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Gaelle Blake Director of Permanent Appointments, Hays UK&I

In these difficult times, most interviews are being conducted remotely either over the phone or by video call. So, in this Q&A, we’re joined by Gaelle Blake, Director of Permanent Employment at Hays UK and Ireland.

Gaelle is here to share her expert advice for those who are worried about interviewing remotely, to help them overcome their fears and secure their next job.

1) Before we begin, it would be great if you could introduce yourself to our listeners.

I’m Gaelle Blake. I’ve been with Hays for twenty years. I joined Hays straight out of university working with the UK and Ireland business in the construction and property industry, and then I widened it to all specialisms around two years ago when I took this job as Permanent Appointments Director.

2) Obviously, these are challenging times, and many people will be feeling unsettled and perhaps anxious at the prospect of a remote job interview. So, for those who have never done interviews remotely and are feeling especially nervous about doing so, could you provide a brief overview of what they could expect?

Yes, I mean, when we look back on this moment in time, I think we’re going to see that a massive workplace change occurred. Sociologically, we’ll probably look back on it and say there was more change in the workplace than there has been possibly in the last seventy years since the Second World War et cetera. So, I think it’s completely normal for people, when we’re adapting to these new environments to find that a little bit unsettling, particularly if you haven’t looked for work for quite some time, you wouldn’t know to expect this. Unless you’ve looked for work in the last six weeks, the chances are you won’t be used to doing an interview remotely. So, I think first of all, it’s really normal to feel that way.

The way to visualise it yourself is, a lot of us at the moment are using video conferencing a lot more to replace that face-to-face interaction. So, all you’ve got think of is, you’re still going to have the interview and most of us have been on some form of interview before. The way in which the interview will be conducted – in the sense of they’ll ask you some questions to get to know you better, you will consider that and answer the best way you can – none of that has actually changed, they still want you to do the best that you can and get to know you the best they can.

So, what they’re trying to get out of this hasn’t changed and what you want to get out of this as a candidate hasn’t changed. You want to know; what are they like as an employer? What’s the culture like? What are the people like that I might be working with? So, what you want to expect from it and what they expect from it hasn’t changed, so I guess all you need to think about and re-frame in your mind is, all that has changed is the way we’re doing it.

The interview itself, what we’re both trying to get out of it has not changed. The way we’re conducting it because of the situation we’re in has meant that yes, we’re going to have to do this over video rather than face-to-face, but I think when you’re sort of trying to think and prepare yourself for it, don’t really think about it in any other way than you would a normal interview. Just like when you’re having a chat with your friends and family now, you’re doing it over video conference rather than face-to-face. It’s just the same thing has happened.

That’s a fantastic point as well. The people interviewing you they want it to go well. They want you to be the right person for the job and that is important to remember whether it’s a video interview or a normal interview as well.

3) I think we’ve touched on that due to the current circumstances anxieties are high at the moment and could be adding to pre-interview nerves. You even said yourself there that feeling nervous before an interview is only natural and it is very common. So, would you say that a degree of nerves before an interview is actually beneficial to performance?

I think for me, I always think that nerves and excitement are two sides of the same coin and I think sometimes it’s very difficult to separate what is nerves and what is excitement. I think either way what you’re doing is your body is reacting very normally to the situation that it’s in and so it’s going to pump you full of more adrenaline. And therefore, it is normal to feel slightly different and it shows how much you care about the situation.

Then your body is just reacting normally to a situation where it feels it’s of some importance to you. Now you can frame that in your head as nerves, I like to frame it in my head as excitement, but all it is, is your body responding to this is something that actually I care about. And so, I try and take, quite a positive view to it and I think that yes, absolutely you can embrace it as actually your body trying to help you that’s why it’s doing it. So, I kind of relax into it to be honest.

4) Do you have any advice to help our listeners manage their current anxieties and get into the right frame of mind to limit their nerves prior to the telephone or video interview?

