themselves and enters a new space with eyes glancing at them.

To some you could easily spot fear entrenched in the eyes and to some a glimmer of hope and to a few enthusiasts.

All this was suddenly denied by the pandemic.

The year was 2020 and I was actively seeking a new opportunity to grow myself and have new challenges.

This time around, I was the interviewee and it was my first rodeo for an online interview.

One would think as a fairly experienced interviewer myself, it would be a glide on the slope for me as an interviewee.

The first consideration was for the interview, with remote working, the interview was scheduled at what previously you deemed unusual timeslot that was after 4pm in the afternoon and my early thoughts were, do I need to wear formal clothes?

On the other hand my mind raced and thought, everyone is working from home so why formal?

Another thought was I was going for a senior managerial position hence flexibility is one of the values I am looking for in a potential employer.

All these considerations were unheard off, at least for most interviews in the country.

The only colleagues who had experience in these were the ones who had applied for work overseas eg, in accounting firms.

I ended up settling for a formal shirt with no tie and as for what I had waist down, that is a story for another day.

Power availability was my next consideration.

Will there be power or not?

If power goes off during my interview will the panel think I am not serious about this job?

Would they call again or would they, move on to the next candidate? Luckily for me I have a solar backup system at my home hence I had one less worry on this metric.

I shudder to think what someone else’s scenario looks like, for instance when I interview trainees, most of them are university graduates and some do not live in the capital city so power availability may be the Goliath in their way.

Fast forward to 2021 and I am a finance manager looking for graduate trainees, its sad that there are some candidates I could not interview as there was just no power in their area.

How do we help such graduates who find themselves in such situations which make it difficult to adapt to the new normal or online interviews?

A Zimbabwean will tell you that if you do not have internet connectivity as your thorn in the flesh when it comes to preparing for an interview, lucky you.

A typical average person does not have fibre or wibronicks at their home.

Those that do have, cannot guarantee uninterrupted connectivity especially in a key life changing event like an interview.

For many graduates, they rely on mobile data and it can be a nightmare to get connectivity since the country is yet to have every city on 4G let alone 5G.

Some employers are not sympathetic to this reality and can be put off if you keep getting booted out of a Zoom or Teams meeting.

At times an employer can sympathise and reschedule but the connectivity keeps being a limiting factor and the concern is should we go for a telephone interview only.

Some have gone that route but it denies that interview experience where you can see the non-verbal cues, the gestures and facial expressions.

According to another school of thought, it is such things which introduce biases where you can hire someone based on how they look and not on the content or value they can bring to the company.

Some recruiters prefer video interviews throughout.

Personally, I prefer a hybrid where we can turn our cameras on at the onset and turn them off to improve connectivity.

An unfortunate reality is for our graduates, most use their phones for these online interviews and the camera quality is a limiting factor and for some, the location or the appearance of the room or homes they are interviewing from is a challenge that could even affect their confidence before the interview even starts.

Imagine someone in the townships, probably he/she shares a bedroom with siblings, the walls are dirty which would not be an issue in the traditional interview where we only see the candidate in a suit across a boardroom table and cannot tell that he/she is coming from a very cluttered household.

These can subconsciously affect the interviewers as much as they can try to be professional; the human element always is lurking in the background.

When the pandemic started, I was working in insurance in London and I had no such problem as the company sponsored flat was overlooking the riverside such that whenever we did video calls, I would intentionally tilt my screen to show my background.

Such luxury is not afforded to the graduate seeking a place for articles in our local market.

The candidates I have been interviewing online have a problem with background noise.

I for one was not spared when I had my earlier mentioned interview as my daughter decided to test her voice box by going into a crying frenzy.

How does the graduate prepare themselves for this? At times some are in the townships and when he/she unmutes you can wonder where exactly this person is at.

My worst experience was when the candidate was having the interview in a car at a cash wash and you can imagine the background conversations.

One would imagine the pandemic catapulted online interviews, but there is overwhelming evidence that a considerable number of them are still face-to-face despite lockdowns and movement restrictions which in my view punishes a potential candidate who lives out of town.

Without statistics it’s hazy to make an informed conclusion on the extent of online interview penetration into our local market.

I had a sit-in during a face-to-face interview during the lockdown and one glaring phenomenon was candidates do not feel comfortable with their face masks; one will be constantly repositioning it all the time and for some the mask can cover the whole face at times and those facial cues are not seen.

I wish we as chartered accountants could spearhead this new normal to how interviews are conducted i.e., online.

Training for the interviewers is an area that can be missed as I strongly believe there is a need for retraining on how to assess someone over the internet, how to respond to the candidate’s situation as the interview progresses e.g., if suddenly there is disturbing conversations in the background. I also believe a combination of assessment techniques becomes imperative.

I am aware of some trending character or trait identification platforms where there are no right or wrong answers but can give an idea on who the candidate really is.

To the candidate, do not despise that you are in Zimbabwe or that your home circumstance might not be the best, herewith a few tips although not exhaustive:

Always prepare for the interview in advance.

If you must temporarily move to your brother’s house or to a neighbour’s or your father’s office in town, do so, if you can at least guarantee connectivity, power and general ambience of the room.

Research what the style of the prospective employer is like, for instance a graduate looking for a place at an accounting firm, you know very well that firms are now very flexible and most of them do not wear formal at home but you might want to err on the side of caution by having smart casual i.e., a crisp shirt for gents. Pyjamas are a definite no-no at all times

It is okay to ask for the interview to be rescheduled to a day and time that best suits your unique circumstances.

If you have to use your phone for the interview, ensure you have enough data, have more than one phone and if possible, use your phone as Wi-Fi hotspot so that you do the interview using your laptop.

Adjust your sitting position directly to where your camera is and avoid too much body movements so as not to distract the panel.

Log on a couple of minutes before the scheduled start, so that you can be in the waiting room and the panel can admit you once ready to start the interview

Lastly, do advise your relatives at home that you intend to have an interview to limit disturbances and noise.

To the interviewer, let’s continue to work on our own personal biases so that we do not punish a candidate for uncontrollable factors that can happen during the interview.

  • Makwara is a Chartered Accountant with both local and international experience having most of his career in audit and currently is working as the Group Financial Manager of a local listed entity.

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