Virtual interviews are becoming the new business as usual. Preparing for the unique issues that can arise when you interview remotely will enable you to come to the table more confident and ready to succeed.
Even before the global pandemic changed the way in which the workplace operates, many companies were already using phone and virtual interviews to help screen candidates. Now that social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols have become the norm for so many companies, virtual interviews have become even more commonplace. The rules of the game for in-person interviews don’t always apply to screen-to-screen interviews. You need a new playbook to address the unique situations that come up in these remote meetings. Here is a list of 12 tips to help you succeed at your next virtual interview.
1. Test all tech before the day of your virtual interview.
It’s a good idea to do a test virtual meetup with a friend or family member before the day of your virtual interview. Make sure that you have downloaded the proper app (Zoom, Skype, etc.) and have all moving parts (camera lens/webcam, audio, internet connection) in working order. Check the sound volume, the image quality, etc. The last thing you want to do is try out your equipment five minutes before your appointment, only to find that something is not working properly. Your potential employer wants to know that you are organized and efficient. Showing up late for the interview with the excuse that your speaker wasn’t working is not going to score you any points.
2. Find a clean background for your interview.
Look for a clean, neutral, uncluttered area for the backdrop of your image. You don’t want any messy room, unmade bed, or other cluttered background showing up behind you. A plain wall would work best, but a bookcase or other piece of furniture in the background can work as well, as long as it is uncluttered. A busy background can be distracting to the interviewer and take the focus away from you.
You should also pay attention to any decorative items that might be visible and make sure you are comfortable with any image they may present. (Do you really want your collection of empty shot glasses from vacation showing up in the background?) The standard here should be the same as your rules for sifting through questionable photos on your social media accounts before sending out your resume. If you don’t want your prospective employer to see something, take it out of view.
If you don’t have a clear desk area with a good backdrop, consider sitting somewhere else in your home (on a couch, by a window, in front of a closed closet door). Setting up a makeshift backdrop would be better than sitting in a cluttered, distracting spot.
A clean, simple background also presents an organized and professional image. Messy desks might work for you in your personal life, but when you’re trying to make a good impression on your prospective employer, go for uncluttered. (However, a little personality and creating a sense of humanity can help, as it can in a physical office. Just know where to draw the line.)
3. Make sure you have proper lighting.
If your virtual interview is during the day, open the window shades to bring in as much natural light as possible. You will look your best in natural daylight as compared to the artificial glow of some indoor lighting.
Pay attention to the placement of your chair or seat in relation to the light. You don’t want the light from the window or other source to be behind you (no backlighting), because that could cause the screen to look too bright. (The camera would be looking directly at the light source, causing the image to look washed out or to have a bright glare.) Test out the lighting with your chair facing the window or other light source, and avoid having the light shining from behind you. Another photography tip is to have artificial light bounce off the ceiling. This is how we naturally see people (sun, overhead lighting, etc.), and the diffusion will make you look more natural.
Nobody expects you to set up your home as if you’re filming a professional photoshoot. But paying attention to whatever lighting options you may have and arranging your seat in the best possible spot will help provide a clean-looking image and present you in “the best possible light.”
4. Pay attention to camera angle.
This isn’t exactly “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” On the other hand, camera angles do matter. Try positioning the camera lens and your chair height the day before your interview, and see which angles and positions work best. Nobody looks good with a camera lens staring up at their neck or underneath their nostrils. You want the lens positioned so that the image of your face is flattering and natural. It usually looks better for the lens to be a little higher than your face, but test this out for yourself. Don’t just wing it on the spot.
You will probably make better eye contact by looking at the camera lens as opposed to looking at the interviewer’s face (or eyes) on the screen. (Yes, this is hard to do, as you want to make sure you look natural, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too . . . so go for this bread—not cake.) This is something you can try out the day before when you are testing out the proper camera angle.
Also, be aware that sitting up straight will allow you to look more professional than slouching in a chair, so pay attention to your posture. You will present better and might even speak more confidently if you sit up straight.
5. Give a heads up to other people in your home that you need privacy and quiet.
You want to prepare your home environment for the virtual interview by letting other people know (roommates, kids, partners, etc.) that you need absolute quiet. Tell them what time the interview will be, and make sure they leave you alone. Walk your dog in advance. Get someone to watch your kids. And close the door (if possible).
6. Avoid all digital distractions.
No texts or calls:
Unless you’re using your phone for the virtual interview (which is probably not a good idea, unless you have no other options), turn off the phone so there are no beeping texts or ringing phone calls. And if you do get a call or text, ignore it. Don’t interrupt your interview to glance—even for a nanosecond—at any incoming messages. Your interviewer needs your undivided focus and attention. You wouldn’t look at a text in a live interview; the same rules apply to a virtual interview.
If your phone does beep or ring, turn it off immediately and apologize. Being professional includes acknowledging the interruption with full transparency. Do not look at the screen to see who called or texted you. It can wait.
Close all open tabs beforehand:
In a live interview, you can’t stop to look something up on your phone. The same rules apply here. Don’t think you can get away with a quick Google search to possibly help you answer a question. You can’t. Close all open windows and stay focused on the interview.
7. Dress the way you would for an in-person interview.
It may be tempting to dress more casually for an interview at home, but you should wear the same clothing that you would have worn if this were an in-person interview. The camera will show more than just your face. Your clothing matters. Dress appropriately for the position.