I’ve done yoga for thirteen years so I’m always going to come at it from a very mindful sort of place when I think about anxieties, et cetera. I’m also very interested in this whole area of getting yourself into the right mindset and I think preparation is for me one of the most important things, because when your brain is under moments of excitement, stress, nerves, whatever words you want to think of, actually the more you’ve prepared for it, even when you’re feeling slightly nervous, you know in the back of your mind you’ve done everything you can to put yourself in the best place. So, to me, I think that actually overthinking it doesn’t help but preparing really does help and I know for me, when I’ve got really important presentations for example, which I do often, it’s all about the preparation for it.

And one of the things that I do is to very much practice as often as I can with people who will give you really honest feedback. Now, I’ve got a few people in my life and I’m sure you do as well that will give you really honest feedback and sometimes you love them for it, they annoy you sometimes, but they give you that really honest feedback.

So, I think the more that you can prepare and practice, the more it will almost become second nature for you to be answering these questions so that when you are then in an interview situation your brain is almost recalling quite easily what you prepared before. And obviously your friends and the people you’re close to, you trust would give you honest feedback about how you’re coming across.

There is also a point – and I do this with all my important presentations and interviews – where you need to stop preparing and I think that comes in, maybe just give yourself an hour or so before when actually you don’t look at your notes and you don’t think about it, and this is a moment just to prepare yourself ready. I mean I personally drink chamomile tea, I stay away from any sort of stimulants whether it be caffeine, sugar, et cetera and I just try and get myself into a really good spot. I do yoga, so I do practice my breathing in for four, out for four and I try and regulate my breathing so that I feel as calm as I can be in obviously a situation that’s really exciting, but I just think it’s about just trying to clear your mind and knowing to prepare, but also knowing when to stop.

5) Fantastic, thank you for those insights. They’re really helpful and when you were talking there I was just thinking about how I’d usually prepare for an interview. Part of that process is obviously deciding what you’re going to wear, for me for instance, it might be a suit. But how do we go about that if it’s, I mean a telephone interview is one thing, but a video interview, presumably you go through the same process of planning down to that level as well.

Yes, totally and I think don’t we all almost have this sort of costume in some ways. What we wear to work is almost part of our costume that we put on and that’s part of it’s becoming our work persona. And so absolutely as part of your interview, what you want to do is as much as you can get yourself into that work zone and I think the way we dress, the way we prepare is really important to that because it shows a lot about how seriously we’re taking this interview. Even if you are sitting at home, you don’t want to be there in your home gear, you definitely want to be coming across with your work persona on.

I think clearing your desk, to me I always will before, even if it’s a virtual meeting like today with you, I still put on my lipstick and sprayed my perfume. Not that you’re going to be able to see that, but that’s what I would do if I was in the office and I think it’s just getting yourself into whatever kind of your work persona.6

And making sure your desk is clear, making sure, for example, I’ve got children that they’re out of the way. That you’ve tested all your technology, I did that before our conversation today, so that was one less thing for me to worry about. I made sure that the children were off the WiFi, so the router worked really well. So, it’s just one less thing for me to worry about because then I can really concentrate on listening to you. And in some ways, this is not an interview as in it’s not a work interview, but you are interviewing me, if that makes sense. So, it’s about as close as it would be and like I said before if it’s going to be a video interview I think do look at your body language. Do be aware of that because actually a video is brilliant from that point of view, you can come across with your true personality, but maybe just get one of your people in your close friendship circle or colleagues to give you a bit of feedback on how you’re coming across, that might be helpful.

6) If we are nervous the day before an interview, then understandably getting a good night’s sleep might be difficult. According to Forbes, disturbed sleeping patterns as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic are impacting the health and quality of life for around 45% of the population globally at the moment. Do you have any advice for our listeners to help them perhaps get a good night’s sleep? You’ve spoken about tips on how to deal with anxiety, but is there anything else that you can provide us with?

