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"You’re on Mute" and Other Tales as the Business World Starts to Return to Normal

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Over the past year, interviews and meetings have been replaced with a seemingly endless stream of video calls. We’ve spent more time speaking to living, breathing people through our screens rather than in person. According to The Verge, as of April 2020, Zoom counted 300 million daily meeting participants, Microsoft Teams boasted 75 million daily active users, and Google Meet hit over 100 million daily meeting participants. Today, it’s a given that everyone should be a video conference expert, regardless of technological savvy. Yet despite the many months we’ve had to adjust our lighting or find a quiet place for private conversations, this doesn’t seem to be the case for everyone. We’ve all seen the now viral video of the lawyer who had to clarify that despite his filter, no, he was not a cat.

Before COVID-19, it was rare that a company would hire someone without meeting in person. This has all changed. Virtual interviewing, hiring, and onboarding have impacted the experience for candidates, search partners, and hiring leaders. Many have needed to develop confidence in their ability to assess candidates remotely and, likewise, candidates have needed to feel comfortable making career decisions without in-person visits, which becomes even more challenging if relocation is required. Some clients have experienced a faster hiring process but also shared how onboarding can be less than seamless.

As we celebrate nationwide vaccination milestones and look ahead to a world where in-person meetings and conference room collaboration no longer feel out of reach, we’ve taken this opportunity to share tips on the biggest Zoom no-nos and some of our clients’ most memorable virtual moments.

When it comes to backgrounds, please keep it simple. After a year of working from our homes, we understand that it can be hard to find a private, quiet workspace without distractions or interruptions, let alone one that is well-designed. If you do elect to use a fake background, don’t get creative with it. While virtual backdrops of outer space or funny scenarios may seem like a conversation starter, they come off more like a gag gift and feel like a big distraction. Stick to a neutral color or image of an office space, and be sure to avoid having body parts fade into the virtual abyss.

Don’t bring your sweats to the boardroom. While you may have gotten comfortable wearing athleisure and pajamas while answering emails, interview attire should still be taken seriously. With virtual interviews, your appearance will make more of an initial impression and can impact the conversation and ultimate outcome. One client shared that he believes the amount of effort put into one’s presentation indicates how much the person cares about the opportunity. A candidate sealed her fate when she wore a sweatsuit on a video call and the hiring manager immediately decided that he did not want her on his team. While a suit and tie may not be necessary, know your audience and dress to reflect the company culture.

Not everything needs to be done via video. If you’re offered a phone call in the initial interview process, don’t feel the need to switch it to a video call. Working remotely often facilitates working longer hours so a traditional phone call can be a welcomed relief from Zoom fatigue. While it is tempting to work 24/7 when your office is your home, Kris Elverum, SVP, Business Development and Strategy at Rubius Therapeutics, recommends “crafting a schedule to create some separation. Living at work isn't helpful for our creative minds. Think of how many good ideas used to happen while commuting. Having low-focus mental time is important to be more effective at work and in life.”

“You’re on mute” has become a common phrase during this virtual time and more than one person has shared some wise counsel: Be sure you are on “mute” or “leave” the meeting before expressing any less-than-positive and possibly career-derailing comments such as “Well, that was a complete waste of time!”

More often than not, comic relief and distractions come in the form of pets or children. At The Alexander Group, we’ve delighted in moments when we’ve had the opportunity to meet our colleague’s furry friends, even if these meetings aren’t planned. One client shared how her cat jumped with a screech from high above onto the keyboard during a presentation and startled everyone on the call. Another client laughed about how her Boston Terrier recognizes a certain colleague’s voice and demands to be part of their video sessions. In fact, some corporations have intentionally invited rescued animals as virtual guests via Goat-2-Meeting as a fun and creative way to build engagement during a virtual team call or company happy hour!

Andrea DiMella, Vice President and Head of Talent at Atlas Venture, shared her experience of a “total parenting win/professional fail.” While on a video call presenting to six firm partners (all male), Andrea’s young daughter climbed behind her and started playing with her hair as a pretend hairdresser. Next, her daughter reached around to hug Andrea from behind…and you can just imagine where her little hands landed. Andrea’s advice on how to navigate these embarrassing situations is spot on: “Be authentic and have a sense of humor – being able to laugh together about life is the best way to create a connection.” We couldn’t agree with her more.

Bottom line: while nothing can replace in-person relationships, we humans are resilient and have adapted quite remarkably with humor, grace, patience, and understanding. We may have stumbled along the way while navigating our virtual world, but we are achieving our objectives…together.

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Beth Ehrgott

Beth Ehrgott

Managing Director