Careers Interviews And CV's

Online Interviews

How To Zoom To Success

Online interviews are on the rise, offering employers the opportunity to engage with a wider range of candidates in a more efficient manner. Digital possibilities bring the economic and strategic benefits of reducing the time, resources and cost involved in selecting the perfect hire. But how ready are you for this form of recruitment?

“There are two aspects to online interviews – situation preparation and personal presentation. You need to nail both to maximise your chances of getting the job you want,” advises Samina Kiyani, an experienced broadcast journalist, awards host and media trainer. “The golden rule is this – minimise distractions.”

10 Tips For Zooming To Success.

By Samina Kiyani

  • Location, location, location – usually the employer decides upon the setting. But, with online interviews the onus is on you. Choose a spot which is neat, tidy and neutral. Steer clear of intimate spaces such bedrooms, as this is too personal for a business meeting.
  • Unintended soundtracks – consider what is within earshot. For example, you really do not want the sound of a distant washing machine to feature as the theme music to your interview. If the home phone rings, can you hear it? As you switch off your mobile, consider also temporarily disconnecting your landline.
  • Let there be light – ensure that the light falls on your face. It is best to sit facing a window, about a metre away from it. Avoid having your back directly to the window, as sunshine from behind can form a halo effect. Have a lamp that you can switch on, if your potential employer says it is too dim to see you properly. The amount of luminescence in the room is not always the same as that transmitted via the screen.
  • Connectivity and technology – check your internet works and the wifi speed is good exactly in the place where you site your computer. Some have been caught out by poor connection in certain areas. Verify the audio, video and mute functions. Just as you would arrive 10 minutes early for an office interview, log on before the scheduled start to deal with any last-minute mishaps.
  • Max headroom – too much headroom means that the interviewer mostly sees your background. You are pitching yourself, not your choice of wallpaper. Your head should appear 1/4 down from the top of the screen to maintain the right proportions.
  • Right height – placing the computer too low can distend your neck, and over-emphasise your chin and nose. Position the screen at eye height, balancing on sturdy books if required, to give prominence to your facial expressions.
  • Dress well – avoid anything with a small design as the print can seem to waver, slightly but noticeably, on the screen. Whilst white clothing may sparkle in a traditional situation, on a screen ensure it does not reflect so much light that it leaves your face dull by comparison. Stick to simple, structured clothing and dress professionally from top to toe. Accidentally revealing pyjamas or jeans under more formal upper attire is a clumsy approach. 
  • Body language – given that things become magnified on screen, even minor tics can distract. Fidgeting can give off an unhelpful vibe of shiftiness. Refrain from over-gesticulating to the point that your arms move out of screen, as this is disruptive and gives the impression of flailing. Beware also of making strong forward gestures with your hands, as this can come across as jabbing. You don’t have to freeze like an Easter Island statue but be mindful of your movements.
  • Roving eye – you may have reduced disturbances at your end but this may not be true of your prospective employer. They may perhaps be in a setting that inadvertently shows people walking past or undertaking office activities in the background. During an online interview keep your focus on the interviewers. A loss of eye contact can break rapport.
  • Trial run – it can be uncomfortable to see home videos of ourselves. A mock interview is essential to highlight what aspects require attention. Preferably do this online with a knowledgeable person who can make an objective assessment and give you honest, constructive feedback. Are you making one of the errors listed here or are you inadvertently speaking at an unexpected pitch or speed? If nothing else, at least record yourself and replay to figure out what to improve on. 

“Ideally an online interview should feel as natural as a face-to-face one,” says Samina. “It’s definitely a skill that candidates need in their repertoire. But don’t get too fixated by the fact that there is a screen in front of you. With practice, you can pull it off.”

Samina Kiyani provides communication and online interview training at 

For more advice on interviews and CV’s you may want to read these 5 ‘Top Tips For Nailing That interview‘ and ‘How To Approach Writing A CV After A Career Break’

Flexible Working Lifestyle

The Four Day Working Week

The four day week has been touted as the “new better” for the way we work and is gaining widespread traction as a consequence of the game-changing coronavirus pandemic. A FindYourFlex survey found that 72% of respondents would welcome a four day week to turbocharge the economy with 28% against. But what does this actually entail? 