This should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Do not wear shorts, pajamas, or similar clothes from the waist down. You never know how the camera angle might catch you if you happen to reach for something (a copy of your resume? a pen?) or have to stand up to get something that the interviewer might ask about.
8. Pay attention to body language.
Body language is always important in a live interview setting but may be even more important when you are trying to present yourself in the best possible light virtually. Pay particular attention to feeling confident and portraying that in your tone and body language. Avoid fidgeting in your chair, rubbing your forehead, etc. Confidence comes from within, so come prepared, be authentic, stay fully engaged, and focus on the conversation.
There will obviously be no traditional handshake when the interview first begins. Be prepared for this, and think about how you want to start the virtual meeting. Even when live in-person interviews will eventually resume post-pandemic, it’s possible that handshakes may become a thing of the past. Find an alternate way to acknowledge the start of your conversation without being able to shake hands. Maybe a smile and a friendly “hello, nice to e-meet you” or a similar opening will work for you. Just come prepared.
9. Have a paper copy of your resume nearby.
If you have to refer to something on your resume, you’ll be much better off with a paper copy by your side. You don’t want to look at your resume digitally during the interview because your eyes will glance away (you’ll get that stare-at-the-screen glazed look), and the interviewer might think you have become distracted.
10. Have pen and paper handy.
It’s a good idea to have a pen and paper nearby so you can easily jot down some (minimal) notes if you need to. And if you do want to jot something down, it’s probably a good idea to mention this to your interviewer so that he/she will understand why you are suddenly looking down at your desk or table. (Your paper and pen will probably be out of the view of the camera, so if you don’t mention what you are doing, there could be an awkward few seconds of silence.) In a live interview, the person can see that you are writing something down. Not necessarily so in a virtual interview, so just be aware of that difference.
Another option is to use a second screen (if you have one) for quick notes. For some people, a pen and paper require more cognitive effort than just typing away. Again, the importance is to be transparent that you’re taking notes and to remain actively engaged (just as you would during a team meeting). Focus is key.
11. Start the login process with enough time to leave room for error.
You need to arrive on time for every interview, whether in-person or virtual. But the (excruciatingly small) list of acceptable excuses for being late to an in-person interview will not save you from showing up late to a virtual interview. (You’re already at home, so what are you going to say?)
With that in mind, don’t login at the last minute even though you checked all your tech the day before. (You did, right? See item #1 above.) Things happen. Computers freeze. Internet service has glitches. The dreaded spinning rainbow graces your screen. So make sure you start the login process with enough time to handle any internet glitch or other delay. (Murphy’s Law is alive and well.) There is no good excuse for being late to a virtual interview. Leave yourself plenty of time to get all devices and accessories set up.
12. Come prepared.
Come to the interview table meticulously prepared. Thorough preparation will not only impress the interviewer but will also help boost your confidence.
You need to carefully research the company as well as the specific position well in advance of your interview. Do your homework and show the interviewer that you came prepared.
(This applies just as much to an in-person interview as it does to a virtual interview, but it’s so important that we’re including it here, too. For more details, check out our post on traditional interview pointers: 12 Best Interview Hacks.)
Research the company:
- Check the company’s website and recent social media posts.
- Read articles or posts that mention the company or were written by them.
- Look for press releases about the company.
- Get a solid understanding of the industry they are in.
- Know the products or services they provide.
- Read about the issues they confront and the news in their field.
- Research the size, location, and culture of their offices or places of business.
Research the position:
- Make sure you fully read all the details you can find about the position you are interested in.
- What department, division, or area of the company would you be working in?
- What are the prerequisites or backgrounds that they are looking for? How many years of experience are they looking for?
- What are the job requirements? What are the responsibilities and the functions they are looking to fill with the position?
- Where is the job located? Is it in a physical location, remote, or hybrid?
Be prepared to answer certain typical interview questions:
- Although there are no guarantees that you will be asked any of these questions, you should be ready to respond to certain common questions such as: (1) Tell us about yourself; (2) What are your strengths and weaknesses; (3) What are you looking for in a position; (4) Why do you think you’d be a good fit for this position; and (5) Why are you looking for a new job? (That last one can be touchy. Be careful.)
- It’s a good idea to come up with talking points to address these common types of questions. If you’re not asked them in this particular virtual interview, you’ll probably get asked one or more of those in some future or follow-up interview.
Be prepared to ask a few questions (at least 2 or 3) at the end of the virtual interview:
- You need to come to the table with a list of questions that you would like to ask at the end of the interview. Nobody ever comes across as interested in the position if they don’t have a few questions to ask at the end.
- It’s a good idea to think of more than two or three questions because some of your topics might get discussed during the interview (so you need some back-ups). And make sure your questions couldn’t have been answered easily by just looking at their website or the job description. That’s a red flag that you didn’t do your homework.
The workplace is changing in many ways. Some on-site functions are moving off-site, not only as a result of the global pandemic but also as a way for companies to be more cost-efficient with their office space. As remote work opportunities become more prevalent, virtual interviewing may become the new business as usual.
The virtual interview has many unique issues that don’t come up in a live interview setting. From tech and location scouting to camera angles and lighting (and more), it’s important to prepare for these unique issues so that you come to the table confident and able to put your best (virtual) foot forward.