Online job interviews are similar to the traditional, face-to-face kind we're used to, and they have been popular in certain industries for some time now. However, there are some pretty significant variations worth preparing for. Meeting someone via Zoom or Skype is quite different from doing so in person, but it doesn't have to be a challenge. Despite the differences between in-person and online interviews, your goals are the same — to set yourself apart from other candidates and score a second interview. Below is a collection of tips and techniques to ensure your online interview success.
With virtual interviews, there are many things to consider prior to the day of your interview that you don’t need to think about for an in-person meeting. Below are some things you can do ahead of time to make sure your online interview goes smoothly.
Get the details. How long is the interview expected to be? Which online service does your interviewer use? Will it be a video call or just an audio call? How many people will interview you? They may not offer much information to you unprompted, so ask your interviewer and don’t be afraid to call back if you need to.
Choose a location for your interview. One of the most important things to consider when preparing for an online job interview is your environment. An unmade bed, dirty laundry, or cluttered office, for example, not only looks unprofessional, it’ll probably be distracting to your interviewer. Not the kind of lasting impression you want to leave. Find a spot with a neutral background like a blank wall, where you can be seen on camera from the waist up. If a blank wall isn’t an option, try to manipulate your background to look like a more professional setting like an (organized) office.
Create good lighting. Soft, natural light is ideal but, understandably, not always an option. You want plenty of light, whether natural or diffused, avoiding overhead or “cool” light sources. Two lights, positioned in front of you — one slightly to your left and the other slightly to your right — is an ideal home setup. If one of these is a window, that’s even better, but table lamps will do just fine. Avoid strong back lighting or anything that will create shadows or a glare if you wear glasses.
Figure out which of your devices will work best. If you have multiple devices (tablet, computer, smart phone, etc.), use whichever has the most reliable technology and the one you’re most comfortable with. In most cases, this is a computer, but you might find that your phone has a far better camera than your laptop. If you can set your phone up to remain still during the interview, prioritizing a superior camera over a large computer screen is recommended.
Do a test run (or two). If you don’t already have one, sign up for an account with whichever video service your interviewer uses and make sure you download all the necessary software. If you want to be extra prepared, install the same software on an additional device in case you have trouble with one. It’s best to use earbuds during an online interview to reduce noise pollution for all parties involved, and testing them out prior is a good idea. The easiest way to test everything at once is to run a trial interview with a friend, which allows you to test the video service, earbuds, lighting setup, wireless connection, and sound, ensuring everything is in working order.
Carry out traditional interview preparations. Do everything you would to prepare for a face-to-face job interview: Thoroughly research the company you’re interviewing with, script and rehearse answers to common interview questions (general and specific to your industry), and think of some questions you might want to ask in return. Review the job description and your own resume to help you match your answers to their specific needs. Do a little research into the person or people you’ll be speaking with.
It’s easy for an interviewer to get a sense of your personality, presence, and even enthusiasm for the position with an in-person interview. While more than 50% of companies in the U.S. are trading in traditional, face-to-face interviews for video and phone calls, the latter present a unique set of challenges. As a candidate, you’ll have to be especially mindful to show an employer who you are and why you’re a great fit for their company, while staying aware of your devices and environment. Below are some tips for making sure the day of your interview is a success.
Dress professionally. Because you’ll likely be visible to an interviewer only from the waist up, the blazer on top, sweats on the bottom look might be tempting. However, treating an online interview the same as an in-person interview with regard to wardrobe will not only make a good impression, it’ll boost your confidence, which will improve your focus. When choosing an outfit, have a look at the company’s website and social media accounts. These may provide some insight as to what the culture is like, and you can dress accordingly. Neutral, solid colors work best — anything too bold could create exposure issues with your webcam.
Eliminate distractions. It’s essential that your interview environment is as free from distraction and interruption as possible. Silence your phone and make sure you don’t have any scheduled alerts or alarms, close all unnecessary windows and tabs on your computer screen, and close any doors and windows to the room you’re in. Make sure pets are out of the room and occupied, and survey the room for visual distractions. While it’s imperative that you aren’t distracted, it’s equally important that there isn’t anything in the room with you that will pull your interviewer’s attention away from your conversation.
Test your technology again. About 30 minutes before your interview is scheduled to begin, run some last minute tests on all the things that could potentially malfunction such as earbuds, video program, and network connection. Make sure your lighting is as flattering and professional as possible, and that your outfit looks good on your camera.
Be mindful of your body language. Body language refers to non-verbal communication through facial expressions, posture, gestures, etc. Without the face-to-face element of a traditional interview, your body language is both more noticeable and more important. All the same rules apply here as with an in-person meeting: Sit up straight with your shoulders back and relaxed, chin up, legs still. Try to keep your hands visible, and maintain natural, attentive eye contact. When on a video call, the tendency can be to look at your preview, but this should be avoided when possible. To simulate eye contact, make a conscious effort to look into the camera — especially if you’re using a computer. Lean in to the conversation, instead of sitting back in your chair, to express interest.
Log on at least 10 minutes early. With in-person job interviews, you’re advised to show up at least 15 minutes before you’re scheduled to be there; similarly, for your video interview, logging on at least 10 minutes early will give you the chance to make sure everything is working as it should one last time.
Set up your space. Before logging on, spend a little time preparing the area around where you’ll be sitting for your interview. Make sure you have some water, some paper and a pen for note-taking, and a cheat sheet including your scripted answers to common interview questions along with prepared questions for your interviewer, inspirational messages, reminders about posture or eye contact, etc. Make sure a copy of your resume is within sight in case you need to reference dates, job titles, or qualifications. Post-it notes make great cheat sheets, as well, since they can be stuck directly onto your computer screen or on a wall behind your computer, invisible to your interviewer.
Be aware of the time zone. If you’re interviewing for remote work, your East Coast interviewer may not have taken your West Coast time into consideration when scheduling your interview. Confirming the time zone of your interview will save you from potentially showing up to the meeting three hours late.