What Does A 4 Day Week Mean?

There are various forms of four day week. So, the FndYourFlex Survey further asked what kind of 4 day week people preferred.

  • Compressed schedule – complete five days of work in four, with no loss of salary. 78% favoured this approach.
  • Part-time model – work for four days and receive less pay. 18% of respondents gave this the thumbs up (4% were uncommitted to either compressed or part-time).
  • 32 hour week – more radical is the proposal made by John McDonnell of the Labour Party that the full-time working week should be lowered to 32 hours but without any loss of pay. 

A universal Monday to Thursday is unrealistic as we want to visit shops, museums, sporting venues and restaurants every day of the week, and care homes and emergency services operate round-the-clock. But the idea is that people can work differently outside the traditional norm.

Why Adopt A Shorter Week?

A truncated week is cited as offering a number of advantages as it may:

  • replenish physical resources – rest and/or leisure activities revitalise us;
  • boost mental well-being – stress and anxiety fall;
  • enhance relationships – more fulfilling time is spent with family and friends;
  • save the environment – less commuting erases part of our carbon footprint;
  • jump start volunteering – charities may see an upsurge in participation;
  • stabilise employment – redundancies are avoided by having all staff on reduced hours; 
  • widen the talent pool – those shut out by rigid timings can enter the job market;
  • capture loyalty – a talent retention mechanism to stop good workers from leaving; and 
  • cut overheads – if the office is shut for an extra day, running costs decrease. 

How Controversial Is A Shorter Week?

Objections are raised against four day patterns of whatever ilk. Flex requests have been refused for myriad reasons such as impractical personnel changes, higher costs, downgraded business performance, lower customer service, and/or the need for continuity over five days. 

But it is the 32 hour week, do-four-get-five, that is stirring particular controversy. Surely it is counter-intuitive to pay someone more for working fewer hours? Yet many of us are already paid to go on holiday through remunerated annual leave. The state offers statutory parental entitlements, sometimes topped up generously by employers, essentially paying people to look after their own children for a while. This is done because there are acknowledged social and health benefits that outweigh the pure economic expense. The ask of the 32 hour week is to push this concept one step further. 

32 Hour Week – How Much Does It Cost?

The battleground of the 32 hour week is the possible price tag associated with it. The NHS is often mentioned as a problematic situation. If you pay a nurse for five days instead of four, you must hire more staff since people are ill every day. The Conservative Party claims that the costs to the NHS would swell by £6.1 billion a year. Others assert that the NHS is a special case and not the yardstick by which to judge all sectors. 

Autonomy, a non-profit organisation, has stated that the cost of the 32 hour week is lower, as bald headline figures fail to factor in the gains from beneficial features such as reduced medical absence. As the Health and Safety Executive has estimated 57% of sick days are due to work-related stress, anxiety and depression, this is not to be ignored lightly. The difficulty is that several of the advantages, outlined earlier in this article, are not easy to quantify and are contentiously debated by those who champion one assessment methodology over another. 

What Next?

The part-time and compressed four day weeks, whilst not as widespread as they could be, are progressively being offered. However, even the most ardent proponents of the 32 hours option admit that adjustments will be incremental rather than an overnight phenomenon. There are likely to be a plethora of trial runs, setbacks and resistance. It may also not be viable in every instance. 

But it is worth remembering that changes that were initially seen as radical are accepted as standard practice. The 5 day week was once novel, annual leave was viewed as rewarding indolence, and maternity leave was regarded as an unnecessary self-indulgence. Now we expect these benefits. There is the potential to herald in a whole new future.

Careers Flexible Working

Becoming A Virtual Assistant (VA)

Guest Post

A Guest Post from Christine Southam, Virtual Personal Assistant and owner of CS Virtual Assistant.

I had spent a number of years in Higher Education in Estates & Facilities Management; Local Government as PA to two Managers in Islington. I then worked in Berlin at an Architects’ firm and then in Business Development for Market Research before returning to London for my dream job as PA to the Executive Director of a European environmental organisation. I was disappointed when My ED announced he would be stepping down as we had a great relationship and I knew that it would move to our Brussels based office. So, I decided to follow my long-term dream of opening my own business and becoming a Virtual Assistant. 