I was talking earlier about how I’m really interested in the mindset of fear, preparation and excitement and one of my favourite films to watch about getting yourself in a good mindset is a film called Free Solo by a guy called Alex Honnold who climbs El Capitan, which is this big mountain with no ropes or anything and he talks about preparation and getting yourself in a really good mindset, but also knowing when to switch off. And to me it’s the balance, I’ve been doing yoga for thirteen years, so I really believe in balance and I think you need to prepare. Like Alex Honnold, before he went up that mountain of course he practiced and practiced. Before I do important interviews or presentations, I practice and practice. I really, really do and any of the people that work closely with me will tell you that.

However, I know when to stop and I would absolutely say a good two or three hours before you go to bed your brain won’t take any more information at a certain point, so this is just about putting yourself in the best mindset. So, I would literally then have some fun, whatever you view as fun. So, at the moment it’s obviously more challenging because we can’t go out as much as before, but to me even just walking around the garden and just taking some fresh air or just about just calming your mind down, a warm bath or actually you can lose yourself in a really good book. And I think there’s a point where you go, you know, I’m not helping myself anymore, the best thing I can now do is to just relax and switch off all your electronics and that will just help you get in the best space you can to sleep.

7) So, on the day of the remote interview itself, some listeners might be feeling understandably worried that it’s going to be difficult to build up a rapport with the interviewer, if the interview is taking place remotely. Do you have any advice to share with them around that point?

This is something that people can struggle with whether it’s face-to-face or remotely actually, and the biggest piece of advice I would give is, again around preparation. So, the beauty of things like LinkedIn is that the more that you can read up about them, the more that you can maybe spot some common ground.

Often in people’s LinkedIn profiles they can put, for example, which university they studied at and what courses they did, and straight away that might be some common ground that you might have. You might not have studied there, but you might have friends who’ve done the same thing. To me, it’s about preparation of researching the person or the people if it’s a panel, that are going to be interviewing you.

8) I suppose with video interviews, if there’s a bit of a lag, there’s always the risk of talking over your interviewer, which is something that you don’t want to happen. Is there any way that you can avoid doing that? Personally, I can’t think of how you would, so how would you handle that I guess?

I think humour, I think we’re all in that boat and it’s happening on all calls and so I think laughing and humour actually is good anyway. But I think leaving a pause when you stopped speaking to give people time to come back. I think using pauses, I have to learn this because I’m such a chatterbox. But yes, I’ve learned to use pauses more when I finish to allow people time and giving them time after they finished speaking before I jump in. That’s the only way I’ve thought of, I don’t know there’s probably a better way but that’s what I’ve come up with.

I mean to be honest, I think that is a great piece of advice. For people like myself who don’t do this that often, it is a really important consideration.

9) Now just jumping back a few questions, you mentioned that in preparation for this particular podcast recording that you made sure you were the only one on the Wi-Fi. Do you have any other technical considerations that people should keep in mind to make sure that the interview starts well and in turn will calm their nerves potentially?

Yes, I mean I think for me it’s also just like the really practical side of stuff and I think it’s things like, just make sure you are aware of what you’re using, because some people put it on their phone and some people have it on their laptops or their PCs. And make sure you’ve got enough charge, I think that’s really important.

I think the other thing is, I don’t know about you, but I’m better on certain video conferences. I’m just really able in some way, I’d give myself ten out of ten and others, I’m quite poor. So, I think it’s knowing which one they’re going to be using and if you feel like you’re not as familiar, it’s really spending time to learn it. Those people, maybe those colleagues you feel quite close to who you don’t feel embarrassed making mistakes in front of and you know that they’ll just laugh it off with you, maybe they’re the people you can practice a little bit with.

The other thing, closing down other applications. Before I started this call with you, I put both my phones on mute so even if they went off, it wouldn’t distract me. But I also think that even if you’re very familiar with certain video conferencing facilities, even sometimes they have issues, so I think just turning up early and I’d much rather be ten minutes early than one minute late because it would actually throw me. So, I think turning up early, even if the person you’re with doesn’t turn up until one minute before the interview I do think it’s good manners.