It made sense to carry on utilising all the experience I had gained over a decade of working just transferring it to a home office. I decided that becoming a Virtual Assistant ticked all the boxes!

Here Are My Top Tips For Becoming A Virtual Assistant

I believe having your own desk and work space is important and preferably with a lovely view and natural light as you may end up spending a significant amount of time there. Then cover your back by investing in insurances and registrations. These are just some of the costs to consider before you begin:

These will be your outgoings and it’s important to know how much you will need to earn per week or month to afford these costs.

The VA is not a regulated industry so hourly rates, quality of work and how securely personal data is handled varies greatly.

Christine Southam working on lap top at a desk

Marketing Yourself

I set about getting myself visible with a website and a Facebook page (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook groups and LinkedIn).  Without the traffic to your sites you won’t be getting noticed. 

  1. Communicate your expertise. If people believe you are an expert when it comes to looking for solutions or choosing someone, they are going to pick the expert.  
  2. Know your moral and your ethical values. For example: the way you respond to a customer complaint.
  3. It’s a referral-based market. Everyone will look at your reviews of what other people think of you not what you think of yourself.

Personal Development

Putting aside time for personal development is really important and the skills you learn on the job should not be under estimated. 

Consider investing in some professional development such as website building or social media training so it can become a service that you offer yourself. 

You will also be learning on the job about self-assessment tax returns, credit control such as chasing late payers and Human Resources related matters such as contracts, on-boarding Clients and Associates. 

Since running my own business, I have developed business set up and operating skills which empower me to assist other business owners more effectively.

Getting Started

I gained my first client within 3 months of opening, it’s a different experience for everyone. It could take you longer or you could arrive on the scene already with a few clients. 

Word of mouth, recommendations and contacting your existing network of business contacts could be a very strong way of getting started. 

Learning Lessons

Through a local community-based website, I contacted a start-up business. The gentleman was seeking office tidying, bookkeeping, self-assessment tax return preparation and the occasional PowerPoint. I travelled to his office at first to build up the trust and the relationship. It was a costly and time-consuming task as he didn’t leave close by. Over time he posted or scanned and emailed receipts to me and the physical meetings became less frequent. He was a client for one and half years until his disorganisation and lack of consideration for my small business took its toll on my finances and I eventually called it a day. 

The beauty of hindsight is that I wish I had utilised the Virtual PA Facebook groups more readily. I wish I had been more open to seek my networks’ advice and support. I could have possibly kept the client and resolved the issues. Having a support group of VAs or even a local group of business owners who meet virtually or in person can be a life line and very important.

My Current Working Practice

I started off dedicating 20 hours to my business each week. Now, I’ve reduced that to 15 hours per week because I want to manage better my work life balance. 

I’ve started to utilise Associate Virtual Assistants to help me manage my workload.  

To run my business, I use as much of the available and intuitive online software as possible. The best ones I can access from my phone. This means that I can make use of dead time; checking and replying to emails and checking and replying to social media posts. 

Some of the programmes that I could not work without:

  • Freeagent for invoicing and self-assessment tax returns which came free with my NatWest business account.
  • Canva for creating infographic and images for my social media sites.
  • Lastpass for all my password storage and safe sharing with Associates.
  • Toggl for time keeping and tracking the time keeping of my Associate team.
  • Dropbox or Google Drive for sharing documents online.
  • Mailchimp for creating newsletters, landing pages and emails. 
  • Asana for planning projects, meals, reminders and tasks.
  • Hootsuite for scheduling social media when I go on holiday – but usually I like to post directly onto the social media site.
  • Pocket as a great source of industry relevant articles.
  • Microsoft Suite in its entirety for Word, Excel, PowerPoint Outlook for calendar and emails.

Being Your Own Boss

It’s almost essential to think of your own business as a client of yours so that you give it as much respect and value as you would your Client’s work. It also helps you to have an objective view overseeing what you do for it. 

It’s fair to say that being self-employed is a financial and emotional rollercoaster. 

Social networks of support are ever evolving and who knows you might be the instigator of a great new initiative that will revolutionise the industry. 

Learn more about Christines business here. Or on social – Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter.

Read More blogs from our guest authors:

Hester Grainger – Founder at Mumala Club

Claire Winter – Content Creator & Copywriter