10) One thing that I’ve thought about, and I suppose this question can apply to normal interviews as well as video interviews once we get back to that point, the prospect of being faced with a panel interview is quite daunting. So, is there any advice that you’ve got for our listeners that could help them give a strong performance when being interviewed by multiple people?

Yes, I mean it is slightly different when you’re not in front of them, because I don’t know about you, but what I find interesting about video conferencing is that when I’m in a room with people and there’s a panel, I try and make sure that I keep eye contact with all of them and they can see that I’m keeping eye contact with them. On a video conference you don’t know because on my display, certain people are in certain places, but you can’t look at them in that way.

What you need to do is very much look at the camera, that’s the most important thing is look at the camera, but the way that I would go around that is first of all, preparation, absolutely research, everyone that was going to be on the panel so that I recognised them by name. So, I knew what they would look like and I’d memorise their name so that if they asked me a question, what I would do is reiterate their name when I was responding, so I can’t look at them because I think when you’re in front of somebody, you look at them to show you recognise them, you can’t do that on video conference so I would say their name that you’d recognised it was them. It would be flattering anyway, but I think it’s good to do that.

I also think by reiterating points or questions that people made earlier, it reaffirms you’ve listened to them in a panel. So, in some ways, I think that video conferencing actually makes it less intimidating because I think we’re all quite used to seeing so many little faces now on a screen that it’s sort of taken away that you’re on one side of the desk, I’m on the other, there’s a barrier. I think that’s the great thing about what we’re all learning about this is, actually barriers have come down, so I think there’s a positive to this, but I do think do your preparation, know what they look like, make sure you use their name when you’re responding so they know even if you’re not looking at them, they know that you’re listening to them.

11) How can listeners leave a strong lasting impression with an interviewer?

So, I always think that asking a question back to them is the best way, because it shows you’re genuinely interested and I think actually I would ask them questions to do with the situation we’re in because as I said it right at the start this podcast, I truly believe that when social historians look back at this time, that they will view this as one of the biggest changes to work that have occurred in seventy years. So, I think I would ask questions around that to this organisation. I would ask:

  • How do you feel the shape of your organisation has changed since this has happened?
  • What have you learned about yourselves?
  • Has this changed your feelings towards remote working?
  • Have you noticed any skills that you didn’t know your staff had that you’ve now realised they do? Or alternatively, have you realised any skill shortages that you might have in your current staff?

I mean we can’t get away from what’s going on, so I would kind of embrace it, but ask them almost reflective questions on how are you as an organisation looking to the future and how are you preparing for that, and therefore for me as a future employee, I’m really interested in what you’ve learned, and what are you doing moving forward. And I think that’s a really flattering question, but also takes into account the context of where we are.

Great points on how the world of work has changed and there will be some positive changes from what has happened, and, in many ways, it’s accelerated in a lot of places.

12) And now for our last question, if there’s one piece of advice to help our listeners navigate their careers during this crisis, what would that be?

I guess it kind of builds on what I’ve just said, so to me it’s using this time to reflect. It’s not been what any of us wanted, let’s be clear. From a health point of view, it’s awful and it’s not what any of us want, but it’s happening, and I think that those of us who are at home now and thinking about our careers, we’ve got less commuting time and I would be taking time to really think about my career:

  • How has this changed the shape of what I’m looking for now?
  • Do I now want more remote working or actually has this taught me that I hate it and I don’t want it at all?
  • How has this changed the shape of what I’m looking for now?
  • What have I learned from this?
  • How has this changed the environment and the type of role that I now want and to really think, not just momentarily think, but really give some thought to that.


Gaelle Blake began working for Hays in 1999, joining our construction and property Division in London Victoria. Since then she has held a variety of consulting and operational management roles across a variety of sectors, including setting up the Hays Career Transitions business in 2009. In 2018, Gaelle was appointed as UK&I Director for Permanent Appointments. Prior to joining Hays, Gaelle studied at both the Universities of Warwick and Bath, gaining an BA (Hons) and then an MSc in Management.




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